Once you start to get into business email, it’s easy to get lost in the options. People will tell you that you have to have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, or that you need email marketing, and you see all these ads everywhere and you don’t know if it’s iContact or ConstantContact and they’re all promising increased income and not saying too awfully much about their own contribution to increased expenses. Where do you start?
Step one: basic email
You need email when: you are trying to do business in the 21st century, and your market is not using Twitter for absolutely all of their communication.
Use a basic email application, such as MS Outlook or GMail, set up to send email from the domain name under which you do business. Use the “categories” option to identify subgroups of your contact file, such as Clients, Prospects, Suspects, Friends, Health, and so forth.
Consider using the Notes field to record useful information about the contact.
Advantage: Simple, omnipresent, good interfaces with other systems (phone, social networking)
Limitation: Does not provide “double opt-in” verification for subscription mailings, and does not provide “unsubscribe” options. People have to contact you personally to ask you not to send additional emails, and many people are too polite to do this. So they set up rules to send your email to the trash, or quietly resent you every time you send another unwanted email.
Drawback: Difficult to track when you last contacted a client or prospect, if that contact was in a form other than email.
Step 2: Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM systems organize, automate, and synchronize sales and marketing activities, providing a way to collect information about a customer across many areas of a company’s interaction with a client or prospect.
You need CRM when: your business operates on sales to people in you interact with personally, and more than one person in your business may be interacting with your customers.
You may not need CRM if: your sales happen without direct intervention, such as through online sales of downloadable information products, OR you are the only person interacting with your clients.
Advantage: All your customer information, including history and plans, in one place. Documentation of your selling system.
Drawback: Many solopreneurs find that home-grown systems using a extracted contact list from their email and/or social networking sites can provide all the functionality they really need. If you have access to shared storage space on the internet (Wave, wikis), it can be possible for a remote assistant to use a spreadsheet-based tool. Given how many people will be happy to tell you how many CRM systems they have used, one might conclude that no-one’s completely happy with any specific system.
Step 3: Email Marketing systems
Email marketing systems allow you to create permission-based email newsletters, surveys, e-courses, and autoresponders. While you can do some of these functions with your personal/business email account, and others with a CRM system, it is the email marketing programs that study and optimize deliverability. They work with ISPs to help your messages get through. They also provide campaign tracking and can tell you how many people opened your email, and which links were clicked.
You need Email Marketing when: your business operates on the internet, with little in-person contact with individuals, or when your website is a significant lead generation source and email marketing is a component of your overall marketing strategy.
You may not need Email marketing when: your business operates exclusively in the brick-and-mortar world and your clients are not used to receiving marketing materials by email.
Advantage: professional Email Marketing applications provide either single or double opt-in (sending a confirmation email) and easy unsubscribe options, allowing you to stay clear of violating the CAN-SPAM law. They also provide stock templates for your newsletter and a lot of email marketing education.
Drawback: They’re not free. OTOH, this is an area where “free,” in the form of home-grown, may be very expensive, should you inadvertently be caught sending what the law, or an unhappy recipient, has defined as spam.