By Janine Popick
First, the Do pointers:
Build rapport by making sure the customer wants to receive your sales materials. At VerticalResponse, we recommend that customers "double opt-in," meaning that they confirm acceptance after signing up.
Work with a legitimate e-mail service provider (ESP), which are companies such as our own. Such vendors have typically built the systems and relationships necessary to deliver your e-mail properly. They also know how to properly report back to you.
Remind recipients how you received their e-mail addresses. You might begin your correspondence, for example, by saying, "Dear Mr./Ms., you may recall that we met at the XYZ trade show and you asked that my company contact you."
Provide an easy way for recipients to unsubscribe. It doesn't make any sense to keep someone on your list who doesn't want to be there.
Personalize your e-mail communications. You might, for example, address each recipient by name.
Now, the Don't-Under-Any-Circumstances pointers:
Never allow vendors to give you a list. Chances are the addresses are invalid or extinct. Reputable vendors will retain control of distribution and send messages for you.
Shun sending e-mail with attachments. Recipients who use Web-based e-mail pay for space and might be turned off if you take too much of it. In addition, many Internet service providers (ISP) won't distribute e-mails with attachments. Instead, send the e-mail with a link to the page where the additional information is hosted. The recipient can download it from there.
Spurn cluttering your customers' inboxes. An e-mail from you once every two weeks is great, and once a week is OK. Anything more than that is pushing your luck.
Reject the temptation to use trickery in your "From" and "Subject" lines, a practice that will actually be illegal under a proposed new law. Subject lines that read, "You have an appointment tonight" don't provoke anything but annoyance -- and you don't want your customers to be annoyed with you.
Back in the days of face-to-face salesmanship, even Willy Loman understood that it helped for a salesman to be "liked." The best of the direct-mail print marketers knew that the personal touch oiled customer relationships.
In the brave new world of electronic selling, that fundamental principle hasn't changed. The dos and don'ts of making effective use of the new technology makes it easier for entrepreneurs to build those relationships -- and to use this powerful technique to their company's best advantage.
Janine Popick, 36, co-founded VerticalResponse, a San Francisco-based provider of self-service Internet direct marketing tools, and currently serves as president and chief executive officer.
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