What's the biggest challenge in managing your email program? List growth? Privacy? Segmentation? Developing content? Managing frequency? Finding the right ESP?
How about getting buy-in from the executive suite to do what you think is right?
Most email marketers I know have a list of ideas about what they should do with their email program. Unfortunately, people who don't understand the nuances of email marketing thwart these dreams. Yes, it is frustrating, but email is a victim of its own success; it's cheap, fast, and profitable. Put yourself in your executives' shoes. Consider the challenges they face every day: finances, product development, product delivery, sourcing, branding, training new sales reps, and the list goes on. How does "improve the email program" stack up on the company's list of priorities?
Our mistake is trying to convince management that we need to make improvements. Problem is that everyone receives email marketing messages and everyone has their personal likes and dislikes. No matter how many stats or benchmarks you throw up, people still tend to rely on their gut when making the final decision. If they like the program and the results the program is generating, your claims that things "could be better" fall on deaf ears.
In my experience, the key to overcoming these obstacles is to expose weaknesses about the program that remain unidentified within your organization. The following exercise has been a very effective tool for exposing weak areas and jumpstarting positive changes in existing programs:
1) Administer a short survey of email stakeholders. The survey should consist of general questions highlighting areas that contribute to the success or failure of the program. For example, "We effectively capture and store the information needed to segment our list" or "Our email program successfully reinforces the value of our brand." Ask all stakeholders to provide an honest grade for each of these statements (e.g., rate on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = completely disagree and 10 = completely agree) and ask them not to discuss the survey or their answers with colleagues prior to the meeting.
2) Have an objective party review the results and facilitate a discussion. I have yet to administer a tool like this and find universal agreement. Often, one stakeholder will give a score of 1 or 2 in one area, while another gives a score of 9 or 10 in the same area. Game on! The facilitator should highlight these differences and ask people at different extremes to make their case to the other stakeholders. The magic is in the debate and discussion that follow, which is why a good facilitator to keep discussions amiable and focused is crucial.
3) Address exposed areas. It is likely some of the key points during this discussion will revolve around areas you have sitting on your dust-laden wish list. Get over the temptation to say, "I told you so," and outline a plan to address a couple of the low-hanging opportunities (for example, add a welcome stream or test simple segmentation). This is not the time to tackle the program's most difficult challenges, but an opportunity to build credibility. There should be plenty of opportunities to choose from, so make sure you pick an issue you can address quickly and successfully.
4) Use consensus to drive change. Ideally, you'll have decision-makers participating in the exercise. If so, you should have made an impact during the discussion. If not, or if some decision-makers didn't participate, you have still built consensus among other stakeholders. Good news: you no longer need to fight the battle alone! Encourage others to help evangelize the plans you outlined and build support to get these plan implemented.
Ridiculous? Every client I have done this exercise with thought so when we started. The same clients have been astounded with the clarity that came as a result.
So, why not just ask people to provide their honest assessment? Because that tactic doesn't work. Ask for an opinion and you get a superficial answer. Make someone defend his opinion, and you get a view of his underlying assumptions. If we want to move our programs forward, we need to get at the root cause.
Like it or not, there are unspoken beliefs about your email program floating around your company that, until exposed, will hinder your ability to make the changes you know to be necessary. Successfully address these hidden pain points, and the respect you earn is likely to open up doors for some of those other projects on your wish list!