Today I had a chance to chat with Matt Benati, CEO and Co-Founder of LeadGnome. You may have seen some of Matt’s articles on how to use automated replies from customers and prospects to keep your database up to date, and find hidden opportunities. I wanted to learn more about Matt’s perspective on this topic as well as more about his product.
Josh: Tell us about the burgeoning world of Reply Email Mining.
Matt: Most marketing teams use Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPs) like Marketo to automate as much of their marketing processes as possible. Automating the process of sending emails to prospects and customers is a large part of this. MAPs focus on segmentation of databases, allowing for personalization and workflows that are triggered when a lead completes a specified action, such as downloading an ebook, watching a video, or even visiting certain pages of a site. For example, if someone downloads ABC, then automatically send XYZ follow-up email.
What is left out of the automation process is anything to do with the post-send of an email. Links, opens, clicks and other engagement with emails can be tracked — but the replies are typically not dealt with. Or, not dealt with efficiently. Hard and soft bounces are managed because the MAP can capture and remove bad emails from lists automatically. But auto-responses like Out-Of-Office and Left-The-Company, and even human replies like manual unsubscribe requests, are often ignored or deleted. In fact, many folks have historically considered these reply emails a nuisance. Even MailChimp by default automatically suppresses Out-Of-Office responses from email threads.
It turns out, however, that the info within those replies provides significant intelligence and insight for sales and marketing teams. Many of us, myself included, have known about these hidden gems and have manually gone in and hunted and pecked the data for years. Now, as email mining is getting the attention it deserves, I am hearing over and over again, “I’ve been looking for this type of solution for years.” There is pent up demand for this critically strategic capability. This is not simply a tactical capability — it’s a must-have. Why? Because it provides significant advantages when we talk about driving revenue.
Josh: How did you get your firm started? Email reply data seems complicated.
Matt: It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this is certainly the case for LeadGnome. Several years ago, in my first head of marketing job, my team and I were on the hook to deliver high-quality leads to the sales team. We used inbound, outbound, and nurturing methods, and all of these techniques had an email component.
My team had recently purchased a targeted list of contacts for an outbound campaign. I wanted to see how good the list was, so I began combing through the campaign response emails for bounces. I figured if the bounce rate was high, I’d ask the list vendor for additional contacts or a discount. However, as I scrolled through the response emails, I noticed something that immediately stopped me from counting bounces. I discovered gold buried in that mountain of emails – specifically I found leads in the body of out-of-office emails.
Wanting to make the most of my budget, I asked a marketing associate to plow through the out-of-office emails and mine the leads. His progress was slow and error prone as he performed the following process:
- Open each email
- Read the email searching for other contacts
- Record this information (hand type or cut ‘n paste) into a spreadsheet
- Import that information into our CRM system, Salesforce
Clearly, this was not going to scale. I figured there must be an automated email reply mining solution out there, so I searched the web. To my amazement, no solution existed. With a background in analytics, including data mining, I set out to develop an automated solution. The thing is, most of the valuable data in a reply email is in the body – in techno-speak, we call this the “unstructured data.” It requires advanced technologies, including the use of artificial intelligence, to effectively recognize and mine the relevant information from the unstructured data of an email. True reply email mining, like what LeadGnome does, goes far beyond signature scraping technology, to deliver more than just a phone number or title; the rich intelligence mined by LeadGnome directly translates to revenue opportunities.
Josh: LeadGnome sells the idea of high value leads from mining reply data. My experience is that I wanted to stop reviewing thousands of replies before I cared about new records. Why do companies seek you out? What’s that first conversation about?
Matt: It really depends on who I am speaking with and what their priorities are. In every case, the conversation starts with, “Please help; I can’t keep up with the volume of replies!” Then I start talking about what they want to accomplish with email mining – aside from automating the process. Here’s how their priorities typically shake out:
Marketing Operations Professionals:
- Database health/Compliance
- Enrich existing contacts
- New leads
Demand Generation Professionals:
- New leads
- Enrich existing contacts
- Trigger events
- New leads
- Trigger events
Here’s what I’m talking about with these priorities:
Database health/Compliance – Database health is certainly an important need of our customers, especially considering that B2B data decays at a rate of about 70% annually. Clean data ensures you can reach prospects, helps with email delivery and sender reputation, and ensures you have accurate data to stay compliant with existing email spam laws (like CAN-SPAM and CASL). And with GDPR going into effect May 25, 2018, many organizations need solutions in place that can meet these stricter rules. We proactively built the LeadGnome platform to help ensure GDPR compliance and am happy to discuss details.
Enrich existing leads – Email mining maintains and enriches 72% of existing records annually by sending just 3 emails per month. Phone numbers, titles, email addresses, and other insight about your leads are mined and can be used to segment lists and personalize messaging.
New Leads – According to Gartner research, today’s B2B buying decisions now require an average of 7 people within an organization, so discovering new leads in target accounts is a top priority for both sales and marketing. Email mining generates pipeline by adding 20%+ net new contacts annually.
