This article is a review of OutboundEngine Email Marketing software company. It also provides great lessons that you can apply to improve your business, and what to watch out for if you outsource your email marketing.
Your email list is money! The goal of email marketing is to keep you top of mind, position you as an expert, drive sales, build loyalty, and create awareness. Outbound Engine, an Austin, TX software company has developed an email marketing tool that sends email blasts on your behalf to your clients and prospects. They curate articles from the internet and insert them into an email that is sent out in bulk. In addition to sending out the emails for you, they also post on your social media accounts by repurposing the content from the email blasts across social media. I will share with you my horrific experience and the pros and cons of using Outbound Engine, explain why your email marketing list is the most valuable asset you have in your company. I will share what you can do to win over your clients who may be dissatisfied with your service or product before they fire you. Finally, I will also share the steps I should have taken to screen Outbound before jumping into bed with them. You can use this screening process to vet vendors or software tool companies.
I was excited that I could hand off most of my email marketing to the “experts”. Initially, the sales rep at Outbound Engine was phenomenal. He called me within three minutes after I hit “Submit” on their website contact form. He was aggressive, but as a sales professional I respected that; I was in the market and I thought he had a solution. Outbound Engine was referred to me by someone I was in a mastermind with so I bypassed my usual steps to screen the company. I signed up the same day. After they launched my first email campaign, things went downhill fast.
OutboundEngine didn’t tell me:
1. It takes about six weeks (three email campaigns) before your full email list will be cleared in their system. They do this for a few reasons:
- They do not want to have high bounce rates, so they check the emails to verify that they are valid.
- They check to verify that none of your competitors have the same email on your list. If a competitor of yours has your client or prospect’s email address on their list, they will delete it from your list. They will tell you that this is hardly ever the case and maybe one or two emails will be an issue.
I uploaded a small part of my list, 200 email addresses. Six weeks is an unacceptable, unreasonable amount of time to check a tiny list of 200 contacts. I wonder if it would have taken six months to a year if I had uploaded my full list.
Outbound Engine will not notify you when there is someone on your email list that is also on your competitor’s list. You have to call in and ask them and then they may send you that list.
Here is a hack if you use OutboundEngine:
You can still forward the emails to your clients that are on your competitor’s lists once you get a copy of the email. Make sure you add yourself to the email list in Outbound Engine. Unfortunately, Outbound Engine will not notify you when there is someone on your list that is also on your competitor’s list. You have to call in and ask them and then they will email you that list. Not sure if there is any point in sending the email now – another reason why you should manage your own email marketing instead of using a generic cookie-cutter approach.
Solution when you’re not using OutboundEngine:
Use a service like KickBox.io — They verify all your emails in a few minutes for pennies. They will help prevent your emails from bouncing so that your account does not get suspended. You do not need this service if you have an email list that you already actively email.
OutboundEngine will place its logo and name everywhere.
They want you to pay them to use their service and then want you to also promote them for free. They insert their branding and logo at the bottom of each email they send out to your email list, the website pages, social media post links, and anywhere else they can insert their branding. All the page URLs will be branded with Outbound Engine. I understand the importance of branding, but I signed up with a 12-month commitment. I am aware of who you are OutboundEngine. You can delete your logo from the emails that I am paying you to send out to my email list.
Unnecessary setup fees!
The setup process is simple. Anyone who spends ten minutes playing around with the backend should be able to fully understand how to import their emails and set up their account. My call with Outbound Engine was roughly 25 minutes and I was charged about $90. Outbound Engine could send a 1-page pdf checklist or videos to those customers who are not as familiar with their software. I felt cheated.
They want your audience!
As a part of their social media postings, Outbound Engine will occasionally request followers to opt-in via their platform which, from what I understand, will not notify you when you have new subscribers. You always want to have full control of your list and have a back-up that is not on their platform. You should own the traffic source not OutboundEngine.
OutboundEngine owns a company that competes directly us my business!
They own a company in the promotional product industry that competes with my business. We offer most of the same products and services. How would you feel if a competitor had access to your client list with names and email addresses?
Why I fired OutboundEngine:
1. They sent out an email campaign to my email list with links that went to a page that asked my customers to opt in to my email list after I spent hours on the phone making sure that everything would work smoothly and was ensured that it was set up correctly. The links should have gone to the correct product pages.
2. The deliverability rate was very poor compared with what we get using MailChimp.
3. Their customer service was worse than Comcast. Let that sink in for a second. (Support was great until after I signed up.) The manager I spoke with was terrible, but I cannot blame her completely. Outbound Engine does not have adequate training in place. She argued with me and would not listen to what I had to say. She explained that the purpose of their service is solely to keep me top of mind with my customers and prospects. The major issue was that the links were not going to the correct website pages for the products. She felt that this was not an issue because at the time of the complaint-which was right after the emails were sent- only one person had clicked on the links inside the email. Yes, only one person clicked on a link because I followed up right away to resolve the issue before other customers opened their inboxes.
4. Their social media postings have almost zero engagement. They use zero hashtags and use the exact same posts for everyone. So, all of my competitors who are signed up for Outbound Engine will get the same post that will lead them to the same URL with the same content. Imagine what would happen if you used the cookie-cutter approach with your customers?
They failed to meet my expectations, but more so they were unprofessional and offended me. Someone sane finally called me a few days later after leaving voicemails and sending emails…. They explained that many of these things should have been explained to me at the time of sign up, but it wasn’t. This is why it is critical to establish processes and systems. In the end, I requested a copy of the agreement to send to my attorney and interestingly enough they finally agreed to refund me and cancel our contract.
