How To Warm Up A Crufty, Crusty Old Customer Email Database

Here’s a common story sent in by a reader named Trae:

First of all thank you so much for your time and resources.

Super helpful!

Here is my question….

I have a customer list of about 13,000 email addresses.

The problem is all of these emails came from the transaction of when they bought my product. At the time I had nothing for them to subscribe to. BIG MISTAKE I know!

Now that I know that I need to be doing email marketing I am in the position of now needing to get my 13k past/current customers subscribed to a marketing email list.

How do I do that and what do I say?

This situation is especially with “ecommerce” type businesses that are focused on shipping physical products.

When you have an online store selling dog beds it’s less obvious what your email marketing should look like then if you’re selling video courses about JavaScript or something.

There are two parts to this question.

The first thing is somewhat mechanical—what do you do with a stale list like this?

Do you have to get people to “opt in”?

I’m not a lawyer, but generally speaking when people have done business with you, they’ve expressed interest in what you sell, and you’ll be a-okay to follow up with them without forcing another optin.

So I’d just go ahead and import all of those addresses into your mailing list.

Or rather, I’d import them into *a* mailing list.

Since this list is several years old, I’d expect maybe a third to half of the addresses to be bad—either abandoned or invalid. People change their email addresses like they change their socks.

For me, I use my MailChimp account for this.

I’d import all 13,000 into MailChimp, then send a broadcast to a segment of maybe 1,000 subscribers.

A bunch will “hard bounce”—meaning the address is gonzo.

Others will get delivered but never opened.

I’d send out your first email in a few bursts like this.

A huge number of bounces will likely get MailChimp to take a closer look at your account, hence the slow and steady approach here.

Sending 2-3 broadcasts like this will clean out all the bad addresses, and you’ll also see who’s active and opening your emails.

Then I’d use MailChimp’s open and click tracking to create a segment of subscribers who have interacted with your emails, and import just those subscribers into your “real” email system, whether it’s Drip, ConvertKit or what have you.

That way you’ll cull that crufty, stale list down to a clean, responsive group of subscribers who actually want to hear from you.

So much for the mechanical details.

WHAT exactly are you supposed to say to these people who haven’t heard from you in 3 years?

Couple of options:

The first is to send an email where you kinda say, “You bought a bed for your dog from me a while back, and I haven’t kept in touch—my bad. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions from other dog owners, and I’ve got some new information I think you’ll be interested to hear. If you don’t want to be on this list, you can unsubscribe by clicking the link at the bottom of this email. If you stick around, tomorrow I’ll be telling you about a friend of mine who’s wife nearly left him over their St. Bernard…”

Another (probably better) way is to send a short email where you remind them about what they bought from you and offer some kind of additional resource or even a free product update (depending on what you’re selling).

Frame it as a special gift to your customers.

After that, just keep emailing…

Just find a natural way to “break radio silence” by delivering (or at least promising) more value, while also reminding them how they know you in the first place.

From there on out it’s business as usual.