B-to-B Deliverability

Remember the grand vision of developing one-to-one business-to-business communications, and leveraging e-mail to reach senior executives in corporate America? I do, and I also recall many of the approaches B-to-B marketers have tried. The vision looked great on paper -- until companies ran into the Great Wall of Administrators and Filtering Systems.

Let's take a look at several barriers and see what advances have been made in the world of B-to-B deliverability services, starting with a look at the filtering that exists today.

First, there's the corporate spam filter. According to Michelle Eichner, chief operating officer and vice president of Pivotal Veracity, "Many organizations outsource their spam and virus filtering to companies such as Postini, MessageLabs and Brightmail, because of their ability to provide a powerful combination of content management and sophisticated content analysis to block viruses, spam, phishing, IM worms, directory harvest attacks and other e-mail and IM threats." The other major barrier to be aware of is blacklisting, a service handled by reputation firms like SpamCop. Essentially, these companies collect unwanted e-mails and complaints, and build a list that companies can access and add to their filter rules.



But let's not forget about the ultimate contextual filtering device ­-- the administrator who scans an executive's e-mails and deletes all irrelevant messages. Remember the days when administrators even answered the e-mail for executives? I wonder if this is still happening, or whether these elusive executives have learned to be more efficient! The bottom line is that your approach to designing programs should take filtering into consideration.

Beside filtering, there's another issue: monitoring whether your e-mail got there safely. While some companies focus on business-to-consumer deliverability and monitoring services, I know of only one that specifically focuses on B-to-B and international monitoring -- Pivotal Veracity. Essentially, this type of service seeds the vast majority of middle-market and larger mail servers hosted for business (much as they do for B-to-C ISPs like AOL, Yahoo! and MSN). By using monitoring services that alert you if your IP address has been blacklisted, or if Postini, Brightmail or MessageLabs has picked you up, you can be much more proactive in resolving these issues.

One client I have on this service recently found an issue with a major bank -- a 70 percent bounce rate. We couldn't seem to get the attention of the company's IT team to deal with the problem. Our approach was to "end around" it by working with the sales department (the actual target of the e-mail) to get our IP address and domain trusted again. Again, we wouldn't have known about this issue at all if we hadn't monitored the domains for bounces.

The problem with B-to-B filtering in general is that its standards tends to be ambiguous, or, at best, ad hoc. So if you were added to a blacklist at some point and a company hasn't updated its filters recently, you could be blocked arbitrarily and not know it.

Here are a few helpful tips that Eichner passed on:

1) Before you send an e-mail blast, score your e-mails to detect any elements that might cause delivery issues.
2) Check your HTML against the standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium, and verify that you're sending compliant HTML.
3) See how your e-mails render in B-to-B e-mail cients such as Lotus Notes, Eudora and Outlook. Services like eDesign Optimizer will allow you to see how your e-mails render across 15 major e-mail clients.
4) Check to make sure your company's IP addresses are not listed in the major blacklists
5) Review your bounce notices to determine if there are patterns in why your e-mails are not being delivered.
6) Monitor your domain, brand and company names to ensure they are not being discussed on major abuse boards.

If your marketing is dependent on e-mail as a lifeline to your customers in a business environment, it pays to consider these new options to support you.

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