Monthly Archives: October 2009

7 Lessons in Email Marketing

I got an interesting email the other day, by someone signing up to the free Churchill Club newsletter.  He hadn’t received a username and password for it and wanted to know why.   I explained by email that it was a free newsletter and you didn’t need one. This of course got me thinking about email newsletter marketing – and what I had learned to date.

When we started sending out a Churchill Club newsletter in early 2006, we (my brother Peter and I) pooled together all our contacts and started sending it out to a list of around 600 people. Over time this slowly deteriorated until it was going out to around just under 300 people by January 2009.

I then made quite a number of changes, and now the newsletter has grown back up to over 900 people and is currently growing organically by at least 10 people a week. So I thought I might share what I had learned to date.

1. Comply with Spam laws

First and foremost, become familiar and comply with the Spam Act . It not that hard and has 3 basic components.

  • Get consent to send a message

  • Clearly Identify yourself

  • Provide the ability to unsubscribe.

2. Make it an easy decision to sign up

We moved the newsletter sign-up to the top left corner of the home page (an optimal offering spot). We highlighted the fact it was free and we made it easy to sign up (you don’t need a username and password). We’ve had over 600 new people sign-up (not including Russians or Romanians) in 9 months without doing any deals or specifically marketing it.

3. Manage your software

Initially we used a Maximiser CRM based system, which sat on our network and caused problems for us as we had to manually sign everyone up and the newsletter system was clunky. We then transferred it all over to the free, web based PHP List which was fabulous as it allowed the system to be run from anywhere (even when I was home sick) and ran problem free.

Finally we transferred it over to the ACAJOOM system (cost around $100) as I wanted automatic integration with the Club’s new Joomla based website. People who signed up for a Club Event or Club Membership are now automatically signed up to the newsletter, but there is still a manual sign-up option on the home page.

If you are managing your own software, make sure you keep it up-to-date. If there are patches available you need to apply them quickly as it prevents your system from being exploited by others.

4. Email Construction

One of the early things I found was that although its useful to use HTML to make a newsletter pretty, don’t get too carried away. Just like web pages can appear differently to people depending on what web browser people are using (let alone Windows v’s Mac issues). Email clients also make things appear differently. I try to use basic HTML for the newsletter and not more cutting edge technologies such as CSS as its just easier to control the appearance.

I also found out the hard way not to embed images into the email, instead have the images sourced from your website and linked to from the email. Images embedded inside an email dramatically increase the size of your mail out (plus slow it down) and increase the chance things will go wrong.

5. Keep your list tidy

For every genuine subscriber I have roughly 5 Russian spammers sign up. On an almost daily basis I log in and delete anyone who hasn’t a). confirmed their subscription, b). Has a Yahoo, Hotmail or GMail account and c). has a dumb name such as “GanjaBoy60 <p57o48k.@gmail.com>” . Actually this problem has now become worse in recent times and I’m now investigating ways to automate things using a CAPTCHA solution or a Bad Behaviour plugin.

I also make sure I delete any subscribers immediately whose email bounces. I like my current 925 to be a real 925 and I don’t want to have to double handle bounced emails.

6. Make it regular

Initially I used to send out newsletters just when I had something to say. After a while I found this adhoc proposition didn’t really cut it. Most people need to see a marketing message multiple times before they recognise what they are seeing (I believe the TV rule of thumb is 9 times before awareness starts). I now send newsletters out every week regardless. Tuesday is the day, just after lunch. I like Tuesday’s as it gives breathing space before a Thursday night event (occurring roughly ever other week), plus I feel that you are more likely to get read on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Note I haven’t validated this yet by moving the email around and tracking stats on how many people open it (but I could!).

7. Value Proposition

So despite the fact I am sending out a weekly email saying “come to our events”, that content doesn’t change much on a weekly basis (boring!) I therefore need to provide value to get people to open and or read the newsletter . So I decided to provide value in every email, along with the event marketing.

Every time I have a new event report, 22 plus times a year, I put the event report in full in the newsletter. Giving away this free knowledge is clearly valued as I get feedback almost every week saying a variation on “fantastic stuff”. I know that our newsletter is getting forward to to others and has unique content in a crowded market place. The value proposition is clearly there. On weeks where I don’t have something new to put it, I put in teasers to older content people may have missed with links back to our website. This content can also be accessed for free.

