I spent the better part of five years in the e-learning space, and one thing I learned was that certain things must be taught in an asynchronous (self-paced) fashion, and others in a live, synchronous environment. As I often state, e-mail marketing is an art of applied learning and is not something that can be mastered through reading a white paper or sitting in a group of 200 at a conference.
So, what can you do as an organization?
- Do you know what you are starting with? You must have a good understanding of your in-house talent and expertise. Remember, e-mail is ubiquitous and everyone has had some experience with it, so doing a real assessment of strengths, skill sets, and knowledge is often difficult. I recommend bringing on a consultant to do a quick assessment of your team and their approach to e-mail. The hours a consultant spends with you will give you a more honest estimation of what you have at your disposal. Most good consultants I've met can provide relatively quick insight into your team. Yet, one word of caution: Avoid hiring a consultant who is too senior -- you want a practioner, not a presenter, and it can be difficult to tell the difference.
- Are you getting the most out of events? Tradeshows are a necessary investment, but don't let that expense die in the bag of collateral material that sits in a corner after each show. I've always believed that when employees attend a conference or learning event at company expense, they do double duty: They get to learn it and they get to teach it when they come home. The concept of three-person teaching (I am taught, I teach you, and you teach someone else) is one of the most powerful methods of learning, as it brings application to a sometimes linear concept. Knowledge will sit in silos if you don't foster this approach.
- How would I do this under my own roof? If you are to invest in sending your team to training or a workshop, you might consider splitting it up and bringing in an e-mail consultant to do a half-day workshop at your site. To ensure the workshop is geared to making you better at the practice of e-mail marketing and not geared towards selling someone's services, craft an agenda ahead of time and make sure you see the consultant's agenda and expected outcome beforehand. Use the assessment you have from your original consultant and build a workshop that is based on live, working projects specific to your company.
- How do we keep it going past the training course? Learning should be an investment that you make as a company and that your team makes as well on a day-to-day basis. Foster a learning culture by encouraging employees to continually read white papers, reports, and case studies, but do this in a structured manner. If you have several team members, split the areas of focus and have one group focus on acquisition tactics, another on retention and communication programs, another on deliverability, and another on best practices. It's difficult to learn all the nuances and share the great ideas happening in our space, so you must pursue this in "chunks" of information and foster this shared learning investment.
It's important to continually challenge staff -- challenge their thinking and challenge how much information they take in, day-in and day-out, while pushing them to invest in themselves. Let's not get so caught up in fixing problems that we lose sight of what's going to make us successful long-term.