I had the chance to speak with Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop (an e-mail service provider) at the Silverpop User Conference about this very topic. We discussed the changes in both consumers' and marketers' perception of e-mail as an effective tool. And it got me thinking: When forming relationships with new customers, how can I make every interaction count, especially in a day where customers' decisions are made on the briefest encounters?
The quest for new customers is a never-ending journey. At a certain point, e-mail will seem like the best option, and the company will have to make a decision whether to get a list and prospect for customers by e-mail. At first glance, e-mail prospecting may seem like a good idea. Compared to other marketing methods, it is inexpensive, immediate, and wide reaching. You think, "Surely, of all those names, somebody will respond." But before you click "send," consider that by using e-mail to find new customers, you actually may be doing yourself more harm than good.
According to Bill, "In the early days of e-mail marketing, e-mail prospecting by list stood a real chance of success. People received far fewer e-mail solicitations, and tended to click on whatever appeared in their in-boxes. But those were simpler times. The idea has spread like wildfire and we now face the Internet's greatest scourge: spam. Today's e-mail consumer is weary and less tolerant than ever about receiving unsolicited e-mail."
As a result, if you use e-mail as a prospecting tool today, you risk being labeled a spammer, and turning off potential customers altogether. When was the last time you bought something from a stranger who sent you an unsolicited e-mail and what was your impression of that person or business? Did you read their sales pitch, toss it out, or hit the "spam" button?
But it's not all bad news. The good news is e-mail can be a key part of your new acquisition efforts. The key is using e-mail to build on relationships established and trying to foster that relationship and permission through other channels. In fact, the interactive nature of e-mail often makes it the best methods to maintain relationships regardless of the channel that started the relationship.
Gone are the days when you could blast promotional messages at people and get them to respond and not be penalized for the intrusion. Remember, every touchpoint matters and each leaves a perception from your customers both positive and negative. So when we say you must build relationships, we mean companies must work to establish and maintain good relationships with recipients and use e-mail judiciously. As with all relationships, it requires give-and-take. And you want customers to think of you fondly when they make a quick decision. As Bill says, "offer your customers something they want, and they will give you permission to send them e-mail. Flood them with unwanted or irrelevant offers, and they will reject you." He also mentioned a few things that are sound methods for finding new customers:
" Take advantage of your current customer touchpoints. If you have a retail location, ask people to fill out a form or card, such as customer feedback, or drive them to your Web site, where they can sign up to receive your coupon, newsletter, or promotions.
" Find new customers by advertising on a local or target search engine. There are an increasing number of local or target search engines that you can use to drive people to your Web site.
" Leverage a pre-existing relationship. Introduce yourself to potential customers through another local business that already has an e-mail relationship with its customers. Getting another company to vouch for you is a great way for people to get to know you; if it's coming from someone they trust, recipients are more likely to respond to the message.
By capitalizing on relationships instead of soliciting to strangers, you will be accessing the true potential of e-mail marketing, benefiting your business in the long run, instead of merely recruiting a few customers (at the possible expense of many) in the short run. It was ironic that Bill (from an e-mail marketing company) would advocate using other means of acquisition in addition to e-mail. But both the industry and the customer's threshold of acceptance to unsolicited e-mail has changed.