Emails' Lone Ranger: The Deliverability Consultant

There is a growing subculture emerging in the Email Industry.   This narrow subculture is built around the role of the Email Deliverability consultant.  These email folk heroes often hold “silver bullets” that dramatically alleviate problems caused by poor email deliverability.  Whether it’s resolving sender reputation issues, aligning sectors of your email program to meet legal compliance, or ensuring that all technical considerations are met, these masked magicians with assistants named Tonto can help.

There seems to be a critical knowledge gap that needs to be addressed.  Often the requests to hire an industry “folk hero” (consultant) originate from a marketer who wants to fully optimize the organization’s email program.  Factors that optimize programs include, but are not limited to, list quality and data collection, increased open rates, better ROI tracking, and achieving optimal inbox placement rates.  As much as marketers might want an optimized program, they often do not fully recognize the technology challenges of getting email delivered to achieve these desired results.   When that happens, for certain organizations, it’s time for The Email Deliverability Consultant: Email’s Lone Ranger.

A Marksman who gets his hands Dirty

Depending on the scope of the project, these consultants offer a wide range of deliverability services, including, but not limited to a deep understanding of list quality and data collection, email authentication best practices, setting up FBLs, bounce handling and infrastructure.  Consultants also commonly help with sourcing, installing and configuring optimal specs for both commercial and open source MTAs.  Frequently, the scope of the project grows into in-depth consulting on email engagement, response or retention campaigns or designing strategies that integrate complimentary marketing channels such as mobile platforms and social media.

Masters of Disguise

As we know, consulting by nature is a feast or famine type career.  And often, email deliverability consultants are positioned in precarious situations and exploited by bad actors.  Suspect senders often pump consultants for information on where to find responsive email lists or, even worse, ask about revealing key contacts at Yahoo, or other ISPs.  Deliverability consultants’ clients largely come from referrals and word-of-mouth.  That said, they live by a strict moral code of conduct, because they sometimes face important ethical decisions; at times, they must choose between a paycheck and literally firing a client. 

The Audit Process

The Audit Process is a “state of play” snapshot of the deliverability climate within the organization.

Usually, deliverability consultants will require answers to a set of detailed questions  and an analysis of overall infrastructure (technical setup) before any type of contract is in place.  During the audit, clients may seed consultants on different types of emails (marketing, transactional, etc) where they could begin reporting on items such as blacklist status, reputation, authentication tests, content, and inbox placement rates, etc. Consultants will then try to identify trends within the email list, such as attrition rates, opens, clicks, and sign up rates.   Some feedback is then given to the client, but deliverability consultants generally need to access additional data, such as bounce handling, FBL monitoring, send rates, and identifying email streams.

Contracts

A typical contract is somewhere between 30-90 days, with ongoing support in place.  However, most organizations are likely to add to the scope of services and have other goals in mind beyond deliverability.  These days, organizations that have prevalent stakeholders will go to great lengths to gain an edge over their competitors.  So, in many cases, an ongoing contract can grow out of the original short-term agreement.

The behemoths in our industry are companies like ReturnPath , Pivotal Veracity (Unica) and Goodmail which is widely known for certified inbox placement.  These companies collaborate extensively with established ESPs and large enterprises.  However, below I’ve listed a few other respected industry resources, the majority of which have over a decade of email deliverability experience.   Each has experience with organizations that range in size from ESP startups to F500 corporations.

In their work as Email’s Lone Rangers, these consultants can most often revive a company’s deliverability afflictions, so that key members of the organization can hop back in the saddle without too much damage done to its sender reputation. 

This article was inspired by:

· Jaren Angerbauer, DeliveryVision

· Andrew Bonar,Emailexpert

· Micky Chandler, Whizardries

· Greg Kraios, Den of Deliverability

· Laura and Steve Atkins, Word to the Wise

 

"Hi-yo, Silver, away!"

 

Fred Tabsharani

Port25 Solutions, Inc.

