Practical Ecommerce

Autoresponders: Follow-up for Success

Something that I often suggest is that companies give something away on their website. I believe that this is essential even for websites that are primarily ecommerce in nature. The reason is to provide a low-commitment next step, for potential customers that aren’t quite ready to buy. Sometimes this ‘give-away’ is just more information, but it allows the site visitor to declare an increased level of interest, without the full commitment of a purchase.

However, a critical step in this strategy is the follow-up.

I worked at a software company a few years ago. One day I came across a dusty old box of what looked like a couple of thousand sales leads. When I asked what it was, I was told that a couple of years earlier, the company had scraped together the cash for an ad in Fortune magazine, to promote a new product they had launched. When I inquired how successful the ad was, I was told that the sales team had been too busy to follow up on the leads, and no sales had resulted… (Excuse me?!)

Now I’m not sure how typical that is, but I suspect that most companies have a ‘didn’t-follow-upon-good-leads’ skeleton in their closet. The sad part is that, in 2005, following up on sales leads isn’t at all difficult.

Just imagine having an assistant that would send out follow-up emails in a pre-set sequence, on a pre-set schedule to individuals that request information from your company. Sounds expensive, right? Not really – an ‘autoresponder’ will do exactly that for just a few bucks per month.

An autoresponder service provides the technology to capture lead information and automatically send email follow-ups. They are most typically monthly subscription services, but are also available as installable (one-time-payment) software applications.

Autoresponders differ from enewsletters in the sense that they send out a finite number of emails as a part of a campaign. An autoresponder ‘campaign’ is a series of template email notes, programmed to be sent out on a pre-determined schedule. A campaign is usually triggered by some form of ‘opt-in’ such as completing a form on a website, etc.

Here’s how a simple 3-step autoresponder campaign:

  • Immediate – “Thanks for your interest”
  • 1st Follow-up (3 days later) – “10 reasons to buy widgets from us”
  • 2nd Follow-up (4 days later) – “Special offers for first-time widget buyers”

    Of course, your campaign can be more elaborate than that, but here are a few ideas of what might be included in each of the follow- up notes listed above.
    Immediate note:

  • Express appreciation for their interest Provide the ‘give-away’ download link (if applicable)
  • Re-state your unique value
  • Recommend how they should evaluate your products or services
  • Offer to answer any questions
  • Provide full contact information.

1st Follow-up note:

  • Explain why your existing customers value your products/services
  • Provide additional product information
  • Provide case studies and/or customer testimonials
  • Ask for the sale with specific information on how to purchase

2nd Follow-up note:

  • Provide information to overcome common objections
  • Spotlight package deals or first-time buyer special offers
  • Ask for the sale with specific information on how to purchase

You should also consider creating an autoresponder campaign that goes out to new customers, to offer add-ons, up-sells, and new models. Most of the autoresponder providers handle the crossover from lead to customer list with some level of automation.

There are a couple of key considerations when putting together an autoresponder campaign:

  • Permission – make sure that your list is opt-in. Otherwise this is just an automated form of spam (which could land you in plenty of legal trouble)
  • Frequency – don’t burn out your recipients with too many emails.<
  • Focus – make each individual note about something, otherwise they won’t get read.

    In the sidebar on page 25, we’ve provided a list of the major autoresponder vendors, with some information on the specific features they offer. Their monthly fees are very reasonable, and you get a pretty awesome toolkit for the money.

Mat Greenfield

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