Everybody gets bugged by unsolicited advertisements (aka “marketing outreach”), all the time. While most people are just annoyed, I see the business side as well – after all I’m an entrepreneur and somehow I need to get in touch with potential customers (and hey, even those customers that love your product and give you public testimonals have been unknown to you at some point). So to form a good relation that both enjoy, one has to make a good first impression at some point in time.
Now consider this story. Just before Memorial Day weekend I get an email which is obviously a mass email, even though nicely done with correct name. Sent by a company in the Bay Area, not the typical outsourcing spam from somewhere far away. I never met them, I never signed up, so this is obviously spam, violates the CAN-SPAM act, and my email address was probably guessed through LinkedIn harvesting or so. Still I consider their services interesting, I even look at their webpage. I believe I clicked on unsubscribe, but looking back now I’m not sure if I really did.
Tuesday morning, right after Memorial Day, I get the next newsletter-style email! Sent at 5 am California time, so it was obviously pre-programmed. Not good. Next thing is, I read through it, and I wonder how dumb they think I am. They explain their services in a way they would explain it to a complete idiot. I know that’s difficult to explain without giving a text sample, please just take it like that. I press reply, and tell this guy to take my address immediately off his list, or else. He replied he was sorry he felt the need to reach out to me as he believed my company could benefit from his services.
The thing now is, I have the same problem. I must reach out to people who might be interested in using my company’s product. I must also reach out to people who might be partners for my company. After all this is good, isn’t it? My company helps people save money and also makes a sysadmin’s life easier and people tend to love it once they use it, don’t they? So what’s the deal?
- As long as they don’t know you, you are just a stranger soliciting. People are overwhelmed by that and shy away. Period.
- No matter who good you believe your product is, the other side doesn’t know and may not find it so good at all. They might not even have any need for it. So what I just provocatively said a few lines earlier about the “wonderful product”, forget it! Once again, you are just a stranger soliciting at that moment.
- Signing somebody up for a newsletter (i.e. recurring) without their consent is not only illegal, it is also plain rude. Also don’t invite me up to be a contact on all these social networks. I may not even be online there with my business address and don’t want to get invitation mails from them (actually Twitter is pretty nasty about bugging invitees to join Twitter).
I do consider it ok to be put on a newsletter if I sign up for some free service or free trial as long as I a) can opt out once-for-all should I want to do so and b) my data is not sold. After all I sign up because I’m interested. There are other, unrelated cases that annoy people – sometimes telemarketers send you an email that you delete. A week later they call, desperately trying to get connected to you, with some self-entitlement “I did send this guy an e-mail so I want to speak him/her now”. Come on. Sending me an e-mail that I delete does not make us having met, talked, being in contact, being in a business relationship, whatever. It just means nothing.
Am I hostile to telemarketers, cold calls and newsletters? I remember two years ago I was urged by some of my customers (!) to send more newsletters “because we are interested to hear what is going on”. Uh-oh. Seems indeed I was too hostile against newsletters. But the case is different here: These are existing customers that want to know what’s going on. Which implies high-quality, highly-relevant content, which we do now. Still, there are always people who unsubscribe. This doesn’t mean they don’t like you. They just might prefer to talk to you once in a while instead of getting emails.
So I try to put together some stuff for a sensible, polite marketing outreach:
- Don’t make the mistakes described above: Never subscribe people that you found through LinkedIn or so on a newsletter or any other recurring piece. Before you press send: Ask yourself I you would like to read that email. After all, communication is not about what you say, but rather was the other person perceives.
- If you reach out to potential partners (technology partners etc), write a personal mail. You won’t have thousands of partners, you can do it.
- Engaging with end customers works best through trade shows and a good web page. It’s difficult to find criteria who to send email or not. If you send email, make it personal (i.e. no mass mailing software, not recurring).
- You may follow up. After all, people tend to be overwhelmed, and a polite followup may put you ahead. However, don’t think you are entitled just you sent an email that didn’t even produce a reply. If the follow-up stays unsuccessful, move on. Don’t bug people any more. (This may be controversial. Personally, I don’t like when people follow up when I did not react in the first place. But I try to be realistic).
- Make sure you hit the right person. If you want to get into business with a company and you are in the right ecosystem, chances are they indeed could have a need for your product. So why waste the opportunity by not researching enough to find the right person. You will only sell something if you solve somebody’s problem. And never, ever, send something to the CEO that is not the CEO’s daily business. Tech CEOs don’t care about office cleaning supplies, for instance.
- If you send newsletters to existing customers and prospects, make them interesting for a large portion of your audience. You can’t make it right for everybody. But all your customers and prospects have something in common, the interest in your solution, the ecosystem you are in.
- You can split your audience in two groups, say a technical, and a general group (make sure you do it right). After all tech people like to get hard facts, whereas managers like to not be bugged with implementation details. It’s hard to satisfy both groups in one newsletter. However, it is better to have one newsletter with multiple stories, than make multiple newsletter and fill them up with nonsense just to get the recommended minimum word count together. And no matter how good your newsletter is, don’t expect people to read it.
I make sure that my company‘s communication follows these guidelines. If you feel bugged to much, hey, I am your biggest advocate! Things may go wrong though. I hope this article helps to prevent the real “epic failures”, however…