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Replies, Replies everywhere

April 12, 2009

No matter what your call-to-action some people will still just send a reply. We think this is a good thing but many tell us it causes extra work and results in opportunities being ignored and ultimately lost.

“Why didn’t they just click on the link to request the report?” 

This is what we were asked by an exasperated contact recently. He had set up a campaign with a simple call-to-action; whereby his prospects were asked to click on a link to confirm details and submit a request. This triggered an auto-email that included a link to the report in question. It worked well for him as there was no resource involved and the campaign/follow-up managed itself. 

The problems started, when people replied personally. Well, let’s re-phrase that; the problems started when people replied personally… but were ignored. The problems worsened when the same prospects replied again and were still ignored. The problems culminated in a jeopardised relationship and an irate telephone call from a once-valued customer. 

So what went wrong and who is to blame?

The original email campaign was sent to all customers and prospects offering free documentation. The auto-mechanism worked well for about 90% of those interested but a handful of clients decided to respond personally and sent messages like:
“Hi. The document sounds really useful. Please send it over as soon as possible…”
Each reply was pleasant and supportive so we struggled to understand why he hadn’t just replied with a link to the document and a few pleasant words thanking them for their interest. All became clear however when we he told us the handful of positive replies had been left gathering e-dust amongst thousands of bounces and auto-replies. 

Who is to blame? Unfortunately that was too obvious for us to even discuss

This sounded like a one-off but the more we discussed, the more people we found with similar weaknesses in their campaign strategy. The simple problem is that many people view email marketing as being one way. 

What he should have done?

Regardless of your mechanism for sending email campaigns you must recognise email marketing goes both ways and you must ensure you are aware of what is coming back. Often the best leads come back in the form of a reply. This can also be the case for the most vociferous of complaints. 

If you are sending a professional email marketing campaign your replies must be monitored so to avoid having to sift through thousands of emails the first thing to do is filter replies. All incoming messages should be attributed to the relevant campaign and then auto-filtered into: 

Replies - auto-replies/out-of-offices - bounces - unsubscribes

Have your system automatically deal with each type appropriately only sending the “replies” to your email address so you should spot anything exceptionally good or bad.
If you expect thousands of responses and will struggle to handle them all in a reply format then of course go ahead and set up an online auto-response form with a prominent CTA so people know the easiest way to respond. However you must also have replies filtered so you are aware of those who choose to reply personally.
If you still get too many replies to handle then you are very lucky.

Accept your good fortune and set your system up to schedule the outgoing messages accordingly; if you can handle 20 replies a day and are receiving a 10% response rate schedule your system to send 200 emails a day. 

So are replies always a good thing?

Of course they are. A negative reply is still interaction and provides feedback on your campaign even if it is telling you to stop emailing someone; in which case you can ensure they are unsubscribed and check the unsubscribe option is visible enough in your original email. Surely this is better than hearing nothing until you receive an irate call or spam complaint? 

Positive replies are always good. Even if you’d rather they submit your form or better-still go to your website and place a huge order they are always good. And no matter how clear you make your call to action people will still hit reply, so let’s just accept it and learn to accommodate more than one method of response.

Receiving too few replies is a common and a tricky problem for anyone in marketing to solve. Receiving too many replies is a less common and surely a pleasant problem for anyone in sales to relish. 

And… to put our money where our mouth is feel free to “respond” to our newsletter and check that we are monitoring our replies...

If you would like further information, please email [email protected] or call 0161 817 2929

Posted by Jenni Malley

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