When E-mail Is Ill-Advised

Sometimes I give advice you wouldn't expect from an e-mail marketing consultant. So here's one such tip: don't start an e-mail program.

For small and midsize professional services companies looking to develop relationships with prospective customers, an outbound e-mail program may not be the best tactic. Typically, you cobbled together the prospect list from professional organization rosters, trade show attendee lists and piles of old business cards. Do you really want your first contact with these potential customers to be an unsolicited e-mail?

Remember: in the eyes of the consumer, spam is "e-mail I don't like," whether it's a Nigerian banking scheme, bad jokes from a friend or an opt-in e-mail that the reader deems irrelevant. Yes, the consumer can opt-out, but consider that visceral reaction that unsolicited e-mail can engender: "NOW what list am I on!" This is not the way to build your brand.

While this may be considered a negative view of a wonderful communication medium, we must be realistic about its shortcomings. E-mail is intrusive and personal, so it must be managed with finesse.

Here are two tips for small and mid-size professional services companies interested in prospecting.

The best list may not be your own. You may be better off writing for an e-mail newsletter distributed by a trade organization, industry publication or content aggregator.

This has three big benefits:

  • You reach a much larger and better-targeted audience than you could develop on your own.
  • Your affiliation with the organization casts you as an industry expert.
  • Your articles give your audience a sample of your expertise.

    Industry publications typically are hungry for well-written content. You can't tout your latest service offering or award, but you can demonstrate thought leadership in your field.

    Snail mail may be your best foot in the door. Because it is less intrusive, snail mail is a good first contact if your list has more suspects than prospects. The format can run the gamut from a personal letter to a dimensional mailer, and should provide value to the consumer (perhaps a reprint of your e-mail article from the industry publication) as well as information about your company.

    I am testing an "opt out" in mail. I once went to a trade show entirely unrelated to my profession in order to meet with a prospective client. Since then, I've received many mailings aimed at trade show attendees, which are 100 percent irrelevant to me. This lead to my idea to clean house lists by adopting the e-mail practice of offering an opt-out. Given the expense of mail, why contact disinterested or inappropriate people? Stay tuned for the results.

    E-mail is a powerful medium with, according to my fellow writer Bill McCloskey, the second highest ROI of any marketing channel. We must be careful, however, not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg with a "one size fits all" approach. Remember telemarketing?