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10 questions to ask when auditing your email program

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10 questions to ask when auditing your email program

Back in January 2018, I wrote a MarTech column with advice I give clients when the fiscal year is young. 

I suggested you take some time off to plan your marketing strategy for the coming year. Forsake the hustle and distractions of the office and take your team to some offsite location where everybody can stretch their legs, let their minds run free and get the inspiration flowing. 

I also included a five-point plan for auditing your email marketing program before starting the strategic planning process. This gave you a foundation and direction for your planning process. It also revealed how your team members felt about the work they’re doing.

A lot has changed since I wrote that column. How well does it hold up? 

Time to rethink the email audit?

COVID-19 and its aftershocks certainly threw a big wrench into marketing operations, but it wasn’t the only factor reshaping the email landscape. Corporate restructuring, the “Great Resignation,” a new focus on “owned” data (zero-party and first-party data), economic and political upheavals and the continued evolution of marketing technology — all of these have left their marks on many email programs. 

Here’s what I found: My initial advice still stands. (Yeah!) But now, I can see there’s more work to do to understand how your email program is performing and create the strategies that will help your program achieve its goals.

Now: A 10-point email audit for strategic planning

Yes, I gave you more work. But that means you’ll end up with an even more helpful document.

Even if you don’t do a full-blown strategic planning session every year (email marketing team of one, I’m talking to you), this audit will guide you through the background research you need to identify your email strengths and weaknesses and plot your course for the 12 months. 

This research, and the insights you pull from it, become the basis for your strategic plan. Without this work, your planning retreat won’t go beyond aimless blue-sky banter. That’s not how you make your budget numbers or generate the kind of results that give you bragging rights about how well email helps your company achieve its goals. 

Feel free to adjust my audit points, so they work with your company’s unique email situation or add areas that you think I missed. (If you do, tell me what you added!). 

Numbers one through five below are the new points for your email audit. I also included the five from the previous version — for more details on those, check out my original blog post.

1. How do you measure success?

If you’re an e-commerce brand, your number one question should be, “How much money did this email campaign bring in?” The corollary to this question is, “Did it make as much money as I was expecting?”

All the metrics you use should help you answer that question: total revenue attributed to email, revenue per email, revenue per subscriber, and so on.

What doesn’t measure revenue? The open rate. It has never been a reliable success metric, but it has become even less so since 2021, thanks to Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature. 

If your audit shows you rely on opens to report success to your bosses, you need to change it.

Read next: Study finds iOS 15 is inflating email open rates

2. What are you doing to keep your email lists clean and up to date?

List hygiene is more important than ever now for two reasons:

  • We have to deal with more factors that pollute the database, like spoofed or disposable email addresses and out-of-date addresses, thanks to turnover from COVID-19 layoffs.
  • As cookies phase out, the email address has become much more important as an audience identifier across channels. You have to be sure this primary data point is up to date. (See my point 6 below on acquiring primary email addresses, too.)

3. What’s the overall tone of your email content?

I’m looking at two drivers for this point:

  • Many brands recalibrated their communications while the world was in lockdown to be more helpful and understanding. Sure, you still need to move product, but the “buy now” mentality is shifting toward “buy from us, and here’s why, and here’s how we can help.”
  • Brand equity is more important than ever now that we’re in a world where people will freak out over a single public misstep. I was already talking about this in 2019, but COVID, social media and the world, in general, are making it even more essential to think about how your email campaigns build up or eat away at your brand.  

4. How are your email automations working? 

How long has it been since you reviewed all of the email programs you use besides your basic promotional campaigns? 

I’m talking about a welcome program, transactional emails like abandonment, purchase, loyalty, repurchasing and reactivation.

In case you missed it, my latest MarTech column explained why your automations aren’t “set ’em and forget ’em” and what can happen when one goes rogue. Reviewing and recalibrating your automations should get built into the construction process.

Also, consider what new technology could help you solve some long-standing problems. You might be more data-dependent now than you were a few years ago. Could a central data platform (CDP) help you send better emails?