What does a customer expect when there is an issue?
Communication — Immediately email and call the customer to acknowledge the issue. Shut up and listen to the customer. Let them do the talking so that you can understand the problem and see their point of view. I cannot stress how important it is to shut your mouth and to listen. I hope that someone will forward this blog to Heather at Outbound Engine.
OutboundEngine is a VC backed company and the impression they left me with is that they don’t care about their customers and I can see why. Once a company raises millions in funding, hires a team, and starts delegating to the team, most employees just go through the motions of the daily routine. I challenge you to ask the next person you work with why they do what they do. As someone who started my company at 19 years old and never had anything handed to me, I know and understand the value of each dollar and each client. Outbound Engine stole my money and more importantly, my time.
How OutboundEngine should have resolved this issue and what they could do to prevent this from happening again:
Companies like Outbound Engine who deliver a poor customer experience should take feedback from their customers as a way to improve rather than to be defensive. What upset me more than anything was the manager who would not be quiet and listen to what I had to say.
They collect emails to build your list, but of course, they will not notify you of new email subscribers. I recommend using Sumo for collecting email lists. You can download it for free. It is one of the fastest ways to grow your email list.
- Step 1: Listen to the customer to understand what the problem is.
- Step 2: Own the mistake and be respectful - OutboundEngine did apologize, but it was not sincere. Their manager Heather had a mouth on her.
- Step 3: Provide a timeline to resolve the issue. If you cannot provide a timeline stay in close communication (1–2/day) to let the customer know that you are aware and are working on providing a resolution and a new timeline. OutboundEngine went idle.
- Step 4: Ask the customer what you can do to make it up to them. Most times, the customer simply wants the issue resolved and nothing else. I wanted a credit for the campaign that went out because it failed to do what it was supposed to.
- Step 5: If the request is reasonable, honor it, and then go one step beyond that to impress the customer. Send them a custom swag pack or do something they do not expect to earn some of that lost trust. The best way to grow a business is word-of-mouth, but it’s also a great way to ruin your reputation and deter business.
- Step 6: Document the issue internally and create audit steps and training to prevent the same issue from happening again.
Steps to take before getting in bed with OutboundEngine or any company (check all steps!):
1. Search Quora to read reviews and get feedback about the company. I wish there was content around “OutboundEngine reviews” or Outbound Engine pros and cons”.
2. Ask the company for references. OutboundEngine refused to provide this for “privacy” reasons. This is not in the agreement. RED FLAG…
3. Check out their social media accounts for reviews. OutboundEngine hides the review section on their page. RED FLAG… Look for customer and company engagement to see how they communicate with their customers. I tweeted my dissatisfaction and noticed that others posted negative feedback on their Facebook wall, but they never replied back to any of it. Work with a company that stands behind its products and services, not with someone who hides and does not communicate.
4. Search YouTube for “OutboundEngine reviews” or “company name + reviews”.
5. Search hashtags on social media to read and hear what others are saying about their company. Search the hashtag of the company name or related keywords on Facebook and Twitter. This is what I found when I searched for the hashtag “#OutboundEngine”:
6. Visit their website a few times before you decide to sign up. Many companies like OutboundEngine will use services like Adroll to retarget you on social media. This is great because you will be able to see comments from their customers and potential customers. You can see whether they ignore the positive or negative feedback. Some companies just manually delete each negative comment, which is silly because I think you look better if you defend yourself and address the issue rather than hide it. Below is a screenshot of their ad that showed up in my Facebook newsfeed recently.
7. Give the company a chance to defend itself. Call them and share with them what you found online. See what they have to say.
8. Ask in your mastermind groups or affiliations for feedback about the company you intend on working with to learn from their experiences.e.
9. Ask them: “Why do customers stop using your service?” and “How many customers continue to use your service after their 12-month commitment?” Although there is no way to know if they are providing factual information, your intuition should help give you a good insight on how they answer.
Check out OutboundEngine employee reviews:
If you want to learn about the company in-depth as a part of your screening process, check out their employment reviews on Google. It will give you a good picture of the work culture. You can also use it as a way to gauge if you want to work with a company. Poor employee reviews likely lead to poor output and client dissatisfaction.
Their pricing ranges based on the plan you go with. It is between $199 and $499 based on features. Worth it? I don’t think so.
Don’t hand off email marketing to OutboundEngine.
Take control of your own email marketing if you want serious results. OutboundEngine on-boards customers by providing elite service and then they put everything on autopilot after that. They hit cruise control and expect things to go smoothly. This is never acceptable! You should work closely with your customers, at the very least in the very beginning to ensure a smooth transition until they are comfortable. Make sure to set clear expectations. I hate when companies reach out only when it is most convenient for them. Only when they want to upsell a new feature or product without providing any value first.
At the end of the day, it is just silly to give your entire customer list to any 3rd party to manage. If a company like Target or Neiman Marcus can get hacked into and have customer information leaked, imagine how easy it would be for hackers to steal email lists from a company like Outbound Engine.
Here is another review of OutboundEngine from the insurance industry:
If you have been a victim of OutboundEngine, do something about it. Fire them and invest in learning email marketing. There are many awesome videos on email marketing on YouTube and on MailChimp’s blog. If you don’t have the time to invest in it – have a team member do this. If they don’t have time for it then it sounds like you don’t have time to make money. Your email list is money.
My experience with OutboundEngine was a nightmare, but it did highlight important takeaways about customer service that we can all apply to our business. Mistakes will happen no matter what. It’s how you handle them that makes a difference.
What are your challenges with email marketing?
Comment below and let me know!