Pete Zimek, Brianne Kocher: 7 Deadly Sins of Email and Why You Should Care

by Katie Sloan

Just when you thought you could put your leasing team’s email on cruise control, email providers have gone and changed the game. Think about these statements for a moment:



  • Email providers have a new definition of spam, and their definition now likely includes you.
  • Our industry spends hundreds of thousands of dollars getting renters to submit electronic guest cards, yet a significant percentage of our return emails aren’t even being delivered to the very prospects who reached out to us.
  • That drip marketing campaign that was all the rage in 2014 now puts you on the naughty list with Gmail and Microsoft Outlook.

Email providers made changes to their spam filters recently. In combination with what we refer to as the “7 Deadly Sins of Email,” this results in revenue loss from student housing communities around the nation. You don’t have to fall victim to these sins any longer. Take back that revenue by making small adjustments to your leasing team’s email communication. And beware of some of the changes email providers are making.

No email left behind: Why each individual email is important to you and your staff. 

Spam Filtering 2.0 is here

…and this new filtering system works in a way that even the best intentioned emails can get treated like spam. Student housing teams know the following story all too well.

You start leasing season around October. In a good year, you reach capacity by let’s say March or April. Your staff begins sending quick responses to new email prospects letting them know you’re full next year. Renters don’t reply back because, well, you’re full. No harm, no foul right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, those one-way emails are sending signals to Gmail’s spam detection algorithms that could come back to haunt you. When emails sit unopened for an extended period of time or when they’re deleted without ever being opened, Gmail is assuming that the recipient didn’t want to receive them in the first place. The more often this scenario plays out across email inboxes, the greater the chance for negative consequences. 

To add even more confusion to the mix, Gmail engineers are on record stating that one person’s spam is another person’s coupon. Simply put, they may be willing to deliver your emails to one prospect but not to another. This doesn’t just apply to Gmail. All the major email providers are taking steps to improve and customize their mailbox user’s experience.

The end result is that most of us marketers have been completely oblivious to the fact that email deliverability could even be a problem. You’re probably thinking, “I receive test emails with no issue, so why wouldn’t a prospect?” The truth is that you don’t know if 100 percent of your emails are being delivered.

The difference between poor and good delivery could be small by percentage, but huge in lost revenue

Email marketing provider Informz pegs “poor deliverability” at 81 percent of emails being delivered. That’s a B in most schools! Certainly a passing grade right? But the business consequences of languishing 17 points lower than “good deliverability,” defined as 98 percent and above, could be quite significant, especially in our industry.

Let’s translate this to lost revenue. Assume that your team emails 5,000 potential renters this year. What is the the difference in lost revenue comparing poor vs. good deliverability?

Revenue generated with poor deliverability

5000 Emails x 81 percent = 4,050 Emails Delivered

4,050 x 4 percent (average conversion rate) = 162 Leases Signed

162 x $6,000 (average lease signed) = $972,000 revenue

Now let’s examine a good deliverability

5000 Emails x 98 percent = 4,900 Emails Delivered

4,900 x 4 percent (average conversion rate) = 196 Leases Signed

196 x $6,000 (average lease signed) = $1,176,000 revenue

That’s a difference of $204,000 in revenue left on the table each year!

The 7 Deadly Sins of Email

Okay, so now that you know why it’s important to get email communication right, let’s address how you can get them right. Our team reviewed thousands of email conversations between leasing teams and prospective renters. After analyzing this data, we were able to pull out seven commonalities that led to poor renter communication. Without further ado, here are the 7 Deadly Sins of Email that you should avoid to craft emails with a better response rate.

1.     Thou Shall Not Spam Your Prospects

After reviewing our data, we found that 10 percent of leasing teams are spamming their prospects. Sending email after email with information potential renters don’t ask for or want is a sure-fire way to lower your deliverability rate in the future. Plus, our data shows that it simply doesn’t work. Just don’t do it.

2.     Thou Shall Not Be Impersonal in a Personal Business

Hello Jane Smith.

Dear Fred Flintstone:

Awkward greetings like the ones above do not resonate with renters, and unfortunately 20 percent of the emails we studied used greetings like these. If your leasing team is using something comparable, they’re being impersonal in a very personal business. In your emails, address prospective renters the same way as if they were walking into your leasing office.

3.     Thou shall not use a crappy template

This is a tough one for some marketing directors. You want an efficient and clean way to respond to renters. If you choose to use a template, that’s your choice, but remember these numbers. The emails we reviewed in Gainesville, Florida, that didn’t use template performed 248 percent times better than those that did. In Orlando, they performed 402 percent times better. So if you don’t want renters to respond to you, send them a template.

4.     Thou Shall Not Spew Word Vomit

You know that relative that goes on and on at the family reunion?  You asked one direct question and they go off on tangents about their health, the weather and how you never call. Don’t be like your crazy relative. We noticed that 32 percent of the emails we reviewed committed this sin. If a renter asks a direct question, answer it succinctly and don’t respond with a bunch of other information they didn’t ask to hear.

5.     Thou Shall Not Forget to Ask for the Tour

One thing most of us can agree on is that leasing agents are at their best when prospects are standing right in front of them. They certainly wouldn’t forget to ask for the tour in person, yet, a surprising 57 percent of leasing agents forgot to invite their prospects to take a tour in their emails. Ask for the tour in both in person and by email.

6.     Thou Shall Not End the Conversation

Relationships start with conversations. Quick, impersonal responses end conversations. As mentioned before, this industry is personal. You need to create and develop relationships that establish trust with your community. Even if the renter’s response is a quick “yes” or “no”, keep the conversation open. A bonus, this signals to email providers that this person wants your emails. Surprisingly, 57 percent of the emails we reviewed committed this sin.

7.     Thou Shall Not Take too long to respond

We found that the average email response time is 33.5 hours. That doesn’t even include the hours when an office is closed! Think about your target market today. millenials and Generation Z don’t wait. With companies such as Amazon and FedEx speeding up the rate of delivery, combined with the internet providing information 24/7, today’s student housing renters are not going to wait around. And when you do call back four days later, they’ve forgotten you and moved on. Think about it. Do you remember what you ate for lunch or wore to work four days ago? They don’t remember calling you that long ago either.

Email communication and deliverability is an emerging issue in our industry. As providers continue to improve their services, this will only become more of an issue for us. Luckily, what email providers are looking for is not some sort of secret. They want to know their users, your prospects, are engaging with you and your leasing teams. Concentrating on improving this communication doesn’t just appease the Gmails of the world, it’s also a great business practice and something your team should be doing. Our research shows that many student housing communities are not following these best practices.

But the future belongs to those who do.

Pete Zimek, CAS, MSM, is the Founder and CEO of the iLS network, an award winning collective of internet listing services covering 6 Florida markets and serving over 600,000 prospects each year. Pete is passionate about using technology to solve problems that are incredibly human. An NAAEI Faculty Member, Pete teaches CAM, CAPS, and original curriculum for NAA Affiliates across the State of Florida.

Brianne Kocher is the Director of Marketing for The Collier Companies where she oversees community branding, lease ups, property listings, and a leasing call center for a 50-property portfolio. Brianne’s passion for instructing was forged during her time as a leasing trainer for Equity Residential, and she still cherishes any opportunity to work alongside her on-site leasing consultants. Co-workers admire her “high level of organization and calm approach,” traits that help her excel in the often chaotic world of student housing.

This article is adapted from the presentation “Seven Deadly Sins of Email & Why You Should Care” at the NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition 2016.

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