You Want to Sell Me What?

Are you planning on using email marketing as a means of acquiring customers and managing relationships with them? Well, let me tell you a little story first.

Several years ago, I bought a couple of domain names that I still possess. One I bought for use as a personal Web page for sharing pictures, ideas, etc. The other I bought when a group of friends and I were considering how we could capitalize on the Internet frenzy of 1997.

It was in 1998 — the year riches seemed so close for everyone. We thought they were simply a domain name away. We fretted and discussed what we would do to get rich fast but, in the end, did nothing. The Web site’s content is still just a title screen with a company’s name, hardly the type of business initiative that would have made us millions.

Despite the fact that we never came up with anything, I have dutifully renewed my rights to the domain names every other year since I bought them, in the hopes that someday my friends and I might actually come up with something useful. You know, in the same way you hold on to assorted junk in your house. The day you throw it out is the day you end up needing it. Right?

So, anyway, last week I renewed my rights to the domain with Network Solutions. And this week I received an email from a company explaining it wants to help me redesign my Web site. Some coincidence, huh? This company stated that for $499 it could provide me with services that years ago would have cost me $25,000. I suddenly began feeling better about not wasting $25,000 all those years ago.

But looking at this with a more critical eye, I began to see the absurdity of email campaigns. I am assuming that Network Solutions sold my contact information to this company. I can’t recall ever agreeing that it do that. But let’s just say I had. I am assuming that this “to remain nameless company” did little more than cut and paste my name and domain name into an email — hardly an inventive approach to marketing.

What boggles me most is why this company thought its tactic would be effective. After all, its offer was uninvited, uninformed, and not relevant to me. And, frankly, I have little faith in $500 Web solutions.

So, what’s my point in telling you all this?

If you were planning on using email marketing as a method for acquiring and managing relationships with your customers, you would be wise to follow two simple steps to ensure that nobody writes a derisive column about your efforts.

Ask Nicely

There are few things more aggravating to me than receiving email from people I don’t know promising me the best snake oil on the market.

Ask permission to market to your customers. If you are seeking to acquire customers, buy only lists of people who have chosen to be marketed to or have expressed an interest in your class of products or services.

When was the last time you were so elated that someone sent you an unsolicited business offering via email that you contracted him or her for services? The incremental cost of sending a single unsolicited email may not be negligible in real dollars, but consider how many people you aggravate. Also consider how it affects their perception of your company.

Keep It Relevant

If you are seriously looking into email as a marketing tactic, invest the time and energy to craft a message that is relevant to your audience. And invest the time and energy into segmenting your audience so you know the proper message to send. Personalization does not mean that you misspell my last name. Nor does it mean that you offer to sell me a Web site because I own a domain name.

Effective email campaigns use email as a medium to inform me of a solution to a problem I am facing. Determine the audience, design the message appropriately, and use the medium wisely. There are many campaign management solutions to help you do so. E.piphany, Kana, and Broadbase come to mind immediately.

Certainly these approaches take more time and consequently increase the cost of email campaigns. I will not deny that. However, if we do not make the conscious choice to develop top-quality marketing programs, how can we expect to develop demand or retain existing customers? If we do not use the medium wisely, how can we expect it to be effective at all?

Do you have a success or horror story about using email as a staple of your B2B marketing efforts? I would love to hear about it. Don’t fret — you’ll remain anonymous.

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