How to Manage Inactive Subscribers – Without Hitting Delete


Let me ask you a question: What do you think is the most prevalent fear email marketers face today?

Not being able to get people to subscribe? Or maybe that they are boring people to death with their emails?

For me, it is the fear that I’m putting in all this hard work into something that people ignore. I’m talking about open email rates here. I spend hours or days writing up something I feel excited about only to find it not connecting with my list.

My stomach drops every time I notice a significant decrease in people I’ve managed to engage with my latest email. I’m sure you get the same gut-wrenching feeling when that happens, too.

It used to be a lot worse. My lists were sloppy, at best, and I didn’t do much in terms of managing them. If you’re the same, it pains me to inform you that you are leaving money on the table.

The reason is two-fold:

1 – Not managing your email list can lead to a bad reputation with the ISPs. A lot of non-opens result in a lower reputation score, and when you hit rock-bottom your emails go straight to the junk folder – or as I like to call it, email marketing suicide folder.

2 -Some of those inactives can be re-engaged and brought back to the fold. A carefully thought out strategy can yield great success but your approach has to be somewhat tweaked if you want it to pay off.

Now, the usual course of action is simply to purge your lists and delete all inactive subscribers. Marketers usually do this after six to twelve months, depending on their email frequency:

-High-frequency senders delete after six months – the offer is not seasonal


-Low-frequency senders delete after twelve to thirteen months – seasonal offer in question

While this is a prudent course of action, it only takes care of problem number one – you’re safeguarding your reputation with the ISPs but can lose a good chunk of your list in the process.

But what about the money you’re leaving on the table? I’d like to propose a different approach, one that resulted in higher revenues in my case. It takes a bit more effort – not much, I swear! – but it pays off nicely.

Inactives Have Your Money

Well, some of them do. And they are willing to spend it with you. Your first step is to categorize those inactives so you get a better picture of what you’re dealing with. This is how I’ve tackled this issue.

1. They were never active in the first place

Ditch them. They signed up by mistake or someone used their email address to sign up.


It can also be that they use this as a secondary or tertiary email and they’ve simply forgotten about it or they opted in while you were running a giveaway and never gave it another thought.

Whatever the reason, it’s going to take too long to investigate and you can regard these subscribers as a high-risk-low-gain type so it’s best not to lose any sleep over them.

2. Past customers

These are the subscribers that made a purchase at one point in time but have since gone inactive, both as subscribers and as customers.


Since they did need your product or service at one point in time you can consider them moderate-risk-moderate gain. Put them on a separate mailing list titled ‘re-engagement’ and devise a plan on how to get through to them again.

I recommend sending a very honest email to check out why they’ve stopped converting or otherwise engaging with you. Write a clear subject line, something in the lines of ‘Hey, we miss you and want you back!’ – of course, feel free to get more creative with that.

I usually send an incentive to make them more inclined to stay in and to give them a good reason to buy again. Offer a discount on your service or product, free shipping, or an e-book they can download that has a lot of great information they’ve shown interest in in the past.

Also, offer a visible unsubscribe button to those who are willing to opt-out right away. It’s important to keep this list as clean as possible because you want to move all those addresses back to your ‘active subscriber’ list eventually.


3. Current customers

These are subscribers that you know are converting right now. They are low-risk-high-gain and it is advisable to stick with them always. Usually, this means that they only need a quick reminder to give you their money and sometimes an unread message from you in their inbox is all that is necessary.


However, if they are converting without reading your emails, imagine what you could accomplish for your brand if you managed to turn them into evangelists for your cause.

I recommend moving them to a third list titled ‘converting inactives’. They obviously don’t need any coaxing to buy from you but you can still upsell or cross-sell them with ease if you put your mind to it.

Send them targeted content that is relevant to their purchase. If they bought your product or service, send them tips on how to use it, or something titled ‘I Bet You Didn’t Know You Can Use Product X for this!’

It might be wise to offer them an incentive to spread the word. After all, they have a mailing list of their own and friends that might be interested in what you are selling. If you can offer them a discount for referrals then an email titled ‘Get 20% Off Your Next Purchase!’ That will get them to interact with your email and might land you an extra customer or two.

With a bit of effort and planning, a lot of those inactives will move back to the original lists they came from.

It’s been a few months since I’ve transitioned to this approach and I have to tell you, the results are there. First off, my main lists are showing better results – actually, they are showing accurate results, give or take 5 %, and I worry a lot less now.

Also, it’s now easier to pinpoint where I need to make an extra effort in an attempt to re-engage with my inactive subscribers and what approach to take.

It takes a bit more work, but I guarantee that you will be seeing more activity and conversions if you try this out. Are you willing to give it a go?

Or do you have a system of your own in place? Make sure to drop by the comments section and let me know.

Abe Cherian


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