The ‘Hit by a Bus’ Rule

Years ago, before I had my own consulting business, one of my higher-ups introduced me to his “hit by a bus” rule. It’s a bit morbid, but the gist is that your work should be well documented, so that if you’re “hit by a bus” tomorrow, someone else can step in and pick up where you left off.

I often think about this rule when I’m working with my consulting clients – not that anyone’s been hit by a bus, but when I have trouble getting my arms around what’s been going on with their e-mail program before I arrived. Here’s a primer on what information, qualitative and quantitative, you should have documented about each of your past e-mail campaigns. Doing this will help you in numerous situations:

  • If you bring in an outside consultant to help you
  • If you’re a business owner wearing many hats who gets the opportunity to hire a marketing person
  • If you get promoted and hand off your e-mail marketing responsibilities to someone else
  • If you get the approval to hire a new team member to help with your e-mail marketing
  • If you get hit by a bus (heaven forbid!) and need someone to jump in and keep your e-mail marketing going until you recuperate

When people think of e-mail, they often focus on either the creative (qualitative) or the metrics (quantitative). Both are important and it’s critical that your documentation cover them, in detail. But then you need to go a step further, into the “whys.”

When I work with clients, I develop an Excel workbook for each campaign. This typically has three spreadsheets:

  • An overview of metrics and analytics with a narrative explanation of what the numbers mean and why we got the results that we did
  • A detailed link-analysis
  • Screenshots of creative

Let’s start with the last one. For the creative, you should have screenshots of not only the e-mail itself (don’t forget to include the sender address and subject lines), but of all the landing pages that recipients could reach by clicking through. You want to archive what these pages looked like when the e-mail was sent, so that you can get a clear view of the experience when you look back.

This includes all pages on your own website, as well as any partner or advertiser pages that people would have been able to visit from the e-mail.

In addition to all landing pages, you want to document the key call-to-action flow. By this I mean the primary path you wanted recipients to take from the e-mail. If the goal of the e-mail is to generate leads, you want to have screenshots of every page of your lead-generation flow through to completion. If the goal was a direct sale, you want to document the shopping cart or other process that buyers would have gone through.

The next piece of the puzzle is the quantitative side: e-mail metrics and website analytics.

This data lives online – but it’s important to pull it into a spreadsheet for a number of reasons. First, that gives you a permanent archive – one that you can keep even if you change e-mail service providers or website analytics packages. Second, it allows you to merge and analyze the data, which is critical to understanding how recipients interacted with your e-mail campaign.

I have a standard format (below), which I use for e-mail metrics. It starts with key industry and past campaign benchmarks, to put the results in perspective.

click to enlarge

Look at each test cell independently, as well as the overall e-mail performance. I include a line at the bottom which shows the results of the test.

A brief description of the test appears here, but that’s not really enough to understand what’s going on. This is where the screenshots of the control and test versions are crucial – they allow someone to go back and review the campaign to get the gist of it.

In a future column, I’ll continue this discussion, going into the detailed link analysis, the bottom line performance (leads, sales, ROI) and, most importantly, the narrative that explains, in qualitative terms, what went on with this e-mail, the learnings from the results, and possible next steps.

Until next time,


Related reading