How much—and when—to e-mail customers and prospects

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You probably have a schedule for sending out your newsletter or promotional materials, but you shouldn’t forget your prospects during the downtime between messages, according to e-mail experts. It’s crucial to check in with them regularly as a way to foster your relationship and move it to the next level.

Gail Goodman, the CEO of e-mail service provider Constant Contact, and Gary McNeil, VP-marketing for e-mail technology provider Vocus Inc., provided these simple guidelines for off-week messaging.

  • Don’t let too much time pass between pulse-taking. As a rule of thumb, you should be checking in with customers at least once each quarter, Goodman said. But beware of sending too many messages. “More than twice a month is a little dangerous,” she said.
  • Use previous actions to help shape your message. While you don’t necessarily want to point out that your prospects have opened only one out of the last six messages, you can build on that knowledge by asking questions and giving information based on that fact, McNeil said. “You can adjust your message to reflect that you know they read your press release and they know about your new product or service,” he said. “You don’t have to start from scratch.”
  • Treat customers and prospects differently. Don’t assume your prospect knows why you’re e-mailing. Make sure you identify your company as the author of the newsletter they get, and then spell out quickly and succinctly why you’re contacting them. You can take a more intimate tone with your existing customers because there’s an implied relationship, Goodman said. E-mail, she said, is just your way of keeping in touch. “You can say, ‘Hi, I know you bought product XYZ in the past and [wanted to] make sure you know we have a new product out.’ You’re following up and making sure you’re meeting all their needs,” she said.
  • Consider e-mail alternatives. Direct mail with a call-to-action or a strong offer can catch prospects’ eyes and get them to talk back to you. Phone calls can be even more engaging, McNeil said. “If you sent out news about a new product but it wasn’t opened, you should follow up because you never know what can happen with e-mail,” he said.
  • Make sure every message—whatever the content—has a call to action. Thank-you e-mails are nice, but if you use them to reinforce your newsletter or product announcements, and get readers to give you their opinion, you’ll be ahead of the game. “All of your mediums should reinforce each other,” Goodman said. “Mix it up. Send out a message about your newsletter one month, the next month a survey, the next an invitation to a user event. They should all be measurable and provide a certain level of brand contact.”
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