How to avoid sending too many emails in Marketo

As a marketer, one of your responsibilities is handling email communication with leads.  Even with marketing automation tools, sending the right amount of emails can be difficult, and the complexity increases as you develop multiple lead nurture programs.  There are risks associated with sending the wrong amount of emails: too few and your leads lose interest or forget about you, too many and your leads get annoyed.  No company wants to be viewed as spammy and intrusive.  But how do you judge whether you’re sending too many emails?

The “Stop Light” Program is a method to ensure you don’t send too many emails to your prospects or customers.  Originally suggested by Eloqua, this method allows you to quickly and automatically adjust the number of emails they receive.

Basically you’ll set up smart lists to segment your lead database into three categories based on the amount of emails each lead has recently received.  As an example you may have the following set up:

Green: leads which have received 0-3 emails in the past month
Yellow: leads which have received 4-9 emails in the past month
Red: leads which have received 10 or more emails in the past month

How to do this in Marketo:

To do this in Marketo, we’ll use Smart Lists.

We’ll start by creating Red.
1. Click on New Smart List from the Lead Database tab.
2. Name the Smart List “Red (email frequency)” and give a description of something like “leads which have received 10 or more emails in the past month”.
3. Add the “Was Sent Email” filter from the Email folder in the Lead History folder under Filters.
4. Select “is any” next to “Email:”
5. For Date of Activity, choose “in past” and “30 days”
6. Click “Add Constrant” in the upper right and check the box which says “Min. Number of Times”. Write 10 as the value.

The next list we’ll make is Yellow.
1. Clone “Red (email frequency)” by clicking List Actions while in the “Red (email frequency)” list.
2. Name the Smart List “Yellow (email frequency)” and give a description of something like “leads which have received 4-9 emails in the past month”.
3. Change the “Min. Number of Times” to 4.
4. Add “Member of Smart List” in the Special Filters folder under Filters. Change it so it says “Lead not in Red (email frequency)”.

5. Double check the filter is set for “ALL”
This basically adds a constraint for maximum number of times an email is sent. Now, every lead in Yellow will have been sent at least 4 emails in the past month but no more than 9 since that would place them in the Red list.

Lastly, we’ll create Green.
1. Clone “Yellow (email frequency)”. by clicking List Actions while in the “Yellow (email frequency)” list.
2. Name the Smart List “Green (email frequency)” and give a description of something like “leads which have received 0-3 emails in the past month”.
3. Change the “Min. Number of Times” to 0.
4. Add another “Member of Smart List” filter (located in the Special Filters folder under Filters). Change it so it says “Leads not in Yellow (email frequency)”.
Step 3 is not entirely necessary for this particular list. Alternatively you could just remove the additional constraint of Min. Number of Times. I prefer to leave it and change the value to 0 however, as it makes the three lists more uniform and makes it easier if you need to clone this list. 

You should now have 3 lists:
Red: all leads which have been sent 10 or more emails in the past month.
Yellow: all leads which have been sent 4-9 emails in the past month.
Green: all leads which have been sent 0-3 emails in the past month.

We have also set it up so any lead can only be in one of the above lists.

Applications

There are several ways you can use these lists. Here are some possible applications:

1. Suspend marketing to your Red list.  Although most of the leads in the Red list will be employees, customers, or highly engaged prospects, if you currently send many broadcast messages to leads the quickest way to prevent too many emails is to suspend marketing for up to a month.  If they are in your typical Marketing Suspended list, they will still receive your operational emails.

This is great if you are concerned you are sending too many emails. The downside is you risk ignoring some leads who have been sent a lot of emails and actually wanted them.

2. Use your Green list to try out new nurturing campaigns. If you have a new campaign which sends several emails and are concerned about trying it out because you don’t want leads to unsubscribe, you can try it out on the Green list. These leads have not received many emails recently, so they likely have a higher tolerance for your email communications.

3. Look at unsubscibed leads and see what list they were in (Red, Yellow, or Green) when they unsubscribed. If most of the unsubscribes were from the Red list, it’s possible you were just sending too many emails. However if there is less of a correlation between unsubscribes and the Red list, you proiblems may be centered on the content of your emails or the quality of your house list.

4. With the above set up, leads can only move between the lists when time passes. If they are in the Red, enough days need to pass so they are in yellow. However, we can make leads move between lists by adding additional filters. For example, for the Red list , we may add a filter which excludes leads which have a certain CTR for the emails sent in the past 30 days. Then those leads would automatically be added to Yellow and Green. Depending on where you want to send those leads you’d need to add additional constraints to Yellow and Green so they are unique.