As a salesperson, the hardest thing to do is to let go of a prospect. “If I just call them one more time or send them one more piece of information surely they will buy.”

At some level you know they won’t, so why do you keep chasing a dead prospect? Let’s face it, calling someone you know, even if they aren’t saying yes is actually easier than looking for new prospects. Whether you are impressing your boss or making yourself feel better, that bloated pipeline filled with dead prospects is actually dragging you down, wasting precious time when you should be out looking for new people.

The same thing happens with your email list. Every week you meet new people, you add them to the list. It grows and grows, but is anyone really reading it? And even if they read it three or four years ago, are they reading it now or are you fooling yourself with lots of dead weight.

The Great Email List Purge

A few weeks ago we ran a series of tests on our email marketing program. We discovered email performance was fairly consistent, regardless of our layout or subject line. What was different was the open rate on our newer lists. It was significantly higher for lists comprised of recent contacts. Our open rate was about 13% for older lists and around 22% for the newer lists. This is fairly typical for our industry, but I have never wanted to be typical so we took a closer look at the data.

Starting with a list of 8,500 names we looked for anyone who had not opened an email from us in the last six months. That was actually more than half the list. I should have just deleted all of those contacts at once, but the salesperson in me was screaming “NO! NO! NO!  Some of those people might still be interested.”

Every week we clean out emails which bounce, but we don’t know if someone has simply stopped using an account so I downloaded the list to take a closer look. This is where the Excel “Text to Column” function is really handy, using it I was able to sort by suffix. I found hundreds of AOL and Road Runner addresses. I was confident the owners of those accounts have long since abandoned AOL, so I was comfortable letting them go.

I also found groups from companies I no longer worked with, Rheem manufacturing, for example. In 2007 I did a series of presentations for them and added hundreds of their employees to my list. We no longer work together and I had actually forgotten they were even on my list. Judging by their lack of interest, they had forgotten as well.

Effective Email Marketing

And so it went, I pared the list down to about 4,500 names and sent another round of email campaigns. The 27% open rate told me the list cleaning was the right move. Over the next few weeks, we will be able to test different subject lines and sending times to see if this engaged group of clients have a preference. The smaller list size will allow us to spot even subtle changes in behavior or interest in specific topics.

The small list size has one other benefit. It is less expensive. Using Constant Contact, there is a price break at 5,000 names. So I was paying an additional fee every month to keep 4,000 dead email addresses on my list.

In the end, the list clean up was a win – win. I identified people who are interested in our content, and people who aren’t, and I was ok saying goodbye. While I won’t do this every week I think it will be a good exercise to do every few months. If you are running an email program, I would recommend that you give this exercise a try.