What Sales Reps Need to Know About the CAN-SPAM Act.

CAN-SPAM stands for: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. — Yes, that is right, unsolicited nudes and naggy promotional messages are grouped together. This may be because the only thing worse than getting a nasty email nude while you’re checking your business email is getting a promotional email for the 100th time that you tried but can’t unsubscribe from… 🙈

See an example below (of the promotional email—not a nude — gross!)

The CAN-SPAM Act was established in order to help protect consumers by creating requirements around commercial messages. The FTC website summarizes the regulation as “ a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.”

But, this applies only to marketing spamming people right? Sales reps CAN SPAM, right? (see what I did there? 😜) To help, below outlines what sales reps need to know about the CAN-SPAM Act in order to understand its scope and how to stay compliant with it.

1. Violation Penalties are Potentially Pretty Tough

The FTC states that violations can be subject to fines up to $42,530 per email that is in violation. So for example, if you send 100 emails that are out of compliance, those emails could potentially be subject to penalties up to $4,253,000!

The potential of being sued by a federal agency or an attorney general office is probably unlikely, but my non-lawyer opinion would be to err on the side of caution.

2. What Emails Fall Under CAN-SPAM Regulations

Typically people think that the CAN-SPAM Act only refers to bulk email sends, but this is wrong 🤦‍♂️. The regulation covers any commercial message. The law defines a commercial email as: “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service, including email that promotes content on commercial websites.” B2B, B2C, the law applies to all types of businesses.

To understand if your message is covered under CAN-SPAM, you must understand the primary purpose of the message. For example, if your email only contains commercial content, then the primary purpose of the email is commercial and it must comply with all CAN-SPAM requirements. However, if your email has only transactional content then its primary purpose is transactional. This email must not contain misleading routing info, but other than that it is exempt from CAN-SPAM requirements.

In the cases of where an email contains both commercial and transactional content, the primary purpose is deemed to be commercial (and thus covered under CAN-SPAM) when either the subject or the body of the email may be reasonably interpreted by the recipient as promotional.

Commercial content are messages which advertise a commercial product or service, including content on commercial websites.

Transactional content are messages which facilitate an already agreed-upon relationship such as updates on current transactions.

So, are cold emails illegal according to CAN-SPAM? No — as long as they are compliant with CAN-SPAM regulations. The law does not prevent you from reaching out to business contacts whom you have never communicated with or don’t even know. What the law does is put strict protections in place for the recipient to ensure they know what they are receiving and from whom and give them options to opt-out of any future emails.

3. How to Create CAN-SPAM Compliant Email Messages

By now you understand the scope and the importance of adhering to CAN-SPAM. Here are some tips to stay compliant when sending your next prospecting email:

  • Don’t use deceptive sender information: Your “Sender Name” and your “Sender Email” should be clear and properly represent who you actually are, either as an individual or your business.
  • Don’t use misleading subject lines: Your subject line should accurately represent the content of the email. If your subject line is “Your Account Statement,” it must actually be about the recipient's account statement and not just a ploy for them to open the email and see a cheesy product pitch.
  • Do Include Your Address: For emails to be compliant with CAN-SPAM they must contain a valid street address or P.O. box.
  • Do Tell People How to Opt-Out: This is most commonly (and most easily) done by including a clear “Unsubscribe” link in the email. Other methods may be acceptable as long as it is clear and easy for the recipient to opt-out.
  • Do Honor Opt-Outs: If people do opt-out of receiving commercial emails from your business, they should not get any more commercial emails from anyone in the business. That means if someone unsubscribes from a Sales email, Marketing cannot send them any more commercial emails. Conversely, if someone unsubscribes from a Marketing, CS, or any other commercial email from your business, Sales cannot send them commercial emails anymore either.

It is important to have systems and processes in place in order to help facilitate compliance (props to Sales and Marketing Ops teams everywhere!). Nonetheless, the onus and responsibility still fall on the sender of these messages to make sure their messages are compliant. This is important from a legal perspective — sure. Most importantly, these rules and regulations help provide a better experience for your clients and prospects.

Additional Resources:

I’m an innovative marketing strategist & educator with experience in digital marketing & marketing ops. I love developing transformational marketing processes.

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