Archive for efficiency vs effectiveness

Canned emails and copycat marketing

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog that I am not a fan of professional service firms using canned messages in their marketing. They tend to be unremarkable, do little to foster relationship building, and in some cases, can even be damaging to a relationship.

In her post, Beware of Canned Emails: Another reason why simply copying marketing doesn’t work, Allison Shields gives a great example of what this looks like from the recipients side of the inbox. This paragraph from Allison’s post says it all:

“Not only was the email canned, but it was a complete waste of my time, with all of the clicking, waiting and useless animation. If it was meant to make me feel ‘special’ or remembered, it had the opposite effect because it was so obviously canned and directed indiscriminately to the senders’ entire mailing list. And it provided nothing whatsoever of value.”

(Read Allison’s complete post here)

Have you had an experience similar to Allison’s? Chances are you have because many marketers focus on using technology to be efficient rather than being effective. We focus on using automation to address our needs and time constraints without paying enough attention to the time and needs of the people receiving our email blasts.

If we consider using these canned “relationship building” techniques in our personal lives, we recognize them immediately as ridiculous. It would be more efficient to send an assistant to date night with your wife or husband, wouldn’t it? Would you like a copy of my form letter for wishing your kids a happy birthday? I have “personalized” letters for pre-teen, teens, and young adults.

To be more effective, use your database to store more than just your contacts email address. Store dates that are important to them, notes from previous conversations, family member names, hobbies, food and drink preferences, information about who they would like to meet, etc. You know, relationship stuff.

Should Professional Service Firms Use Canned Newsletters?

Stay-in-touch marketing is a vital component of a professional service firm’s marketing system.  Therefore, I thought I would spend the next few posts talking about the different ways to stay in touch with our existing customers, referral partners, and prospects.

The newsletter probably the most basic form of Stay in Touch marketing that professional service firms use. While some firms still print and mail their newsletter, most of us probably think of newsletters as e-newsletters, newsletters delivered via email.

One way that professional service firms choose to “get their newsletter out” is to purchase newsletter content from a service. Now, I will concede that when it comes to marketing, doing something consistently is better than doing nothing at all, so if the only way you will stay in touch with your customers is through one of these services, then by all means, use them.

Personally, I am not a fan of professional service firms using canned content for stay in touch marketing. While using these services can be a highly efficient way to  “getting marketing done”, I don’t believe they are very effective in terms of making a connection, starting a conversation, or building your relationship with customers and prospects. They are not written in your voice and they don’t talk, in a specific way, to your particular customers. If you have taken the time to properly differentiate yourself, using canned content usually isn’t going to “feel right” to your customers.

If canned content appeals to you because you struggle with creating your own content, here are two alternatives for you to consider:

  1. Start with the canned content, but rewrite it in your own words.
  2. Add your own commentary, either during the rewrite or separately. Explain how the topic specifically affects your particular audience. What actions should they take (if any) as a result of this information. What additional things do they need to consider before taking action?
  3. Pay a copywriter to interview you and then use the results to write your newsletter. This is my favorite tactic for professional service providers who can’t or won’t write for themselves. It allows you to create content from your expertise without getting hung up on the writing or trying to decide what to write about.

These are only a few was in which you can be efficient with your time but still effective with your message in your stay-in-touch marketing efforts. Leave a comment and let me know how you handle this issue at your firm.

Marketing Automation – Sometimes, less is more

When it comes to marketing automation for professional service firms, how much is enough? How much is too much?

Accountants, lawyers, and other professionals spend a lot of time developing relationships with prospects, clients, and strategic referral partners. Automating common marketing tasks can help strengthen these relationships, but they could also hurt them.

Automated marketing messages can be counter productive when they ignore the existing relationship. This can range from everything from the tone of the message (it didn’t sound like you) to treating customers as if they are not customers. Examples of this could be addressing correspondence as “Dear Business Owner” or sending them a special offer for first time customers.

