Lessons From an Unsolicited B2B Email

Very few unsolicited emails ever make it through to my work inbox – so when one did make it in today, I was curious to figure out why it got there. And then what really sparked my interest was all the things that this B2B SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) company did wrong with their email. Following are some general comments and specific observations on this email:

1) Lack of Permission - Yes, I know that CAN-SPAM doesn’t require it, but if you don’t have affirmative consent, a message must include a "This is an advertisement" notice in the email. No such thing existed with this email. And I’m pretty certain I didn’t give this company permission to email me.

2) Was there in fact permission? – I’m not sure how I got on the email list, but I have a good guess. In February of this year I spoke at a SaaS conference. I remember as a speaker I had to register online for the event – and while I don’t recall the specifics, there may have been a check box asking if I wanted to receive email communications. Or this fact it may have been buried in some fine print somewhere. But what I do know is that I would never have knowingly agreed to give out my email address to then be handed out willy nilly to dozens of companies that were exhibitors at this conference (in fact this email I received today was one of about a half dozen I’ve received from SaaS vendors- but all the other vendors at least referenced the conference in their emails).

3) The B2B Escape Clause - If this email had come to my Gmail or Yahoo personal accounts I (and I’m sure many other recipients) would have hit the report spam button in a nanosecond. But because it was sent to my work email address, no such easy "vote them out of my inbox" button exists (except the "Add Sender to Blocked Senders List" – but that doesn’t provide the same guilty pleasure).

4) No Unsubscribe – The email, which was "sent" from a sales person "Lori M….", did not include any instructions or means to unsubscribe. Perhaps she thought this was a "1 to 1" email and didn’t require an unsubscribe mechanism or she was just a sales person that ran amok without involving marketing. The fact that this email was professionally designed though suggests she was not a lone gunman. What boggles the mind is how does a legit company send out a broadcast email in the year 2008 without an subscribe mechanism?

5) Who is Lori M….? – Dumb, dumb, dumb. I have no idea who Lori is, let alone her employer. Perhaps using a person’s name instead of the company name was done intentionally to try and trick me into thinking that I knew the sender or something. But putting aside the unsolicited aspect, using the name of an unknown person in the from line is just bad practice.

6) The Right Way to Do It Wrong – There seems to be a double standard when it comes to B2B emails. A lot of people seem to be more tolerant of receiving unsolicited broadcast (not 1 to 1) emails from vendors. Putting that debate aside – there is a better approach than what this company did. As I mentioned, I received a few other emails from vendors who exhibited at this conference – but the others all referenced the conference. I was a bit annoyed but simply unsubscribed from all of these lists.

A better approach would have been to send a single email and invite me to opt-in to the company’s email program. Describe the value proposition and valuable content I will receive; throw in your best white paper if I subscribe, etc….And if I don’t take the bait – promise me you won’t ever email me again.

7) The "Why Am I getting This Email" Mistake – People forget when and why they opted in to receive emails. And if you wait weeks or worse yet, months, before sending that first email – you are a spam complaint in the making. So then imagine if you are a B2B company sending an unsolicited email – though perhaps one like my example where there might be some point of context for a relationship – a conference or trade show. At least include in the email how I happened to get on your list. Include high in the email language such as: "You are receiving this email because you registered for the recent XYZ conference…" or something similar. And then use the approach outlined above in point 6 that allows me opt in or never receive another email.

8) Timing – Among the many mistakes this company made was to wait 5 months from the conference before emailing me. I’m sure there are multiple reasons why it took so long – but this time span from the conference just made the email feel even more spammy, than it already was – as any timeliness or relevance from the conference was long past.

9) The Conference Host Was the Problem – Finally, the real problem with this email of course was the company that hosted the conference. They simply should not have handed over the email addresses to their exhibitors. Most conferences that I’m familiar with stopped this practice years ago.

In the end, permission is the foundation of great deliverability and is just as important in the B2B world as it is B2C.

4 Responses to “Lessons From an Unsolicited B2B Email”

  1. DJ Waldow
    July 27, 2008 at 10:48 am #

    Loren –

    I've run into these situations on several occasions – many recently. I created a folder in my iMail called "bad emails." Needless to say, it is filling up quickly.

    Every so often, I'll go through the "bad emails" folder and check out the headers. Believe it or not, many of these emails are sent via reputable ESPs. I've reached out directly to my contact at the various ESPs and have – so far – been pleasantly surprised by their prompt reply and handling of the issue.

    As email marketers, I think it is our job to continue to keep each other honest.

    What does everyone else think?

    dj at bronto

  2. Loren McDonald
    July 28, 2008 at 12:28 am #


    I personally do this all the time. If I receive an email that is unsolicited and I see that the company is a client of an ESP where I personally know someone – I always send them an email.

    Every time I've done so, I've received a positive response and their client was dealt with appropriately. I always tell competitors I expect the same from them.

    Email is a global village.

  3. DJ Waldow
    July 28, 2008 at 10:32 pm #

    Loren –

    I was pretty certain you do that too. Love the concept of email as a "global village." Have you trademarked that phrase yet?

    How about other readers of this blog. Do you also keep other ESPs honest?

    dj at bronto

  4. Al
    August 9, 2008 at 2:12 pm #

    DJ, like you, I keep a folder of that stuff. I also try to find the time to complain loudly about every one of those that I get. I definitely do report it to the offending network or ESP as often as possible. (I just got one guy's ESP account canceled this past week for doing exactly this. I saw you/know somebody else you know/whatever and thought you would be interested.)

    I run into a lot of people — clients, potential clients, non-clients, who all think it's free and fair to spam people because they're B2B, not B2C. One point I would add to what you say, Loren, is that a lot of corporate users *have* a report as spam button. We use MessageOne, and we do. People using other services do, too. B2B senders aren't considering that those black marks add up against you fast. And they may even be harder to resolve, since a lot of B2B filter providers seem to be less transparent than their B2C counterparts.

    Good post!