How to Conduct an Email Customer Vetting with Example Questions

How to conduct high-volume email customer vetting (with example questionnaire included!)

It can only take one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch (of sending IPs). So, email service providers (ESPs) enact an entire process to research new customers in an to attempt to weed out the bad actors (worms) before they’re able to send their first email.

Without proper vetting, spammers and fraudsters can wreak havoc on your platform, hurting the performance of your legit customers and causing a ton of headaches for your team. Trust me, it’s not the kind of party you want to be at.

Let’s get started.

What is email customer vetting?

Enterprise email customer vetting is what we call that process of investigating several different factors about prospective customers before they sign on the dotted line to start sending high volumes of email through your platform. It keeps your existing customers safe and sound.

Safer customers are happy customers and happy customers bring referrals.

How does the vetting process work for high-volume and enterprise customers?

Service providers supporting the email marketing activities of others have two main paths to bring customers in: enterprise and self-serve/freemium models. When vetting enterprise customers, you’ll size up risks and work closely with the prospects to make sure they’re a match made in email heaven.

Note this process is not just about risk assessment. As an ESP, it’s equally important for you to use the vetting process to determine if your solution even meets the needs of your potential new client. For example, SocketLabs is a reliable email-sending platform for senders who need support and simplicity on a large scale. If a prospective customer has hundreds of subaccounts needing close monitoring and management, we would be a good fit and it would be appropriate to continue with the vetting process. If they were looking to have a full marketing automation solution where they can create customer journeys and such, we wouldn’t be a good fit, and we should tell them that so they can refocus their search for a new provider accordingly.

The vetting process usually starts with information-gathering around the time of the initial sales discovery call. It should start even sooner if you’re doing outbound so you can let your sales team know if there’s a problem before reaching out.

Plus, the enterprise or high-volume sender vetting differs from the self-serve vetting process in that it’s almost entirely manual.

If your ESP only offers Enterprise-level contracts via sales, automation typically doesn’t come into play until customers are onboarded to your platform. For example, you may choose to rate limit all new accounts until they’ve had their onboarding call to ensure they don’t skip their warmup by mistake.

ESPs with a self-service option are much more likely to have automation in place to rapidly check a variety of relevant data points to gauge the level of risk associated with each new signup. Even still, this kind of automation only kicks in after your Enterprise prospect signs up for an account…which may happen after they’ve already had a few conversations with your sales team.

Facts to gather during the vetting process

Deliverability and compliance teams are diligent in their research, gathering as many relevant data points as possible on the lookout for anything suggesting the sender might pose a risk to the ESP’s platform or reputation.

It’s kind of like an email background check.

This starts with a LOT of sleuthing like:

  • Reviewing the prospect’s website, privacy policy, and terms of service
  • Testing their opt-in and unsubscribe processes
  • Checking their domains and sending IPs for blocklistings and spam trap hits
  • Googling business history, competitors, and contact information
  • Reviewing social media profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn and online review sites like TrustPilot for indications of brand reputation or poor customer experience

You’ll also ask prospects to explain their use case, provide context about their current ESP(s) and sender reputation, reasons for switching, problems they’re facing, etc.

The easiest way to do this is by working with your sales team to create a questionnaire that can easily be folded into their existing process. Walk through the questions you’d like to ask and explain why you feel this information is important. This may spark their creativity to find ways to gather this information in a more organic way during their initial discovery conversations.

Why it’s important to vet customers early

Understand your colleagues in sales are in a difficult spot as they attempt to abide by your vetting procedures while simultaneously trying not to scare prospects off by coming on too strong. Tough job.

Educate your sales team on why it’s important to ask these questions early in their process, even if it might feel like it’ll be awkward or cause friction. Coach them on how to best gather the information you need to make your compliance decision.

Waiting until the 25th hour to give your “NO-GO” is a problem. This leads to:

  1. Non-compliant customers being allowed to send, damaging your sender reputation then churning
  2. Wasted time and resources on prospects who never make your company cold hard cash

Both erode trust with your sales team, ensuring they work around you rather than with you next time.

