Pull The Trigger

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a prospect (let's call him Ray) sees your ad for car insurance on the Web and happens to be in the market for a new policy. Ray clicks through and lands on your home page in anticipation of getting a quick quote. He fills out the short form with his primary information. Now it happens that your site doesn't allow for real-time quotes; rather, an agent calls with the results of the customized proposal. The problem, though, is that Ray is doing his research at midnight. So the call that comes the next day at 9:00 a.m. sharp misses him as he has already left for work. Same goes for the next three attempts your call center makes. A week after the initial Web request, a final call reaches him, but by now Ray has purchased insurance elsewhere.

Do you think an e-mail, triggered by Ray's online request, could have saved this sale?

Many organizations don't realize the value and impact of behavioral or event-triggered communications. In fact there seems to be a gap in most people's understanding of triggered messages, embedded system messaging and how to implement these programs. As I love to say, there are the haves and have-nots. The former have cool campaign management, interaction management, and business applications that can drive triggered messaging. Then there are the vast majority of you reading this, who use Java mailers to trigger e-mail for site registration confirmations.

Little thought is put into what these communications can mean to your business, or better yet, what kind of response you can expect to achieve from them.

In the case of the insurance company, what would make for a good triggered e-mail? How should you personalize it, and how will you measure the success of it? Most look at it as a "compliance" message with little marketing value ("Thank you for visiting our Web site. An agent will call you.") Yet with all the challenges in delivering to inboxes, it is becoming more and more important that we leverage contextual events when people are expecting our communications. Remember, e-mail essentially has four business applications: fulfilling a request, completing a transaction, marketing and advertising, and building community (sharing).

Good marketers are always looking for "events" that offer the opportunity to reinforce brand messaging, introduce new things to customers, and gain share of voice. All e-mail has advertising value.

Understand the context of why you need to communicate with consumers relative to their need for information from your company, and you'll be on the right track. But here are a few things that will help you get things in motion.

1. Workshop an "Events" session where you audit all communications that touch a customer. Inventory these, and brainstorm with a cross-functional group the "business" value or potential of these. (All my clients know me as the Post-It Notes man--when I do these sessions, by the end the room is covered with Post-It Notes and mind maps). If you have a shopping cart event, there are some obvious opportunities (shopping cart abandonment, registration, order confirmations, etc.). 2. When you identify your triggers, classify them by business processes that you are trying to fulfill. For instance, they could be "complete a shopping cart transaction" or "complete an online registration process" or "complete a call center inquiry." 3. Once you have identified the triggers, get with your e-mail service provider and set up a test using one or two triggers, a creative treatment and knowledge of what you want to measure, and ride it out for a month or two. I've seen triggered responses maintain a 75 percent (or more) open rate. 4. Don't forget to draw up your hypothesis. By implementing this trigger, what will it do? What is the real business value of this investment? How can I scale this to support other business functions?

This can be a very complicated undertaking, so keep in mind that simple solutions normally win in this game. You don't need to trigger every business event. Many that were early adopters of triggered messaging have backed off and simplified this, so let's learn from them.

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