Episode 57: Should You Delete Unsubscribed Contacts?

What should you do with contacts who unsubscribe? What about those bounced email addresses in your account? Your contact management questions, answered.


This week on the podcast Chris Davis tackles your questions around contact management. Listen in to learn why you may want to think again before deleting contacts who have unsubscribed from your email list, and what you can do instead.
Want to know more? Bring your questions to the next Office Hours session. You can register here.


Chris Davis: Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. In this episode, I want to answer [00:00:30] a question that is frequently asked. I see this question in the Facebook community often, across various platforms, and it is a great question that deserves to be asked and answered. That question is, “What should I do with my contacts who have unsubscribed?” Or, a.k.a., should I delete my contacts [00:01:00] in ActiveCampaign? What I want to do is take more of a litigious approach to answering this question. So, if I could welcome you to the court of automation I’m going to state my case and allow you to come up with the conclusion of whether or not you should delete your contacts. I believe, by the end of this hearing that, with all of the facts laid out, you will be able to clearly and confidently [00:01:30] make the decision best suited for you, and the best practice with ActiveCampaign.
Are you ready? Let’s start with the why? Why are contacts that unsubscribe or, for that matter, why do they still show up in my account? Why are they still there? Why can I still see them if I can’t email them? This question challenges the approach … I [00:02:00] would say it highlights more so the differences between email marketing platforms and a marketing automation platform like ActiveCampaign. That is, when you’re using an email marketing platform the only thing you can do is email them, so therefore when someone unsubscribes there’s no need to keep them around because since all I can do is email them, they unsubscribe I cannot email them therefore I don’t need them. In email marketing it makes total sense, [00:02:30] so I see where the question comes from.
Marketing automation, however, think about it, we give you many means of messaging your contacts beyond just email. We give you multiple dimensions to marketing … to your messaging in marketing. Email marketing, one dimensional, email only. You’ll see a lot of people focused … and, honestly, I think people focus too much on email as [00:03:00] the only needs of messaging. If you look at a marketing automation platform like ActiveCampaign email is one form of message, SMS is another form of message, a phone call is another form of message. I can go on and on about the different types of messaging, a site message. You get what I’m saying?
If someone unsubscribes what we’re saying is you’re just saying you don’t want that form of [00:03:30] messaging therefore should I remove you from receiving any other form of messaging? Only if I’m only concerned about email and if I think that that means I’m one-dimensional. My argument that I’m presenting to you is that you should not be one dimensional. You should not be one-dimensional in your marketing and messaging at all. In fact, that’s the fastest way to burn a list and take it from engaging to just dead. [00:04:00] With that in place, with that foundation of the why they exist it’s because you can do more stuff with them.
Now, specifically in ActiveCampaign we have sales automation, so you may have contacts that you never email. Do you understand? You’d never send them through an automation where it sends them out an email. You may just be using automation to progress them through stages. Or perhaps they were receiving [00:04:30] email at one point, unsubscribed, and they’re still going through a sales process, they’re still going through stages. Or you’re still managing the contact. Why is it that if I don’t have your email address you’re dead to me? I should say, if I can’t send you emails you’re dead to me, where does that come from? It only comes from email marketing platforms that that’s the only way to communicate. My challenge to you, as you’re listening to this, is to think broader.
[00:05:00] Most people are like, “Oh, they unsubscribe,” and they’re crying. It was a moment of silence for the contact who unsubscribed. Instead, it should be rejoicing because, think about this, if your messaging is on point with your audience and you’re sending value, you know it’s value, and you’re sending that out, and people are unsubscribing they’re saving a seat, they’re removing themselves from a seat that someone else could occupy that will actually take action. [00:05:30] It’s just a mindset thing there to think about, but again, thinking broader beyond just email there’s other ways that you can manage that contact.