I’m figuring that, like TED , if I provide quality information for free, I will increase the numbers turning up to Churchill Club events to get it first hand plus enjoy the networking, and grog.

It seems to be working.

What happens after failure….

This is a video of a speech I did in June this year on corporate failure at AIMIA.  Rather than talk about climbing back up, or just hanging on the cliff, I decided to talk about what happens when you actually fall off and your business fails. It was probably a bit too candid.  Its not about the legals or the accounting side.  It about that thing that never gets talked about.  What do you, the entrepreneur, do before, during and after.

How to deal with bad stuff in real time

Couple of non-obvious things about tanks (that’s armoured vehicles, not water holding devices).

  1. Unlike the movies, the most likely people you will run into in a tank, are other people in  tanks, who don’t like you.  So you don’t have minor problems, only really bad ones.
  2. Your tanks and the bad guys tanks move very fast, so unexpected things happen really   quickly, and your plans unravel almost faster than you can think.
  3. Despite the fact that they are very noisy environments, communications in a tank are excellent, due to a very robust radio and intercom system.

By now of course you are saying, interesting but so what?

For me the extension to “so what” is “what can business learn from tanks about dealing with bad situations in real time?”

Well the army knows that bad situations are stressful and difficult to understand sometimes, so it has developed a set report that’s used by everyone to cover verbal reporting on bad things.  Its called a Contact Report (because its about being in contact with the enemy!).  In a set sequence you let everyone know what’s happening:  including the exact time of the problem, the location, what the problem is and what you are doing about it. Eg.  “Contact, at 12:00  hours, At grid 123 456, Contacted 3 enemy T72 tanks, Engaged and destroyed, Over

There’s a number of advantages of this.

  • People further up the line get all the necessary information required to plug into their big picture model
  • They also have then enough information to decide whether they should intervene or let you resolve things yourself.
  • If there is corruption of the message, anybody in the communications chain knows exactly which bits are missing.

Of course though there is a fair bit of information to relay, which wouldn’t be much fun if you are really in the poo. Consequently there is a short form of this which just covers the bad thing eg.   “Contact, T72 tanks, Wait Out”.  The person receiving the message writes down the time because he knows that its happening right now.  When you send in the full contact report later – it can then be appended to the message from you with the same time.  This short form of the Contact Report is useful because you are letting everyone know that you have a problem.  Everyone then clears the airwaves because you have priority and if they don’t hear from you again they know why, and have a rough idea of where you were.  In theory help is already on its way.

But back to the business lessons.  I love the cross pollination of ideas from one industry to another and this is how the defence industry deals with real time issues.  Communication with clarity.

In my case I have had system operators (people running big computers)  working at banks around the clock.  And on occasion bad things happened.  But in every case the operators were trained to give a quick verbal report that a problem had occurred, before writing up their full notes later.  We were never, ever surprised by a client ringing up to find out “what the hell is going on?”.  We always looked like we were in control.

I think its a nice little lesson for businesses that want to keep on top their operations, courtesy of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps.

Its the great ideas I want, not just the good ones!

Last week it was my parents something or other wedding anniversary (north of 45, south of 50).  I got my daughter to give her Grandmother a call to say “Happy Wedding Anniversary, thanks for making me possible”.  Anyway we, my daughter and I,  got into a discussion about who my family was.  How could my parents be my family, when my family was my wife and children who live with me?  What I realised, at that moment, was I simply didn’t have the right words in the English language to adequately describe the concepts of my old family and my new family.

Fast forward two hours and I am being told by email by Ben Bickford that the Churchill club should offer a member get member scheme using free event attendance as the lure.  Unfortunately for Ben, I almost immediately said no because I get these type of ideas sent to me all the time.  “You should offer free brown bag lunches”, “you should get Dick Smith speak”, “You should offer weekend workshops”, “You should run breakfasts”, etc etc etc.

These ideas, although great and potentially worthy, are very frustrating for me.  Each idea requires a fair bit of thinking through on how to execute it, whether the execution will impact other programmes, both now and downstream.  Each idea also has inherent costs & risks that should be mitigated wherever possible.  All ideas also have an opportunity cost as I my time is scare resource.  However if I don’t run with each idea, the “offerer” is normally disenchanted “I gave you some good ideas and you just ignored them!”.

