Guest Post: Understanding Deliverability in the B2B space

Today’s guest post comes from Bob Sybydlo, Marketing Technology and Transformation Strategist for ENVERTAdigital. Bob’s entry into the digital marketing space began through Deliverability as he started working in that field nearly 16 years ago. He has designed strategies for many fortune 500/1000 brands and has been a very active member of the deliverability space, as a speaker, writer, consultant, and strategist.

Let’s start here by briefly defining what we are referring to when we say “B2B Deliverability.” Specifically, this term refers to optimizing email delivery, inboxing, and performance in the B2B space -- business domains, corporate domain, private domains, etc.. basically, any domain that is not a major provider (such as GMAIL or Microsoft) or a Cable ISP (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc..).

Depending on the composition of your email list or who your customer or consumers are, B2B addresses could make up large portions of your audience -- it is common to see anywhere between 10% to 60% of your list be made up of these email accounts. The B2B domain and email landscape is very unique and some with its one specific set of deliverability challenges and opportunities. This space is also commonly not actively monitored and there is little information available online about how to monitor and troubleshoot this domain space for issues.

However, this space within your email list provides a tremendous amount of insight into your program’s health and where it is worth focusing effort on how to enhance your data collection and management efforts. If you consider yourself a B2B marketer specifically, then managing this space will be beyond critical for your business and its digital success.

The B2B domain space is basically made up of hundreds of thousands of individual domain names. Every one of those individual domains could then have its own anti-spam mechanisms in place and then may further utilize larger anti-spam or reputation monitoring software, which each business’ individual configurations on top of that. Individual Email Domain postmaster teams also have the ability to define their own SMTP codes which can confuse ESPs - while there are conventions to SMTP codes (250, 421, 550, etc..) they can still be misinterpreted by their systems.

It is important to additionally understand the differences between B2B deliverability and B2C or major ISP deliverability. Major ISP and mailbox providers typically utilize sophisticated and automated reputation systems that are actively scoring senders, analyzing headers, checking major blacklists, etc.. in real-time. These mailbox providers also operate spam and quarantine folders and policies that create a kind of middle ground between successfully sending an email and being blocked when attempting to do so.

However, the B2B space does not typically operate this way. Delivering an email is in many cases more binary as either you deliver successfully or you don’t. Since smaller domains and anti-spam solutions do not monitor senders the same way major ISPs do, their response to any problematic sending practices is often much more narrow. This doesn’t mean that every domain that is not a major mailbox provider operates this way, the point is that you may encounter just about anything and everything when trying to inbox in the B2B space.

Let’s now get into how to be successful in this domain space.

One of the most important considerations of not just the B2B portion of your email list but of your list as a whole is the fact that many B2B domains host their email exchange services with major providers -- such as Google, Microsoft, etc. If you access your company email on a page that looks like GMAIL or thorough Microsoft Outlook, chances are your company domain is using those exchange servers and therefore are tapping into those major reputation monitoring systems. This is important to keep in mind because it makes all of your delivery and deliverability needs relative to one another. An issue with a major mailbox provider could be affecting much more than just the email addresses commonly associated with that domain (ex: if you are experiencing inboxing issues with GMAIL then you are likely also experiencing issues with every domain on your list that also uses Google as a mailbox host -- and vice versa!

This means that if you are reducing the amount of inactive subscribers you are sending to a particular ISP or mailbox provider in order to improve the sending reputation there, just limiting users with that one domain is not everyone on your list who is using that reputation system.

The next major consideration of managing deliverability in the B2B space goes back to the more binary nature of this domain space. In many cases, since the B2B domain space comprises business and corporate domains, their anti-spam settings and general email security is more strict. You’re more likely to see either all of your email get through spam filters or none of them get through.

An exercise I recommend all email marketers do is regularly check entire domains for inactivity -- where you are not seeing any opens, clicks, or even deliveries to address at a particular domain. This is a relatively quick segment to identify and take action on. In cases where you are seeing no delivery or engagement to every single email address at a particular domain indicates that you likely have a blocker there. Starting with the domains with the most recipients impacted, you now have a starting point to begin addressing issues.

The 3rd major consideration is related to problematic data within your mailing list. What nearly every email marketer I’ve worked with will have an issue within their lists is typo’ed email domains - example: “”. It is very common to see dozens if not hundreds of individual email addresses and domains never delivering within a list. These typo’ed domains cause two major issues for marketers:

  • Since “” does not exist, there is no system present to tell you that a recipient there doesn’t exist. Most ESPs will simply continue to try to reach “” until they give up. Then they will try again on the next send.
  • Since these email addresses will simply tumble around in your mailing lists indefinitely, they will snowball overtime and will raise undelivered numbers and deflate open and click rates.
  • Worst of all, these typo addresses could be spamtrap addresses -- typo domains are a common method for creating spamtrap addresses and you could end up causing you even deeper deliverability damage by sending to these bad addresses.

“Cleaning up” these individual email addresses is a quick way to clear bad data out of your system and quickly make an impact on your engagement rates. What you then do NOT want to do is to “correct” the email address (by changing “” to “”) since you are creating data at that point and that corrected address is not what opted-into your program.

What you then should try to do as best as you are able is try to reach that recipient via alternate means (if possible). This means going through another channel, through a sales rep, or any other means you may have at your disposal, to encourage the person who entered the problematic email address to update it. If you do not have a way of contacting these recipients via alternative means then its best to simply purge this data from future sends.

I encourage all email senders to look at the B2B portions of their email lists to understand what is going on there. The initial examples above can already drive us to some conclusions on how to quickly improve an email program’s performance. This exercise will help understand if and where you are taking in “bad” data and from what opt-in source. Since the B2B domain space is much more sensitive to the emails coming into their system, the B2B space can help you identify where your email content may be causing delivery or deliverability issues, because these domains are more binary in how they block email you will see some creative pass through and some not.

Finally, this all again supports the need for email marketers to simply set a drop-dead date for dormant email addresses across your emailable universe. It is not worth it to keep sending to email addresses that simply will not deliver or who never showcase any signs of life. These addresses will only serve to inflate your bounce rates and deflate your engagement rates.

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