Think about this, if a contact unsubscribes you do realize you can still track their web pages they visit. They can still go inside of automations that don’t require email as a function of it. A good case and point is on one of the Office [00:06:00] Hours we talked about engagement tagging, and a lot of times we talk about engagement tagging around emails. How many days has it been since someone’s opened or clicked an email? You can also have engagement tagging based on the last time they visited your website. So, if I delete the contact I don’t have that information, so just because they’re not engaging with my email does not mean they’re not engaging with me. [00:06:30] I don’t know that if I delete them. You following me?
Listen, the court of automation is an easy court. We like to keep things nice and simple for the witnesses to see the evidence in which we are presenting to make a clear judgment. Now, that I know that I can continue to get data on the people that have unsubscribed [00:07:00] to better inform me the second question I would pose, I see this a lot … I’ve actually stated this as well, is that another reason you shouldn’t delete your contacts is because you can re-target them on Facebook or you can do remarketing to them regardless of the platform you’re using.
Now, with this one I pause a little bit. Now, I’ve got my hand up indicting myself. Yes, [00:07:30] I used to be a strong proponent of this mindset and approach, but you have to be creative. If you’re doing remarketing with a list of unsubscribes you have to be really creative because if they unsubscribe they’re essentially saying, “I don’t care about the value that you’re sending out. It’s not applicable to me.” I would essentially be burning ad dollars to put that same form of messaging back in front of them on a different [00:08:00] platform. If I sell shoes, someone unsubscribes from hearing about shoes from me than they see an ad from me with shoes that’s a wasted impression.
Instead, I like to use that unsubscribe list to inform me who not to send advertising to. I think it requires a little more creativity than just hey, they unsubscribed. Try to get them back. [00:08:30] Listen, if you owned a storefront and somebody came into your store and didn’t buy do you run and chase them trying to get them to come back? If when they were in there they said, “You know what, I’m not interested in these type of shoes,” are you going to run after them and try to convince them? You’re going to spend so much energy, so much money, so much marketing effort to do that, and what about the people who are still in your store, are coming into your store, are being attracted [00:09:00] to your store? Your time is better spent with them.
When we’re talking about unsubscribes and emails it’s a very small portion of a total marketing journey. Don’t focus on the small portion, focus on the entire journey. You’re going to lose people along the way. Every bus that goes to a destination has stops. What do people do on the stops? [00:09:30] Some get off, some get on. At the end of the day, who makes it to the destination, as long as that puts your business in a better position than it was before, you’re winning. Let’s make sure we understand what winning is and let’s not get desperate. Now, listen when I say this I’m not calling you desperate if you’ve done this. I’m just saying a lot of times it comes from a place of lack of understanding and desperation [00:10:00] because someone has oversold you on the importance of an email list that every time you see an unsubscribe you go through grief. You go through the processes of grief, and you’re angry, you’re doubting, you’re in denial, you go through all these processes. It’s not that serious if, like I said, your messaging is on point and targeted.
We’ve talked about should I re-target them? You could re-target them, but it’s going to take [00:10:30] some creativity. Now, a caveat to this is that list of people, they may be good for a new offering that you have. In the sense that we were talking about shoes, maybe I’m selling shirts now. Now, I can take that list of unsubscribes and talk about, and put in front of them shirts because they may be interested and they may come back. In fact, that brings me back … I shouldn’t say it brings me back, that brings me to my last point, [00:11:00] my closing argument your imaginary Honor. This is my closing argument of should I delete contacts? The reason being is, only if you don’t expect them to ever come back.
Now, I will tell you, in my personal experience, I have seen this and I have been so relieved that I did not delete my contacts because they’re somebody that opted out at one point. I didn’t chase them, I didn’t get all desperate, and [00:11:30] get all frustrated. Again, not calling anybody who does that desperate, I’m just speaking to me. I didn’t do that because I knew there were multiple ways to communicate and still track and engage. Now, I’m going to speak about one particular contact. Guess what? This contact unsubscribed, but they were still reading blog posts, still going to my website, still visiting particular pages. Guess what happened? I was continuing to do my marketing, I’m still sending out contents, I’m still [00:12:00] x, y, z, appearing on guest podcasts, wherever. Lo and behold, guess who came back?
