Why B2B Email Marketing MUST send from your ERP in 2021.
If you are reading this paper you have likely already conducted any number of mail marketing campaigns for your company. If you have been rolling your own campaigns then you already know how much work is involved and how complicated things can become very quickly.
For early stage startups and small companies, the obvious alternative is to use an online email marketing service such as Mailchimp. MailChimp is an excellent email marketing platform designed with small companies in mind and deserves its reputation as one of the best companies online services for small companies.
As you company begins to grow into a small SMB and your email campaigns grow in ambition and scope they will also be growing in complexity. A lot of that complexity is a part of the growing pains associated with growing a business. You have more employees whose jobs are increasingly specialized. A task that used to take a couple of hours using Microsoft Word and Excel now requires a dedicated part-time or even full time employee.
It is now becoming more difficult to keep up with the number of people that are being added to your email lists. And keeping them up to date now requires several people in different parts of your company.
You are not at the point where you should consider moving both your company and your email marketing from the mail merge feature in Office or the more sophisticated features that Mailchimp and begin to integrate your email marketing with the rest of your company. It's time to start considering the move to an ERP platform for your business.
This paper will discuss how to create email marketing campaigns which are integrated across your entire company using an ERP platform and the advantages this approach has over using an online service such as MailChimp.
Table of Contents
Click a headline to go directly to the section.
A Gentle Introduction to ERP & Email Marketing Services.
2) ERP vs JBOS (just a bunch of online services)
Considerations for using online services
The mobile app trap and your company's information
Advantages of ERP platforms
3) Modules Used for Email Marketing
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)\
So what is CRM?
Web Publishing Module
Mailing List Module
Tracking and analytics
4) The Importance and Use of Email
Reaching the Right People
Human memory and strategic reinforcement
5) Email Campaign Management
Creating Effective Emails
Building Subscription Lists
Avoiding dark patterns
List creation tools
Email in the Sales Process
A Gentle Introduction to ERP
Odoo is an example of ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. As you might have guessed, ERP was developed for Enterprise companies to centralize and connect all of the different functions and processes in a company together into one system.
ERP systems tend to be vast in size and broken into different modules for managing different aspects of a company. So, for example, there are modules for Production, Human Resources, Accounting, Payroll, Shipping, Warehousing, Procurement, Billing etc. These modules are often very large and complex in their own right and almost can be thought of as separate stand alone applications. The difference is that all modules share a single, or single set of databases. This means that if a record is created for a product, employee or a customer, that record is shared between all modules. This makes it possible to monitor and manage the company as a whole and allow management to see everything happening across the entire company. At the same time each department or division will have specialized tools and see the same company from the perspective and context of their department. So each module can be thought of as a whole, looking inward, and also as a part of a larger whole looking outward.
Until recently, ERP software companies have focused almost exclusively on Enterprise customers and many SMBs had never heard of ERP. This is changing rapidly. The new generation of ERP platforms that have emerged in the last decade have been designed from the ground up for both SMBs and Enterprise customers.
It is always painful when a company changes the way they do something. Employees are expected to learn the new system. Information needs to be transferred from the old system to the new system often by having to convert things from one format to another. And all of this has to be done while still doing day to day work without it affecting production or services to customers.
As a general rule it is better to make small changes rather than big changes. Thankfully ERP is design to be introduced in stages. This is the beauty of using a modular system. A company can begin by replacing the software used by a specific department that is experiencing more growing pains than others. As the company grows and its needs change it can continue to add modules.
Most companies find that once they have adopted one or two modules, a network effect kicks in and the value of using an integrated platform for their entire business more than offsets the short term pain of moving to a new system or the loss of a few favorite features that may not be available yet in their new ERP system.
It is worth mentioning that even if your company is not yet feeling growing pains that require immediate triage, moving to ERP for managing email marketing campaigns is a relatively painless way of introducing ERP into your company. It can be thought of as a gateway drug, giving employees time to become familiar with the new system before replacing a mission critical part of infrastructure that could potentially cause disruption during the transition.
Consider Email Marketing Services
Comparing an Email Marketing Service to an ERP platform is like comparing Apples and Oranges. They are both fruit, but that's where the similarities end.
Services such as Mailchimp are designed to be an all-in-one platform for email marketing campaigns. They include a stand alone customer relationship manager (CRM), tags and list segmentation, personalized email, analytics, signup and unsubscribe pages, landing pages, A/B testing, reports etc. It's all packaged together with many things that are under the hood which many people may not be as familiar with including managing backend details and settings which improve the chances of your email being delivered and opened without your company internet domain being blacklisted or email ending up in the Spam folders of recipients.
Everything that an all-in-one email marketing service can provide can also be done in ERP but will require some additional set up and planning which we will discuss in detail below.
All-in-one always sounds great when you are small, when you have limited manpower and you want to put all of your energy into building and launching a great product or service. But once that is done and you've landed your first customers, many of the decisions that all-in-one services made for you, as part of the service that used to be liberating will begin to feel limiting. It's time to learn how to execute and do all sorts of things that you probably have never heard of before. There is a learning curve involved, but this is part of building a successful SMB.
If this was the only difference between email marketing services and ERP most people would choose the email marketing service. But this is where ERP is just getting started.
ERP vs JBOS (just a bunch of online services)
So far we have only considered the use of a single specialized online service. There are specialized online services for almost every aspect of your business from accounting, billing, web hosting, human resources etc. It is tempting to sign up for multiple specialized online all-in-one services to manage all information in your business.
Considerations for using online services
One consideration that we will talk about in more detail below is cost. Each individual service is presented as being a good value and if you were only using a single service this might be true. But these services are not as cheap as they might seem at first blush. If you subscribe to multiple services including email, hosting, email marketing, invoicing & quotations, human resources, accounting etc. the costs quickly add up.
