http://www.dreamstime.com/-image27974565A discussion about auto-responders I had with a salesman in a financial services company last week got me thinking…  Is an auto-responder too robotic to build a real relationship?

Is it more of a “repetitive sales message” than a rapport-building tool?

Do auto-responders even make sense for every business?  Or, is it just for companies who are selling products online?

That last question resonated with me since many of my clients aren’t info-marketers.  They need lead generation for high-end products like precious metals, financial services, real estate, and law.

Transactions that require face-to-face interaction.  Not a PayPal address.

As an auto-responder copywriter, I test everything.  So, the analyst in me took over, and I dug a little deeper.

Marketing and sales are, after all science.  Maybe not exact science, but science, none the less.

In order to be scientific about it, I needed to make some direct comparisons between a salesman, let’s call him Bill, “nurturing” leads; and automating the process.

Bill told me he sent a personal introduction, introducing himself, and some company literature or a report.

“I use their name, it comes from me, and I can tailor the message specifically for that lead.”

After our discussion, I broke out three different areas that seemed important.

 

When the Mail Comes from Me, I can Address it Specifically to the Recipient

Years of sales training had taught Bill that the most important word in person’s vocabulary was his or her own name.  And, most times, it’s true.

But, all auto-responders have a mail merge or smart tag function, so you can insert a name.

We’ll call that a wash, and give one point to each.

As I thought about that more deeply though, I realized something else….

The last time you sent mail to your best friend – did it start out “Dear bill”?

Probably not.  Instead, your got right into the action – “Hey, we’re heading out for beers.  You in?”

Besides, everyone knows about automatic mail merge.  Using a name could actually have a negative effect.  It could come across as disingenuous.  And, it certainly doesn’t sound like the friend you want your lead becoming.

One point each, since you can use, or not use the name with either approach.  In my opinion, it works well the first time or two.  After that, and with quick notes, drop it.

Oh, and by the way, I’m able to send mail “From Bill”, so it’s a wash again.

 

Personal Mail is more “Personal”

I asked Bill how sales nurtured the relationship.  He told me, “It depends…”

This was a big one for my friend.  But, the first message he showed me was identical, regardless of what offer the lead signed up for.  This is true for auto-responders as well.  Usually the first email is just an introduction.

When I asked about the second and third email, he told me that was when personalization started.  It depends on how they respond to the first mail.

But, what if they don’t respond?  “I try again later.”  This takes away a point for “personal” mail, since it’s un-motivating to keep sending mail to someone who doesn’t respond.

With an auto-responder system, you know exactly what your leads are looking for (based on where they signed up).  You design a number of mails specifically for their interests (once).  Even if they don’t respond to your first mail, you can still move them through the buying process.

You know as well as I do, email response rates on first contact, is virtually nil.  With auto-responders, you can keep marketing until you hit the right hot button.

Chock up a plus 1 for Auto-responders.

One more thing…  In many cases, the report that sales was sending was the same report that the user signed up for, and already had.

One more point for Auto-responders, since its automatic.

 

A Salesman Can Respond to Their Individual Questions

Bill was right.  There’s no way an auto-responder can answer or respond to a specific question.  One point for personal mail.

But, there is no reason with automatic email, the salesman can’t respond.  Responses to an auto-responder message can go directly to the salesman.  One point.

And, when you consider this “inquiry” might come 2, 3, 8, or 10 messages into the series, once again, automation comes out the clear winner.  One more point.

 

The Results

Let’s total up the score, I count 2 points for “personal” one off mail.  6 points for an automatic lead nurturing machine.

A well-written auto-responder series, with a strong strategy behind it, can be just as personal as a note sent from a real person.  Even if the reader knows the e-mail’s automatic, it’s more valuable because it’s tailored to the exact information they’re looking for.

Not to mention auto-responders are written once, and you use them repeatedly.  And, because you can track and test them, you can improve them over time.  Copywriting is after all, sales in print.

It’s clear, for most businesses auto-responders come out as the lead nurturing machine of choice.

 

Where do Salespeople and One Off Mail Win Out?

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the salesman following up personally – because there isn’t.  But, the proven process of an auto-responder series should stay in place.

Humans (salespeople or otherwise) are also critical to the lead nurturing process when a “new” piece of information comes in.  It’s a powerful sales tool to shoot off a personal email saying, “Hi Susan, I thought you would find this interesting…”

Most importantly, a sales person needs to be the point of contact when a specific inquiry comes in.  When a lead responds in email, person-to-person contact is critical.  And, from that point forward.

 

When are Auto-Responders Better?

If your company isn’t using a laser targeted, addicting and compelling email series, specifically designed to pull your readers through the buying cycle, you’re missing out.  Auto-responders are beyond a doubt the most important piece of your online marketing puzzle.

Whether you are using online marketing for lead generation, or direct sales – The money really is in the list.

But, you have to do it right.  Learn how your company can build a lead nurturing machine that gets your readers so addicted they’ll be you for the next email.

Email marketing is the only way to move your prospects through your sales funnel from browsers to customers.  Without it, you might get a few that trickle through.  But, isn’t a powerful “magnet” going to be much more effective?

 

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