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Using E-Mail the Right Way

May 31, 2002

Do you know anyone who isn't getting enough e-mail? No, I didn't think so. So why is everyone in such a rush to sell using the Internet? In a word: results. Used appropriately, e-mail is an inexpensive way to reach thousands of people and sell to some of them. It's great for post-sale follow-up and to encourage happy customers to buy again.

Here are some tips for using this powerful sales tool wisely -- and avoiding the dreaded tag "spam-meister."

Salesperson: Works Cheap. Using the Internet to get new customers can be like adding another sales rep without incurring the additional salary. However, it can turn out to be a bad hire if you don't invest significant forethought and strategic planning. Author Steven Covey puts it this way, "Technology is a good servant but a bad master." So just because technology makes it possible to do something, that doesn't mean you should.

For sending mass e-mails to folks who have never heard of you, the key to good results is the quality of the list. The more closely it matches your target audience, the better the outcome. It's worth it to pay the extra money for a more targeted list. You're also less likely to raise the hackles of folks who aren't remotely interested in your product or service.

Offer a real benefit, like free shipping or buy-one-get-one-free, and state it right in the subject line. You'll be amazed how quickly you start to hear from folks. About 80% of your responses will come in the first four to six hours, according to Roy Harry of marketing-communications outfit Media II.

Beware, though. Mass e-mailing can also earn you spam-meister status if you start sending indiscriminate "Buy me" messages all over the world. To avoid marketing troubles and besmirching your good name, consider hiring a consultant.

Post-Party Follow-Up. One great way to use e-mail is after you've met a lot of people, say at a trade show, a Chamber of Commerce gathering, or networking event. Jot a quick note on the back of each business card you receive about one thing you discussed. Maybe you'll also want to rate the contact on their viability as a potential customer or source of referrals. Then when you get back to your office, write a form e-mail for the group and then personalize each one with a sentence or two.

I recently attended such an event and the next morning, I and 25 other people received a mass e-mail. This was all it said: "So glad we met today! Take good care of yourself and let's talk more soon!" Yuck. I didn't feel special at all. The sender's efforts would have been more effective if she had sent the message to each of us separately, each note with an individually targeted extra sentence like, "So glad we met today! I look forward to meeting you again and hearing more about...." For even more punch, she could have added, "How can I help you?" Maybe it would have taken 30 minutes to personalize and send the messages, but it would have been time well spent.

Making Contact. Some readers have come up with innovative ways for adding contacts to their address books. Paula Sonney has had good luck using e-mail to get through to people she couldn't reach on the phone. She sends them a quick message, outlining the ways she can save them money, then asks for an appointment. If it works for her, it could work for you.

Katrina Katsarelis looks up recent press releases or other public documents online for names and e-mail addresses. Jeff White has another approach. He calls the company and tells the secretary that he wants to confirm the e-mail address for Ms. X. Why? Because people are generally more comfortable confirming information than giving it out.

If White doesn't know exactly who to contact, he'll send a personal e-mail asking for help to a few names in the company he's targeted. He once sent four e-mails to a company and, by the day's end, he had 12 replies that all nominated the same couple of buyers.

Capital offense. Keep it short and sweet. DON'T USE ALL CAPS! It reads like you're screaming. Your goal is to nurture a buying/selling relationship, so don't scare prospects off before you start. Likewise, don't send attachments, especially the first time out. With all the viruses floating around, I don't open them and I bet others won't either. Instead, you can offer a link to your Web site and provide lots of great information there. Also, if you offer to send recipients a list of happy customers or letters of reference, it gives them a reason to contact you.

Unless it's a small-dollar item, don't use e-mail for closing a sale. When it's time to close, call the customer -- better yet, go see them, look them in the eye, and get your "yes." No fancy words or pretty computer graphics can touch the impact of a flesh-and-blood presence when it's time to close.

Selling After the Sale. Jim Kelly, an electronic-marketing consultant for R3Connect, says e-mail is a great way to get additional sales from established customers. He recommends striking a balance between relationship-building and selling. Coming on too strong with a "Buy this now!" message can be counterproductive.

Kelly says one effective follow-up strategy is to send customers tips and tricks on how to get the most out of the product they've already purchased. You can also let them know about new attachments or upgrades and new applications. Keep them up to date on the most outrageous use for the product you've heard, or how it is being used for a charitable purpose.

High-Tech, High-Touch. I can't write about e-mail without mentioning its dark side. Relying too heavily on it can turn you into a mole, a slave to your computer. Balance the time you spend in front of the screen with the time you spend in front of real, live human beings -- either people who can buy from you or who can refer you to someone who can. Remember, people do business with people and, while e-mail can help you sell, it will always be a poor substitute for the real you. Happy selling! Michelle Nichols is a Sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments

By Michelle Nichols. Copyright 2002 , by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.


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