But just like the problem with my daughter, I didn’t have the right words to describe exactly what I wanted from people.  The ideas are interesting but they are just not thought through enough for me to act upon.  Although I don’t want a full fledged plan, I want a “little more meat on the bone”.  I want a………  (See I don’t have the words)

So I decided to make some up.  I called it cleverly, an Idea Plan.  Basically half way between an idea and a plan.  So now if someone offers me an idea,  I go back to them asking them to flesh it out a bit more.  If they don’t, I won’t waste time considering it unless its absolutely mind blowing.  Of course there’s no set framework for this fleshing out request as every idea I receive is different.

  • “You should offer brown bag lunches” – My Answer “Cool, could you find a good location for this that will offer us the space free and is close enough to a couple of hundred potential attendees so that they could drop in for lunch?”.
  • “You should get Dick Smith speak” – My Answer “Cool, could you please chase up his PAs details and find out what he would like to speak about – and I will contact him?”.
  • “You should offer weekend workshops” – My Answer “Cool, do you want to do up a web survey to out the best content/format/price plus find and cost up an appropriate venue?”.
  • You should run breakfasts “– My Answer “Cool, do you want to flesh your idea out and get back to me?”

So back to Ben’s idea of the free events as an incentive in a marketing programme.  Ben thinks its a great idea and is happy to be contacted by anyone to be debated.  I don’t really have an opinion though.  And I won’t be forming one until I understand the rough cost of writing  and maintaining the software to do it, as well as how much it will cost to operate the plan assuming different levels of conversion, not to mentin how much revenue it could generate.  i.e.  I need more than just a good idea before I am prepared to spend time thinking about it.   Not asking for a formal business case,  just an “Idea Plan”.

Now I don’t want to be accused of being a blocker or an innovation naysayer, in fact I thrive of innovation.  However its the great ideas I want, not just the good ones, which seem to be in near infinite supply.  This is how I get to the great ideas of others, I let them self select.

By the way, turns out that both my parents had forgotten that it was their wedding anniversary.  And funnily enough, I just didn’t have the right words to describe how I felt about that.

What Warrantee?

A quick story on Warrantee’s.

This happened to me a couple of years ago, but nothing much seems to have changed so I thought I’d share the story.

I purchased a rack mount server (one of the skinny ugly computers) from Dell as well as some software and assorted other bits and pieces.  The very nice man in India helped me configure the server (how much disk space did I want, what operating system etc), as that’s not my forte.  I told him what I wanted, and he told me what pieces I needed.   I purchased.  It wasn’t a big purchase, but a not a small one either.  I didn’t get change from AUD$10K.

The computer had to be built in Malaysia I believe.  Part of that whole Just in Time solution.

After I got hold of it, I attempted installing the Windows server software they also supplied with the computer, but it just didn’t work.  Bugger.  After a week of messing about (how hard is it to install windows?) I eventually gave up and got a consultant in.  Over the course of a couple of days, the consultant spent around $1,00 of my money with no joy either.

I then got back to Dell, who informed me that model computer wouldn’t run that version of Windows, despite the fact they had configured it.  I was told that the consultant wasn’t available as he was on leave or something.

Just as well that I had purchased it with a Next Business Day Response warrantee I thought.

But here’s what “Next Business Day Response” actually means.

  • The next day after me speaking to Dell – they put in an order for new packaging which was built (in Malaysia!) and duely shipped to me.  A delay of just over a week. I of course had not kept the old packaging for a week just in case their product failed.
  • I put the dud computer in the packaging and returned it immediately.
  • One week later they received the computer.
  • The next day, they put in the order for a new computer to be manufactured (they wouldn’t do this until they had received their mistake back as apparently  customers can’t be trusted).
  • Three weeks later I received the new computer, which worked straight away.

My new shiny computer actually took 8 weeks to acquire and $1,000 in wasted consultant fees.

The lessons I learnt from this were:

  1. “Experts” using a system to deliver advice, are not necessarily experts.
  2. Keep packaging until the computer is actually doing the job you bought it for.
  3. Actually have a think about what words in the warrantee mean, and what support you actually need.
  4. Customers are the central focus of every organisation, and the impact of any management idea (like JIT)  should be first evaluated against how it could impact customers.

In this case the problem was Dell, but I must admit I’ve also had unpleasant experience with most of the major vendors.

