The following is a conversation with a HubSpot colleague about one of her recent projects with a professional services company that conducts surveys for large enterprise organizations. Their emails were low on deliverability and consistently landing in spam folders. Learn how she’s improving their stats within just 3 months.
Can you tell me a little bit about your HubSpot client?
Yes. So this particular client, they are a professional services company. They do surveys for large enterprise organizations. Things like trust surveys, exit surveys, 180/360, etc.
It’s a team of about 20 to 30 people total. They have a lot of content specialists that work with customers, but it’s a team of one for marketing and one for sales. They were on HubSpot for two to three years before we met and they had Marketing Starter and Sales Professional, but they since upgraded to Marketing Professional because they were really struggling with managing a database of 12k without automation.
What was the conversation like when they reached out to you?
They came to me struggling with email deliverability. They have really strong, valuable content and good leads, but their emails were going to spam and their website wasn’t converting leads at all so they were in a rough spot to start. They even had customers who wanted to receive their emails and ebooks and were asking for them, but even those were going to spam so they didn’t know what they could do. Someone else told them they needed to start over with a new email domain, but luckily we nipped that in the bud.
Were they using other tools in HubSpot aside from email campaigns, or not yet?
They were barely even using the marketing emails (no automation at that point), and even though they had Sales Pro, since it was never set up for them, the salesperson kept using Excel and Gmail because he never even knew what he had in HubSpot.
That is where it started, but it didn’t take long to uncover that Sales was a big focus as well because they completely lacked the ability to attribute sales meetings or revenue to any marketing activities and had planned on expanding the sales team in 2024 but didn’t have a process built out, so they were in just as rough a spot as marketing. But since deliverability was the big issue and that affected the whole company, we needed to be sure to get aligned with what content was going out, when, and to whom because even the sales emails were landing in spam at that point so we had to get marketing and sales aligned to one team to aid in this effort
How were individual users within HubSpot being impacted at all by the challenges they were having?
The marketing director couldn’t prove she was doing a good job, Sales didn’t have any warm leads coming from marketing activities, and the CEO wasn’t happy that even he was getting their own emails in Spam, so it was a lot of pressure on one marketing person, who in reality was doing a great job creating powerful content. They were also on WordPress at the time so updating the website was an absolute nightmare and took days for a simple request to be completed by their website agency and they didn’t have any attribution set up nor clear conversion paths to guide customers through to sales.
Many times the marketing department will get push-back from management such as,, “do you really need this HubSpot tool?”
Yeah exactly. There was a lot of that, and that made it more of an uphill battle convincing them that even though it seemed counterintuitive to invest more into a tool that clearly wasn’t working, that it was actually the best solution for them to upgrade to Marketing Pro and migrate their site to CMS Pro so we could leverage automation, nurture their audience properly and improve deliverability, and get more control over their website to make quick changes and improve conversions.
So the Sales Process with us was key here in earning their trust, taking things slow, and really digging into the strategy that would help get them out of spam. We spent a lot of time talking about how to manage larger databases, how workflows support marketing efforts, and how they could help solve their deliverability issues without needing to start over with a brand new email sending domain (which someone else had recommended they do). But once they understood how the workflows could do things like help manage subscription types, manage ongoing segmentation, improve engagement by resending valuable content until it’s opened, etc. then they were more amenable to the upgrade.
Once you got into their HubSpot portal, what did you see? What was the landscape like?
Well, the very first thing I happened to notice was that their email sending domain (DKIM) was never connected! So that explained why they were having so many deliverability issues to begin with, and that was caught just in time to avoid extra penalties from the upcoming Google/Yahoo updates in February that are making DKIM, SPF, and DMARC required.
So understandably, their email health score was abysmal. They had something like 5-7% open rates on most emails, but they never really did any segmentation so all their 12k contacts got the same content without any real rhyme or reason. They also never took out nearly 2k in bounced contacts they collected over the years, so those didn’t help their engagement scores either.
What steps did you take to start fixing these issues?
We broke down our strategy into 3 main areas: email deliverability, website conversion rate optimization, and sales process design.
First, we tackled the email lists.
