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Sending e-mail when you don’t have an opt-in

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E-mail best practices dictate that you get the best results when you send messages to those who have opted in. But the recession, said Gary Halliwell, CEO of NetProspex, a “crowdsourcing” marketing database company, has changed e-mail marketing.

“The requirements of CAN-SPAM are really clear,” he said. “The sender of an e-mail has to provide an opt-out link, but there’s nothing prohibiting a marketer from sending an e-mail to someone who hasn’t opted in. The recession has forced us to drop this etiquette. We’re seeing a lot of companies, including Fortune 1,000 companies, changing their strategies from opt-in to opt-out with good results. As long as you’re sending relevant materials and creating educational experiences, people will be open to receiving your messages.”

Of course, there are some best practices that you should stick to when it comes to sending unsolicited messages. Halliwell, along with Mike Bird, NetProspex’s chief revenue officer, and COO Mark Feldman, provided these tips to make the most of your marketing program.

1) Learn more about potential targets. You can send better e-mails when you know more about your prospect. Social media makes it easy to do this, Bird said. “Follow them on Twitter. Set up Google Alerts so you know about any news or company happenings,” he said. “You can figure out where they are in the sales cycle and what business problems they might have based on what you see in their social stream.” Of course, it would be too time-consuming to do this for every target, so pick and choose which companies or vertical markets are most important to you.

2) Get your company name and personal information in front of them. Your targets are probably on Facebook and LinkedIn. This means they’ve probably joined a few groups, Halliwell said. “What are they involved in? Their extracurricular activities can help you figure out which offers they might be most interested in and whether they are likely to join your fan page or group,” he said. Once you know, you can join some of the same groups and—when relevant—get involved in discussions so your company name gets in front of them.

3) Make sure messages are CAN-SPAM-compliant and opt-out information is visible. If someone is offended or uninterested in your e-mail, they should be able to find the opt-out button before they can click “Report as Spam.” “It all circles back to the quality issue,” Feldman said. “Treat e-mail like a sales call. People should know who is ‘calling,’ what the message is and how they can end the call immediately.”

4) Send the right content. Yes, all marketers know relevance is important; but what’s relevant to someone on your opt-in list may not be relevant to someone you’re targeting blindly. When someone doesn’t know you or your products, you probably don’t want to send special offers or discounts, for instance. Instead, your focus should be educating that prospect and getting them to sign up for more information. “Develop thought leadership content,” Feldman suggested. “Work with the sales team so prospects are seeing content that a new customer is typically interested in.”

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