Now, this person comes back in as a new lead, get the notification from ActiveCampaign, login to look at the contact record because you should be doing that. You should look at what calls people to opt in. Not everybody, but just every once in a while check. I checked and I’ve got like six months of history. I’m like, “Wait a minute, what happened? They just opted in, [00:12:30] how do I have six months?” I look at the list status and they unsubscribed and came back. What was I able to do? I was able to determine what they unsubscribed from, which email the unsubscribed. How long they had been on before they unsubscribed, which email they unsubscribed for. What they did after they unsubscribed, and what caused them to subscribe again. Is that not valuable information? I would argue that is critical information to know because if you’re starting to see [00:13:00] a trend across your unsubscribes like that that gives you a no-brainer approach as to what to optimize and how your content is performing.
Everybody, that is my case that I lay before you today to put under the highest level of scrutiny relative to your business and the outcome that you desire on whether or not you should delete contacts. As long as [00:13:30] you are taking all of that into account, you’re good. As long as you’re aware of everything that I laid out and you’re like, “Okay, got it, get it, still delete them.” I would say, I know I told you it was my closing argument, but I still have the floor.
One last thing, before you make your decision just know this, every contact in your ActiveCampaign account that is active, meaning they have not unsubscribed to a list [00:14:00] is what you are charged for. Every contact who is on your list in your database that has unsubscribed from all the lists you are not being charged for, so therefore the conclusion of what I’m saying to you in this closing closing argument is, you’re not charged for unsubscribes. You’re not charged for them. They don’t cost you a dime. One would say that’s free [00:14:30] tracking and data collection on known contacts. Better than Google Analytics, Google Analytics tells me what was done, but it doesn’t tell me who did it. If they’re in my ActiveCampaign account and they’re unsubscribed I can see who they are, and what they did, and what they’re doing.
With that being said, you decide should you delete those contacts or should you not? The choice is truly yours. [00:15:00] We’re not going to penalize you either way, but I want to leave that as an open-ended question to you given all that I have laid out in today’s court of automation, what will you say? What will you say in your business? Is information important to you? Do you want to know what people, who have unsubscribed, are doing? Do you truly believe me when I say you’re not being charged for them? You really are not, [00:15:30] we’ve got help documentation that … I’ll link to, help documentation below that proves what I’m saying to you. You’re not being charged for them, you’re still able to collect data, and when they come back you’re able to piece it all together. Do you really need to delete them?
For some of you all that have listened, you have a business, you have a sales heavy business that you don’t rely heavily on email like that, so this question may not be as big [00:16:00] to you as many other people who rely more on email, but just know managing that contact through the pipelines and stages, and setting up meetings, and calls, and adding notes you’ll leverage all of that. None of that has to do with email. Depending on your business, if all you do is send email I would invite you to come onto Office Hours on Friday at 1 PM or sign up for a one-on-one on ActiveCampaign. [00:16:30] com/training, and let’s talk about how to go deeper with your marketing. That’s really shallow to just be sending email.
For those of you who are using the CRM and sales automation more highly, everything that I mentioned does not apply to personal emails. Personal emails are when you go to the contact record in ActiveCampaign and select the email button at the very bottom and send them a personal email. That is not considered [00:17:00] a marketing email that you can unsubscribe from. That is sent on behalf of you, just like you would send it from Gmail. You’re still able to personally email contacts outside of automations and campaigns, if you send a personal email that has nothing to do with a list, a list that they’ve subscribed and unsubscribed to.
I hope that makes sense. I hope it answers the question, and more so I hope it provides understanding of exactly how [00:17:30] the platform works around unsubscribes and, as a marketer and business owner, how to be thinking about leveraging the platform to handle those effectively.
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