How to Sell to People Who Stop Opening Your Emails

by Nico Prins

We spend ages growing our email list and then we’re proud when just three out of ten people open your email. 

While it’s great that people a few people are opening your email, the fact looms large that an average of seven or eight out of every 10 people ignore you. Unfortunately if those people keep ignoring you, and you don’t do anything about it, they harm your overall open rate.

Of course, there are things you can do about this (more than just sending an activation email). What I’m going to share with you over the next few paragraphs is a strategy you can implement to activate those dormant users and increase your email open rate. It’s pretty simple to implement, easy to manage and can be very profitable. 

5 Steps to Improving Your Open Rate (the zombie guide)

Before I discuss the strategy I’ll cover some of the fundamentals (I’m sure you’ll know all this, but there will be people here who might not and we need to accommodate them). It all starts with understanding why the people who don’t open your emails are a problem.

This all comes down to the spam filters.

There are a whole range of factors at play in getting past the spam filters that you should be at least aware of, but don’t need to care much about. According to Campaign Monitor, who wrote a common sense article on the topic, the positive factors that help you get past spam filters include:

  • How many people open your email
  • People replying to your emails
  • Having your email added to an address book

Then there are the bad apples. The list is shorter and includes:

  • People deleting your email without opening
  • People moving your email to the junk folder

So just to summarize; those seven or eight in ten people not opening your emails are reducing the chance of people who do want to receive your email getting the message.

To improve your email open rate you need to get those zombies active. Follow these five steps to bring your zombies back from the dead.

email list thriller

Step 1: Identify The Zombies

The starting point for engaging your unresponsive audience is identifying them. To do this you’ll have to draw an arbitrary line in the sand to determine when people have stopped being responsive.

If you’re sending three emails a week it could be 90 days. If you send an email once a fortnight that number could be closer to 365 days. Whatever it is, set that cut off point. Then every month create a segment of zombies.

Pretty much all email marketing services let you segment your list based on the last time that a person opened an email. I use Sendlane and as you can see from the image below segmenting your list is hardly rocket science.

segment email list

When you’ve segmented your list you should send them, and only them, a re-engagement email. You want this email to stand out from the standard email you send your engaged users. It could look something like this:

email list engagement emails

If you enter “re-engagement email template” in Google you’ll get dozens of articles, like this one by Mail Bakery, with hundreds of different examples. Just do a bit of research and then craft an email that fits with your brand – fun or serious, corporate or happy fun time (you get the idea).

When you search for examples of re-engagement emails you will find a lot of companies give a person the option of unsubscribing.

re-engagement email list

I don’t recommend doing this straight away. In my opinion there’s a logic gap in using this approach.

  • If people were engaged enough to press the un-subscribe button when prompted you might be able to get them to press other more interesting and profitable buttons
  • Even an engaged user will find setting subscription preferences for an email service less interesting than watching paint dry

I hope you can see what I’m getting at (I’ll give you a better option in a moment).

If your re-engagement email was any good, some of those zombies will have opened your message. Remove these leads from the unresponsive segment. Download those zombies from your server and delete them.

I know. I said I’d help you turn those zombies into buyers, I’ll get to that.

email list segmentation

The immediate benefit of deleting those unresponsive users is that a higher proportion of your list will open your emails. You’ll be rewarded with higher overall delivery rates.

Think of it like a circle of positivity. Instead of Yin and Yang it’s all Yin Yin. Now, those people who weren’t opening your emails can be loaded up onto a separate email server. This will be your zombie server.


Step 2: Create a Zombie Server

A lot of companies are understandably funny about hosting your zombies. Depending on how you collected those leads you might find they won’t even let you transfer your list onto their servers.

If you have this issue, search for an email CMS that lets you host your list on Amazon Simple Email Services, or look for a company that doesn’t have very high security standards (there are plenty of these).

Wherever you end up hosting those emails, your zombie server will have the following characteristics:

  • Terrible delivery rate
  • Lots of zombies

That doesn’t matter though. You’ve contained the people who don’t engage with your content away from the people who do. Now all you’ve got to do is get those zombies to dance.

Step 3: Raise The Zombies from the Dead

Managing your zombie list takes a lot less time than managing your list of active users.