The second issue with online services is long term stability. Most specialized internet service companies have been funded through venture capital. The business model for such companies is simple, build as fast as possible and go public or exit by selling to a bigger company. Sometimes that is good, but often it means major changes to the service and in many cases companies are bought for their teams not for the service they offer and their new parent company simply shuts down the service. This is not much of a problem when a company is small, but as you grow it will become a concern, especially if you are looking to sell your own company in the future.
The mobile app trap and your company's information
One of the core principles of Apple's iOS operating system for the iPhone is that each third party App is a silo, cut off from other apps on your phone. There are good reasons for this policy from a security standpoint, but at the expense of crippling the platform and its potential. If each app is a silo then the phone is just a bunch of apps. The parts will always be parts and they can never become greater than their sum.
When you subscribe to online services, each service is an island, surrounded by concertina wire atop sandbags and great white sharks with bad attitudes patrolling the shallows. If each department in your company uses a different online service, the information in each department is locked up in a bunker on one of these separate islands. It is hoped that the departments in your company are trying to work together as a single company rather than each being a separate gulag in an archipelago. Why would you want to balkanize your company within your own company?
This is not meant as an indictment of any of these companies. As a general rule they were founded by brilliant passionate people who are doing everything in their power to be the best damn shark guarded island in their island chain. Such services are great for small startups who don't have time, money or experience to provide these services in-house. But for newly minted SMBs they quickly become barriers, inhibitors that will hold you back.
Advantages of ERP platforms
Information flows through a company in the same way that it is organized. In a kitchen table startup, information flows easily between a few people without the need of formal organization, job titles or defined duties. Each person has their strengths and work is divided accordingly. This type of structure works well with up to ten or twelve people.
Once the number of people twenty or more, egalitarian adhocracies begin to break down. This is because the workload now includes enough work in a single category to require specialization. This results in employees who are specifically hired to be dedicated accountants, or system administrators, or salesman. It is at this point where companies need specialized tools to handle specific categories of work. This is when online services or stand alone desktop apps make sense. Information still flows easily between people, and if you have one or two people running email marketing campaigns who are using a service like MailChimp it is easy for them to obtain information they need from others in the company to run their campaigns.
As time goes on the company grows until there are multiple people working together in a single specialized category. This is the beginning of the company being divided into separate departments. This is a critical stage in a companies development because the company is now is too large for everyone to know everyone and what they are doing. But information still needs to flow between different groups of people who now only have a rough idea of what is going on in other groups. This is when stand alone applications and specialized online services begin to show their limitations.
A customer record is needed for multiple departments in a company. Sales people will need contact info for sending quotations and marketing, billing will need it for issuing invoices and tax receipts, and shipping will need to know where to deliver purchases. Each department needs access to that record and the ability to add and change information. Those changes need to be shared by everyone in the company working to complete a purchase. If a company is using different standalone applications and online services, that customer record will need to be updated in each location every time there is a change.
This problem of maintaining multiple duplicate records can be a nightmare for companies. An extreme example of this problem is when banks merge. Until recently it was extremely difficult to reliably export, convert and export data between different database systems. We once saw a bank which maintained four different computer terminals on every desk. Each terminal was connected to a different database system which had belonged to other banks which they had now merged with. Employees not only had to create separate records on each of these systems, the date, name and address fields were completely different in each system. Each of the four systems stored a different version of the same record in different formats.
This is an extreme example, but every time you store the same information in more than one place you are making more work for your employees and run the risk of introducing errors.
Put another way, that customer record should be located in a place where all departments who need it can access it. At the same time, each department needs to use that record in different ways and in different contexts. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
ERP platforms solve this by creating a centralized record that is accessible and updated by different modules. Each module is designed to meet the specific needs of different departments. This approach ensures that everyone is using the most up to date version of any record. This gives a company the best of both worlds. Each department works with applications that meet their specific needs and the company as a whole shares information across all departments.
Modules Used for Email Marketing
There are many ways of leveraging ERP for running email marketing campaigns. Information used in a campaign may be pulled in from customer service, page views on the company web site, mailing lists created from name cards collected by the marketing department from a booth at a trade show etc.
We will discuss only three of the most often modules used for email campaigns; CRM (customer relationship management) module, the email mailing module and the web publishing module.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
CRM is a killer app that can mean the difference between growth and stagnation for a company. And yet, I have never found a description of CRM that doesn't induce near instant slumber. This is largely due to ERP's origins in the Enterprise. Enterprise software is notorious for turning anything, no matter how interesting it may be, in to bland, tasteless paste. This is no accident. it is an institutional defense mechanism for middle management in very large organizations. If your job sounds technical and important but is wrapped in so much jargon that no one can understand it, your job will be safer.
It is especially important for SMBs to understand this because every time something obvious is converted into jargon, it becomes a layer of abstraction that obfuscates. Modern life is a mountain built of abstractions -- one piled on top of another. Each abstraction blurs what was once clear, and blunts what was crisp, sharp and distinct.