The goal of your questions is not actually to grill the prospective customer, even though it may seem that way if you’re not mindful of your approach. In fact, you are attempting to gather as much information as possible to assess the level of risk the sender poses while simultaneously trying to ensure your company’s solution is the right one to meet the potential customer’s needs.

Example email vetting questionnaire

Here’s a list of example questions I recommend you consider asking during your high-volume sender vetting process. Be sure to tailor these questions as well as any multiple choice answers or examples you provide to match the type of email use-cases and prospects your company supports.

Focus on only gathering information you need to make your decision. All other questions should be cut to keep the form as streamlined as possible.

First, tell us a bit about your company:

    1. Who is your sales contact?
    2. What’s your company name and website URL?
    3. Briefly describe your industry and business model
    4. What other types of marketing messages do you send to your email contacts? e.g. direct mail, SMS, push notifications

Now share some details about your email program:

    1. Will you send marketing email, transactional, or both?
      • If transactional, what events will trigger an email to be sent? e.g. password resets, order confirmations, account signups, etc.
      • If marketing, please describe the types of emails you will send. e.g. daily/weekly newsletters, sale notifications, etc.
    2. Are you currently facing any challenges or issues with your email program? e.g. emails going to the spam folder, high hard bounces rates, getting blocked by a mailbox provider like Hotmail
    3. What domain(s) do you use in conjunction with your email program? If you’re an agency sending on behalf of others, please include the domains of a few of your clients.
    4. Do you have control over DNS records of these domains?
    5. Do you use any of the following domain authentication protocols? SPF, DKIM, DMARC
    6. Has your company sent email through an ESP before? If so, which ESP(s)? List all that apply.
    7. What sending IP address(es) are used for your current email marketing activities?

Next, let’s talk about list collection…

    1. How does your company collect email addresses? Select all that apply.
      • Appends
      • Co-registration or Affiliate
      • 3rd Party or Purchased List
      • Upon Registration or Point of Sale
      • Website or Newsletter Subscription
      • Other – please share details
    2. Does your company collect opt-in from recipients before sending emails? Yes/No
    3. Please share URLs to all subscription pages and specific details about how the subscription process works.
    4. Do you send a confirmation email when someone joins your mailing list? Yes/No

Some questions about contact management…

    1. Do you remove inactive subscribers? If so, how often, and using what method? Inactive contacts are those that have not opened or clicked one of your emails in a specific time period. This is sometimes called a sunset policy.
    2. Any other contact list management practices you’re engaged in? e.g. third-party list validation service and/or in-house solutions

Regarding your onboarding…

    1. Will you continue to send some volume through your current email provider, or do you have a hard deadline for your onboarding?
      • I plan to keep some volume with my current solution indefinitely
      • There will be a 1-2 month overlap
      • I need to stop with my current solution by X date – please specify when your current provider contract ends
      • I’d like your recommendations about how to handle my transition
    2. Within the first month of your onboarding, what is the peak sending volume will you need to send on any given day?
      • Less than 10k per day
      • Between 10k — 100k
      • More than 100k
      • It’s complicated — I’ll explain during our next call
    3. Please share the names (or roles) of team members who will be closely involved with the onboarding.
    4. If you’re willing to share them, please provide us with some of your recent sending statistics. This will help us get a better picture of your current deliverability and enable our team to provide recommendations tailored for your needs.
    5. If you’re willing to share it, please upload your mailing list (or share a breakdown of the destinations you send to the most, e.g. ~40% Gmail, 22% Hotmail, etc.). This enables us to provide you with more tailored guidance for the onboarding & warmup period.

You can download (and print!) our full list of example questions to ask to prospective email customers.

Prepare for unexpected email vetting challenges

During the vetting process, you may encounter a few things making your job a bit more difficult than expected. Or I guess, they would have been difficulet if you hadn’t read this blog post! Stay one step ahead by being on the lookout for:

  1. Executives lacking insight into the day-to-day workings of their company’s email program will have a hard time filling out the questionnaire, but it’s important to ensure the proposed solution matches the needs of the practitioners doing the work, not just the decision maker. Get the rest of their team involved if you can.
  1. LIARS! Spammers and fraudsters will say anything to get access to your sending pipes. Look for answers that seem too good to be true ( “the perfect client”) and prospects who are pushing to move forward ASAP.

