If you've ever sent a B2B email marketing campaign, you've seen the flood of auto-replies that happen after each send. Look around the forums for Marketo, Eloqua, or HubSpot and you'll see many marketing ops practitioners talking about ways to handles these email replies, auto-responders, or soft bounces at scale.
It's clear that getting flooded with replies is both annoying and a fact of life, but why bother using them? It boils down to 4 things:
- They help validate active emails and deliverability.
- They surface contact updates following a job/email change.
- They indicate invalid or risky emails in your database.
- They contain new leads and referral contacts for ABM.
We've analyzed millions of these replies and found that typically 2-3% of emails sent will receive a reply of some kind. There are hundreds of types of responses, but in looking at the data, we've found 7 core categories. For marketing operations and demand gen practitioners, knowing about these reply types and how to use them can help with data quality, ABM, and marketing automation performance.
1.) Left Company
When a contact changes companies or retires, you will receive an auto-reply indicating that the email is no longer active and suggesting a replacement contact. The most common use for these replies is data cleaning and updating contact records when a change happens. These replies can also be converted into two sales leads - outreach can be timely for both the original contact at her new job or the replacement contact at the original target account because buyers are more open to new vendors in the first months on a job.
2.) Changed Email
Email address changes happen in B2B when a contact changes names (e.g. getting married), when an email alias changes, or when a company changes domains (e.g. rebranding). Like left company replies, changes are also critical for keeping database records updated and ensuring deliverability.
3.) Out of Office or Vacation
The most common type of response in B2B is the general "out of office" message. Vacation responses are a special type of the common OOO message that have a bit more sales intelligence about where your contact is traveling and their return date. Whether you call it OOO, OOF, or OOTO, there are a ton of these replies - typically 75% or more of total replies. These messages can be leveraged in 3 primary ways - 1. By logging these replies, you get a positive signal for email verification and deliverability. 2. By mining the referral contacts, you can expand coverage for ABM; 3. By adding contacts to a temporary marketing suspend list, you can send the next message when they are back in the office.
4.) Human Response
On a percentage basis, the number of human replies is small for a B2B campaign (less than 5%). However, people do reply, and with the rise of Account-Based Marketing and more personalization, it's become more common. The days of using a no-reply are in the past and readers are coming to expect all channels to be more two-way. The primary use for human replies is naturally to start a conversation with your prospects or customers. The key is getting to these quickly and routing to the right person to engage.
Most bounces will be handled automatically by your marketing automation system, but there are some types of bounces that come back as an email reply rather than a hard bounce. Like other forms of bounces, these should be mined and used to clean up lists.
6.) Spam Shield
When you email a company that uses Spam Shields, you will see a reply come back with a verification link asking you to confirm that you are human. If you don't click the link, your emails will never make it to your contact's inbox.
7.) Generic System Reply
In the case of generic inboxes like support@, info@ or careers@, many companies configure an auto-reply from these inboxes. Generic system responses usually tell you if the inbox is monitored (or not). Generic system responses can often represent a "risky" email. While it's not necessarily a bounce, continuing to fire off marketing emails to an inbox that doesn't get read may impact your metrics over time.
Replies aren't the most glamorous part of B2B marketing, but they are a fact of life. Intelligently categorizing and leveraging these replies is important for database health and can be a source of new data and insight. Wondering how many replies you get and what type? Take a quick look at your marketing inbox next time a campaign goes out and you'll get some direction. If you're looking for a way to automate reply management and integrate data back to Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, or Act-On, reach out to our team - email@example.com. Of course we reply to all emails :)