It’s common practice for distributors to communicate with their customers through sales staff and delivery drivers. Messages about promotions, past-due invoices, and upcoming events are pushed down from the office and disclosed by these two main contacts. The system works well as long as the front-line messengers are conscientious communicators of a distributor’s message.
We all know that nothing replaces face-to-face communication for immediate customer feedback. But with the pace of business today, there are more messages that need to be communicated than the traditional message bearers can deliver; messages that they may not want or know how to convey.
Fortunately, there is a way to prevent communication bottlenecks and establish timely and consistent exchanges with customers. It has actually been in front of us all along:
Yes, email. That maligned and vilified communications tool that is so often the bane of sales and marketing departments. But while it gets a bad rap (and if you have as much SPAM in your inbox as we do, it’s easy to understand why), it’s really just tragically misunderstood.
Email offers the clearest, most direct path into your customers’ businesses. When used thoughtfully, and only to pass along meaningful information, it can open up new sales opportunities and make you more essential to your operators.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well, here’s where many distributors hit a speed bump—email addresses are rarely collected as part of a distributor’s customer data. Many have trouble gathering and storing the addresses, much less keeping them up to date.
So, the first hurdle we’ll help you jump is email collection. And before you can collect your customers’ email addresses, they actually have to want to give them to you. (What a concept!) Early on you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with the laws about email use. (It’s not nearly as daunting as it sounds.) If you’ve been reading the news lately, you’ll know that this is especially important if you do business in Canada, where SPAM laws have gotten uber-strict.
Next, you'll need an easy way to store email addresses and send your messages.
And lastly, you’ll want to keep your email lists fresh and clean so that they continue to perform well over time.
A simple way to collect e-mails for the first time is prior to your events and promotions. Leading up to your trade show, offer your customers the opportunity to get additional rebates if they register with an e-mail address. Or, if your show doesn’t offer rebates, give away something for free. It might be as small as preferred seating at a seminar, or as large as membership in a special promotions club.
Next, use a branded event website to facilitate registration. Not only will your event website help attendees prepare for the show, it will give you the chance to snag important information, including their email address, when they register.
When they submit their registration, include an automatic email response to confirm their details as well as their consent to receive future email messages. This opt-in is a critical part of the process and helps you avoid issues with CAN-SPAM laws.
For attendees that don’t pre-register, your on-site registration system is the perfect way to collect email addresses. Train registration staff to request and confirm attendees’ email information, and then generate a report of email addresses, by account, after the show.
Sending Messages and Storing Addresses
Many businesses assume that more communication is always better. They’re wrong.
Blasting customers with daily e-mails can quickly make them tune out. Instead, think of e-mail as a special method to reach customers with unique or time-sensitive bulletins. When customers know that you only deliver high-quality messages, they will open them more frequently and respond more often. Customers will value information and offers that help their business make smarter decisions and improve profitability.
Storing, segmenting, and distributing emails have become relatively easy due to the abundance of e-mail marketing platforms available. TopTen Reviews rates many of the best packages here. A distributor can subscribe to a full range of services for under $30 per month for up to 2,500 subscribers, or pay more for advanced features or to send to a larger audience. The platforms make it easy to get your email marketing program started, and many include free trials.
Keeping it Fresh
All e-mail lists age and go out of date over time as people change jobs, retire, and move on to other ventures. In order to keep your list fresh and your readers engaged, follow these simple steps:
- Check for spelling errors and typos in your customers’ names. Most email platforms allow you automate the personalization of each message, and include fields like first name and last name. Nobody wants to receive an email with his or her name misspelled, so do a thorough clean up prior to launching a campaign.
- Manage your bounce rate, keeping hard bounces to a minimum. A “bounce” is simply a message that doesn’t make it to its intended destination. “Soft bounces” are considered temporary: a message might be too large, the recipient’s mailbox might be full, or their email server could be offline. “Hard bounces”, on the other hand, are deemed permanent: the email address or domain name doesn’t exist, or the recipient’s email server has blocked delivery. Prior to sending your first campaign, use a list cleaning service like BriteVerify to remove any bad addresses. This is a low-cost way to ensure that more of your messages reach their intended destination.
- Monitor your results. Knowing who opened and acted on your message is the key to optimizing your campaigns. Before sending a large batch of messages, test different subject lines on a small customer segment to see which one has the highest open rate. Also look at how well your messages perform on different days of the week. For many businesses, mid-week delivery is best; for others, it’s the weekends. Experiment a little.
- Keep inactive subscribers in a separate list. They may still be your customers, but if email is just not their thing, then over time put them in the e-mail parking lot. Focus instead on sending important messages to your active subscribers.
Whether or not to use e-mail to engage with customers is a decision only you can make. What we can say is that as a communications channel, email increases how many accounts you can reach in a short timeframe. It’s not a cure-all or a strategy to set in motion overnight, but it is something with substantial long-term sales and marketing benefits, that can create a tighter bond between your business and its customers.
We'll leave you with some recent email stats from the business-to-business marketplace.
- 64% of people say they open an email because of the subject line. (Chadwick Martin Bailey)
- 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email. (Convinceandconvert.com)
- 64% of decision-makers read their email via mobile devices. (TopRankBlog)
- 74% of consumers prefer to receive commercial communications via email (Merkle).
- 76% of email opens occur in the first two days after an email is sent (Alchemy Worx).
Learn more about creating an email marketing strategy here.