Do you remember playing the game “Monkey in the Middle” as a kid? I may be dating myself, but I vividly recall spending hours with two other friends playing this game. It was a simpler world back then. All you needed was a big beach ball and two other friends to play. The object was for the “monkey” in the middle of two friends to capture the ball, which was tossed from one kid to the other over your head. You’d jump, reaching as high as you could to snare that ball, thereby escaping your middle status and becoming one of the tossers. No one really enjoyed being the monkey in the middle. It was usually a lot of work and at times humiliating.
Watching the evolution of the e-mail communications channel over the past seven years or so, I’ve always felt as if the channel we represent has been the monkey in the middle. At times, it’s maligned and ridiculed, made fun of, and worked around; it hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves. Our communications channel has been termed “cluttered” and at times our messages called “spam.” Some of us continue to work very hard to snare the ball between the acquisition and CRM (define) tossers to show the world just how important and valuable we are. Being in the middle is important and is exactly where we should be.
Marketers must start thinking in a more game-like manner. I continue to see companies spend millions of dollars for SEM (define). Acquisition-happy marketers who are pleased to discuss cost-per-action and cost-per-lead metrics. They cite chapter and verse about leads driven to their sites. Yet there’s very little, if any, discussion of the strategy behind acquiring this lead and transaction and sustaining the relationship beyond this solitary event to building lifetime value. It’s mind boggling that we spend little or no time working with the acquisition side of the house to demonstrate to our companies’ finance departments the relationship between transactions and lifetime value. Why aren’t you combining your search and e-mail retention tools, teams, and strategies to show the power of this combination in creating better and more profitable customer retention programs? If I were running your company, you can be sure I’d be asking.
On the other side of the middle is all the work that we do inside our collective CRM systems. It drives me crazy that customer service data and e-mail services aren’t more tightly joined. A real life example: this past Valentine’s Day, an online flower merchant disappointed me for the last time. I order my flowers online. I track the order online (by visiting the Web site and viewing an “in process” status on my order number). I wait for that joyful series of calls from recipients telling me they’ve received my gift. Then, nothing. Nothing from the intended recipients. No e-mail from the merchant. Nothing. Two days later, I got three urgent telephone calls from customer service apologizing for not delivering my flowers. (By the way, I placed the order a month before the holiday and asked the flowers to be delivered two days before the holiday). I never returned the telephone call.
I’m not sure what part of this equation this flower merchant doesn’t get. How hard is it to send me an e-mail letting me know my order’s status in real time? It’s unforgivable. It’s just bad business. After years of my business, that merchant has lost me as a customer. There’s no viable excuse. Every year, we have Valentine’s Day. Every year, an increasing number of people order flowers online. Keep disappointing customers by not communicating and integrating the back end of your systems with e-mail notification and service messaging, and you’re done.
Of late, I’ve become obsessed with the entire area of social networking and blogging. This is another missed opportunity for companies. As e-mail evangelists, we constantly struggle for respect as the most powerful element in building customer relationships and lifetime value. We argue that we must integrate as much data as we can into our segmentation and messaging models. We understand now that e-mail, to be effective, must continually prove its relevance to the recipient or we’ll be tagged spam.
As we sit in the middle of the customer lifecycle, we are ravenous for input from all sides of our business to better shape our communications with customers. If you haven’t begun studying the data emanating from social networks and blog, you’re missing a new and powerful channel that provides incredible insight on brand, customer preferences, and trends. I must admit that prior to the last year of work, I treated this new channel as another quirky assembly of folks with a lot of time on their hands. I was wrong.
There are tools in the market today that can provide tremendous insight into what the universe of bloggers are saying about your company, your offerings, your service, your competitors’ products and services, and marketplace trends. What started off as a bunch of frustrated writers has grown exponentially to a universe of over 100 million blogs and is expanding at a rate of 1 million new bloggers a day. This is a real-time focus group whose insight can be gained and integrated into your e-messaging in real time. Armed with this information, you have opened up yet another data stream that, leveraged properly, can tighten your messaging in e-mail to be much more relevant to your customers. Or you can act like this channel isn’t relevant or important enough to you, dismissing the data as outside of the mainstream of what real customers think.
My view as an e-mail professional in the middle of this game, between acquisition and customer lifetime value, is we need to be much more than vocal evangelists for deliverability and filtering of images. It’s time someone in the organization stepped up and grabbed the ball from the other kids playing this game. It’s much too important for e-mail not to be integrally joined with the other elements of your company’s customer lifecycle. If you aren’t working closely with your company’s search and Web development components, why not? If your CRM folks are sitting in their silo acting like everything is going great because complaints are down, you need to bust in to the CEO’s office and demand that integrated strategy meetings and metrics be instituted for the sake of the company.
If all else fails, walk into the finance department (they will always listen to folks who have ideas about being more efficient), and let them know you’re tired of watching this game being played. It’s time that the monkey in the middle started running the game. You can show them how integrating and leveraging insight from search, Web analytics, CRM, e-mail deployment, and data from blogs and social media can save the company millions of dollars and make it more profitable.
If they won’t hear you and take the necessary action, it’s time to take the ball and find some other kids to play with.
Dare to do great work.
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