The line between managing customer information, and managing the relationship that that information represents is not always clear. CRM can be used as little more than an address book for accounting, marketing and order fulfillment. This is a mistake. Customer relationships should be part of organizational or institutional knowledge and memory. Knowing who your customers are, what they need and when they will likely need it is something that is built up over time, such information must be curated and kept within the living memory of people working in the company.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was in business for nearly 450 years (1570-2017). As a company who made bells for churches and public buildings, including Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in the United States, customer relationships spanned many generations
“Bell projects take a long time, so churches commit to new bells when the economy is strong and then there is no turning back. We are just commencing work on a new peal of bells for St Albans after forty-three years of negotiation. That’s an example of the time scale we are working on – at least ten years between order and delivery is normal. My great-grandfather visited the church in Langley in the eighteen nineties and told them the bells needed rehanging in a new frame. They patched them. My grandfather said the same thing in the nineteen twenties. They patched them. My father told them again in the nineteen fifties and I quoted for the job in the nineteen seventies. We completed the order in 1998.”— Alan Hughes, Master Bellfounder, “So Long, Whitechapel Bell Foundry” (2016)
These are the kind of long term relationships that are the bread and butter for many businesses. CRM should be used as an aid in helping to organize and manage such information, but it should not be considered a static cold database of facts to be interleaved into email marketing campaigns or read coldly by a customer service rep in a call center who treats each customer like, as Lee Kwan Yew (the founder of modern Singapore) called "so many digits in the machine".
So what is CRM?
At this point you might still not be clear about what CRM software does. Most of the introductions to CRM we found on the Web weren't much help. One intro described CRM as "an atomistic real time vision", which leads me to suspect they don't know what CRM is either.
If this were a spy novel, you could think of a CRM record as being a dossier of all information that an organization knows about a suspected terrorist, or in our case, a sales lead or customer. This could include anything imaginable from basic contact information, links to other information online, or even their shirt or hat size (which is quite useful if you need to send promotional t-shirt or you are selling hats).
Information that goes into a record will come from a wide range of sources. These include emails, information from online forms, notes and information collected during customer service calls or chat. If might come from a customer's website, their twitter or facebook feed, a product review or news story. From within your company there is a lot of information that other ERP modules are collecting about customers including pages and products they have viewed on your web site. An example you will likely be familiar with is Amazon product pages which always include recommendations of products based on your browsing history, and products others bought after viewing this product. Anything from how a customer likes to take their coffee to what animal year they were born in, in the Chinese Zodiac; anything that might be relevant to building and maintaining your relationship with that person or company can be stored in CRM.
One of the most successful sales engineers I've ever known kept a spreadsheet of all of his customers for knowing what gifts to give them for Mid-Autumn Festival. A new customer who showed potential might get the traditional box of mooncakes. Long time customers also got a box of tea from southwest China and his best customers got a personal visit and the most coveted gift of the season, a box of bound live blue crabs. He kept extensive notes about his biggest customers, including the names of wives, pets and what colleges their children were attending. He said that knowing where a customer's kids were going to school deeply impressed people. Everyone is proud of their children's accomplishments. He kept this information in a private spreadsheet, which he took with him when he changed jobs. If that spreadsheet had been stored in a CRM system, everyone in the company would have had access to this information and be able to continue his tradition even if that salesman moved to another company.
Web Publishing Module
The purpose of ERP web publishing modules is to remove every place where information is duplicated. All of the information provided on your website should be generated directly from product and customer records in different ERP modules. This stream lines workflow across the company and ensures that all information is accurate and as up to date as possible.
Company websites can vary wildly. At one end of the spectrum are landing pages which are little more than a business card for a company, providing a logo, short description and contact information. Next up are informational sites which include detailed product and service information as well as material such as product user manuals and other documentation. Moving up the ladder are online shops where customers browse and purchase things. This might be selling merchandise like Amazon, booking rooms in hotel, ordering pizza for delivery or purchasing internet domain names. At the very top of the heap are websites which are themselves a product or service; a webapp.
Any of these types of websites from the most humble landing page to the most complex online application could benefit greatly by being integrated into you company's ERP system.
A simple email link can automatically turned into a sales lead in the CRM module, or be routed to a help desk by creating a trouble ticket so that requests and filled and problems quickly resolved.
If prices for products sold online are generated directly from your ERP system, when you change the price for an item in inventory and the price on the website is updated automatically. When a customer makes a purchase, the system will create an order that is sent to order fulfillment and shipping. If a customer needs assistance, a webform that asks what kind of problem they have will ensure that the trouble ticket created will be sent to the correct department.
Your website is a goldmine for collecting customer information and patterns which are invaluable to creating personalized email marketing campaigns which are effective and enhance a company's relationship with customers.
Mailing List Module
Odoo offers a slick and full featured mailing list module that is on par with with MailChimp. The difference is that with MailChimp all information needs to be collected from different places in your company and than imported into MailChimp.
We will discuss this in more detail below, but every email that your company sends is in part a marketing and branding message, for your domain name, to the signature (sig file) attached to the bottom of each message.
Just as discussed in the previous section about the Web Publishing Module, the purpose here is to avoid maintaining information in multiple places. Email lists should be generated directly from customer records. Invoices, quotations and customer service emails should all pull information from the modules used by those departments. Email lists are no different.
Odoo provides a rich interface for creating HTML emails that pull information from and integrate with other ERP modules in your company. It's all there, Drag & Drop, WYSIWYg, button creation, themes and templates. Using templates is almost unavoidable these days if you want to ensure that email will look good on all sizes of screens from mobile to desktop.
If you go this route it's probably good to use their interface as it is designed to make integrating your email with information pulled from Odoo modules across your organization.
We will talk about many of these features in more detail below, but again Odoo has all of the features you'd expect to find or need for managing sophisticated marketing campaigns.
Contacts from other email software can be easily imported using a CSV (Comma Separated Values) formated file. Your master email list can be segmented into multiple lists to make it easier to send different messages to different target groups. The reply-to field can be set to ensure that when customers reply to emails they will be read and followed-up. I've never understood why so many companies configure reply-to as a dead-letter box. Every interaction with a customer should be treated as an opportunity, not spam. Of critical importance for legal compliance in both the EU and the United States are mechanisms to opt out and be removed from lists. For really sophisticated campaigns Odoo supports A/B testing used to test multiple messages and designs to see which is more effective. Finally there is scheduling which gives control over when a message will show up in a receiver's inbox.
