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It’s Time to Catch Up, RevOps: Your Cold Prospecting Motion Is Broken

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If you spend any time on LinkedIn, you’ve probably noticed a bunch of people panicking (or sticking their heads in the sand and saying, “It’s not a big deal”) over a recent notice from Outreach. Yahoo! and Google are rolling out strict email send policies that will impact anyone using these email service providers. Since they now have the largest market share, a lot of businesses will be impacted.

NEWSFLASH: Email deliverability is not a new problem. A few thought leaders, like Jesse Ouellette, have been discussing the impacts of changes that have been rolled out over the last three years.

And if business leaders paid closer attention to their prospecting tool metrics, they would have noticed (on average) that response rates are down more than 30% over the last 12 months. 

As a go-to-market multiplier, RevOps must pay attention to the latest announcements and catch up on the changes rolled out by email service providers. You have a narrow window of opportunity to establish yourself as a domain (we couldn’t resist 😂) expert and save your company a lot of heartache.

What’s Changing in the World of Cold Prospecting?

Recently, Yahoo! and Google announced several changes to their email sender guidelines scheduled to take effect in 2024. 

To be compliant with the 2024 changes, businesses must:

  • Set up SPF and DKIM email authentication for their domain
  • Ensure that sending domains or IPs have valid forward and reverse DNS records
  • Keep spam rates reported below 0.3%
  • Set up DMARC email authentication for the sending domain 
  • Marketing messages and subscribed messages must support one-click unsubscribe

While many changes will impact businesses, the most problematic is the demand that addresses sending over 5,000 emails daily maintain a less than 0.3% spam report rate.

People are panicking because even email newsletters that adhere to a strict opt-in policy see a spam report rate in this range when they do everything right. Gmail has offered users a one-click spam report option as an alternative to unsubscribing for at least the last twelve months. Users don’t understand why hitting “Report as Spam” can devastate a business and use it as a more accessible alternative to going through an unsubscribe sequence.

The first drastic changes in the world of email deliverability took place over two years ago. Cyber attacks rose exponentially, and because more than 90% of these attacks started with an email, email service providers began enforcing their policies more rigorously. This meant that companies using tools like Outreach that didn’t follow best practices like gating email sends per user were effectively sabotaging domain deliverability for their entire organization.

Organizations with senders emailing more than 5,000 outbound messages per day aren’t the only ones that need to worry. Other behaviors that providers like Google flagged as threatening included new email addresses sending large volumes shortly after being created (like that new sales rep eager to reach out to their entire territory the minute they start), repeated spam reports, high bounce rates, and a lack of best practices - like DMARC, SPF, and DKIM - being followed.

To further complicate things, we’re hearing reports that providers like Google are not allowing automated email warmup tools to step in and do the work of establishing a new email address as valid.

What are the Ramifications for Ignoring the Email Problem?

The people shrugging this off and pointing to Google’s multi-part delay to the end of third-party cookies need to realize that Google risks very little revenue by enforcing the email policy. Those of us closely supporting an inside sales team or scrappy account executive team have been hearing complaints of sales reps being put in “Google Jail” for years.

Most violations result in the sender’s account being shut off by Google. These violations impact the broader organization’s ability to land in primary inboxes, even if they aren’t the offender. What’s even more worrisome is that businesses that use Gmail Workspace as their email service provider and have an employee who goes wild with a sales prospecting tool or a marketing department that isn’t up to speed on best practices risk having their entire domain shut down.

The most pervasive ramification is more insidious. Emails from impacted domains (not just the offending user) are far less likely to land in a user’s primary inbox. Instead, messages go straight to the Junk or Spam folders and are unlikely to be noticed (or may result in more spam reports).

This means that not just your salespeople or marketers are impacted by violations. Your CEO, customer support team, and accounts receivable departments are all equally impacted.

Listen for complaints of people landing in Junk/Spam folders instead of the primary inbox and take them seriously.

What Technical Solutions Are Available To Improve Email Deliverability?

A good first step is implementing the basic recommendations in Google’s email sender guidelines:

  • Set up SPF and DKIM email authentication for their domain
  • Set up DMARC email authentication for the sending domain 
  • Enable a one-click opt-out for any marketing emails and make sure your sales prospecting tool is set up to do the same

There are additional best practices you should follow as soon as possible:

  • Restrict outbound messages per email address in your sales prospecting tool to 50-100 sends per day
  • Purchase multiple domains and set them up following Google’s email sender guidelines 
  • Assign more than one email address to salespeople engaging in cold prospecting and have them sign up for multiple newsletters to help warm up the email address before using it (give it at least 2-3 weeks)

Provided your company follows the proper protocols for setting up its email domains, marketing newsletters should not deteriorate your deliverability if they are following established best practices, such as:

  • Only emailing opted-in subscribers
  • Immediately ceasing to email unsubscribers
  • Only sending a maximum of one bulk communication per week

Your organization should follow GDPR guidelines for all regions as a best practice. If your marketing team doesn’t know whether they are following the guidelines, it’s time to kick off a major project and get them compliant.

There Is No Shortcut for Prospecting Done Well

Many marketers who adopted GDPR best practices several years ago understood that the change had little impact on their go-to-market strategy. Email marketing is a very effective way to communicate with prospects and customers, but only if they have some degree of interest and each message delivers something they value. Blasting frequent emails that aren’t topical burns brand equity, and that’s very difficult to recover once it’s gone.

It’s something salespeople used to rant and rave about back when they couldn’t spam people. When bulk prospecting tools came to market, nearly the entire sales discipline seemed to develop amnesia instantly and went hog wild, spamming their territories.

If you’re in RevOps, you’ve received hundreds of poorly crafted emails. Good emails stand out because they speak to a problem that’s timely in a way that demonstrates they understand our pain.

While changes to policies can be blamed for some of the reduction in response and open rates, the real problem has always been that bulk messaging to cold prospects isn’t effective. Particularly when sales reps are new to a company, aren’t familiar with the problems the product solves, and don’t know how to speak to their target audience. In my experience, most sales reps are eager to land their first sale (understandably) and want to hit the ground running by blasting their territory – inadvertently creating a massive dent in your company’s brand.

Do you gate outbound email by email address? Does your team watch the reports being generated by their prospecting tools? Do you know which messages are the most effective?

Most of us didn’t pay attention to the stats and assumed that very little harm could be done by letting rookie sales and marketing reps loose on our contact database. We were wrong. And for those of you in companies that still haven’t protected their domain deliverability (and in B2B, that’s most of us), you’re already feeling the pain. You just don’t know it yet.

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