Prospect red flags

In addition to challenging personas, you may come in contact with companies searching for greener email deliverability pastures or prospects who truly sound too good to be true. Your sales person will be super excited about these, so do your best to navigate the situation without crushing any souls.

  1. Senders looking to outrun their email troubles. These folks typically mention they’re looking for a new provider because of a) deliverability; or b) their sending was restricted by their last ESP. Both suggest they have problematic sending practices or misunderstand how email works. Dig deeper.
  1. Prospects who need to send very high volumes within a few days. While it’s not completely unheard of for customers to end their contract before they’ve fully transitioned, any sender who’s urgently trying to send has likely been fired or had their volume restricted by their provider. Slow your roll (and your sales person’s celebrations) until you figure out what’s really going on. Is this just bad planning, or something more nefarious?
  1. High-volume senders asking to send from your shared IPs when their volume is more than enough to support their own dedicated IP reputation. In these cases, be on the lookout for prospects who mention they’re searching for a new provider because their current ESP is pushing them to dedicated IPs or restricting their volume. Don’t get me wrong – there are legitimate reasons why a high volume sender might request to send from shared IPs. For example, if they send nothing but quarterly statements to their customers. Ensure they provide a good reason why they need to send from shared IPs before entertaining such a request.

Parting tips for successful email vetting

We’re coming to the end now, but before you go, here are a few things you can put to use to ensure your vetting process is as smooth as silk:

  • Work together with your sales team to create an ideal vetting process. Explain what information is necessary to make your decision and why so they can help gather the right details and start planting compliance seeds with prospects right away. And be open to their feedback to ensure the questions you’re asking are clear and relevant.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on the factors mattering most in keeping your platform secure and your existing customers satisfied.
  • Start your due diligence process early in your sales cycle. This gives you time to gather all the facts you need to properly vet clients without wasting time and resources. Time’s a-ticking!
  • Be as flexible as you can. When a prospect is not able to provide details to a specific question, determine if the information is truly pertinent to assessing the potential risk they pose to your platform. Your sales team will appreciate your willingness to be reasonable, which will make them more likely to respect your decisions when you insist on gathering more information or refusing to approve a prospect they were excited about.
  • Get creative! If a prospect raises a few red flags but is willing to improve their practices, be open to taking that chance. Just…ensure you’ve got speed bumps in place to protect your platform from spammy behaviors. For example, consider requiring them to upload their contact list for review before they can be approved or requiring them to start sending with a rate limitation in place while your team monitors performance for signs of a problem. You can also work with Legal to ensure the remediation / termination process is crystal clear within your contracts, Terms of Service (TOS), and Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). You can even consider add additional stipulations to contracts, depending on the situation.
  • Remember, even spammers are human. Treat them with the same level of respect as everyone else while keeping your platform safe from their shenanigans. It’ll make the vetting process a whole lot easier for everyone involved. Plus, you never know when that contact from a business you gave a NO-GO to might start working for the prospect of your wildest dreams!
  • Understand the vetting process is just the beginning. Keeping bad actors from entering your email house is a great start, but it’s always possible you’ve missed something. Or perhaps that new customer picked up some bad habits after you gave the green light. In any case, you’ll need to continue monitoring new customers during and beyond the onboarding process to ensure they maintain healthy sending patterns.

More resources

Many of these metrics, factors, and approaches for pre-send customer vetting were discussed in greater detail during last month’s webinar hosted by the Certified Senders Alliance (CSA). You can check out the entire webinar recording, where I was joined by Raymond Dijkxhoorn, founder of SURBL and CTO of E-HAWK, Jakub Olexa, Founder & CEO of Mailkit, and the Director of the CSA, Julia Janßen-Holldiek.

Interested in upping your email customer vetting game? We can help with that.

Get in touch!

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