The List Churn Challenge

The List Churn Challenge

February 2020 | Marketing Operations

The evolving career paths of B2B email subscribers are a challenge to marketing databases everywhere, but they are also an opportunity.

Contact acquisition has become increasingly difficult in recent years. A succession of data protection laws and privacy scandals has made people much more wary of handing over their personal details to businesses than they used to be. Building a marketing database through organic form fills has always been hard, but the opt-in and consent requirements introduced in GDPR have made it much harder. Form fills don't automatically result in a marketable contact these days.

No More Lists

The data protection laws impacting form conversion rates are also causing serious problems for data brokers. GDPR has made buying contact data an impossibility in EMEA. The same is now true in North America, with CCPA heavily regulating the sale and transfer of personal data to third parties since the start of the year. This isn't really a bad thing, because the business models of list brokers rarely worked well anyway. List quality was frequently poor; filled with contacts who had changed moved on years ago. The average purchased list has a 10%+ bounceback rate, with many ESPs banning their use to due to the resulting impact on deliverability. One extreme example is Pardot, who will suspend accounts and ban customers just for uploading a brought-in list into their platform.

As such, many organisations are instead focusing on making the most of the contacts they've already got. This typically leads to increased personalisation, with marketers promoting the latest offers and hottest content to engaged subscribers. Everyone else gets the same generic message over and over until they eventually unsubscribe or bounceback.

The Career Challenge

List churn is a big issue in B2B and always has been. That's not a reflection on the success or otherwise of individual campaigns. Career changes mean that the typical B2B audience is continuously evolving. When people move up the corporate ladder, their professional interests change. A CMO has a very different focus from a field marketer, a CFO has very different priorities from a payroll clerk. As such, they will follow different brands and subscribe to different types of marketing communication.

That's even before the impact of people moving between companies is considered. Many IT managers loyally buy laptops from one brand and will continue to do so across every job they hold. That gains you a new customer and a new subscriber if they move somewhere that previously brought from a competitor. It's just as easy to lose customers when they hire your competitor's brand advocates in senior roles. In such situations, engaging with the new hire on day one is critical. To do that, you need the data for it.

Staying Current

The average marketing database rarely keeps up with your contact's changing roles. Typically, updating the CRM system with career moves and new hires is the responsibility of Sales. As such, it doesn't always happen. Some data enrichment vendors, such as Cognism, have the ability to alert you of new hires at key accounts or update the company and job title information for existing contacts. LinkedIn Sales Navigator has the same capability but suffers from the fact that these alerts rarely make it anywhere near the marketing database. Increasingly, LinkedIn are acting as a data broker themselves by allowing Sales reps to add the details of their LinkedIn connections directly into the CRM system using their Salesforce and Dynamics plugins.

Few Ops teams are taking full advantage of such technology. LinkedIn and competing platforms have substantially increased the accuracy of data vendors willing to rely on technology to fill the gaps inherent in previous data collection methods. Many data brokers use LinkedIn as a data source alongside other publicly available sources to build their databases. This is easier in some markets than others. Many European countries have plenty of good free data sources for company data, which can include the details of board members or senior executives.


Technology is also giving more ways to validate purchased newly acquired contacts than existed previously. Data enrichment is now big business, with D&B and others placing much more emphasis on selling directly to enterprises than in the past. Social re-targeting provides a channel for reaching out to newly purchased contacts without needing to add them to a marketing database or contact them using the email or telephone channels affected by GDPR restrictions. ABM has placed a renewed emphasis on account based segmentation for campaign segmentation, even in scenarios where the key decision makers in accounts are present in your database.

As any Lead Development rep will tell you, calling out on cold data rarely works. That's true even for content syndication leads that have engaged with a piece of high value content. There needs to be a clear pattern of engagement over time or a specific event that indicates immediate interest. Lead nurturing and lead scoring were specifically created to be the engines that generated that continuous engagement, and have delivered on that promise over time.

The untapped potential is in identifying points in a career where decision makers are evaluating their options and are open to change. Recognising those moments requires aggregating many different signals from across many different platforms and technologies. Intent data is one solution to this problem, but it's not the only one. It can be done on the contact level too. AI allows data scientists to collect large volumes of information themselves and then interpret it using an impartial data model. Few enterprise marketing teams have the scale or expertise to build this in-house. That interpretation is best left to the forward thinking data vendors moving into this space.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.