Don’t Trust Your Vendor…?

By: Neil Bibbins, Compliance and Deliverability Specialist

Businesses today are faced with the decision to either develop and implement internal technical solutions or hire third party vendors. Each situation is different, and there generally are solid arguments to be made on both sides. But, one standard rule exists: Once a third party vendor is contacted, quality control can be lost. Results can fail to meet the original design. In fact, according to Hubspot, 91% of email users have unsubscribed from a company email they previously opted-in to.

For example, Dominion Dealer Solutions experienced this while working with a multi-industry email vendor.  This vendor had been paid quite well to deliver email campaigns.  Many other business clients love them because “they have a great reputation!” and “they take care of all the problems!”

This can be a dangerous assumption. While an email vendor may have a snazzy logo, perky marketing staff, and an extremely friendly sales guy, their products still must be measured against those of other email providers as well as internal email capabilities. It was during this measurement process that this particular vendor’s sender reputation and day-to-day practices fell short.

Some of the shortcomings are glaring. Processing hard bounces – undeliverable email addresses – is just one example. SilverPOP-An IBM Company- performed an email marketing study and found that 2.3% of marketing emails in the United States (across multiple industries) bounced. This is a significant portion of emails considering that each email is paid to be sent out. The Email 101 rule-of-thumb is to immediately retire hard bounce addresses when they are returned bearing the message “User Does Not Exist”. In this particular case, this email vendor had sent this policy statement to Dominion Dealer Solutions as well as published it to their site:

“…by default, we require that things bounce at least 3 times, and that it be at least 15 days between the current bounce and first bounce before we automatically suppress the address…So if you’re a daily sender, that means 16 bounces. (Has to get past 15 days before it gets suppressed.)”

You could be scratching your head over this one… the rationale was that this vendor didn’t “trust” the bounced messages returned by Inbox Providers. But, the cynics realize, that there may also be a business motivation: this vendor is contracted to send emails at a per-piece rate, so they get paid to send emails to undelivered addresses.

Policies such as this can be expensive. For example, a client recently made the decision to send an email campaign using his personal AOL address as the From: field. Since the IP address was not approved to be sent on behalf of AOL – as it shouldn’t be — many domains, including AOL, flagged the campaign as Spam. (Spammers love to spoof the From: field to hide their identity).

This particular vendor processed these bounced campaigns under the same inexplicable bounce rules mentioned above, and over 10K email addresses were permanently disabled as a result. Even after the proper From: field was used, the vendor wouldn’t send to the addresses anymore. Clients of this vendor were given the option to either pay to have the problem addressed or take hours to do it themselves. Are these really the answers or the problems expected from a respectable vendor?

This particular vendor isn’t the only example of best practices gone awry. One data vendor repeatedly sold prospecting data pertaining to vehicle purchases from over twenty-five years ago, and then assured clients that the records were still valid today. Another email append vendor happily charged for identical undeliverable addresses month after month, even though they were contracted to validate them. In another case, a direct mail vendor neglected to add “Or Current Resident” to the address block, leading to thousands of bulk returns and many irate clients.

Specifics aside, the internal problem in most of these cases was that the vendors were assumed to be doing what they were paid to do, and no one initially checked the data. In conclusion, there are several business lessons to be learned from these examples:

–  Due diligence doesn’t end when contracts are signed.

–  It is periodically worth looking beneath the hood to validate the quality of third party vendors.

–  Assuming that quality exists without verifying it can be an expensive assumption. This applies to every service that is paid for.

–  Most problems don’t get solved until the time is taken to look at them.