@tabsharani

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7 Responses to “Emails' Lone Ranger: The Deliverability Consultant”

  1. Greg Kraios
    June 2, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    Thanks for the mention Fred! I can't speak for anyone else (although I believe everyone listed would likely agree); however, I'll never be one to say that I have any “silver bullets." Being a consultant and exposing myself to a variety of platforms, technologies, company structures and mailstreams has given me a wide range of experience that many people at a single company may not have. In the end, the model for successful delivery (messages accepted and most importantly placed in the Inbox) has not really changed. If I can help companies send mail that people want to receive, everyone wins!

  2. Zaid Ali
    June 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Fred, as Greg pointed out I think using the word "Silver Bullet" is just plain wrong. Often companies that hire consultants are looking for such a silver bullet and email deliverability consultants start most conversations by stating that there is no silver bullet.

    You also don't mention clearly that consultants also help establish processes and provide guidance on sender etiquette which is much more beneficial to ESP's as opposed to a consultant coming in once a while. A consultant can be used as a check and balance for an ESP's organic deliverability team.

    If deliverability hinged on just consultants then we would be in a worse of place then where we are now.

  3. Chris Wheeler
    June 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Nice spotlight piece on the independent contractors out there who run down errant deliverability issues on behalf of client companies.

    In my experience, the best consultants holistically approach the state of deliverability with a client by setting expectations that there are no quick persistent fixes (unless it's something as simple as a DNS change or role email address being setup, for example). For the price of a good consultant (whose rates usually start at $100/hr+), knowing what you're getting up front is key and can turn away some of the lower hanging (and slightly rotten fruit) of bad senders wanting to pay for a few hours to get that block at Yahoo! lifted. Deliverability is about a mindset that can pay in dividends when you follow the advice of a consultant. Kinda like working out. If you're going to spend all that money and time on going to the gym and having your personal trainer yell at you, you're probably going to limit the time spent in KFC b/c it doesn't jibe with your new paradigm.

    I also know several consultants who work day jobs at well respected companies and then do part time consulting as a moonlighting gig. Depending on how closely aligned your business is with their day jobs, you can get some great context specific information around these.

    As you mention though, it's a feast or famine type deal. Hat's off to people who can run on one off engagements and not get ulcers determining where their next paycheck is coming from ahead of time.

  4. Fred Tabsharani
    June 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    Zaid,

    Thanks so much of your insights here. I appreciate them. In this case, I used the term "silver bullet" as part of the constructed metaphor. While I agree that the term may have been misconstrued, one also may interpret "silver bullets" as nuggets of knowledge that perhaps current members of the organization don't possess. In this case, these silver bullets might be required to revive their deliverability woes.

    Also, thanks for your laser focus on sending etiquette. You are absolutely correct, deliverability consultants in most cases do possess this tacit knowledge which can and should be leveraged.

  5. Andrew Bonar
    June 3, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    Thanks for the mention! Nice piece on the consultants role Fred. When I first read the article I too was initially a little taken aback by the 'Silver Bullets' reference. On re-reading the article and with the plural in place as a qualifier: 'bullets' as opposed to 'bullet' it sat far more comfortably with me.

    I have been heard more than once to say "Im a consultant not a magician" so a silver bullet or magic wand is not in my arsenal. Like a doctor some of my pills can initially be bitter to swallow. Patients are not always prepared to take the medication or the advice.

    In regards to Chris' other comments it is indeed a feast and famine deal but that is always the case for independent consultants/freelancers. With the right ethos and skillset you can be sure of a steady stream of work.

  6. David Harris
    June 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    I think in the email space we have to be careful with our language. I hear what Fred has said in the comments that he was referring to "nuggets of knowledge." But I'm afraid many senders will misunderstand what Fred meant.

    We have to be careful because many senders are looking for a technical "Magic Bullet" / "pixie dust" / "magic wand" (whatever you call it) that will make their deliverability problems ago away. In other words, the technical "pixie dust" that will allow them to not worry about customer engagement, complaints, etc.

    As an MTA vendor, we tell clients up front that we don't have a technical "magic bullet" — that creating a positive subscriber experience is required for good deliverability. But that a solid infrastructure is required as well, and can help get you important data to help improve your subscriber experience.

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