5. Where could you achieve better returns by bringing in outside help? 

If we learned anything about email over the last 2.5 years, it’s that email works. But making it work right takes time and resources.

If you don’t have the budget to hire full-time help, look for places where you could bring in contractors or an outside agency to take on some of the work you struggle with.

The recent layoffs at major tech companies have created a big pool of talented people who can bring an outsider’s viewpoint and specialized skills. 

Here’s a thought: Hire one of them to audit your email program. You’ll get insights from someone who isn’t beholden to company politics or how things have always been done.


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6. Are you asking customers and users for their primary email addresses?

Multiple studies show that the average consumer has up to three email addresses, one of which is their primary email address. What are you doing to sell your program to get the right one?

The primary email address is the one your customers check most often. Emails to primary addresses are more likely to be opened and acted on. 

It’s also the one they guard most carefully. If you want people to give you their primary email addresses, you must give them realistic expectations of your program’s value.

7. How do your transactional emails make money for your email program?

This requires a specific focus on your transactional emails and is separate from your overall periodic review. Here you assess how much revenue those emails bring in — and what your customers do with them (open or click on them, go back to their carts, or ignore them.) 

To judge any potential opportunity, I have worked with retail companies that generate 30% to 50% or more of their email revenue from transactional and triggered emails. This is a good bar to measure your own performance.

The age-old guidance is that you can use 20% of your transactional email for promotional purposes. That’s enough space to get a connected product for upselling or cross-selling.

You might need to revise your email template to update the branding, clarify the benefits, or smooth out the path back to the cart.

8. What’s your campaign workflow?

Ask each team member to write down the process you go through, from campaign research to email launch. 

  • Does everybody understand each step? 
  • Which steps get overlooked? 
  • Is there any step that has become the rule and not the exception that you should add?

You might discover that team members don’t understand what everybody’s role is in pulling a campaign together. 

Another benefit: This evaluation can reveal where the process breaks down and introduces errors or lost time.

Everybody outside the email team thinks email is either easy or a peripheral contributor to the company’s success. 

One of your jobs as an email team leader is letting everybody know just how badass email is.

After you figure out whether your emails are succeeding (see point 1), you need to broadcast that success to everybody who has a hand in deciding the email team’s fate – from budget to hiring to fast-tracking IT requests. 

What could help you get the word out to your boss, to other marketing teams, and ultimately to the boss of your boss’s boss? 

10. What do you want to accomplish in the next six to 12 months?

This is separate from meeting your team’s revenue goal, and it comes last on the list for a reason. 

A thorough audit should expose opportunities as well as weaknesses. Have each team member list one or two things that could move the needle. 

Think like the marketer you are, too. Explain the goal, the strategy for achieving it, and the tactics you’ll need to implement your strategy — especially if you want to add technology.

One last step… 

Write everything down and put everything into a master document for every team member to consult. Go old school and print it out if you want. 

Doing so will keep everyone on the same page, so to speak, and keep your team pulling together.

A pitch for bringing back the strategic planning session

If COVID-19 didn’t kill the offsite planning retreat, it definitely put the experience on pause. But now might be a good time to bring it back. 

Ideally, this planning retreat would happen at a beachside resort with an 18-hole championship golf course and fine dining nearby. But even if your budget will stretch only far enough to cover box lunches in the boardroom, the concept is the same: Get the gang together, lock the doors, turn off your phones, and think long and hard about what you need to accomplish in the coming year and what you have to do to get there. 

Having everybody on Zoom doesn’t cut it because you still have outside distractions, and video-call fatigue is real.

You need this time away from the email grind. Refocus on what’s coming beyond getting your next campaign to get out of the door. 

A strategic plan will help you identify your goals and objectives and outline the strategies you need to use, along with the tactics that will carry out those strategies. 

You’ll probably want to modify some things if COVID is still a challenge. Some team members will never feel comfortable in in-person gatherings anymore. But it’s worth the effort to try to restart in-person strategic planning even if your company is 100% remote.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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