Email Is Never Free

As I wrote yesterday, my White Hat Award shouldn’t get you thinking I’m some anti-commerce crank.

Some might be tempted to label me such because of my insistence on the long view. When so many people are making money out the wazoo, it is Cassandra-like to insist, as I do, that conditions will change, that change is constant, and that if you don’t take care for tomorrow then tomorrow will take care of you.

This is especially true when we talk about email.

Contrary to what you may think, email isn’t free to send, and it isn’t free to get. You risk your credibility with every email, and each one costs your readers time. This is true whether your email goes to two people or two million.

When you burn a relationship you can’t get it back. Do you think Bill Clinton can ever live down his infamy? Neither can Sanford Wallace. Sure, you can’t please everyone. It’s easy to find sites slamming big, wealthy companies like AOL and Wal-Mart. Some people are going to be jerks no matter what you do. The question is how can you use email to reduce anger as much as possible, while raising the goodwill your business depends on?

Here are some rules:

  • A personal question deserves a prompt personal answer. I can’t repeat often enough how important it is that you answer your email, that you route it properly and get the appropriate response out. Customer service is an opportunity to build goodwill, not a cost of doing business.

  • Invite email. I’ve lost track of the number of web sites that hide relevant email addresses, or disguise them behind department names. So what if you’re pre-filtering put a name in the address and make it prominent.
  • It’s not a list, it’s a database. Filtering your outgoing communications is crucial if you want to reduce your email waste (and risk). If you have a sale that’s relevant only to people in Georgia, don’t send it to people in Idaho. You guarantee that by filtering through a database.
  • Treat paper and electronic lists identically. There are two points here. First, age and renew the permissions on your email list, just as you would with a paper mail list. Second, put the two lists together in one database; these are your clients and prospects, however you’re contacting them, and they deserve equal respect.
  • Don’t be a slave to a schedule. Publications like this one have to be refreshed each day, even if they have nothing to say. But if your business has nothing to say, don’t be a slave to a weekly or monthly email schedule. It’s the emails you don’t send that can save a relationship.
  • Getting the email through isn’t enough. Your aim isn’t to get email into an inbox; your aim is to have it read better yet, to have it anticipated. An email that is sent to thousands must win attention one mind at a time.

I think that if you follow these rules (and please, let’s get feedback about this in the ClickZ Forum), you will find email to be your best, fastest, and most profitable business tool.

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