A practical guide to GDPR and email marketing – Part 3: Dealing with non-customers & B2B email marketing


Posted by: Stafford Sumner on 4th May 2018


Part 3: Dealing with non-customers & B2B email marketing

Last time we looked at how GDPR will impact the way we communicate with customers, in this article the focus shifts to how the changes will affect the way we communicate with contacts we hold on our database who aren’t customers.

Take this example from a software company who sell their product to other businesses. Here’s their question:

“We have a database of B2B contacts that we bought, legally, and have used for lead generation purposes for the last 12 months. Some of those contacts have gone on to be customers; others are still in the ‘nurture cycle’. We paid approximately £1 per contact so we don’t want to throw them away but we understand that under GDPR we can no longer use bought-in lists. Is there any way we can contact these people and ask if they want to subscribe to our emails in the future and thus keep some of them on our database?”

We put this question to the team at Stephens Scowns and here’s the legal advice:

We would suggest you err on this side of caution here. One of the main issues with bought-in lists is that there is often no record of how that data was collected originally, what those people on the list were told at the time about their privacy and what legal ground under GDPR is being relied on to share the data. Basically, bought in lists are likely to fail on these grounds meaning you cannot use the raw data anymore. If a B2B contact is a current customer, or is likely to buy or enquire again within a reasonable time (that you have documented in your GDPR file), they can continue to be communicated with via your “legitimate Interests” as a business (if you have carried out the written balancing exercise discussed in Part 2), however if they are merely suspects or expired prospects, they should be removed from your databases.

Now, we know some short-sighted businesses won’t like this news as they see email marketing as a cost-effective lead generation tool and, inevitably, will be looking for ‘work-arounds’ or methods with which to cheat the system.

While this is understandable, the move will force businesses to look at better quality rather than higher quantity of contacts, something we welcome with open arms.

As email marketing experts, we’ve been advocates of quality over quantity for a long time. With every email campaign we send out, we’re looking to deliver quality, relevance and added value. As such, there’s simply no point in emailing contacts who aren’t interested in or engaging with your content.

There is going to be a further closing of the gap between sales and marketing, which can only be truly influenced at board level, by moving away from key performance indicators that focus on vanity metrics like list size, database growth and open rate; and towards things like measuring quality through conversion rates, values, source tracking (to direct future activity with the best conversion ratios), and sales cycle times.

There will need to be a tightening of the relationship between different marketing channels, to provide a concerted effort to find new prospects organically, for example via providing good quality, valuable content in relevant places such as video, blogs, ebooks and events; and creating optimal data capture opportunities, that comply with the new regulations (something we’ll be looking at in the next blog.)

Email can still be used for automated journeys to nurture the leads following the subscription/ download (assuming permission given) and can be dynamically modified depending on engagement or the prospect. It can also be used to up-sell, cross-sell and gain renewals from existing clients.

For B2C, if the data was historically collected in-line with PECR (ie where it was clear that their details would be used by you for marketing purposes) and there is a proven pattern of regular sending and an unsubscribe link was and will continue to be available, then you can carry on sending to contacts without requiring them to re-opt-in as you will be relying on your legitimate interests as a business rather than their explicit consent. It was not possible, and indeed frowned upon, to use bought-in B2C data so this should not be anywhere near your data lists anyway.

In the short term, you can encourage subscribers to re-engage by sending regular emails with good quality content and a strong ‘hook’ in the subject line. If they don’t ‘bite’ before May 25 2018, remove them from your database.

In summary…

  • In a B2B setting, suspects or expired prospects should be removed from your database and you should no longer communicate with them through email marketing until such a time as they give you consent to do so.
  • Build your email marketing strategy around quality, relevant content, not on having a big list.
  • Providing your B2C data has been collected they right way, you can prove you send regular emails to them and you include on unsubscribe link, then you don’t need them to re-opt-in.

In Part 4, we’ll show you what the changes coming with GDPR mean for running competitions, data collection and list growth.

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About the author

Stafford Sumner

An expert in developing businesses through email marketing, Stafford founded Jarrang in 2003, and since then has worked with hundreds of business across the globe helping them grow and succeed.