Outbound Email vs. Spam: What’s the Difference?

spam-vs-email“Spam” is a completely off-putting word — it’s either gross (in the context of canned ham/a flooded inbox) or it’s really scary (in the context of compliance with the CAN-SPAM act).

We get a lot of questions about the latter as it relates to outbound sales:

  • “How is sending outbound email different than spam?”
  • “Is my campaign going to be reported and shut down for sending spam?”
  • “What can I do to avoid getting stuck in Spam folders when I do send outbound email?”

All of these questions are legitimate concerns if you’re new to the outbound process, but there are some very big differences between outbound email and spam (as long as you’re going about outbound the right way).

Here are a few things we do to make sure that we: A) don’t annoy prospects, B) don’t get caught in Spam folders (so that prospects can actually receive our emails), and C) don’t get blacklisted from email servers.

Targeting and Outreach

First and foremost, it’s important to be thoughtful and intentional in your targeting and in your outreach. In other words, don’t prospect into industries that aren’t a good fit for your product or service — nothing will harm your credibility more than reaching out to prospects who don’t have a need for your offering.

Every touch of your sales outreach should provide value to the prospect. Most customers end up buying from you because you’ve built a level of trust with them by providing value — this doesn’t happen when your approach to outbound is a blind “spray and pray” attempt to reach out to any and every email address you can get your hands on.

It’s tempting to go that route, but it will usually get you in trouble and harm your brand. Non-targeted outreach leads to prospects marking your emails as spam, which could lead to bigger problems like future emails being auto-flagged as spam, or even getting your domain blacklisted.

Do your homework and put in the work on the front-end to only reach out to qualified prospects. You’ll have more pleasant interactions with prospects and you’ll close more qualified deals.

Good Content = Outbound, Bad Content = Spam

Second to targeting the right prospects is knowing how to write a good outbound email that provides value and lands in an inbox, not a spam folder.

We have a few cardinal rules for this:

  • Keep it short. Salesy, non-targeted emails are typically TL:DR, which isn’t a category you want to be in.
  • Be helpful, not salesy. We do this by including relevant case studies to show that we’ve solved a similar problem for a similar company, or through sharing helpful articles, or insight into their business/industry.
  • Write a good subject line that relates to the content in your message (AKA, don’t be misleading). You can probably find examples of bad ones in your own spam folder.
  • Include a clear value proposition and a direct call-to-action. Make it easy for the prospect to understand what problem you solve and to agree to a next step.

To see some more examples of how to write better sales messaging that gets responses, check out this eBook that has a ton of examples and battle-tested advice.

Bare Necessities

Finally, as a sort of bare minimum level of compliance with CAN-SPAM, we always, always, always include our physical address and contact info in the signature of our emails.

We also include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email, giving the prospect the opportunity to opt-out of outreach at any time. Some folks (understandably) don’t like the unsub link because it can make the email feel less personal — you can remedy this by being a little less blunt and linking to something like, “Don’t want to hear from us going forward? No worries, just click here.”

It’s accomplishes the same goal, but the simple wording change makes it slightly more approachable and personal. And FWIW, not many people unsubscribe when you write a good outbound email.

There you have it. Outbound email done well is very different than spam — make sure you’re taking the right steps to be on the good side of the debate.

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ryan_mugshot Ryan O'Donnell, Founder & CEO,, Employus