E-Marketing Processes Must Change

Managing permission email has become problematic, and that highlights the need to redefine enterprisewide sales and marketing processes. Permission email, and online marketing in general, is an enterprise issue that requires senior management attention.

In the near term current software and service providers will offer marketers limited relief and solutions. Ultimately, winning organizations will harness the power of these online marketing assets through better process management.

As email marketing becomes entrenched in the marketing mix, it will exhibit the symptoms of what is wrong with our sales and marketing processes:

  • Angry customers saturated with unsolicited, uncontrolled marketing messages will increasingly shut off access to their inboxes and abandon relationships with sloppy marketers. This result is indicated by the increasing percentage of unopened emails.
  • Direct marketers will battle for the control and management of customer databases, the quality and context of messages, and the sheer volume of online campaigns hitting their customers.
  • As the quantity of email in customers’ inboxes increases, the line between unsolicited and permission-granted email will blur.
  • Marketing management will struggle to govern online marketing programs and to enforce privacy and permission policies.

So Much Email, So Little Management

Much has been written about the need for permission policies and professional management of email marketing programs. Organizations are finding that existing approaches to sales and marketing programs don’t work that well, yet the shortcomings have been overlooked because for over five years closed-loop sales and marketing processes have been the stuff of marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM) literature.

But that literature is largely software-marketing fiction; though a nice strategic vision, it is reality only in a few places. Why? Because process change is hard, expensive, and painful, requiring different organizations to coordinate at levels they have not yet reached.

Email will change this myopia, in the sense that it stands out like a blemish on an otherwise pristine surface. Email is cheap, ubiquitous, and dangerous enough to highlight the need for organizations to change the way they manage their marketing processes. Email programs are popping up across organizations because they are inexpensive, easy, and effective — much the way brochureware Web sites sprang up like weeds in every department in the mid-1990s. Because email marketing campaigns trace a course across an organization, they require coordination.

IMT Strategies research has found that 65 percent of organizations have been actively using permission email campaigns for over six months. Over 20 percent have been blasting customers for more than two years. Emails go out through a variety of channel organizations — sales, Internet, direct marketing, and customer service. In addition organizations collect names from many sources, including Web sites, customer-service call centers, and third parties. Increasing amounts of resources are being dedicated to the task. Database size and expenses are growing.

Further research shows that email marketing is about to move from a marketing panacea (5 times more effective than direct mail, 20 times more effective than banner ads) to a management headache. Over time our research has shown that as the number of email databases proliferates, campaign response rates erode and resources become constrained.

However, the research also shows that most organizations have not taken full charge of email. Consequently, meaningful policies are not enforced, databases are proliferating, and the quality of names and data is low. Most organizations surveyed are without controls or policies governing how their direct sales forces use email. They want corporate or interactive marketing heads to take control. On a practical level, many players have their hands in the process, and the staff roles created to solve the problem (such as e-care officer and chief customer officer) are toothless — either under-resourced or undersupported.

Although most organizations have now established basic privacy and opt-out policies, far fewer have programs that make a difference in two key areas: campaign effectiveness and relationship building. Fewer than half have employee rules governing how email is handled. Even fewer manage the frequency and relevance of email campaigns — the two issues most likely to make customers opt out of email relationships.

Fixing the Process

Consider the cross-functional journey of an email relationship. A customer may register on a Web site for more information or to get something in return for his or her name. Ideally, this information is checked to ensure that it is correct and that it is not a duplicate, then it is placed in a central direct marketing database. A marketing analyst then thoughtfully selects that name for a relevant and interesting promotional campaign. The email campaign, with the proper privacy and permission etiquette, is mailed. The same customer contacts the call center to place an order or issue a complaint. Depending on the circumstances, the call is handed off to customer service for an apology or to a field salesperson for a visit.

The only problem with that scenario is that organizations are not structured to work this way. Today that journey looks more like the hazardous trek of Ulysses than a drive on an open highway. The path across these organizations is filled with pitfalls, perils, detours, and dead ends. This will have to change.

The growing importance and cost of online communications as part of doing business will require more professional management of email programs, data, policies, and resources. The solution will require management understanding of and focus on two processes: name acquisition and maintenance and campaign execution and measurement. The former is important because organizations will have to get better at acquiring, storing, and maintaining the information that fuels permission marketing programs. The latter is critical to improving sales and marketing performance and sustaining responsiveness to online campaigns.

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