Secrets and lies: Outsourcing e-mail marketing

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Most companies, at some point, struggle with the decision of whether to outsource e-mail marketing or do it in-house. Thomas Harpointner, CEO of Atlanta-based AIS Media, an Internet marketing company, provides one secret and one lie about the agency conundrum.

Secret: You can hire a great agency but still get terrible results with your campaign.

People think that the success of their campaign hinges on an agency’s skills, technology and quality, Harpointner said, but the truth is, there’s one more variable that’s just as important. “You’re not going to have a good campaign unless you do everything in your power to be a good client,” he said. “Being a bad client is one of the primary reasons we see failures.”

So what does it take to be a good client? First, he said, companies must designate a primary contact as a go-between. That person will own the project and make sure the agency has everything it needs to create a great campaign, including graphics, logos, content and direction. The person will work with the agency to set realistic expectations and do pre- and post-campaign analysis. They will also help secure and grow a good house list.

“Companies often come to us with bad lists or no list at all,” he said. “We need someone who can work in the offline world to create an effective, clean list. Sometimes that means including postcards with invoices, putting signage into a storefront or physical location, or asking salespeople to prompt their prospects to sign up for their marketing messages. We often tell our customers that one of the best places to build your list is in the offline world.”

Lie: Every company is a good candidate for an e-mail marketing or interactive agency.

For every successful e-mail campaign, there’s another that just won’t work because it lacks a call to action or doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint.

“If you’re paying $500 per month for an agency but that agency is bringing in even one client who translates into a several thousand dollar sale, it’s worth it,” Harpointner said. “But if you’ve only got 500 names on a list or you’re only selling $30 products, it’s probably not going to pay off.”

Harpointner suggested sitting down with a potential agency and discussing your goals, the types of products and services you’re selling, and how the upfront costs of working with them compare to the potential ROI.

“Don’t just ask what an agency’s cost per thousand or 10,000 is because that can’t tell the whole story,” he said. “What results are you looking for? How much are they going to work with you for their monthly fee? How much testing or analysis do they promise to do? If you’re not going to see a specific ROI you might be better off using a do-it-yourself software program.”

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