A Process Approach to Effectively Managing Sales & Marketing

After a long struggle, I now have real ‘cut-through’ in my sales and marketing processes. I’ll tell you the secret…[ Note I wrote this 18 months ago, but only just found it again]

When I looked at marketing texts, they tell me that marketing is about product, price, placement and promotion. Unfortunately, this hasn’t ever helped me because I can’t seem to connect the dots in a useful way between what services I am selling and concepts such as placement.  When I worked in advertising, we always talked about getting “cut through”, which was kind of useful but always only part of the picture. As a process person, what I have always been searching for is a simple, all-inclusive framework inside which I could manage my sales and marketing activities.

I know I am not alone in this, as almost every CEO of a small to medium technology company I have ever met seems to want the same thing.

Finally I figured it out, and it turns out I needed nothing more complex than a spreadsheet to be in full control of my operations. It’s worthwhile noting here though, that this article is about managing tactical level sales and marketing, not the strategic level questions such as “Who am I selling to, what are they buying, why are they buying it and where to next?”.

First, you have to appreciate that all sales and marketing boils down to a number of standard processes, and if you are not engaging in those processes, you have to ask “what the hell am I doing this for?”   The six standard processes are:Sales Flow

  1. Generating Leads – How do I find leads, or how do they find out about me.
  2. Qualifying Prospects – How do I find out if these leads need my products or services, or how do they find if they need me?
  3. Customer Conversion – How do I turn prospects into customers.
  4. Service Delivery – How do I deliver my products or services to generate happy customers?
  5. Re-offering – How do I re-offer my services to happy customers?
  6. Analysis – How do I review what I am doing and make changes where appropriate?

This is the framework that I am working within and each sales and marketing activity fits into one of those processes.  To create a worksheet to then manage my sales and marketing, I create a spreadsheet with each of those processes as a column heading.

Sales Matrix Column Headings

I then enter each of my activities as a row heading. Normally I split them into (now this is just me) marketing activities, being one to many programs, and sales activities, being one to one programs.

Sales Matrix Row Headings

The advantage of this is that on one sheet, in simple form I can now tell what I am up to, and where the holes are.

In my case:
Press releases – An occasional press release allows more people to find out about the Churchill Club.
Website – My website attracts people, lets them find out more about our programs and register for events.
Bi-monthly email – The email doesn’t help new people find out about the Churchill Club but it is the main way I let prospects and existing customers know about what is coming up.
CRM system – Manages all my customer and prospect information so I can analyse what has happened.
Networking – Everywhere I go, I meet people and tell them about the Churchill Club.
Generating notes – As a differentiator, I generate notes for every Churchill Club event, so that attendees have a more rewarding experience.

Mapping how I spend by time (and the Churchill Club’s money) also gives me an immediate fix on where I can make savings and efficiencies.

Remember the framework for managing my sales and marketing that I touched on last week? This framework also lends itself to mapping out what my competitors do.

Although no one else in Melbourne really seems to focus on the same content in the same way as my organisation the Churchill Club, we really compete against anyone else that takes up potential customer time with ideas and networking. So we are competing against a huge list, many of which are free and government-funded.
Mapping Activity into my Sales Matrix
The final thing about this framework is that it lends itself to generating simple but effective KPIs. Consider what happens when I allocate costs and outcomes to the programs. The following image is a drill-down on my networking activities and assumes (for the sake of simplicity) the Churchill Club paid me $2000 to generate sales.

On Churchill Club duties last month, I spent eight hours meeting new people, four hours persuading people to come to events and sending out emails to new people, eight hours delivering events and another two hours sending out the bi-monthly email to subscribers.

As a result, I met eight new people, generated two prospects, delivered a Churchill Club event to 46 people and offered the event to a total of 900 subscribers.

Calculating it out in Excel, it looks like this.
Mapping Costs into my Sales Matrix
Clearly I can see from my framework that trying to generate new customers by meeting people is very expensive. Any program I can find that generates leads for under $91 is a winner.

Spending time working on a prospect is also expensive with only two of the original eight I met being likely to turn up to an event (cost $182 each, not including the initial time).

My time spent delivering the programs was way too expensive for a $33–$44 event. If we were a for-profit we would be going backwards at a great rate of knots.

Finally, it’s clear that sending out emails isn’t actually free at all. When you include my time it’s actually costing about 20¢ per email.  Actually now that I’ve written the above, I quite depressed.  On the bright side, I now have some hard figures to work with to fix the Churchill Club.

So, I am sure that plenty of people will hate my system and point out the flaws, but It’s mine, and I think its kind of cool, In a process-focused technology kind of way.