This is a post by David Smith, senior compliance manager at Constant Contact.

Are you acquiring an existing business or perhaps merging business units?

These endeavors alone can be daunting, but if you’re in charge of your engagement marketing initiatives, it’s critical you spend some time planning for the transition of your newly acquired contact list(s).

Here are 6 steps to help you navigate this sometimes difficult process.

1. Stop and take inventory of what you’re acquiring

Ask any seasoned marketer and they’ll likely tell you that the more information you have about your customers or prospects, the better your chances of keeping them engaged and obtaining long term success. If you are presented with a contact list that includes a lot of customer information—rejoice! You are well on your way to acquiring a list that will be effective for your future marketing initiatives.

However, if you are simply given a list of email addresses, proceed with caution. You might begin to question how the previous owner built their list, how old it is, or how much effort they actually put into their marketing efforts?

2. Ask questions and request to see contact collection methods

If there’s one step that is more important above all others, it’s this one! Far too often businesses acquiring a new list will simply rely on what the previous owner tells them about it. Or worse yet, they don’t ask any questions at all, and simply acquire the list sight-unseen. That’s crazy! Take the time to ask the previous owner how the contacts were collected and any other pertinent questions to make sure it’s a solid list.

Be very leery of using contact lists from businesses that won’t take the time, or can’t demonstrate how their contact list is collected. As most marketers are acutely aware, the level of consent (implied vs. explicit) given by contacts for future marketing, directly drives their future response.

3. Understand past performance

Now that you understand how the contact list has been collected and are aware of what data you have to work with, it’s time to look at past performance. Hopefully the previous owner has used a reputable email marketing company, and you can simply dig in to all the nice reporting metrics that are provided within the program. If they haven’t—don’t fret! You can still ask to see if any of this data is available, or at the very least seek to understand how the previous owner calculated their email marketing success.

4. Ask for help from the previous owner

Hopefully you’re not too far along in the process where you can’t ask the previous owner for a little help to make your list transition a smooth one. The optimal solution is to ask the previous owner to send out at least one, preferably more, communications setting their contact’s expectations. These communications should contain the fact that a business transfer is underway, and that the contact should expect to receive future communications from the new owners.

The last things you want are security concerns being raised if contacts see that their email addresses or contact information has changed hands. Make sure these communications include a call to ‘opt-out’ if the contact is not interested in receiving future communications from the new owner. You want to show that you’re an upstanding business and aren’t trying to pull a “fast one.”

5. Plan your messaging strategy

Now’s the time to put on your strategic thinking cap, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. The time you invest here will undoubtedly pay dividends in the end.

The goal is to keep the interest and engagement of as many contacts as possible. To do this, identify the different segments of the contact list. This might be the date the contact was collected, the product or service they purchased, their geo-location, or one of any number of different ways your business deems important for segmentation. Next, think about how best to communicate the transition to each of these groups. More often than not a targeted communication designed to speak specifically to that segment will produce better results than a mass communication.

Your first email to your newly acquired contact list should remind your contacts of why they are now receiving emails from you. If you were not able to solicit the help of the previous owner, clearly explain the transition and offer a call to opt-out. Don’t bother to inundate them with a bunch of marketing material at this point. A kiss of death is to simply blast out your marketing material from a new business name without explaining the transition and setting their expectations. You want to make sure you start off on the right foot.

6. Review and recalibrate

Phew! You’re off and running. Hopefully after your first few emails you’re enjoying great success. Your phones are ringing, your sales are up, or you’re seeing more prospects visiting your website. If so— congratulations!  But what if things aren’t going quite as planned? It’s time to review and recalibrate.

First, assess the list that you’ve just acquired. Was the makeup of the list all that you were led to believe? How does the list look now that these contacts are aware of the transition? Did a lot of people opt-out? Do you need to change your messaging strategy? These are all important questions to answer prior to your next move.

And what about your email metrics? Business performance aside, you will also want to review how your first few emails performed with respect to your email reputation. Are you sending to addresses that are no longer in use or invalid? Are people opening and engaged with your email? Are they upset or confused and hitting their ‘spam’ button?

These metrics all paint a telling story about the health and hygiene of your list, and directly impact your sending reputation. High complaint or bounce rates and low engagement might force you to rethink the use of your list. In some rare instances discarding the list altogether might be your best option. You have to ask yourself, what’s the price of a great reputation, and how important is it for your emails to reach the inbox?

A smoother transition

Transitioning a contact list from one owner to another may have its challenges, but hopefully these steps will help you make a smooth transition and increase your future prosperity!

Already transferred a contact list? Leave us a comment to let us know what helped or hindered your transition process.