Trigger Events – A trigger event, or a significant change with a lead or account, represents a sales opportunity. It goes beyond delivering a lead, often bypassing parts of the sales funnel, to allow sales to leverage top line revenue opportunities. Most importantly, when certain trigger events are discovered via email mining, sales teams have a 6-12 month timing advantage over competitors and significantly increase their win rates.
While these benefits are reason enough for most marketing and sales professionals to want to add email mining to their toolbox, the ROI is the icing on the cake. Most LeadGnome customers realize an ROI of more than 600% in their first year. How? Automation reduces both hard costs (time/effort of manual process) and opportunity costs (redeploying resources to more appropriate tasks). When you add in the net new contacts (pipeline growth), and trigger events (found revenue opportunities), many customers realize a higher ROI.
Josh: Email use rules are tightening. What is the best follow up campaign for a new name obtained from Email Reply Mining?
Matt: LeadGnome has been leading the charge when it comes to privacy and privacy law discussions centering on mining reply emails. It turns out that net new contacts identified via auto-responses and human responses can be used lawfully under CAN-SPAM, CASL, and GDPR. If your readers have questions about using reply information lawfully, I’m happy to discuss it further. Of course, each company should consult their legal counsel for advice. [ed: no legal advice is provided in this article]
Regardless of whether you’re mining emails or not, you MUST have a process in place for being in compliance with these laws. To stay on the right side of all regulations, I recommend permission-based marketing. What has always been the best practice has even more significance in today’s highly-regulated world; specifically, the fundamental tenets of permission marketing. That is, when you reach out, be transparent with how you learned about the new contact. Transparency has always been the hallmark of permission-based marketing, and obtaining express consent from the get go is the surest way to remain compliant, especially with the upcoming GDPR changes, which are shaping up to be the strictest of all email spam laws.
Josh: I completely agree that following the principles of Permission Marketing is always the way to go and will enhance a company’s reputation online and off.
Josh: Where do your customers tend to make mistakes with LeadGnome? What’s stopping them from realizing its full potential?
Matt: My philosophy is that customers continue using MAPs (like Marketo) that they know and love. I want our customers to use the systems they use daily and I believe that they shouldn’t have to learn a new workflow system presented by a company like LeadGnome.
The challenge with that, however, is they need to create the MAP programs to automate the business logic/workflows that make sense for them. For example, some might alert sales reps via email; some via text. Because all companies do things differently, I really felt strongly that the best place to create these workflows is within your MAP. For example, your workflows may combine reply email mining result data with other data stored in your MAP – this is done most efficiently within the MAP itself.
Josh: Why do you think the major MAPs have left reply management out of their core product?
MAPs have been in place for many years, but the technology needed to mine the unstructured data from reply emails simply has not been there. Artificial Intelligence technology is how LeadGnome mines emails, but it has only become feasible and more accessible in recent years. MAPs have historically focused on the sales and marketing processes leading up to and including sending emails, but as mentioned before, the post-send process has remained largely untouched.
LeadGnome complements your MAP by filling this automation gap, closing the loop on the email marketing process and leveraging a previously untapped data source.
Josh: What percentage of each email send yields some sort of reply?
From analyzing real LeadGnome customers’ email campaigns, I have found that 2% to 3% of email send volume produces replies. Of those replies, 50% to 60% generate alternate contacts (net new contacts).
Josh: Since we both care about Permission based marketing, what are the ethics in using data obtained this way?
Matt: In a B2B world, your existing contacts or the company you are interacting with is asking you to engage with others within the organization when they put auto-responses like Out-Of-Office and Left-The-Company in place.
In an OOO, there is usually an alternate person to contact while your original contact is out of the office. Same with a Left The Company reply, as there is usually a replacement contact included in the auto-response. Because your contact gave this information freely, you are legally able to reach out to the new contact. As I discussed earlier, however, it’s always a good idea to practice permission-based marketing, reach out and be transparent in how you received the new contact’s information, and ask for them to opt-in to receive communication from you. In fact, for GDPR, it is a requirement of the “legitimate interest” rule, to provide specific information when communicating with these new contacts.
Josh: I see two groups of Reply Email tools: reply mining apps and reply conversation Bots with “AI”. Do you see the reply mining sector heading more toward AI reply bots like Conversica?
Matt: I think there is certainly a place for bots that reply to conversations for their human counterparts. This could be an expedient solution for high-volume or “pat answer” situations. However, we live in a world where people want more personalized engagement with real people. I speak a lot about account-based models, where personalization is reaching new levels because the people we want to engage with demand it. So realistically, I don’t think that bots can replace humans.
I tend to subscribe more to paradigms like Jill Konrath’s Intelligence Conversations model. We owe it to our customers to learn as much as possible about them and then earnestly engage — human to human — to build value-based rapports. Reply Email Mining provides much of the information needed to start and continue these conversations.
Matt, thank you for sharing your perspective today. Email reply management is a natural win for automation and I believe every MOPS professional should have this in her arsenal.