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What is the best way to connect e-mail marketing and data gathered in online forms?

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Marketers gather data in different ways: comments, suggestions, surveys and order forms, for starters. But what is the best way to connect your e-mail marketing efforts to the customer information and preferences gathered in those online forms?

Your online-form data should go directly to your e-mail service provider (ESP). This can be done either by using a forms vendor that is integrated with your ESP or by having your IT department develop an interface to your ESP or integrate with an application programming interface (API). This will move data to your provider as fast as possible and also will ensure that no errors occur, as might be the case when importing data into your e-mail system manually.

Customers and prospects should be able to opt in from any form on your site. Requesting information or submitting a support inquiry on your Web site should be all it takes, along with an opt-in check box, to get a customer or prospect opted in. The standalone “sign up for our newsletter” box is going the way of the Pony Express.

Putting online forms in the templates of your blogs and across your Web site—for example, by placing a “contact us” or “request an estimate” miniform throughout your navigation—will increase the chances a customer will opt in.

Finally, don’t forget smart phones. Your forms should be built and designed to work with these devices.

Data collected in online forms is the best way to target customers and prospects with the most relevant information. Online forms provide structure and data integrity that you can’t get in e-mails or unstructured data sets. Use this to your advantage to demonstrate to your customers that you are listening to their preferences.

John Wechsler is president of Indianapolis-based FormSpring (www.formspring.com), a provider of data collection and management solutions.

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