By Nancy Drexler
As e-mail recipients, we appreciate the ability to stay in touch from anywhere, any time, without having to actually talk to anyone. But at the same time, we resent the many e-mail abusers who invade our space without any consideration for our individual needs.
I'm probably not the only one who ever made a decision not to do business with someone solely because I found the volume of e-mail emanating from that person irksome or offensive.
Knowing when and how often to send e-mails requires a little planning and common sense. And as researchers study what works and what doesn't, they provide information that can help us be more sensible.
When you get to work on Monday morning, is your inbox too crowded? Do you quickly delete all the items that don't demand your attention? Many people do. So, sending e-mails during the weekend, or before noon on Monday morning, is not a good idea.
The same is true for Fridays. Sometimes people are using that time to catch up on lighter chores and responsibilities, and those people may, in fact, welcome your message.
But most of us are hurriedly concluding important business, trying to leave the office with a clear conscience and a clearer desk.
Often, we print out e-mails we don't feel like reading and add them to the junk pile of information we'd like to wade through when we have time (which, of course, we never do). Some of us leave these e-mails for Monday and then delete them then.
And others are so ready for the weekend that, even if recipients do read those e-mails, they've long forgotten their contents before the Monday morning crunch.
Holidays are also ineffectual times to send e-mails. Don't send your missives before or after a three-day weekend. Don't assume anybody wants to think about much during the December holiday season.
And if you can avoid it, don't send important messages during the summer, especially in August. Your thoughts may be read on a beach somewhere, read by an assistant or not be read at all.
Though these are general, common sense rules for sending e-mails, there are exceptions. And these are created largely by the needs of unique markets.
Retail businesses have their selling seasons. Try to sell them something in the period leading up to or during their prime season, and you'll not likely get their full attention.
But speak to them after the season - and address the unfortunate problems they may have faced during the crunch, and the many ways you can alleviate them - and you're likely to find your market more receptive.
If your market is restaurants, you already know how difficult it is to reach an owner or key decision-maker. Many times, these people are only on-site during the restaurant's busiest hours.
For them, it is often easiest to communicate during the small window of quiet time before business peaks. But with markets like these, trial and error is usually necessary.
Interestingly, it remains true today that a higher percentage of men than women are likely to be online during the prime time evening television hours.
If your male prospects or customers bring their work home, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. might be a good time to try to send them an e-mail.
Most e-mails are opened within the first few hours of delivery. Research shows approximately 38% of e-mails are opened within the first three hours of distribution.
You'll want to time your delivery to take advantage of this.
And always remember your time zone. If you want your mail to be read first thing in the morning, and you've got a significant number of prospects on the East Coast, don't send your message at 9 a.m. PST.
In the world of e-mail - as in the world of old-fashioned, direct mail and phone calls - once is not enough.
There are too many reasons why one e-mail could be bounced to a spam folder, deleted, missed, or misread. Even the messages that do get opened can easily fail to motivate a reader to take action the first time.
Selling is a process, and conducting business via promotional e-mails is no different. Though all e-mails must deliver a real benefit and a call to action, the process might be viewed like this:
If part of your e-mail marketing involves sending a regularly scheduled or promised communication, stick to that schedule or promise.
If, for example, your readers expect a monthly newsletter from you, send that newsletter every month. Ideally, send your newsletter not only on the same weekday or date but also at the same time of the day. Timely delivery - or its failure - reflects on your honesty, credibility and commitment to customer service.
Following up is an essential element of e-mail marketing. Responding to individual customer requests is that and more: It is good business practice.
If somebody sends you an e-mail or clicks through on an offer, this indicates an interest in your products or services. If you do not reply promptly, you will not only miss the opportunity, but you will probably lose a customer for life.
Even worse, lost customers will tell others. You are striving for positive publicity, not negative reviews. To avoid this and to ensure you're not closing any doors, make it a top priority to reply to all incoming mail within 24 hours.
How many times have you said something and wished you could take it back? We are human beings, after all.
But unless you like scrambling for the unsend button, I recommend not sending an e-mail when you are angry, bored, gossiping, not sure what you want or have nothing concrete to say.
Don't let e-mails take the place of communications better done in person or by phone. If you've made a mistake and need to apologize, if you want to change direction, or if you're going to fail to live up to a promise or expectation, take responsibility.
If the thread of replies is clogging up your inbox, pick up the phone and work toward a resolution. Subsequent e-mail may be necessary, but one-on-one communication will be more effective and efficient in getting you through the crunch.
And remember, don't feel the need to continue an e-mail exchange when the communication is at an end.
Nancy Drexler is the President of Marketing Moguls and its division, PIMPS (Processing Industry Marketing and Promotion Services). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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