Once we got their email sending domain connected and were ready to start digging our way out of spam, we created some safe email lists for us to work off of. The general rule of thumb to get out of greylist status (the dreaded list of email domains that go right to spam) is to maintain open rates of at least 20%, so we started by only emailing people who had opened an email in the last 2 weeks, which was only a few hundred people. Immediately, our open rates jumped to over 40% and Click-Through Rates between 4-8%, which was a great start, but these stats had to be maintained as we expanded the list. So slow and steady was the name of the game to avoid setbacks as we were starting to improve our performance.
So for the next couple of weeks we went to our next list which included email opens in the last month, and then we went up to the last 2 months, then 3, and now we’re up to 6 months. We’re up to over 1000 emails per send and open rates are staying above 30% so we’re definitely on the right track. We have also been leveraging a lot of A/B testing and workflows to continue improving engagement with our emails which has also been a big help and benefit of upgrading to Marketing Pro.
Meanwhile, we also started including our personal emails and even our husband’s emails to continue testing if we were landing into primary inboxes more and more, and if an email landed in spam we marked it as not spam. As soon as an email was marked as not spam once, the next email came into the inbox, which was a big step in the right direction.
Next, we tackled the website.
We worked with HubSpot’s migration team to move the site from WordPress to HubSpot and that made it infinitely easier for us to make changes as needed without going through the dev team every time.
Once it was on HubSpot, one of the first changes we made to the website was to change how we delivered the gated resources. Previously, they had simple gates on their eBooks, where the page redirected right to the eBook upon a form fill submission. But since we were working on improving email deliverability and trying to get more opt-ins, we changed the delivery method to automated email after the form was filled. We also included a Thank You message in the form itself which mentioned please check spam if you don’t see this resource in your inbox in the next few minutes.
We also started leveraging slide-in CTAs to drive attention to their eBooks and Webinars, which are their most valuable pieces of content, and have been seeing pretty good engagement on those so far.
The next big thing we’re tackling is revamping their conversion paths, starting with their blogs and resources. As it stood when we started, none of the blogs lead anywhere, included no CTAs, and didn’t tie back to any other resources. It’s a big lift to organize 150-200 pieces of content, but we’re making good progress on aligning everything with a buyer’s journey following the Awareness, Consideration, Decision framework. We are leveraging Smart CTAs to surface similar resources once one has been consumed, are implementing mid-post CTAs to connect related blogs, and relying on automations to route the more engaged leads directly to sales for personal outreach.
And the last piece of the puzzle is to build predictable and scalable journeys based on industries, job titles, and company size with the help of targeted content and automations. Historically, they didn’t really segment their audiences at all, which in part lead to poor engagement on otherwise great content. So to improve engagement and sales conversions, we knew we had to be more intentional with how we shared information. To do this effectively, we had to build a lot more landing pages, each geared towards a specific persona, industry, or company size. These landing pages, which really acted more like pillar pages, called out specific challenges these people might recognize, used familiar persona-specific messaging, and shared valuable resources to help them diagnose their situations. Of course we also included scheduling pages to book an intro call with sales, and included more of those links in more of the Decision stage blogs. Once we had better segments built within our email lists, we built automations which attempted to resurface valuable content until it was opened and engaged with, making sure people didn’t miss out on new content that could help them.
And so the strategy that we are now really starting to push forth is, you know, one of the biggest things is they never segmented their audiences.
So everybody, all 10,000 people, no matter the industry, no matter their job title, no matter anything, we’re getting the same content.
And so of course there’s going to be different preferences that people have. people really like webinars, people really like ebooks.
There’s a lot of power in having different messaging to different job titles, different industries, different size of companies. So having targeted landing pages and organizing customer journeys and none of that was in place.
So we did a very in-depth blog audit and went through all 200 of their blogs and basically looked at what is the category of this blog, what is the
value proposition and what is the CTA? What is the call to action at the end of this? Which most of them didn’t have call to action, so we’re building that out and saying, this matches with this ebook and this matches with this offer.
So we’re building out those customer journeys and we’re grouping those blogs into related content categories or what’s the content clusters, that’s the one.
And so the next step of how we’re going to start you know, moving into the thousand contacts and two thousand contacts and further is really starting to look at what are their content is the highest engagement and doing better segmentation around past engagements.
know, anybody who’s ever attended a webinar, they’re going to be getting all the webinar stuff. Anybody who’s ever you know, download an ebook, we’re going to make sure that they are receiving every ebook communication.
And so getting really specific and building out better conversion journeys from an awareness stage. blog, for example, that is talking about, hey, maybe you’re experiencing a lot of turnover and you don’t know why, right?
