E-Communications Help PartyLite Shine With Customers, Consultants

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When your customers and employees are scattered across the country, ensuring they get the most relevant and consistent messaging can be a challenge.

Through an electronic communications program of e-mails, e-newsletters and reports, PartyLite has helped its sales consultants be more effective and entice customers with more product information and offerings. The direct seller of candles and related supplies continues to refine the initiative since beginning it in 2002.

"Our primary goal was to develop and maintain communications with our customers," said Peggi Peaslee, manager of extranet services at PartyLite, Plymouth, MA.

PartyLite is a division of Blyth Inc., which has other direct divisions including Miles Kimball, Walter Drake and Exposures.

Consultants previously had to reach out to customers to maintain the relationship. That was an extremely tall order for these 14,000 consultants who could meet, on average, hundreds of people when hosting a show.

"This is a way to build communication and have that communication go back and forth" between the consultant and the customers, Peaslee said.

IMakeNews Inc., Waltham, MA, worked with PartyLite to create the Party Pulse program. IMN, an e-communications service provider, also launched Party Pulse this month as an offering to other direct-selling companies.

"We feel we've got the capacity and capability to offer it to the market at large," iMakeNews CEO David Fish said, adding that Party Pulse's combination of e-mail communications and reporting tools can be valuable for other direct-selling organizations as well as companies in automotive and technology, which cultivate relationships with dealers, vendors and resellers.

Party Pulse consists of four components: monthly customer e-mails, reports for consultants, reports for national administrators and periodic e-newsletters for consultants. Peaslee said PartyLite had no regular communication with customers before starting the e-mail communication, Candle Connection.

Consultants have access to the PartyLite database, in which they enter contact information for their customers. Anyone with a valid e-mail address receives Candle Connection monthly, making it easy for consultants to stay connected with their customers. Consultants can de-select individual addresses and customers can opt out, if desired.

The Candle Connection area on PartyLite's Web site includes an overview of PartyLite offerings. It also features articles such as a monthly hostess special, designed to inspire customers to host their own shows. Candle Bright Idea provides customers with design and how-to tips, while the Enhance Your Life feature includes information about becoming a PartyLite consultant.

Peaslee said the e-mails are not personalized by customer name in case a name is misspelled in the database. But they are customized by consultant: A photo of the consultant, her telephone number, address, e-mail address and Web site appear on each e-mail sent to her customers.

More than 1 million e-mails are sent monthly. Open rates average 30 percent to 40 percent, Peaslee said. Open rates drop with each subsequent article -- for instance, the second article has an open rate of 26 percent, the third has 15 percent, followed by 10 percent for the final article. The opt-out rate is less than 1 percent.

Consultants can track how customers react to the messages. But it wasn't always easy to obtain that data. Until last year, consultants had to link to an IMN-supported site to see the open rates and click-throughs. And with 14,000 consultants participating in the program, the system could become overloaded with everyone logging onto it at the same time.

"We worked with IMN to push the information instead," Peaslee said.

Now, PartyLite sends the data to consultants in 24 hours, three days and one week. The company thinks that most recipients will open the e-mail within these time periods. Consultants receive the names, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of customers who opened the e-mail as well as what parts of the e-mail each opened. They can print the report to take with them on sales opportunities.

Pushing the customer data to consultants helps ensure that they receive it, Peaslee said. When consultants had to access the data themselves, some would forget or choose not to view it, she said. The data also give consultants information to make interactions with these customers more relevant. For example, if the consultant knows that a particular customer clicked on information about hosting a show, she can begin their next conversation by mentioning the benefits of becoming a host.

"This gives [consultants] more confidence when they call the customer," she said. "And it's great customer service" because consultants can learn customer needs and address them.

The reports for national administrators help the home office keep tabs on its entire communications program.

"We log into the IMN site and are able to pull reports," Peaslee said. "We can trend e-mails over time and [study] specific mailings. We use it to guide what we do next."

PartyLite's administrators also send e-newsletters to consultants to gauge the success of their business and maintain strong relationships with them. These newsletters go to top salespeople weekly and are distributed to all consultants monthly. Inactive consultants receive them as well as a reminder of their affiliation with PartyLite. Content includes company news and new product information.

"We use [the e-newsletters] to supplement the paper copy we send out," Peaslee said about a monthly mailing the consultants receive.

PartyLite also e-mails surveys to consultants to gain feedback on how the company can improve.

Marji McClure covers CRM and analytics for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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