Effective E-Mail Lists Can Jumpstart Sales

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One-to-one marketing, e-mail marketing and personalization. We've all heard the terms, but what many of us don't realize is just how fine the line is between online success and online failure.


Taking the necessary steps before you hit the send button will help you and your company increase sales and better serve your customers.


The key to a successful e-mail campaign starts well before the creative idea; it starts with your e-mail list. Unlike traditional direct mail, where it's OK to send out millions of pieces of marketing materials to unsuspecting consumers, with the Web - and e-mail in particular - sending unsolicited e-mail is the equivalent of marketing suicide. There are two e-mail marketing rules: Don't send spam and send e-mail only to those customers and prospects who want it.


The first step toward building your online community begins at your Web site, since every visitor is a potential customer. By asking these visitors to register with you and opt in to your online community, you are well on your way to turning these passive browsers into customers. Also, since they have chosen to register with your company and have asked to receive informational e-mails and promotions, you know that your e-mail will be read and you won't be labeled a "spammer."


Your registration form should be concise, asking only the questions to which you absolutely need answers in order to start sending targeted e-mails. Well over 50 percent of Web surfers intentionally fill out online registration forms incorrectly because the forms are too lengthy or too invasive. Over time, after you have established the trust of your visitors, you can ask for more information and further refine your messages and offers.


More importantly, be upfront with your clientele by telling them exactly what you intend to do with this registration information. For instance: Will the information remain internal to your company or will it be available to others? The bottom line is to be direct with your audience. By sharing your privacy policy with your customers, you are taking the first step toward building a solid, lasting relationship with your online community. And, like any good relationship, it will develop and grow over time.


Another way of collecting names is to encourage your customers to let you know if they are unable to find what they are looking for on your Web site. Imagine a customer walking into a boutique clothing store, closely inspecting several items on a rack for a couple of minutes and then leaving without any of the salespeople checking to see if they needed help. You are doing the equivalent with your Web site if you are not encouraging feedback and establishing a connection.


Speaking of customers who visit your store, are you taking the time to collect their e-mail addresses? E-mail marketing is just as effective in driving store traffic as it is in Web traffic.


Another proven approach to help kick-start your e-mail marketing efforts is to purchase a list from a reputable e-mail broker. But be careful. Make sure that the list broker has asked these individuals for their permission to have information sent from third-party companies and that they have given them an easy way to remove themselves from the list, in other words opting out. Be sure to ask the broker the following to ensure that you are buying a clean and reputable list:


• How was the list compiled? Did the recipient give you permission, and do you have an easy way for them to opt out?


• How often are messages sent to these people, and what has been the typical response rate?


• What kinds of selections are available for this list (i.e., age, gender, job title, location)?


If you don't feel comfortable buying names from a list broker, or if you don't have the budget (some names can run as high as 30 cents a name), then another tried-and-true way to increase your opt-in list is to create cross-links with similar interest sites.


Collecting names is the first step in producing a successful e-mail marketing program and is the most important. By using other elements of Internet marketing such as tracking and segmentation, you can turn a good list into a great one and be well on your way to increasing your online and offline sales.


Scott Galin is vice president of marketing at Dialog Software, New York. His e-mail address is sgalin@dialogsoft.com.
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