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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Automating personalization . . . Can it be done?

In a blog posting, Matt Handal throws out a trial balloon. Is there a way, he questions, whether he can develop a follow-up program which sends out "personal" emails on a seemingly random but pre-planned schedule.

I won't try to suggest whether his idea can work but it raises a question experienced by most marketers. How can we effectively and practically connect with former clients and previous/current prospects without spending countless hours trying to come up with individualized communications?

Undoubtedly, "follow up" is one of the construction industry marketing and sales mantras.

Initial inquiries, I've been told several times (though I admit never checking deeply the original source of this information), require upwards of nine to 13 "impressions" before they connect. Similarly, the argument is made that if you give up after one, two or three sales calls, you lose because the potential client would probably respond on the fourth.

Perhaps the reason that follow up at this level is successful is that it occurs when there is an exceptional (and rare) reason for such energy and commitment. My sense is that if you persevere and try a fourth or fifth or more time, you have a really good reason for this extra level of effort; or you are a strange person I would rather be nowhere near.

As an example, I certainly kept in touch as a genuine friend with a woman I dated three times who said "Let's be friends", the classic brush-off. But I wanted to be her friend. (We married 13 years after our original meeting and have been together for 16 years now.) Beyond this perseverance being exceptional in the extreme, I hope to only do that sort of thing once in my lifetime.

In other words, exceptional personal connecting and communicating requires exceptional circumstances to justify it -- and if you are an introvert, like me, you aren't going to feel that comfortable going out of your way to push yourself to maintain these links.

However, undoubtedly, follow up and communication is important. But does it need to be personalized and one-on-one? I don't think so.

I would advocate these approaches could make sense:

  • If you can write (or wish to pay someone who can), newsletters, blogs, and published articles (forwarded to relevant people on your list) make a lot of sense, if the content is not overtly self-promotional and focuses on information of real use and relevance to your readers;
  • Speeches and presentations help you reconnect with previous clients as well as new ones;
  • Community involvement and contributions create non-business opportunities for maintaining and developing relationships.
Of course, follow up with personal calls and emails when appropriate and when it is natural.

But I'm not sure I would go to the extent of faking personalization.

2 comments:

Matt Handal said...

Thanks for addressing this. I don't know if I would send someone a newsletter unless they opted in. I get put on these sometimes after I meet someone and I'm not a big fan.

I need to sleep on this idea some more. I don't think your post really addressed the problem I'm trying to solve. I've gotten "beware" comments on my site as well, but I haven't received any clear solutions.

Mark Buckshon said...

Matt, I'm certainly not advocating sending newsletters without a opt-in or permission.

The issue I thought you were trying to address is how to manage communication and follow up with many people on your list with whom you have a degree of relationship/wish to keep in touch, but not a real 'purpose' in connecting.

My point is if you need to resort to phony personalization you probably aren't going to get where you wish to go. Permission-based newsletters, for example, do not require you to be individual, but allow you to keep in touch. They can provoke emails and communications from readers and then of course you can answer directly.

If you wish to send a newsletter to someone you meet, of course, a personal note asking if they wish to receive it is much better than just assuming they want to get it!