Sailing through the email fog

E-mail

E-mail is probably the most efficient way of reaching your business contacts ever invented. It can also be one of the most frustrating. Good use of e-mail is an invaluable marketing tool and most of the rules for good use are plain old common sense.

To gain e-mail you need to buy a domain (yes, I know they’re free with a dial-up account, but trust me, you need to buy your own). This is your personalised number plate on the Internet. It’s your company name or something close to it if someone has grabbed it already. You buy a domain name through a domain name registrar (and there are many in New Zealand) by going to www.dnc.org.nz and clicking the ‘authorised registrars’ link in the main menu. Any of the companies listed here can sign you up for a domain and subsequently, an e-mail account based on the name.

The domain name is the bit between the ‘@’ and the’.co.nz’. For around $40 a year you can buy sole rights to use the name. You use it too to run a Web site. If you tire of it or shut your business down, just stop paying the annual renewal fee and the domain becomes available for someone else to register. You really need to buy a domain name. Using the free one tossed in by your Internet dial-up company won’t wash. Leave it to your kids or your grandmother to play with.

If you want your customers to treat you seriously, have your e-mail addressed as whatever@your-company-name.co.nz. I’ve seen everything from boat makers to car sales trying to sell $60,000 luxury goods and expecting people to take an Xtra or Clear e-mail seriously. If the companies don’t know enough to get out and spend $40 a year on their domain and spend up to $2 a month on an e-mail account, just how out of touch with technology are they and is that reflected in the care and attention they pay to the goods they want me to buy? Besides, why give Xtra a free advertisement every time you send an e-mail – promote your own business instead.

If you have more than a couple of staff consider setting up e-mail accounts for each of them, following a standard pattern: firstname.lastname@yourcompany.co.nz. If all staff follow the naming convention then no customer will ever have trouble deducing their e-mail address.

At a couple of dollars per month per account, E-mail is so cheap that all staff should have an individual address. There’s nothing more confusing than trying to contact people from a company or organisation who each have a different e-mail provider. The office manager might be joe@xtra.co.nz, the marketing manager might be bob@clear.net.nz and each other staff member might have his or her own, unique, domain. Even different branches within the same company often have completely different e-mail domains. Standardise them using the pattern mentioned above.

If all your sales enquiries go through one person, don’t make his or her name the contact. If that person left your employment, everyone who’d been used to sending sales enquires to his or her e-mail might not receive a response. Instead call it sales@ so no matter who is on duty, the mail always gets through. The same applies to help@, support@ and the like. Base important e-mail contacts such as these on the position not the person.

E-mail lets you add a little marketing flair as well as performing the humdrum tasks. You can appear as big as you want to on the Internet. Make one e-mail account a catch-all. That is, anything at all sent to whatever@yourcompany.co.nz will be accepted. Fore example, if your e-mail address is bob@robert.co.nz and someone sends an e-mail to bobby@robert.co.nz, it’ll still be accepted.

A catch-all It pays you back in two ways. Without a catch-all, your enquirer has the e-mail bounced back to him, saying no one of that address could be found. You may have lost a sale because of a simple spelling error. The second benefit is that you can make up addresses such as sales@, info@, complaints@ and marketing@ and they all arrive safely in your single, catch-all mailbox, making it appear as though you have a work force of maybe a dozen people where, in reality, you work alone from your garage with a lone PC and a dial-up account, anticipating the day when all those extra names will be real employees.

Pests called spammers have diminished the value of e-mail in recent years by sending e-mails randomly to millions of addresses in the hope that 1 in a million recipients actually wants to grow an elephant’s penis or is prepared send all the bowling club’s Christmas party savings to the alleged widow of a Nigerian oil baron’s bank account.

It’s not unusual for a couple of hundred of these message to arrive daily into an e-mail account. To avoid being mistaken for spam, fill in the subject line of your e-mail intelligently. In other words, “Hey, you need this”, gets dumped into my deleted folder immediately without being opened. “Response to your request for info on the Jones’ account” gets a second look (presuming I’m chasing the Jones’ account, if not I delete without opening). Filtering spam is a frustrating task – make it easier on your target with a clear subject line and don’t lose a sale because you were mistaken for spam and never even read or, worse, your recipient added your e-mail to a list called a filter, that automatically diverts you into the deleted folder as soon as anything from that address arrives in the in-box.

With its limitations, e-mail still keeps you in almost instant contact with anyone, anywhere who has Internet access. To become as big as Westpac on High Street you need to buy a lot of real estate. To mimic their size on-line, you can start with a simple e-mail account and appear as big as your imagination will let you.