And so for a survey company that does, you know, employee satisfaction service and all other stuff, that’s a great awareness stage blog.
And then from there, it’s, you know, helping to diagnose and understanding, you know, why running surveys is going to be a great solution to have, you know, better employee retainment and all this other, you know, benefits for scale.
And so linking those blogs together and sending in related, you know, putting in the breadcrumbs across the website so they can go from one to the next and then have some kind of a conversion point as well is really where, you know, we’re going to be attacking more of the thousands of people and building the better segments to guide them down those journeys.
And so we’re going to be doing making sure that he has all the content offers that he needs. So for, if you are talking to a large enterprise company like PepsiCo, for example, then this is the content that is most valuable for enterprise companies.
So he has a resource folder that he can easily share and know which content is the most powerful for the large companies that he’s going after.
So none of that was ever done. They never had any real reason to the madness and how to send content or know which content to create or anything else.
So getting everything organized, building those relationships and building the campaigns to then see, hey, if this is good content for you, did you open it or not?
So making sure that we are resending an email at least once to a highly qualified lead that has engaged in the past, but if they didn’t open an email, we’re going to send it again.
And so making sure that we’re resurfacing things like that to just continuously reuse all the great content and resources that they have.
Wow, you’ve accomplished so much! How long has this project been going, and how long do you expect it to last?
We’re about 3 months in, and expecting to go another 2 months at least so we can continue iterating and improving our conversion paths based on where and how people engage the most. The hardest thing about email deliverability is we could be doing everything right, but there’s no guarantee that we’re landing in primary inboxes to 100% of our audience, and no way to know for sure unless people tell us.
We connected the email sending domain. We set up the DKIM. There’s other deliverability changes that are coming in February that are actually going to be really huge.
So, you know, setting up the SPF, all those things are really important. But we’re hoping that by the end of March, if we’re consistently staying above 40, 50 percent open rates and over 6, 7 percent click-through rates that our spam issues are going to drop down and then little by little we’ll be able to increase our list size substantially.
There is a chance we’re going to have to go halfway through the year to fully get out of gray list on all 12k+ people we have in our list.
And making sure the first thing you do is set up your email sending domain before sending out of HubSpot. Right, OK. And what about dedicated IP’s? Is that something that you recommend if a company has totally destroyed their IP reputation?
That’s a great question. And I don’t know that I have the best answer for that one, but there are a few things to consider.
If you’re on HubSpot, if you don’t have a dedicated IP and you’re just using HubSpot as is, then technically you’re getting the benefit of HubSpot’s trusted IP.
But HubSpot will quarantine you if you mess with that and start getting really bad engagement, high bounce rates, or too many spam reports. Because so many customers rely on HubSpot’s good deliverability, if somebody comes in and they start messing with that, HubSpot’s going to quarantine you and they’re going to require you to get a dedicated IP.
That said, dedicated IP’s need to be warmed up. So generally speaking, that’s something that you need to also just start slowly with. It’s nothing that you can just throw 10,000 contacts at right away. It would still have to be intentionally, meaningfully, slowly warmed up so that you’re teaching the email providers that you are, again, legitimate, that you have good content and that you’re not just trying to spam everybody.
And oh, by the way, forgot to mention, there are AI tools in HubSpot now that can help with things like generating good subject lines and better content overall, so leverage plenty of A/B testing until you find what works for you.
Test in small groups to see what is getting engagement, what is not getting engagement. Use the tools that HubSpot provides so that you’re not just throwing spaghetti, but that you are collecting as much data as you can to make a better decision on the next campaign.
I’ve noticed that HubSpot’s AI-suggested subject lines are actually getting pretty good.
They weren’t so great in the beginning, but they are getting better and better the more I’ve used them. The really cool thing about the HubSpot AI is that it learns from your own CRM. So it’s the same brain as ChatGPT — it has a lot of the same capabilities — but it learns from your CRM data, from your content, from everything in your portal.
So it gets better and better over time. Good point. And last question: as a HubSpot consultant, what have you enjoyed most about working on this project?
I like seeing the improvement in engagement rates — little wins every day that shows we’re on the right path. And it’s been a really great team to work with, which is always a win in my book. It’s been an absolute pleasure helping them get their content delivered and to get more eyes on it and to get better engagement with it and to just help them set up for future success.
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