Constant Contact shut down my email -- and it wasn't for the first time. In fact, it was the third time they did this in the more than six years I've been using the service. Does that make me angry? On the contrary, it makes me grateful. Thank you, Constant Contact.
By now, you've likely heard of Constant Contact. It's a powerful and popular email marketing platform that's used by millions of small businesses. It's also my company's marketing platform, and we rely on it heavily for communications to both clients and prospects. We like it so much that we signed up as a partner so that we can offer the service to clients, too.
My company sells four customer relationship management (CRM) software applications. Each month, we use Constant Contact's powerful features to create a newsletters of tips for each product designed to help users -- both clients and prospects -- use their software better. We send these newsletters to a database of about 10,000 opt-in recipients. These monthly emails are very important to both our clients and our business. They not only provide helpful information but also promote other services and events we offer so that our community can get a better experience with the products they own.
So we're a loyal and significant customer to Constant Contact. We're even a partner. And yet, they shut us down. For the third time!
The most recent time was a few months ago when we tried to send our newsletters as usual. This time, however, we received a warning message from the service telling us that our account was "suspended" and that we were to contact the company's audit department. Audit department? Like the IRS? Kind of. Was I worried? No...again, I'd been to this rodeo before.
The auditors at Constant Contact wanted to talk to me about my emails. They were proactively reviewing my lists and found a few red flags. Over time, I had been receiving an unusual amount of bounce-backs due to changed addresses and names not found on the recipient's servers. There were also a high number of email addresses that began with "sales@" or "info@" instead of people's names. The auditors grilled me. Why was this? What are my opt-in policies? What are my opt-out policies? How do I collect email addresses? What procedures do I have for cleaning up my email lists?
I had answers to all these questions, but I was still guilty as charged. We do have an opt-in procedure where clients can request our newsletters on our website and when people opt-out, which is infrequent, we remove them from our database. But my company, a small business, is under-resourced, and we do a lousy job cleaning up our email lists. I tend to ignore bounce-backs and bad email addresses and don't update our database very often because I just don't have the time. As mentioned above, our company sells CRM software, which is a sales and marketing tool. Our clients and prospects are generally sales and marketing people and oftentimes when they request information or sign up for our newsletters, they use a generic "sales@" or "info@" address instead of their personal email.
I passed the test. After our discussion, the auditors at Constant Contact turned my service back on and offered me a few helpful data management and email tips.
Did this make me angry? Was I insulted that a service that I'm paying for was shut down without warning? Was I annoyed at how I was treated even though I'm a long-term customer and even a partner? Was I frustrated that this was the third time in six years that this happened?
Not at all. I was, and am, grateful.
Constant Contact, like any good email marketing service (and there are many -- like MailChimp, MyEmma, JangoMail, AWeber) has one primary job: delivering my email. To do this, their servers need to be whitelisted by the major email services from Gmail to Hotmail and everything in between. It is extremely important that they are monitoring what emails are being sent and who's sending them -- otherwise their business model fails. To do this, they must proactively audit. And by proactively auditing, they're making sure their customers are complying with the rules and not sending spam. This benefits all of us.
So thank you, Constant Contact, for auditing me. You have my permission to keep auditing me. I need the supervision and welcome the advice. I will do my best to keep my data up to date. But more importantly, I need to make sure that when I go to the effort to create a newsletter, I can feel confident that you will make sure it's being delivered as promised.
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.