Use Change Management To Transform Your Email Marketing Program

One thing that keeps email marketers shackled to what I call the "hamster wheel of mediocrity" is not knowing how to manage the leap to greatness.

You know you need to move your email program away from relying on broadcast messages and simple segmentation. But achieving a highly automated, dynamic program takes more than buying the right technology. You also have to manage change effectively throughout the process, from buy-in to implementation to long-term success.

Eight steps in change management

Change-management expert John Kotter developed an eight-step process for leading and managing change. My list below shows how to adapt his steps to drive your own innovation efforts:

1. Create a sense of urgency. The "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality keeps marketers on the hamster wheel, denying your department its due share of the marketing budget to fund innovation. Are your process metrics, like opens, clicks and unsubscribes, holding steady, but your outputs — conversions, orders, revenues —falling? Show how much you lose, or how much you could make by upping your game.



2. Build a powerful coalition. Build your case by allying with the people in your company who have management's ear or who work in a hot department where money and energy are flowing. Tap those, both inside and outside of marketing, with track records for driving change and success.

3. Create a vision for change. Imagine what will resonate with people. It could be a broader, more strategic role for email in your company. Instead of just driving incremental revenue or plugging budget holes, email could work in branding, the customer experience, retention, loyalty, customer satisfaction and service.

Show where you want to take email and how it can amplify other channels to achieve and build on company goals. Your vision should also incorporate training and rethinking processes to maximize your technology investments. Or, make the case to upgrade your toolset.

4. Communicate the vision.  How you present your vision is as vital to your success as what's in it. You may need a few versions, each one tailored to meet the needs and concerns of each group you address. If, say, you have executives who fear risk more than they relish competition, your plan could show what your competitors and peers have achieved already.  

5. Remove obstacles. Once you sell your vision, identify the factors that impede progress. Hire or request transfers of people who better understand email's new era, such as data analysts and process- or tech-savvy staff. What processes do you need to change in order to move forward?

Look for new success metrics, too. Instead of relying too much on process metrics like opens and clicks, use those that measure output and goals: conversions, revenue, downloads, cost savings or activations.

6. Create short-term wins. These build your credibility with management and help your team members achieve success more quickly. Stakeholders will be more likely to buy in to your changes and give you what you need to move on to the next step.

An example: Instead of trying to create an integrated, three-step cart-abandonment program with product recommendations and dynamic offers right away, start with a simple email reminder and then build it up as it proves itself.  

7. Build on your changes.  Now that you've won one battle, don't rest on your laurels. Learn from what you accomplished, and see where you could go next. Bring in your technology providers, agencies and other professional services people to help you plot the next course.

8. Anchor the change in your corporate culture. Document your entire process. Quantify your success. Communicate it throughout your department and company. Build a strong support structure so that your new programs will survive and thrive even if key players move on. Keep the process going with continual training and education.

Change is hard, but it has to happen if you want to transform your email program to one that is more sophisticated, efficient and successful. Managing the change process will help you stay on track and contribute to your eventual success.

Until next time, take it up (several) notches.

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