Here’s a common mistake I’ve seen quite a few times. A new email marketer has this huge list of opt-ins that they got from a signup form at their website. Maybe it’s thousands of people who signed up for their company email newsletter. They’re anxious to get their first issue out the door. They hire a designer, they create a newsletter, and they’re ready to send it out to their list. So far so good.
But just before they send, they ask the sales team to go ahead and give them any "prospects" or leads they may have in the company CRM. We’re talking about people they met at tradeshows and networking events 5 years ago. Or even worse, someone in the company sends them a last minute list of contacts that they simply exported from their Outlook Address Book (without checking to see if "email@example.com" or "techsupport@acme-ISP.com" is in there, too).
In their (understandable) excitement to show off their spiffy new HTML email newsletter, they just lump every contact they know (or sorta know) into the same list.
What happens next? Spam complaints, deliverability problems, blacklisting, and possibly lawsuits for breaking CAN-SPAM laws.
Here’s an article at Clickz from Stefan Pollard on the subject of creating a unified permission standard across all your opt-in processes:
If you have a CRM tool with contacts and prospects who you think would really enjoy your email newsletter, you can’t just add them all to your email newsletter subscription list. They never gave you permission. You’ll get blacklisted on your first campaign. What you need to do is politely ask them if they’d like to receive your newsletter. Use that CRM to send one-to-one emails to them. Include a link to your newsletter sign-up form. If your initial response to this is, "but then nobody will sign-up!" you need to think about what would make your newsletter so incredibly useful, they’d be crazy not to sign up.
Create your first kick-ass newsletter, and send it to your real opt-in list. Post a copy of the newsletter to your website. Then send your one-to-one invitations to the prospects in your CRM. Note: the definition of spam is "unsolicited bulk email." If you send one-to-one emails that are personal (and not too templated) it’s not spam (even though it’s unsolicited). It’s when you cross the line and send "bulk" email where you can get in trouble. Anyways, include a link to your first newsletter, so they can see what they’ll be getting. If your content is actually useful, they’ll sign up. Also, won’t that make them more qualified?
Are marketers stupid or sloppy for not doing all this? I don’t think so. I think they’re in too much of a rush to stop, separate their lists, and do proper invitations.
Slow down. If you don’t do things right from the start, you’ll be wasting a lot more time dealing with spam complaints, trying to get un-blacklisted by major ISPs (i.e. begging for mercy), apologizing to spamcops, explaining to your boss why the phrase "Spam Evidence" always shows up whenever he Googles the company name, and trying to get your accounts reinstated with your ESP.
Note: when a marketer gets reported for spamming, it’s not just their company that’s up against the wall. Often, their ESP is accused of being a spam-friendly provider, and must shut down the user’s account. Usually, the only thing that can save you from being shut down by your ESP is to provide proof of opt-in for all your recipients. For your list that opted-in using your signup form, that’s easy. For people that your sales team plugged into your CRM—good luck proving they gave you permission to send them email marketing.