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Do You Think Auto-Responders Suck?

While reading a discussion on using auto-responders for visitors to church congregation websites, I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

The ideas apply not only in email relationship building, but also in all online relationship building. The core is building trust.

As was stated, the concept of auto-responder email is good. It has been proven effective repeatedly in the for-profit world, because it can build trust. However, most implementation in secular and non-secular of auto-responders is terrible.  Just as a greeter at a store can totally change the experience for the better or sink the relationship with the whole chain, so can poorly written email generic auto-responders. A poorly written email auto-responder can seem like a chain letter or worse.

There is a reason why communications professionals will write 50 drafts. They are working  to get the best chance to communicate the intended tone and message to their audience. Just like a minister will often spend all day or all week writing a sermon to get it ‘correct’, and it still evolves through multiple services on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday).   Even the Bible has gone through a few revisions of the centuries to make sure its message and tone is unmistakable (perhaps it may not be done being revised to tell its story based on the number of interpretations of its messages in different denominations across the country and world).

More Recent Data – Direct Marketing

I would recommend that we look at what has a longer history then email auto-responders for how to most effectively communicate with new relationships. While still much newer then the Bible, direct marketing or direct mail has a much longer history then email. Direct marketing studies performed decades ago realized that it took seven (from letters, TV spots, Radio or in-store visits) ‘touches’ to get the optimum amount of interaction with a perspective person to solidify the relationship (relative to invested cost of each piece). New studies increase that to 9 or 11 touches with the increased onslaught of communications and greater sensitivity to building trust.

That is much of what is at issue here – trust. Does the new guest trust that you understand them? And do they trust they understand the ‘real’ congregation you represent? It becomes hard to trust that you understand someone who may not understand themselves (as may often be the case of shoppers/searchers). It becomes hard to trust, if they only meet a few people in a congregation. It becomes hard to trust if they don’t have a solid referral from someone they trust (especially if they are coming from a place that did have solid referrals and it did not work out). A congregation is where many people put more trust then most any other relationship they have (including family or spouses). Visitors may not know they are looking for a place to put that much trust, but often they are.

Trust must often be earned, over multiple interactions

Have you earned that trust?

Look at how would you build trust with a new relationship in an off-line manner and consider how to translate it to written form. That may include some disclosure yourself and the congregation (when the annual meeting is, how the board is elected), but often not on the 1st touch. It may include offers to be inclusive, but just as you would not propose on the 1st date, you may not invite someone to lead a group in the 2nd email. The building of trust is based on a mutual exchange of signals that show commitment on both sides. If you don’t properly respond to a visitors signals you are being as rude as kissing someone who shows no interest in a physical relationship.

Of course in the age of digital tools like Constant Contact, iContact, HubSpot, InfusionSoft and many others, the best practice is to consider not creating a single one size fits all approach. Again the lessons and proof go back to the early days of direct marketing and have shown a segmented approach is best.  Send a different series of letters to parents then young adults (possibly both if they are indeed young adult parents). The relationship of an empty nester will be different then many 30 year old divorcee’s.

Consider an Email Service Provider for your auto responder needs

If they overlap, consider staggering your send times. Don’t send them all on Mondays, send the parent letters/auto-responders on Wednesday, Young adults on Friday, etc.

Look at the rules of etiquette in similar online venues (online dating is probably the most clearly documented) and use them to create an appropriate method to build trust with new visitors and you will create many new relationships.

Auto-responders (multiple with proper spacing) can be a great tool in developing mutual trust in a new congregant, especially if it is integrated with personal touches along the way. Especially if it is show ing of the care you would take for a new parishioner. This is your chance to show you care. Does that not deserve a little more effort then 10 minutes for a one size fits all generic letter.

How much time and effort do you typically spend on your auto responder emails? How many do you use? Join the conversation below and share your wisdom.

May 1, 2012 Posted by | copywriting, local marketing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Build a Business with Your Website?

There are a whole variety of purposes for a website. Some are for vanity, others to build community, some just for venting. But more then a few are about trying to build a business. Especially those website builders that are interested in search engine optimization, building a business is a very common site objective. With that in mind, I am often asked where to go to for resources on getting started.

I often start a discussion about ‘How do I start a website?’ with an exploration of what the objectives and priorities are of a website, before going into the how to.

But assuming supporting your business is your primary objective, here are a few key resources I would recommend:

  • High level business plan suggestion –
    Headshot of Guy Kawasaki author of Reality Check

    Guy Kawasaki author of Reality Check

    MS Word Business Plan Template from Guy Kawasaki.

    If you don’t know who Guy is, you should. He is a thought leader in how business should be done in this millennium. Guy started his success at Apple Computer, but along the way has become a successful venture capitalist, and therefore has sat through many many business presentations good and bad.

    I am listening to Guy’s Reality Check (not Reality Bites the movie by Ben Stiller), and the book is a collection of Guy’s blog posts over the years. These blog posts and his book echo so much the experiences of many who have been successful in growing a business and getting capital investment. He has learned what works from the perspective of what it will  get someone to write a check and do a deal.

