Sunday, January 27, 2008

Suppose You Had Stayed In Touch...

By Mark Satterfield

Imagine if you had stayed in contact with all the people you met over the years through work, school, or other activities. How much more robust would your list of contacts be?

I’ve often said that the best thing I ever did when I worked at Pepsi and Kraft Foods was that I made good friends.

Actually, the best thing I ever did was to stay in touch with them over the years.

Certainly there was no way to predict that these people would go on to run big companies. I would also admit that there are numerous others with whom I wished I had stayed in touch but, for whatever reason, did not.

You may have similar regrets.

While it may not be feasible for you to go back and try to reinvigorate those relationships, you can take steps so that current and future contacts do not suffer the same fate.

Obviously, the key to maintaining relationships is regular and consistent contact. However, the biggest challenge we face is…time. We all have good intentions. But we get busy and forget.

This issue is particularly important for those of us who are responsible for marketing consulting services. From a practical perspective, lead-generation materials don’t make the “sale” of professional services. Nor does your web site or offer of a free report, although all of these elements help.

No, our experience has been that you make the “sale” farther down the road, well after the initial contact has been established. It’s your ongoing interactions with your prospective clients that build trust and credibility and, eventually, move prospects to take action.

But first we have to remember to stay in touch. And that’s where automation can play a role.

You’re probably familiar, at least in concept, with auto-responders. These are systems that enable you to send automated messages on a regular and consistent basis.

However, although the concept of auto-responders is well understood, the percentage of consulting firms that use them (or use them effectively) is quite small. The challenge to using auto-responders effectively depends on a couple of factors, the first of which is getting a valid email address.

We’ve found that the best way to get an email address that makes it through the SPAM filters is to leverage your offer of free information.

Although opinions vary on this point, we believe that it’s a mistake to offer your free information or white papers without requiring visitors fill out some sort of request form. After all, it’s impossible to stay in touch with visitors to your web site if you don’t get information about who they are.

So here’s a tip for making sure that the email address you get is good and valid--one that you can use for subsequent follow-up.

Don’t sent people your report when they just hit the submit button on the request form. That doesn’t ensure that the email address they give you is real. A better strategy is to send people an email with a link so they can download the information after they complete the form.

Naturally, in order for them to get this email from you, they have to give you an address that will actually get to them. And that’s the email address you use for all your subsequent messages.

For example, on our request form it says quite plainly that “the link to access the free information will be sent to the email address you provide.” This is the best way we know of to make sure that you are getting a valid email address.

Once you have a person’s email, the next step is to create a system for staying in touch. This is where an auto-responder can help. Be warned, though, not all auto-responders are created equal.

For example, the auto-responders that come with discount web sites or email services are usually not what you need. You’ll quickly find that they won’t be able to perform the simplest of tasks without extensive customization. So our advice is to invest a bit more money in a system that is truly designed for sophisticated use.

You have a choice of options.

The first question is whether you want to “own” the service (it resides on your computer or server), or whether you want to “rent” the service (in which case it is accessed via the web).

When we first developed our stay-in-touch program, we opted for the “own” model and purchased a system. Although it required a certain amount of customization, it worked pretty well. We were able to program multiple email streams, and as a basic service it worked fine. If you have access to a savvy tech-support person and you want to own your own system, you’ll find options in the market.

However, over time, we wanted something more robust--something that would allow us to set up unique streams of messages based on specific actions. We wanted the ability to more precisely differentiate between prospects, clients, those with whom we had had initial conversations, and those who had purchased certain services. That’s when we turned to the web based programs.

The market is currently dominated by two services, AWebber and Automation Wiz. We settled on the latter and found it to be a very powerful tool. It also has a shopping cart and affiliate management system, which is helpful if you sell products or have others who sell your services on a commission basis.

Our only complaint was that, on occasion, the initial email (the one containing the link with the free report) would sometimes be delayed for several hours. This was annoying because we believe that when people request free information, they should get it immediately.

The one limitation with all of these systems is their reliance on email as the tool for constant contact. There’s no doubt that any stay-in-touch program will be more effective if it can integrate email with hard copy letters, phone messages, faxed articles of interest, and so on. This technology appears to be right around the corner and we’re in the final stages of testing a couple of these programs. (If you’d like more information about our final recommendations on these systems, please drop us an email and we’ll be happy to provide it).

Although most marketers of high-value services will acknowledge that staying in touch is crucial, it invariably become one part of the marketing puzzle that falls through the proverbial cracks. That’s why we think that every consultant should invest in an automated stay-in-touch program.

What’s right for you? Naturally the answer will depend. Personally, we like the ease and functionality of the web based solutions, although the newest programs that incorporate multi-channel methods are certainly the way of the future.

Mark Satterfield is a founding partner of Gentle Rain Marketing and the creator of the Gentle Rain Marketing System. He is also the author of five books, including Power Prospecting: How to Gain Access to Key Decision Makers, How to Negotiate the Raise You Deserve, and Career Etiquette. Find out more about his services at

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