I recommend sending a third of your usual emails to this list. Keep it simple, the only purpose of the emails you send is to get people to re-engage with your company. To get people engaged send a higher percentage of cool stuff to this list. Things like:

  • Free PDFs and short online courses
  • Invites to giveaways and competitions

These are the kind of ‘no brainer’ offers that your average Joe or Jane zombie is going to pay attention to.

engagement email list

When you’re trying to engage with these people don’t be afraid to experiment with out of the box marketing approaches. For example, the ‘birthday hack’ is a great example you could add to your arsenal. According to a 2014 report by Experian:

  • Birthday emails have a 179% higher click through rate than regular promotional mail
  • Birthday emails generate 342% higher revenue than promotional emails

Yeah, people like receiving stuff on their birthday, who knew!

And if you’re thinking, well that’s great, I don’t have their actual details then think laterally.

For instance, while the chance of someone being born on a particular day of the year is more or less 1 in 365, the odds of them being born in a particular month is about 1 in 12. In fact, if you do some research you can improve those odds. For example, more people in the US are born in mid September than any other time of year.

People do more than wait for Santa on those long dark nights…

Birchbox and Lee have nice examples of birthday campaigns you could easily steal (sorry adapt).

birthday email engage email list

There are a lot of out of the box campaigns you can try on your zombie server. I recommend you create a Trello board for inspiration (it’s what I do). Any time you come across a campaign you find interesting save it to your board.

This is a simple practical step you can implement to improve your internet marketing.


Step 4: Selling to Zombies

I’ll touch briefly on how to sell to those zombies by email (it’s not going to be be in depth). The secret, and this is pretty simple, is to send multiple emails to your audience. Josh Barney wrote a good guide on how to write a drip campaign for cart abandonment.

cart abandonment email sequence

There are two parts to writing a campaign that I’ll cover quickly below. The most important part, is the function of the different parts of your campaign.

  • The purpose of your subject line is to get people to open your email (if you struggle to come up with subject lines check out this list of headline generators)
  • Your email copy is supposed to get people to click on the link
  • The sales page is supposed to get people to buy the product

A lot of people try to sell by email. Really you just want to create desire or curiosity.

The second thing to keep in mind, and this is specific to drip campaigns, is that if someone doesn’t buy something the first time, try a different approach.

Ryan Deiss has a nice drip sell campaign series that you can pretty much copy, called Gain, Logic, FearThe three part email sequence focuses on different psychological parts of the buying process; you have the gain, which is aspirational, the logic, which focuses on providing clear benefits for logical thinkers and the fear, which taps into the fear of missing out on a deal.

When you’re selling to your audience, either your zombie server or regular list, make sure to segment based on actions. If a person clicks on a link then follow up with a campaign aimed at those people – using a system like Gain, Logic, Fear.

You can also retarget people using fb ads. Again Josh has a good article that covers this process on Einstein Marketer. You can use the same system for your FB ads as Ryan Deiss used in that drip feed campaign.

facebook retargeting ad email list

The example above is used by an internet marketer called Wilco de Kreij who has developed a FB retargeting platform. He uses this type of FB ads sequence combined with email marketing to increase sales by around 50%.

There are plenty of FB retargeting platforms you can use if you want to experiment with retargeting.


Step 5: Repeat the Cycle

The last step of the zombie cycle is switching the active users back over to your ‘engaged’ server and your new ‘zombies’ over to your Zombie Server. As I mentioned at the start of this article you want to be doing this process every month or so. It’s just good business practice – consider it a bit of electronic spring cleaning.

Of course some people are never going to engage with you. At some point you’ll want to delete the people who never engage with any of your content from your zombie server. That’s fine, at least you are only deleting these people and not potential customers.



Hopefully this article gave you a good overview of why it’s so important to round up the zombies on your servers. You want people to engage with your content and if they’re not, you need to contain those folk and activate them.

If you follow the steps outlined in this article, and systemise those processes in your business, you will make more money from your list and increase your email open rate. It’s a thousand small changes like this that will help you grow your business.

That’s enough from me. If you’ve got any questions just let me know in the comments below. I’ll be sure to answer your comment, but I’d much prefer to learn more about what’s working for you 😀

Guest Author
Nico is an online marketer with a passion for travel. Every week he researches the best lifetime software deals, from sites like AppSumo and StackSocial along with independent developers. You can access the deals and download the Chrome plugin that notifies you when a deal goes live on Launch Space. In his spare time he like to talk about himself in the first person.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to write for Einstein Marketer Josh. If anyone has any questions just let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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