Controlling the E-Mail Deluge

How do you strike a balance between keeping your clients informed and pestering them to death with too much email? It’s a challenge many companies grapple with. Today, we’ll look at one company’s innovative solutions.

OnlineBenefits sells Web-based HR communication software, Benergy, to over 3,100 companies through 300 insurance broker partners. Without overstepping the bounds of the primary broker/client relationship with too-frequent contacts, OnlineBenefits’ challenge is to:

  • Encourage its broker partners to offer Benergy to more clients

  • Encourage those clients to use Benergy to its maximum potential

The company created a e-newsletter for brokers, The Benergizer; and a client e-newsletter, In Touch. Both are sent roughly six times per year. The newsletters contain no more than four articles apiece and are specifically designed not to be “electronic tomes.” The client newsletter features Benergy success stories to provide clients with internal motivation and to ensure all employees use the software. The broker newsletter typically generates a 50 percent open rate. It goes up when the newsletter is sent with a sender line from an individual account manager, rather than the company name.

The company also sends email invitations for Webcasts, which it uses as training and sales tools. Beyond that, email contact is kept to a minimum. VP of Marketing Andrew Ceccon is the gatekeeper. He regulates the email flow to the most “need to know” information.

Ceccon says, “The tendency is to want to send out an email for every bit of news. But we tell the salespeople, ’Either save that for the newsletter, call your clients, or send a letter by snail mail. We don’t want to inundate people with a constant barrage of email.’”

President and Cofounder (and Karen’s brother) John Gedney says, “We realize that our product is just a little sliver in our client’s daily pie of responsibilities. We want to make sure we send the right quantity of email commensurate with our presence in our clients’, and partners’, minds.”

OnlineBenefits’ partners encounter the same email situation with their own clients. To that end, the company created Client Community. The product allows brokers to create their own branded online portals. They invite clients into these portals where they can take advantage of a variety of services. Brokers can create individual client “workspaces” where they can post messages, spreadsheets, contracts, renewal notices, presentations, benchmarking reports, and such for client review. Short text email messages containing links to the site are mailed when new postings are available.

Client Community information remains online indefinitely. There’s no danger of it being accidentally deleted from an inbox. The private workspace allows both parties to retain an organized trail of the information they exchange and to establish an efficient workflow.

Brokers offering Client Community offer their clients convenience without having to develop this capability in-house. OnlineBenefits uses its Client Community product to serve its own clients and prospects. It views the portal as an adjunct to ongoing email activities.

OnlineBenefits currently dominates the midsize company market. It now has the technological capabilities to reach into the large enterprise marketplace. It’s also now marketing to benefit consultants who advise HR people from major firms. How? With email invitations to a new Webcast.

For 2004, we’re looking for more B2B case studies. Share your successful tips and techniques with Karen.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Strategies is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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