DM News' Essential Guide to E-mail Marketing: Telephone Protocols Apply to E-Mail

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Readers treat e-mails like telephone calls. As the volume of e-mail per person per day now vastly exceeds phone calls and direct mail, e-mail recipients have become more discerning in how they react and respond to an overloaded inbox.


The primary method of corporate information delivery has switched from phone to e-mail, and the deluge has forced marketers to wonder why their e-mail campaigns are stagnant, producing single-digit response rates.


The root of the problem is mismanaging recipients' expectations. E-mail must follow consistent, socially acceptable business communication protocols. The closest comparison to e-mail is the telephone. Both the phone and e-mail are used for conversations to connect vendors to customers, prospects, partners and even their employees. Sending e-mail marketing campaigns and generic e-mail newsletters is not a conversation, though.


Here are some thoughts before you send your next e-mail campaign. Consider the expectations of recipients and how they view your communications with them. Do your communications resemble direct mail, or have you begun to adopt a more respectful, and expected, set of rules when using e-mail automation? Readers can delete e-mail as fast as voicemail, and caller ID is pretty much the same as your "From" address and subject lines.


Focus on timeliness. Is the information you send timely enough for readers' needs, or are you constrained by traditional e-mail campaigns? For example, what happens when you want to share information quickly about a new product, a recent client win or a price change with prospects, customers or partners? Salespeople who call with these timely updates usually improve their relationships. Your e-mail updates should be just as timely and even more consistent in reaching interested subscribers.


E-mail relationships should let you ask subscribers when and how often they wish to hear from you. This is no different than the instincts your salespeople use to manage their sales calls.


Finally, e-mail can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When a new user subscribes, do you send what they want immediately or do you have to make them wait until your next campaign? Generic "Thanks for subscribing" confirmation messages don't show responsiveness or build your relationship. Good salespeople and relationship managers respond immediately and satisfy the information needs quickly and accurately. Your e-mail program should, too.


Be relevant. When your salespeople decide to call a customer, prospect or partner, what motivates this action? Do they have information to share? Most salespeople think this information would be seen as relevant to the recipient. Would they call if they didn't know? If you left them a voice message about several topics without knowing whether they were interested, would they call you back? If the topics were irrelevant to their needs, would they take your next call? Think about relevance and try to understand how e-mail should convey your information simply and efficiently.


Watch message length. Ask yourself how long a typical business call lasts. In most cases, people discuss only one or two topics, and the main points can be conveyed in a few minutes. Longer calls usually result from a face-to-face meeting or a planned conversation that meets the longer time expectations of the participants.


Similar to your phone calls, don't try to send too much information in e-mails. Studies show that most recipients spend less than 15 to 20 seconds scanning e-mails they actually open. They immediately delete the others. Send a summary format with topics that are simple and easy to navigate. Do not overdesign e-mails or try to "boil the ocean" in one transmission. Keep it short, and the relevant information will be read, retained and acted upon.


Create dialogue. How do your e-mails foster a dialogue with subscribers? Do you engage and listen to readers before you send them e-mail? Do you give recipients a chance to respond and rate your information or are you just blindly sending without the desire or ability to take feedback?


Effective companies sell by listening to customers, prospects and partners. Does your e-mail strategy let you listen and respond? You can have an electronic dialogue with individual readers if you address their interests and exceed their expectations.


Finally, when someone asks for information, are you listening to his expectations? These ideas are the same expectations readers have if you call them on the phone.


Revenue retention. How does your company communicate electronically to retain customers and partners? Are you actually building relationships when you e-mail them? More importantly, do recipients think you are helping the relationship with the information you send? Do you provide value or an experience that your competition does not? Are your e-mail newsletters generic and merely a sampling of your corporate information, compiled to fish for leads? Do they look and feel like a cold call?


Customers and partners know the difference between revenue desperation and long-term relationship and loyalty building. E-mail newsletters seldom convey a sense of personalized effort and value. Customers and partners who do not feel valued and engaged are difficult to retain.


Improve your reputation. What does your e-mail strategy say about your company and brand? When your customers, prospects and partners interact with you electronically, it affects their perception of your reputation. Each e-mail is a relationship opportunity that can help or hurt you. If a salesperson from your company unexpectedly called a customer with generic, untimely or poorly targeted information, would the receiver view it as a boost to your reputation?


And what if that salesperson did not provide a chance for the customer to respond and give feedback? Your e-mails say a lot about your efforts to educate, inform and build relationships, exactly like your employees and their phone calls do. Customers and partners know when you are making an effort to personalize and impress them. Remember, irrelevant, impersonal and untimely e-mail marketing will train people to ignore you.


E-mail's ubiquity and timeliness make it an ideal relationship medium. Use e-mail as a way to consistently improve your organization's personality and brand by empowering readers and inviting them to participate in conversations and relationships with you. Find a technology partner who can help you manage the process.


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