    This blog post is actually a collection of resources for a Pitch (to ask for investment funding)  framework, business model spreadsheet and business plan tempate. They are templates and suggestions on how to structure your communication with brevity and clarity. The key takeaway I keep sharing is: most people want to know you know your stuff, and then prove that you know by being able to communicate it with succinctness and in format that tells a story to your audience. Fail to speak to your audience and you will fail to get your objectives met.

    His ALLTOP.com is also an interesting tool for trying to keep up on the information firehose in a manageable fashion. I have set it as my homepage.

  • I have mentioned Seth Godin a few times. His writing is light and breezy. His insights are disturbing if you have spent too much time in school. His attitude is sacastic or worse. His effectiveness is stunning. Having proven his ability to practice what he preaches (just read or listen to the stories of his writing and how it has paid his bills very well over the years), he has great authority among many in the know.  His YouTubes are fun to watch as well. But the library or AddAll.com is worth a stop for reading some of his books as well.  I particularly recommend Linchpin
    Linchpin by Seth Godin

    A mindset for new business creation or anyone trying to earn a living

    In spite of his light and fun writing style, I think his ideas are pretty fundamental to the way the new world is. You need to be the best or plan for painful mediocrity needing to adjust to everyone else’s desires not yours. Linchpin tells the story that trying to be 2nd best or worse is hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning. Be the best – 2 ways:

    • Be ‘fortunate’ enough to be the best in a ‘standard’ area of pursuit.
    • Be creative enough to define your niche of being best. The key is you should be able to introduce your self as ‘the best ………’ in a way that everyone you meet knows it is the truth. That may be by geography, or creating a new market segment or reframing an existing segment. It may seem like cheating but it is not it is focusing and niching yourself. If you need to keep slicing your area of pursuit then keep slicing, but be the best.
  • Here is the story of the marketing and passionate niche I was telling a few clients about. http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelellsberg/2012/01/11/the-tim-ferriss-effect/ It demonstrates how the world of broadcast over narrow-casting has passed from an idea to theory finally as absolute law. Our markets are large enough (over 303million in US alone) and flat enough (ship most anywhere in the US 2 day for under 2 pounds, but so much is the speed of Internet) and segmented enough (how many Yahoo groups are there today, how many Meetup groups are there today in your area) that you need to look at business differently. So many business owners keep trying to get the ‘big’ publicity hit and fail to understand that most success comes from targeting the key people you want to connect with. That success from connection individually rather then exposure of many. There are other lessons, and some ideas that will not apply to you (he gets specific so they don’t match everyone everytime) but concepts are important to understand the direction the world is taking.
  • Explore your business using the Business Model Canvas. I have worked with many different start-ups.
    Business Model Generation Book Cover

    A new way to get to the Truth of a business plan

    Along the way, I have built a variety of questionnaires that I found very helpful for all to understand and clarify what the real objective and strategy. I would create long documents as outlines for information gathering and initial interviews. In trying to find the secret sauce of each organization was an effort. What made them unique over the ‘next guy’. Business Model Generation changed my approach after decades.  Having recently found this 1 page tool, I find it naturally replaces my flat mini-book of questions with a single sheet that is far more action oriented, less overwhelming to all involved and more action oriented.

    An online tool for creating similar business model canvas is at Lean Canvas

  • E-Myth Revisited book with author Michael Gerber standing against it

    E-Myth Revisited – The bible on Entrepreneurial success by creating a system to work on your business rather then in your business.

    And of course, there is the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. This is what I (as well as many other authors and thought leaders) consider the bible to entrepreneurial strategy. This book has literally fundamentally changed many business owners lives. But also positively changed the many employees and team members working for the those businesses for the better. It has helped many employees from continually beating their heads against the wall, making everyone’s life better. Understanding why so many businesses fail can be very helpful in creating a strategy to avoid the issue yourself.

    Michael has created a few empires, and a whole series of books based on his E Myth model. I have read most of them (more coming out almost monthly now targeted into specific industries), but I still recommend reading this easy and targeted parable first before an industry specific volume to anchor the story, concepts and framework the deepest. I usually recommend audio format if you are short on time for most business books, but I still have not found an audio version that is as good as his written version.

    What are your favorite business resources? Do you find books the correct format for learning new business models?  Join the conversation below with a your comments and help a fellow business grow.

January 12, 2012 Posted by | E-Myth, How To, Reference books | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What 1st Steps as New IT Manager Would You Take?

From a post I commented on in LinkedIn

You are assigned the position of IT Manager in a new company. You don’t know the business or the developers you’ll be managing. What are the first steps you would take?

A few additions on my part:
1) Look at the ‘written’ /published documentation (preferably 1st) of stated goals, visions etc. They may not be accurate, but someone wanted them at some point. Ideally you have time (ha) to incorporate this perspective as you ask others how they view the issues.