Tracking and analytics
Odoo provides a full spectrum of tools to monitor, track and analyze emails sent in campaigns. This includes tracking of undelivered email and measuring key performance indicators (delivery, open rates, click and bounce rates).
All information collected can then be analyzed to determine conversion rates, expected revenue and money generated from each of your campaigns.
The Importance and Use of Email
Email is a medium, not only in the sense of a conduit for information in a specific format, but also the way Marshall McLuhan used the word when he famously said, "the medium is the message". A message, for McLuhan, was an innovation that changes the scale, pace or pattern of something. So a hammer, which is an innovation that extends the arm and hand is a kind of medium, just as newspapers, television or radio are.
Humans are natural storytellers. We can't stop ourselves; it is how the brain stores memories and forms relationships between them. Stories are how we communicate with each other. They are the way we understand how the world works. Taken together we can understand email as an extension of our brain to tell asynchronous stories. Email isn't instant like an IM (instant message), or telephone call. Email is a story told that is sent to one, or to many, somewhere else in space, at some time in the future.
Email is also a tool that delivers stories that, if opened and read, will result in change. That change may be quickly forgotten, or reinforce other memories by creating new paths that allow the brain to find that memory. The change might be favorable, and lead to the purchase of a product or service. It might also be negative. Being bombarded by the same vapid message over and over can backfire.
For example, a recent marketing campaign by an online grammar checking service is saturating online media at the time I am writing this. It hits you seemingly every time you open a browser. Blitzkrieg might be a good way of
invading a country, but a pitiless barrage of multimedia featuring swank ethnically ambiguous millennials lost in delight as they correct their poor grammar is something best done in moderation.
The campaign has certainly provided enough exposure anyone to remember their brand but then kept going until it becomes annoying. Needless to say, I probably never would have been their customer to begin with. But now, I will go out of my way to dissuade anyone who mentions it from becoming their customer as well. Marketing and sales is a tightrope walk over a roaring waterfall breaking on jagged rocks below. You need people to see your story enough times to form a favorable long term memory, but not so many times it results in a negative impression.
General Sherman-like marketing campaigns are clumsy blunt tools. Marx lumped everyone together into what he famously called the "masses". It is the kind of simplification that economists and physicists like to make when considering large scale phenomena which statistically behave in certain ways at scales. But the world of mass-markets, mass-media and mass-behavior is now a relic of the first stage of the industrial revolution. The masses are now made up of multitudes who each expect to be treated as distinct individuals. Email is a perfect match for such a world, if it is used carefully and correctly.
Email exists in the place where private and shared spaces intersect. But it is emphatically not an anonymous public space. Email that treats the medium as a public space or people as a mass-audience made up of interchangeable anonymous monads is rightfully called spam.
For email to be effective it must demonstrate that there is a relationship between sender and receiver, a shared history that connects them, and the tactic understanding that the sender knows the receiver, who they are, what they do, and hopefully, what problems they need help solving.
Mass messages are easy and cheap. Creating and ensuring that messages are that target specific people and their specific needs is difficult. As described in this paper, the tools are available to create effective campaigns. If used properly they can be a powerful addition to your marketing arsenal.
The hard fact is that office workers are bombarded with far too many emails. The numbers speak for themselves:
We ask too much of email. We use it as an extension of our hard drives by emailing things to ourselves to make them easier to find later. We use it to sell things to people, to provide security alerts, demands from management to attend meetings, messages from the school your child goes to notifying you of their behavior or performance. We use it to send jokes, images, questions, replies to questions; and announcements and invitations for everything from a friend's wedding to a promotion from a fast food chain.
If you had to print out every message you create, put it in an envelope, write a postal address on it, pay for postage and then physically take it to a place where it will be picked up and delivered, you would send a lot less email and you would put a lot more thought and care into what you send. Unless you are involved in a kidnapping, how many physical letters with two or three words do you think you would send? Now, how many emails have you sent this week with one sentence or less?
All email is the same size, shape and color until you open it. This makes it far more difficult to evaluate. Physical email is a lot easier to sort through. You can literally do it blindfolded. If it's smooth and glossy it's likely marketing and advertising drivel. If it is paper with a cut our address box or printed postage it is likely a bill or something official. If it has a physical stamp, a hand written address and a plain envelope it is likely from a real human being. This kind of sorting is far more difficult with email.
Other than formal invitations to events such as weddings or parties that include an R.S.V.P., physical email is seldom used to coordinate activities and make decisions. Asynchronous communications are a clumsy and slow way to reach consensus and make decisions. A decision that might require a short phone call can take days via email. Many thought that such things problems could be resolved using group chat systems like Slack, but they only seem to make things worse. Gossip and smalltalk is fine when it takes place a couple times a day around the water cooler or when getting a cup of coffee. But when the water cooler follows you around wherever you go and you feel that you need to read email even when you are in the toilet then it is not only a waste of time but productivity killer and detrimental to people's health.
Keep this in mind when running email marketing campaigns because in many cases you are sending email into dysfunctional workplaces where the last thing people want or need is to have to add to their cognitive load by dealing with /another/ email. Even the most powerful metrics can't track a person's mental state; how tired, frustrated, overloaded or beyond caring they might be. However, it is possible to read between the lines, with a little empathy and the right kind of eyes.
This state of affairs is an untenable and even impossible situation. Rather than throw up your hands, or throw in the towel, you can heed Hippocrates' imperative that if you can do no good, at least do not harm. No matter how bad a situation is, you can always do something, even if it is very small, to make things better.
Have a little empathy for the overloaded. Always put yourself in the shoes of the person reading your message. Try to imagine the context that your message will be read in. The receiver might be happy to hear from you, but has a lot of other pressing things to attend to as well. Imagine reading email while trying to work in an open plan office with all of the distractions and demands on the reader's attention. Imagine the reader sitting in a soulless cubicle crammed with stacks of paper and plastered with post-its. Now imagine that person scanning through an inbox with hundreds of unread messages and seeing your message sandwiched in-between messages from management, colleagues, and home. Imagine that your email is competing with emails from dozens of other companies trying to sell you something. Imagine that email is competing with the Slack channels, Facebook feeds, and a steady stream of SMS messages demanding immediate action. Now look at what you are about to inflict on their inbox, show some empathy and rethink your email from their perspective.
Minimize the overload by not abusing jargon. Using jargon and tells people that you are an insider and professional. It is a means of rhetorically establishing yourself as an expert in a subject or specialty. But there is a cost. Jargon and buzzwords are an abstraction that puts your message at a distance from the reader. It is no longer immediate, you have to parse jargon-speak and translate it into concepts that you use in your daily life. This turns off everyone who is not an insider. It is also exhausting. When your inbox is full-to-bursting and it's the end of the day and you are tired and just want to go home, the last thing you want to do is have to sit and think about what you are reading. When you open and scan and email to determine if it's worth reading and see that the text is littered with buzzwords and jargon you are far less likely to engage with it.
Empathy is not conducive to automation with one big exception, scheduling. Rather than immediately posting whatever brilliant missive you have composed, pause and think about when the best time of day, or what day of the week or even what the weather will be like when your message arrives in an inbox. If a message is delivered after someone has left the office for a holiday weekend, they are less likely to see it before they come back to the office.
Email that requires time and effort to read will not be welcome at the end of the day when you are tired. It is worth doing your homework to find the best times to reach people.
Email scheduling is included in Microsoft Outlook but requires an add-on in Gmail. For email marketing campaigns, scheduling is available in both Odoo and MailChimp.
Reaching the Right People
Anyone who has tried to make a cold call in person or by telephone will understand this. The whole purpose of imposing glass doors flanked by guards and cavernous echoing lobbies with a lone desk manned by an always stylish but unflappable receptionist is to keep you the likes of you and me out. In the 19th century, voluminous paper correspondence triggered an allergic response that evolved into mail-rooms and nested layers of secretarial scrutiny to ensure your letter will never reach its intended target. These are the modern equivalent of moats and drawbridges.
Email, on the other hand, is a communication medium which is still far too new, by institutional time reckoning, to have evolved equivalent defense mechanisms. Spam filters are the first crude proto-organism which will eventually morph into a sophisticated and ruthless keystone predator to filter out all unsolicited email. But don't hold your breath, we are still years, if not decades away, from email's equivalent of a receptionist's practiced blank stare.
Fortunately, a lot of email can still easily bypass organizational charts and directly target the persons in an organization who can make the decision to purchase your product, authorize the budget for your product, use your product, and install & maintain your product in their organization.
Purchasing decisions within an organization are seldom unilateral, even if they are on paper. Management often does not have the technical knowledge to know what solutions are viable, on the market, who provides them the functional requirements within the organization and the budget that is available to solve the problem.
When it becomes obvious that an organization needs to purchase an outside product or service, people throughout the organization will provide input that goes into that decision. If everyone in the organization is aware of your product or service and how it will solve their problem, the higher the chances your will make that sale.
Different people in an organization will look at your product or service from a different point of view. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all email. The people managing the budget don't care about the technical details of the product, all they care is if what they are buying will solve the problem and how much it will cost. Those in the organization who will actually use the product don't care about how much it will cost, they only care how it will make their lives easier and enable to get their jobs done more efficiently.
CRM makes it possible to break contacts into multiple mailing lists that provide different descriptions of your product or service from different point of views. This will go a long way to ensure that potential customers know about you and that your product or service can solve their problems.
Human memory and strategic reinforcement
Marketing and building brands is based on established understanding of how humans remember things. Short term memory is a bit like the receptionist in a company lobby, it quickly forgets anything that isn't important, and there is precious little that will impress a receptionist. However, after being exposed to the same thing multiple times, preferably with each exposure being slightly different and in a different context, pattern recognition routines in the cerebral cortex will take notice and eventually create a medium, and then, long term memory. It's a numbers game.
This might be good enough to sell microwavable frozen dinners in supermarkets, but for purchases larger than a pot pie, it is often necessary for multiple people within a company to have seen your product or service enough times to form a memory. Each of these people will be in different departments and will provide input to management about large purchases. If a CEO of a company takes notice of your product, they might mention it to a department head, who will then call in their geek in their basement who knows about "technical stuff". Ideally you want people at each level of that chain to have at least heard about your product.
For this reason, every communication and contact that someone has with your company contributes to both brand and product recognition, but also will play unrecorded but crucial role in decision making within a company. Email marketing campaigns would do well to carefully craft a range of different messages for different people in the organizational chart and ensure the right message is getting to the right person.
If this sounds impossibly complex and difficult to do, it is. Online email marketing services like MailChimp have all of the tools to be able to design and carry out these kinds of sophisticated marketing campaigns. But that means all of that information will have to be collected and imported into MailChimp. You might do this once or twice but the amount of work required to collect and keep that information up to date is not trivial. I suspect that many of MailChimp’s advanced features are seldom used because of this.
On the other hand, if all of that information had been set up to be pulled automatically from everywhere in you company, this would only have to be done once and that information would be updated automatically after that. This is the power of keeping everything in a centralized system that everyone helps maintain.
B2B Email Campaign Management
Creating Effective Emails
It is not uncommon for companies to treat email as if they were pages on their web site. This is a mistake. Even though email can display HTML formatted text, an email is not a web page and should not be treated as one. You can't do as much in terms of formatting, graphics and interactive elements in email as you can on the Web.
If you must use HTML formatted emails that include backgrounds and complex layout, use a template. Both MailChimp and Odoo provide a wide variety of templates. Creating a complex web-page-like email is not trivial. Emails must be readable on displays that range from a cinematic 4k display, to under powered laptops with low resolution displays, to plain-text email readers running in shell windows to tablets, and all sorts of smart phones, both big and small, under a wide variety of lighting conditions. A fancy HTML email may be completely unreadable when viewed outdoors on a sunny day, whereas a plain text email at least stands a chance of being read. Templates that are included with email mailing software have been tested to work across many different displays and viewing conditions. Odoo provides a templates that provide a comprehensive range of layouts that will at least give your email a fighting chance at being displayable. Use them.
Email should be readable by everyone using any application. Your emails will be read on a wide variety of devices and applications. There are still a significant number of people who use email applications which can only display text. Sending messages to people who can't read your message is a waste of both your time and theirs. Email is designed to include both plain text and formatted HTML, so that it can be displayed in all email applications.
If you are using background colors. Text should be in black on background that can easily be read. Don't color text gray or any other color for that matter. Many email applications use their own code to render HTML and can not display many things that can be displayed in a modern browser. Don't use unusual colors for links and always underline them.
Include the name of your company at least once as text in your email. It's increasingly common for designers to only include a logo which contains the name of the company in the image. Images are invisible to keyword searches which many people use as a primary means of finds email in overflowing inboxes from or about your company. It also means that the reader can not copy and paste the name of your company into notes, documents or another email.
Personalizing correspondence is as old as writing itself and it is effective:
Before the introduction of computers, secretaries used to live in dread of their bosses asking for personalized letters to be sent to a long list of people. Up until after World War II, companies maintained secretarial pools, sometimes with hundreds of typists in large rooms doing nothing by typing out hundreds or even thousands of copies of the same letter with different names and addresses. It was a highly labor intensive process. If you have ever seen a film from before the 1950's and wondered why companies needed so many typists, you now know.
Copies used for distribution within a company and for record keeping were made using sheets of carbon paper that were inserted between two or more sheets of paper. When you CC someone when sending email, it stands for Carbon Copy, a copy made of a document or letter using carbon paper.
Mimeograph machines and later photocopiers provided some relief to typing pools and secretaries making it possible to easily make multiple copies without sending them to a printing shop. But it wasn't until the introduction of stand alone word processors from Wang and DEC that this changed. These were stand alone workstations running word processing software. These were not general purpose computers, you couldn't load or run other software on them. But they were a major step forward from typewriters largely because they had the ability to merge lists of names or addresses and other information together with letters and other documents. When word processing software became available on PC computers in Wordstar and Word Perfect, this function was called mail merge.
The way mail merge worked was to create a document where variables were inserted where a name or address or other information was to be included. You then created a list of those names and the computer would merge the information with the document and then send the document to the printer. The process was repeated until the list was completed. This was a killer app for businesses in the 1980's which resulted in the end of secretarial typing pools.
Personalized email sent to lists is uses this same method and if you use email marketing services such as MailChimp, it is little changed from the 80's. You upload a CSV (comma separated value) file with a lost of names and addresses and MailChimp combines them with a template and delivers each message.
This type of personalization is now available for many other uses other than email and billing. It can be used in popup messages and alerts on web sites and in mobile apps. It can be used in any kind of automated interaction between a customer and a company or service to convey any kind of information from security alerts, network delays and new deposits, comments or deliveries.
Because ERP platforms use centralized data stores for records that are accessed across entire companies, email lists are not a file that is important into the system, but each name and address is a link that pulls that information from a record in the CRM module. This means that email lists will always match the most up to date information in the CRM record. CRM records can be updated from many different ERP modules. When a user changes their email address in their user profile on a website, the CRM record is updated as well. The same goes for changes by customer service representatives updating records during phone calls.
Building Subscription Lists
Even before you launch your first product or service you should be building up a contact and mailing list of people interested in your company. It's difficult to impress how important this is in building and managing your company. It should also be mentioned that the size of your subscription list, along with page views and other metrics are now a standard means of setting a valuation for your company. When it comes time to raise a round of funding or sell your company your subscription list will play an important role.
Building and managing subscriptions is hard, labor intensive work. As we will discuss, this is especially true when maintaining lists which we will discuss in the section on list cleaning. The better your toolchain for working with lists, the easier it will be.
A big mistake that many websites make today is to ask people to subscribe too soon. Give people time to get to know you and your products and services before you ask them to subscribe. We've seen a disturbing number of web sites ask to subscribe or take a survey evaluating their site less than 30 seconds after visiting the site. How can you provide feedback when you haven't had enough time to do more than see the banner?
In general, it is best to give people the option of subscribing at the same time they are doing something else. This includes signing up for an account, making a purchase, adding a comment or sharing content with others.
For example, ask people to subscribe when they make a purchase. The act of purchasing something establishes trust. You have already sold them something. This makes it easier to sell them something else. If what you are selling is a free subscription that will provide them something of value, then your chances improve dramatically. This applies not only for web sites. If you have brick & mortar shops, offer a discount on their next purchase if they subscribe to their list.
A good example of this happened to me when I had moved to a new city and had called the telephone company to install a new telephone line (this was before mobile phones or the Internet). After choosing a plan and placing the order, the sales person asked if we were new to the city. We said yes. She then said that they were selling a new city guidebook at a discount that could help us learn more about the city. Since she had already sold us one thing, making a good pitch for selling us something else was far easier. We bought the book, which served us well for many years.
Another time in the early 1990's, after ordering a suit to me made at a well known tailor's shop in Hong Kong, the tailor showed me a photo album of hollywood film stars, billionaires, prime ministers and presidents from around the world who were all customers. He showed me a fat ledger, written in a neat hand in English that contained measurements for all of these famous people and then showed the entry where my measurements were now in their company. He then gave me his name card with his mobile number and the dedicated mobile number for his yacht, looked me straight in the eye and said, "Now I'm going to sell you three shirts." I laughed, but in the end, he did.
When people subscribe to something they want to know what they are going to get out of it. That is fair. The one thing that you can't make more of is time. There are only so many hours a day any of can spend reading, watching, and listening and there are countless others who want you to read and watch their content. Make the case for why people should spend their time with you instead of elsewhere.
Offer free stuff, an exclusive opportunity or deal. Lucky draws are an oldie but goodie. Provide added value content to subscribers that they can not get from the web site.
Keep things fresh and use your imagination. If your content becomes stale, so will your message. There is no end to this, engaging with customers and reaching potential customers is a core part of running a successful business.
There are no shortcuts in building subscription lists. It is a common misconception that you can buy a third party email list, upload it to MailChimp, create a marketing email and deploy it and you can sit back and wait for sales to come in. Most commercial email marketing hosting companies, including MailChimp are strictly "permission based" or "opt-in". In other words email sent through these services must only be sent to users who have given permission to receive email. You can not use purchased email lists, rented email lists, harvested email lists, or borrowed/shared third party email lists. Further, there is legislation and rules in place to make these practices illegal in many jurisdictions. We will discuss compliance in more detail in another section.
It is possible to purchase targeted email lists from data brokers but this is not recommended and will likely not produce the results you are looking for.
Avoiding dark patterns
In general, the Golden Rule should apply to anything that you do on your website or anywhere in your company. If you find it annoying then others will find it annoying. Sadly we do not live in an age informed by high moral and ethical considerations. Tricks and practices that misrepresent, deceive or trick people are known as dark patterns, a term coined by Harry Brignull in 2010. There are enough dark patterns on the Internet to fill a large volume and new patterns are emerging all the time as older patterns are banned through regulation or become so pervasive that they no longer become effective.
When building subscription lists, it is important to avoid the following patterns:
Always ask, never add someone to a list automatically. This was a serious problem not many years ago. But with new regulations from the EU and to a lesser extent the United States, it is now understood to be wrong.
Requests to add notifications for regular content were so abused that they are now considered SPAM with settings in mobile devices to automatically block them unless they are explicitly turned on. Notifications both in mobile and the desktop are meant to provide alerts to important things that are time sensitive. In order for alerts to be effective they are designed to be intrusive. But if they treated as just one more content firehose they lose their urgency and destroy the feature for things that are time sensitive. If there is a tornado warning in your area or a fire alarm just went off in your home should they should trigger at least a notification, a marketing email announcing a sale on pillow cases... not so much.
Enough with the Pop Ups already. Pop ups are universally annoying and abuse of their use has conditioned people to trigger an automatic glance for the X in the corner to close it fast enough that the content of the popup doesn't even make it as far as short term memory. If content can not at least make it into medium term memory, it can effectively be treated as not having been seen at all. The annoyance you have caused does register and people remember and will result in building a negative impression of your brand, content and services.
Create a few lists and stick don't change them. Abuse of this is what we call the sorcerer's apprentice pattern in which every time you unsubscribe from one list, two or more new lists are created the next day which your are automatically subscribed to. This pattern was pioneered by Facebook, the Voldemort of social media.
List segmentation is the process of sorting emails into different distribution lists. The idea is that each list will provide content specific and relevant to the members of each list.
Each list could be practically anything from persons very large feet to those from a specific place eg. Paris Texas, or interested in a certain class of product eg. sheep's foot landfill compactors. Segments might include what type of customer they are. They might be a prospective customer, a new customer or a repeat customer.
What is important is that whatever the category, it must have a large enough number of subscribers to justify creating custom content for them. But also be careful to ensure that there is enough content to maintain the list. Sheep's foot landfill compactors might generate a lot of new information when a new model comes out, but heavy equipment in this class doesn't change much for years or even decades at a time. In the case of compactors, it isn't likely to be enough content to justify a list. But there may be enough content to maintain a general list about landfill management equipment and best practices.
Self-segmentation is usually part of the process of subscribing where users indicate in a web-form who they are, what they do and what they are interested in.
In this case, it is important to get as detailed information as possible, group together different categories together into a smaller number of lists.
In either case, it is important to strike a balance between providing specific enough information to keep people interested, ensuring there is enough content to justify the list and products and services in the categories being covered.
Remember that lists are actually made up of pointers to CRM records that are maintained by people from different departments from throughout the company. There is a field in each CRM record that lists which subscriptions they belong to. The email mailing list module simply pulls the name and email address for each member from the CRM records and sends them a copy of content created for that list.
By law, Each email requires a link to where they can unsubscribe from a list. This too is done by updating a CRM record.
Once mailing lists are created, segmentation is as easy as adding or deleting a tag from a CRM record.
List cleaning is the ongoing process of ensuring that the information for each subscriber in a list is valid and up to date. When using a stand-alone email marketing service, this can be a non-trivial task and has to be done by hand.
If lists are maintained within and across different ERP modules this work is shared across the company and each department is responsible for maintaining their parts of each record as part of their regular day to day duties. Billing addresses are updated when a customer informs the billing department of a change. Email addresses might be updated after a call with a customer service representative. Sales might add or change records depending on recent purchases.
