Canada's Anti-Spam Bill Would Put a Chill on B2B E-Mail

  |  May 7, 2009   |  Comments

What works for consumers doesn't always work for business.

A bill similar to the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act has been introduced in Canada's House of Commons. The Electronic Commerce Protection Act (ECPA) bill, like the U.S. law, would require e-mail marketers to provide working opt-out links, show clearly marked postal addresses in an e-mail's body, and clearly identify who the e-mail is being sent by.

One area that seems more forceful than the U.S. law involves consent: commercial e-mails could only be sent to those who have expressed or implied consent to send e-mails. Further information can be found at this blog by Matt Vernhout, director of delivery and ISP relations at ThinData.

In attempts to protect consumers, these anti-spam measures are written so broadly that they don't differentiate between the vastly different worlds of B2C (define) versus B2B (define).

The issue of consent is particularly troubling in the Canadian law. It should be noted that politicians usually exempt themselves having to adhere to any of these laws. I should also point out that I'm not a lawyer and that e-mail marketers should consult with their privacy lawyers and e-mail service providers to interpret the Canadian proposal.

But let's talk about the implications of express consent within the context of B2B communications.

When marketing to consumers, no one wants to see the fraud and bombardment that occurred in the e-mail world pre-2003 before the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act took effect. At that time, I wrote an article about the propagation of single email opt-ins at a site then owned by the now defunct e-mail marketer Synergy6. That single opt-in allegedly resulted in that e-mail address being sold to hundreds of other e-mailers, generating thousands of junk e-mails. Anti-spam laws were designed to protect against this kind of abuse.

But taken to extreme and applied to the world of B2B marketing and sales, absurd and harmful conclusions could be drawn and make day-to-day business impossible. Even in the world of business to consumer, existing laws have opened the doors to predatory litigation where individuals set up "honeypots" to entrap otherwise legitimate marketers and sue them.

Take a subject that has been debated before: sales prospecting. For nearly every business in the B2B space, the sales teams employ prospecting.

That means cold calling and sending e-mails to potential clients to engage their interest and introduce products. Especially in a poor economy when business travel and convention attendance is curtailed, businesses rely more on the skills of their sales team for cold calling and prospecting.

I once got into a public debate with another prominent writer in the e-mail sector, but represented the agency side rather than the business side. That writer was complaining that after he made a request for information on a particular business need on behalf of one of his clients, sales people wrote the decision maker to offer and promote their services.

From the agency's perspective, the sales people weren't given express consent to send their e-mails and the client complained. From my perspective, that of an entrepreneur, if one of my sales people hadn't reached out to a potential sales opportunity, they would've been looking for a new job.

Consent is fine to a degree. But businesses run by getting their offers in front of the right person persuasively. And in the B2B world, that means e-mail is often sent with no consent.

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Bill McCloskey

Bill McCloskey is the founder and chief evangelist for Email Data Source, a competitive intelligence resource for e-mail marketers. He was named one of online advertising's 50 most influential people by "Media" magazine and one of the 100 people to know by "BtoB Magazine." He's been a recognized pioneer in interactive advertising for over 10 years.

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