How to Revive a Cold Email List (Without Seeming Like a Jerk)

Several years ago, I had the unique experience of managing a custom leather goods boutique.

It was a Texas-based brick & mortar store looking to branch off into e-commerce.

What? You want a $425 leather ice chest? Lucky for you, we've got that right over here, sir!

When I first came onboard, I was tasked with purging and re-engaging a cold email list. Over the brief lifespan of the business, the owners had done a great job of collecting email addresses—around 1,000 to be exact. That may or may not seem like a lot, depending on your industry and current email marketing results to date. However, that number is substantial for a small store catering to a narrow demographic.

Unfortunately, the business had a). Not had the foresight to segment the email addresses they'd obtained (i.e. these came from industry trade shows, those came from walk-in customers) and b). Not committed to a lead nurturing email strategy.

Instead, the business "email blasted" sales notices to the entire list once or twice a quarter, with no other interaction in between. Eek—not good! This is like asking a potential love interest for their phone number and calling them 4 months later.

How Does An Email List Get Cold?

Obviously, there are instances where email lists are cold from the start, such as when a list is purchased through a third-party vendor. Though emailing cold lists is fairly common practice among B2Bs, it's generally not recommended when following an inbound marketing approach.

The entire foundation of inbound actually rests on drawing people to you and continually warming those leads over time. As such, in this article, we're talking about warm lists that go cold for one reason or another. In the case of the leather goods boutique, those reasons were:

1. Clear expectations never being communicated as to what email recipients could expect (in terms of frequency of contact, types of content to be received, and benefits of being on "the list").

2. Bundling in those who had never explicitly given their permission to receive email offers with those who had (some email addresses were obtained from third-parties).

3. An abundance of abandoned and/or discontinued email accounts (translation: LOTS of bounce backs).

If you've found yourself in a similar situation, don't fret. It's never too late to either switch to a content marketing strategy or get your previous one back on track. Engage the following tips and your list will be warm in no time.

Steps for Email List Recitation


1. Purge Baby Purge

I know, you enjoy seeing that nice BIG number next to the words "List Size". Or, conversely, the thought of shrinking your "already" tiny list just seems like more than you can bare. But here's the deal: A "falsely large" list will yield "falsely poor" metrics—and false metrics will mislead you into thinking you're doing worse than you actually are.

Allow me to explain: Say you've been diligently tracking conversion rates over the past 6 months. You want to get an overall picture of just how well your content marketing strategy is playing out. There's just one problem—40 percent of the email addresses on your list are inactive (i.e. the recipient is either no longer using the account or they simply began ignoring your emails a long time ago)!

Thus, you're basing your conversion rate on an unrealistic picture. By taking the time to remove bounce backs and inactive recipients, you'll obtain a much clearer picture of what's working and what's not. If someone hasn't opened one of your emails in the past year, do you really want them on your list?

2. Revisit Buyer Personas

Who are you really communicating with? What are their unique wants, needs, and interests? Have any of these things changed since you last contacted them? In order to answer these questions, you'll need to do some research. Monitoring industry-related forums, posing questions on social networks (i.e. Quora, Reddit, LinkedIn), and pursuing reviews of relevant products on Amazon are all great ways to uncover a goldmine of information.

Also, consider engaging the customer service and sales departments of your company: What questions frequently come up in their dealings with consumers? Once you're finished gathering your information, update your Buyer's Personas to reflect who you will be writing for.

3. Create An Editorial Calendar

One of the reasons lists commonly "go cold" is lack of editorial direction. As previously mentioned, magazines don't just wake-up one morning and decide what they're going to publish. They plan their content months in advance so they know exactly what they'll be working on when they show up for work.

You owe yourself the same forethought. I recommend creating a content matrix to generate a HUGE list of topics. Once you have your list: 1. Segment them into three categories: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. 2. Map out a content journey for each stage. 3. Match each topic with any desired keywords you want to rank for.

Determine how often you can realistically publish next content and create your calendar. The keys to success are thoughtful planning (that takes out the guesswork) and consistency of execution.

4. Create A Warmup Campaign

Some marketers say it's "too risky" to re-iniate contact with a cold list after a certain point. I disagree. As long as you've done your due dilligence to purge inactive accounts, it's worth a try. The key is providing a clear option to unsubscribe upfront. That means going beyond the tiny, grayed-out link required by the CAN-SPAM Act and inserting your own unsubscribe link within your email.

Beyond that, here's my recommended approach:

  • Don't beat around the bush (tell them exactly why you're writing).
  • Explain why you lost contact (most people appreciate honesty).
  • Inform them of your new plan (what they expect from now on).
  • Explain exactly how they will benefit by staying on your list.
  • Give them something AMAZINGLY valuable (i.e. a huge discount, the best eBook in existence on the subject of X, a free "no sales pitch" consultation to help them work through their most pressing need).
  • Ask them to "hit reply" and describe what type of content they would most like to receive.

Finally, keep your re-engagement email short and simple. A word to the wise: Don't get discouraged if the size of your list significantly decreases. You're essentially starting from scratch.

But it's important to remember, behind every email address is an actual person. And, if even only a handful of those people are truly interested in your business, that's something that can be built upon and is absolutely worth celebrating.

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