April 22, 2014

How email automation can make your customers resent you less

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Lack of context means lack of results

I'm a firm believer in authentic interactions with other people. Even though you may have hundreds or thousands of clients, they're all unique, weird little human beings like you, and respecting that individuality is one of the most important parts of having productive exchange with any of them. If you talk to someone without context -- or with the wrong context -- not only are you unlikely to have a positive interaction, but you run the risk of actually doing damage to the relationship.

Many, many people and businesses struggle with this. I'll never forget driving home in rush hour traffic one day about ten years ago, and seeing one of those ad-trucks, for the first time in my life, sitting in the lane next to me. Here we were, jammed onto the freeway on a hot, August evening, and a vehicle with absolutely no reason to be out there was just driving around, pestering me with advertising and making my commute even worse. The business on the truck that day was a local car repair place, and all these years later, I still associate them with frustration.

The shop wasn't TRYING to make that association, of course. I'm pretty sure they didn't ask for the ad-truck guy to drive around during the MOST annoying time for other drivers, and make sure their message was shared, loudly and clearly, when it was the least helpful to anyone. They just wanted to get the word out, but by doing it without proper context, they did more harm than good.

So much marketing and promotional work is conducted this way, and it's terribly damaging. If you've watched ad-supported programming online, whether it's a sporting event, or a show on something like Hulu, you'll often see the same ad, again and again and again, until it becomes annoying and easily resented, regardless of how well put-together it is. Customers don't mind getting prepared messages, but if they get them out of context, you're talking AT them, and not to them. It never ends well.

Following up manually to every lead, inquiry, and response is hard to do. I struggle to do it well, even when I don't have to personally decide who to follow-up with anymore. Every message I send needs context, or I risk looking clueless and/or wasting someone's time. It's happened, with so many people and issues to keep track of, it's going to happen again. The trick is learning to minimize it.

Automating common email interactions can help in two really big ways:

    1. automated emails hit the right people, and the right time, with the right information

    1. automated emails don't require you to waste time & brain power on routine interactions, which means you can focus on making better non-automated responses

Lots of people sell the dream of marketing automation -- and some, like HubSpot, actually get pretty close to pulling it off. The biggest problem is that so far, a lot of this is designed for corporate users, with dedicated, full-time marketing people and a decent amount of money and technical know-how. If you don't have the expertise -- or more importantly, the budget -- what are you supposed to do?

At Contactually, we serve a large audience of these kinds of people, and the idea behind our Programs feature is to bring basic, easy to understand e-mail automation to them. Programs can be as simple or complex as you need them to be, you can build a basic one in about a minute. Plus, it's dead simple to add smart little wrinkles like waiting periods, social media interactions, and custom tasks.

My advice? Start with a general program that applies to most good prospects -- something like "follow-up, connect with Linkedin, move to bucket". You'll realize very quickly how automation keeps solid, basic relationship work from falling through the cracks, and you can expand from there depending on what you're most repetitive tasks are. With support for email templates though, there's a huge amount of nuance and context that can be baked into a good Program without very much work.

(By the way, if you want to learn more about Programs and some of the other advanced features in Contactually, you should check our our new Power User Guide. It's a quick read, but it walks you through good stuff like this in detail. Click here to get it for free.)

And that, of course, is the idea. Well automated-emails allow people to get information they may actually want from you, at a time when they may actually have a use for it. And if that reduces even the tiniest bit of resentment from your audience, it's well worth the effort.