Have you ever received a “we want you back” offer from a company with whom you are a current customer? How did that make you feel?

Quite often, the degree to which automated or canned messages can be used effectively depends on the relationship you have with the person receiving the communication, at the time you are sending it.

For example, when it comes to following up with someone who downloaded information from your web site, pre-written or “canned” follow messages may be appropriate. The typical goal in this scenario is to nurture this potential relationship in the hopes it continues to develop. Since you don’t know much about the other person yet, you can rely on canned messages that speak to general needs of the audience you serve.

When marketing automation is used to support existing relationships, it may be better to automate the first 90% of the task. We can use automation to remind us to do the task. We can also use tools like templates to give us a head start and prompt us about the main thrust of the communication. But rather than automatically blasting the email (or letter, fax, etc.), sometimes it is helpful to personalize it a bit more. Using the knowledge you have gained through your relationship building efforts, you may be able to use that last 10% of effort to continue strengthening your relationship.

Sometimes that last 10% makes all the difference in the world.

How does this play out in automated marketing systems? Each system differs, but typically the difference lies in scheduling a task (or reminder) to do something, rather than automating the task completely.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s pretend that my referral marketing system calls for following up with a new strategic referral partner 4 times in the first 30 days after meeting them. The goal of these 4 communications is to help me gain “top of mind” status with my new ally and to begin building a relationship with them.

It would be easy to create 4 canned messages, add them to my CRM system and assign to a contact record after returning from my meeting. I could “personalize” the message by including a field in my database that indicates where we first met and include that in one of my messages. But since I have designed these messages to go out without being touched, I have to keep them fairly generic.

A different approach I could take is to set up tasks in my system that tell me (or someone in my company) that a follow up action needs to take place. I could assign myself the “send week 1 message” task. When I see it is time to send the week 1 message, I can open up the week 1 email template and truly personalize it based on the knowledge I’ve gained from my previous relationship building activities.

CRM – Personalization vs. Customization

CRM and other business automation tools typically allow you to personalize the messages you send to your prospects and customers. This is usually done using some sort of field code and mail merge process. You create a template that looks something like this:

Dear {Name},

{Company} will love our latest widgets…

And when the message is processed, this is what is sent:

Dear Bill,

Rebar will love our latest widgets….

This technique allows you to create a message once, while giving the appearance that is was created specifically for that person. Personalized messages are a nice touch and can help you connect with your prospects more quickly. Personalization is well suited for fairly generic messages that are sent out automatically, such as an auto-responder series that is sent out when after someone downloads a special report from your web site. Personalization works well at this point of the relationship, when you want to connect personally but you don’t have a lot of information (basic contact info) about the message recipient.

Service based companies, who rely on building relationships to grow their revenues, need a different kind of personalization in their communications – I’ll call it customization to distinguish the two. Customization is different from personalization. Personalization uses data about the recipient (name, company, location) to personalize your message. Customization uses information (industry news, knowledge of family, people they would like to meet) to personalize the message.

As you build a relationship with a customer or prospect, you learn more about them. They also learn about you. They also know what you have learned about them. Because of this, sending “canned” messages with minor degrees of personalization can actually damage the relationship. Have you ever received a letter or e-mail from a company of which you had been a customer for years that sounded like you had never met them before? How did that make you feel?

We need systems that behave differently based on the stage of the relationship. As the relationship progresses, we need to move from sending messages automatically to a system that prompts us when to communicate. We want tools that help us create messages quickly, but they need to change from complete pre-written messages to templates and snippets that we can arrange and edit as needed. As the relationship grows, different mediums of communication become more appropriate (letters vs. e-mail vs. phone call vs. text messages, etc.).

As our relationships grow, not only do we need tools to help create and manage relationships with our customers, we also need tools to help us manager the relationships we foster between our customers.

Do you have a favorite CRM tool? Leave a comment and let me know what it is and why you like it.