2) Being ‘new to the business’ may imply new to the industry. Find the top 3-6 periodicals for the industry. Read as much of the last 6 months to learn the jargon and issues coming down the road in the next 2-3 years. If you are not at the leading company in the industry, these will tend to indicate what needs to be done to be competitive in the near future.

3) Take a look at previous reviews for your developers. These indicate what previous perspectives were. Even if they are totally off base, the reviewed may still be battling the criticisms in those reviews. This also allows a point of reference for areas to keep an eye on what other staff may view as issues.

4) I would look to find what may be written about your customers – whether that is blogs, press releases or trade journal for external customers, or wiki’s, newsletters, blogs, annual reports for internal customers. What is written can be a starting point for conversations of how others perceive and understand the situation.

5) I suggest the SPIN approach to conversations –
– What is the Situation?
– What is the Problem(S) created by that situation?
– What is the Implication of the situation, the ‘So What’ of the situation?
– What is the Need of the situation, This lets you help set your priorities described in previous posts.

6) Keep a sense of humor – seldom is it that life or death, and your attitude can build far more bridges than the ‘perfect’ knowledge or a perfect plan written yesterday.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Large SKU Sites-Understanding the True Need with a SPIN Through the Warehouse and Website (part 2)

The next few blogs posting are some of my thoughts on the process I would take to begin the project.

Understanding the True Need with a SPIN Through the Warehouse and the Website

Like any project I take on,  I often use the SPIN model to clarify that I am solving the correct issues.  Often, it is far easier to jump into solutions for problems that do not exist. Or they exist, but do not want to be resolved. Or they want to be resolved, but there are far bigger issues that will kill a business long before the smaller issues become core to the business. Those ‘other issues’ exist due to specific agreements internally or externally that may have been around far longer then the current players.  That does not mean the issues should not be reviewed, only that there may be valid reasons why not to focus on those issues at this time.  When the flood waters are rising, it is not the time to talk to the architect about the new addition for a sunroom. Although, it might not be a bad time to make some mental notes on how to plan and prevent or mitigate flood issues for the next time.

When taking on a large SKU website project, it is core to prioritize based on the true need of the business.

SPIN – Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need.

This model is based on the series of books by Neil Rackham. This model is what I have found the easiest to teach the concepts of truly understanding what the true needs of a project/customer/client/company/patient/department.

Situation –

is about understanding where you are, and how you got to this point. Of course the idea way to learn the situation is a nice written history of all the significant details, and all the insignificant fluff is written out.  No bias enters into the conversation, and all the skeletons in the closest are clearly laid out and labeled as such.  The reasons for past compromises are identified and resolved for a clear path to future success with the current team that has no affinity for past missteps. This history is agreed on by all stakeholders, with no animosity or grudges. Management and the line teams all agree on all the issues and relative importance of each.  Oops, I was drifting off to the land of – ‘yeah right’, and there are no budget issues either. But this is the information we are searching for.

Situations are messy.  For every project I have ever participated on, everyone did the best they could at the time, based on the resources they had.  Those resources include:

  • time,
  • best practices of the time,
  • money (always in limited supply),
  • information,
  • know how,
  • Sense of vision and purpose.

And of course hindsight is 20/20, so we should be able to see where we could have improved from this vantage point.  This step is not meant to be a witch hunt, but a truthful assessment of where we are today and major issues that contributed to our being here. This step will look at the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of where we are relative to where we are planning on heading.  Sorry about all the acronyms, but they are great tools in being able to roll up a lot of concepts in easier to manage format.

S W O T :

  • S – Strengths – What is currently working well with the current situation? Where do we excel over our competition?
  • W – Weaknesses – Why is our competition currently getting any customers that we would want?  What are we lacking from a CUSTOMER perspective? What are we lacking from an internal perspective that is making us work harder and not smarter?
  • O – Opportunities – The world is a changing place.  And changing fast.  What can we do to improve our abilities, meet client needs, make our job easier and reduce cost?
  • T – Threats – Everyone is looking to capitalize on our success.  Ideas are a dime a dozen. So what do we need to recognize that others will be doing better then us in rapid succession, or even longer term? What do ‘they’ have that seems to give an inherent advantage over us?  What can they do to ‘buy’ and advantage over us, and what can we do to counter that? Can we mitigate the threat by working in partnership with them?

If a manufacture is looking to sell direct to our customer base, can we partner with them to become their exclusive fulfillment house? That comes from a SWOT analysis of understanding our:

  • Strength is in fulfillment and customer service
  • Weakness is in high volume single orders – our system is not optimized for sending 10,000 single SKU of the green bag out.
  • Opportunity is to partner with the knowledge of the manufacture to get product quicker, more directly and cheaper.
  • Threat is if they can set up their own system they have the increased cost savings of manufacturing the product themselves to ‘fund’ a direct distribution process. Additionally, many of their orders are already small individual orders requiring a lot of fulfillment strength.

Next I will explore the Problem part of the SPIN approach to need identification.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | How To, Large SKU site, SPIN, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment