At first I did not know how to react to the news that AOL and Yahoo were going to be charging companies to guarantee delivery of e-mail. Was I supposed to feel good as a CRM person that a new avenue of message delivery was opening up, or was I supposed to man the barricades as a consumer to protest this invasion of my space?
To bring you up to speed, AOL and Yahoo have announced a partnership with Goodmail Systems, a mass e-mailer, which will guarantee delivery of what we might now call spam through firewalls and spam filters and into your inbox. For a quarter of a penny per, these pillars of the Internet have agreed to drop their, ahh, prohibitions — or maybe the word is inhibitions, though I prefer to call it principles — to let commerce run amuck in an effort to reach the consumer.
Keeping Information Flowing
Perhaps these guys just want to show that they really do care about ensuring the free flow of information across the Internet. You might recall the Chinese government strong arming some of these same companies last month over their search engines’ alarming propensity to deliver the truth, warts and all, to Chinese users. In a country that does not believe in transparency, telling the truth is not a good idea and there are things like the Tiananmen Square massacre that are not fit for domestic consumption.
On the other hand consumption of material goods, many of which are made in China, is so important in this country that even people who don’t want to know about the latest product offers should be force-fed an e-mail stream.
What’s particularly galling is that some experts have started calling this an “e-mail tax” as if those doing the mailing should be seen somehow as the victims of this whole charade. What about the customer, the person being bothered by this stream of unconsciousness? If you compare the four-for-a-penny charge for this service with the cost of direct mail (which I love to throw away unopened) you might get the idea that spammers do not care.
The double speak being generated by the perpetrators is mind-boggling. According to ABC News, a spokesperson for AOL, Lisa Gibby, “said the company will receive incremental payments from the premium service, but any profits will ‘be put back into our effort to fight spam.'” I feel like the AFLAC duck.
In the same article, Richard Gingras, CEO of Goodmail Systems said, “Certification will be used for ‘transactions between businesses and existing customers, not for selling.'” I am sorry, I have tried really hard to come up with an example of an existing relationship that would need help getting an e-mail through a spam filter and the best I can come up with is the relationship between ex-spouses in a really nasty divorce. I can hear it now, Ding! You’ve got a subpoena!
Of course this is about selling.
OK, so I am a CRM guy and you’ve probably read this far to see what the CRM angle is so here it comes: we are over-using it. We increasingly use CRM as a blunt instrument to go after customers; we are making the same kinds of mistakes with CRM that previous generations in broadcast mode made without it. We are caught in the delusion that if we just try a little harder, become more efficient, and broadcast to more people that we will get the returns we want, but we won’t.
The Selling Game
We’ve reached a point of diminishing returns for broadcasting unsolicited offers. Customers are too individualized, they know this, and they expect to be treated accordingly. For the foreseeable future if you want better sales you’ll need to start with better inputs to the sales process and that means more qualified prospects. That idea scares a lot of people because it implies asking a lot of open-ended questions about lifestyle, preferences and needs; moreover, the results are hard to quantify and even harder to calculate an immediate return on.
Too often we think of selling as a hierarchical activity like football. In football you huddle, call a play, and march down the field against the opposition to a goal. But marketing and selling is much more like basketball where you play a strategy game even when you don’t have the ball. Players run the fast break, set picks and go up for rebounds without knowing if they will get the ball or get to score.
Scoring is relatively easy in basketball, that’s why a basket is only worth two points. Basketball is like marketing-centric selling; it’s all about the set up — getting the ball, getting to your end of the court, and getting the ball into the hands of an open player who can make a fifteen-foot jump shot. In basketball, the team that plays the best fundamentals provides the best inputs into the scoring process and usually wins.
Will certified e-mail help companies sell more? I doubt it. The best use I can think of for certified e-mail would be for inviting potential customers to online forums to tell marketers exactly what they really think. That would provide us with the fundamentals we need to improve the selling process.
Denis Pombriant is a well known thought leader in CRM and the founder and managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s latest white paper, Adding Sales to the Call Center Agenda, summarizes his recent research in the call center industry. In 2003, CRM Magazine named Pombriant one of the most influential executives in the CRM industry. Pombriant is currently working on a book to be published next year. He can be reached at [email protected]