There are now a lot of tools and tricks available for tracking how emails are received, opened and clicked on. When links in emails are followed to your website, that traffic is tracked as if they were any other website traffic. People understand and accept this. However. When an HTML email is opened, images in the email are stored on a remote server which is then downloaded and displayed. These images, which can be as small as a single pixel can use message id numbers for file names. Every time that email is opened, tracking software can track who opened an email, when it was opened, how many times it has been opened and in combination with Geo IP tracking, the location where that email has been opened. Not a lot of people are aware of this.
Just because you can do something doesn't always make it a good idea. There is a growing amount of pressure on governments to limit or ban this kind of tracking because it is clearly an invasion of privacy. Such tracking can be thwarted by turning off image downloads in email in the browser. And there has been some work to detect when an image is just an image and when it is being used for tracking. Expect more government regulation on email tracking and expect a lot more tools for detecting when you are being tracked. Expect features in email applications to automatically mark messages that including tracking into spam folders.
Abuse of tracking tools will only add fuel to those concerns. Tracking does not automatically mean anything unless you are using that information to do something. If you are not using the information generated by tracking tools then don't use them. If you don't use tracking then browser features and tools that block tracking won't affect your messages.
Some companies only use tracking for messages sent as part of marketing to business email accounts and not to personal accounts. There is no clear cut right or wrong here, so careful consideration should be given if or when these tools are used. It should also be understood that companies will increasingly be required to be transparent about when and how these tools are used and will be held accountable for what they do.
Odoo provides tools for tracking to do all of the things described. Used responsibly, tracking is just like any tool, it can be used responsibly and it can be abused.
Email in the Sales Process
From the perspective of any one person working in a company, it looks like running a company is a series of tasks that are handed to you by one person and when finished given to another person. Tasks may come from someone from higher up the hierarchy than you, from someone from within your department or another department altogether. But if you zoom out it becomes clear that everything that happens in a company is a process structured as a multi-step chain.
Each case a task or step in a process receives input, makes a change and then sends it out as an output which is then received as input in the next step in the chain. This is repeated until the process is complete; for example, a delivered service or product.
Each sales process involves every department in a company either directly or indirectly. Direct involvement in sales might include marketing, sales, billing, production, warehouse, shipping etc. Indirect involvement includes R&D who receive feedback from a purchase that goes into improving the next iteration of a product. It includes human resources who ensure that there are temps hired to fill an order during a holiday rush. It includes maintenance and cleaning staff to ensure that showrooms are pleasant places and that employees are working in a safe and clean environment that allows them to do their best.
Processes are messy. They may look linear and neat and clean on paper but if you took a company organizational chart and a light blinked as each person in the company did something to fill an order, you wouldn't see an orderly progression of lights blink as the order moved through each step in the process. Rather the whole company would look like lights on a christmas tree, all blinking on and off seemingly at random.
It is cheaper to move bits than its. It is cheap to move around information, it is expensive to move around physical stuff. At the beginning of a process it isn't always clear where things will end up at the end of the process. Most activity in a company is figuring out where things will be moved to, or what services will be delivered at the end of a process before anything physical happens.
Marketing tells the world, "We are here! And if you come here we will solve your problems!" Showrooms or catalogs on a website allow people to see what is available for sale. Sales tells a story so that people can imagine how a product will look and function when integrated into their lives. Quotations are generated when the conversation shifts from convincing the customer to negotiation. Billing and payments handle the mechanics of the transaction either through a POS system or a payment system on a website. Only then will the order go to the warehouse who finds the product and hands it off to shipping who ensures it is delivered.
Notice how through this whole sales chain, nothing physical is moved until the last two steps in the chain. Everything else is moving around information.
ERP provides an integrated centralized platform for moving information anywhere within a company. Information moves through a company over a network which connects to a database and creates and changes records.
So far so good but this only gets you so far. A database can be understood as a text file that is broken into records, with one line used for each record. Information in each record is broken into fields for things like names, ids, dates etc. which are separated from each other by commas. These fields are organized according to a schema, a template that defines the order of the fields. All records must be organized in the same order that is defined in the schema.
This approach makes it easy to sort lines (records) and to find specific information. You look for the name field in the schema which tells you it is the third item in each record. If you want to search for a name, you only need to look at the third item on each line. This is great for computers, but not terribly useful for humans.
For this reason we create human readable interfaces that allow us to interact with that information. A spreadsheet is a database that displays records in a grid on a screen, or prints out as a table on paper. But tables have their limitations as well. For this we use documents. A document is a story that explains what something is. For example, a quotation is a document that tells a story of how much something costs using information pulled from a database.
These human understandable stories are what we use to understand and interact with the information in the database. These take the form of web pages with graphical user interfaces and printable documents such as pdfs or MS Word and Excel files.
Before these stories can be understood they placed in context, so that you know what you are looking at and why it was sent to you. Second it needs to be transported via a network, or if it is printed, physically delivered.
The most flexible, universal and general purpose method of doing this is by mail, which uses containers such as envelopes and boxes to hold a message that places something in context along with whatever formatted information that the message is describing. Often the message contains both the context and the information. Other times the information is contained in a separate file using a different format, such as a pdf, MS Word or Excel file or image.
Seen this way, email is perhaps the most critical tool in your company. If your ERP system goes down, email is the tool used to keep things going until it is back online. Email predates the Internet and was designed to work on store-and-forward networks that were made up of computers that are connected to each other several times a day using a modem over a voice telephone connection. In other words, email doesn't even need the Internet to work! Email provides interoperability between different systems that can not talk to each other. Email is human readable and machine understandable. It is everywhere, on every network, every device. It connects you to other people, companies and institutions. Email is a Swiss Army Knife that can handle all of the edge cases that specialized tools such as ERP can't handle.
This has taken us pretty far afield, but it is important to understand how email marketing is just one part of everything else in your company and the most reliable and flexible means of communicating and interacting with customers throughout the entire sales process.