Thursday, December 17, 2009


Automate Email Responses:

Save Time, Keep ‘em Happy & Make a Sale

For many of us who’ve “opted in” for a newsletter or free e-book, we think of auto responders as the spam that fills our inboxes once the webmaster has our email addresses. An email every other day, once a week or even daily urging us to buy this or try that. When used improperly and ineffectively, auto responders are a nuisance. Used properly, they’ll save time, keep your customers happy and even generate some sales.

What is an auto responder?

It’s pretty much what the name implies – an email that is sent automatically in response to some action on the part of a visitor to a web site. That action can be sending you an email, asking a question by telephone or, again, providing an email address in exchange for something that sounds useful.

How do they work?

Automatically. There are software packages and even online businesses that handle these emailing chores. You can purchase auto responder software. However, before you do, check to see if your web hosting service offers the software free. The better ones do. These server-side packages can be used with your site’s email system, or they can generate an HTML web page for distribution to customers.

If you want to have someone else manage the auto responder side of things, check out the companies that deliver this service free.

When searching for a free auto responder service, look for these key features:

  • No advertising. Some of these companies send emails to your registrants with their ads or paid ads from other companies. It’s distracting and it looks kind of cheesy.

  • No limits on message length. You’ll find that many free services limit the length of messages (sometimes to 100 words or less) and limit the number of characters per line, making formatting a chore.

  • Look for options. Some companies handle responses to direct queries from customers. Others offer options for timed deliveries of emails over a specified period. Each of these options has a different purpose and you want as many options to serve as many purposes as possible.

  • Finally, read the fine print. Some auto responder companies offer teaser incentives to sign on with them but, once you’ve passed certain quotas, i.e. number per mailing, HTML mailings or length of message, the fees kick in and all of a sudden that free service is costing you a bundle.

How do I use auto responders?

Auto responders fall into two broad categories: routine responses to customer queries and marketing a site. Let’s look at both uses, pros and cons.

Routine Responses

If your inbox is packed each morning with questions and comments from customers (or would-be customers) then you spend a good part of your day answering these emails. Not a very productive use of your time, but absolutely necessary. Customer care is key to customer retention and customer retention is key to long-term site success. Conversely, if you receive a couple of emails a day from customers, stick with the personalized response. It makes a very positive impression on customers who know an auto responder from a personalized email.

Develop routine responses to routine business matters. For example, if you receive a lot of requests about order status, develop an auto responder that provides customers with the information they’re after. Or, if you receive the same questions over and over about a product or service, develop an email or HTML page that answers those questions and even provides a bit of prodding to induce the receiver to buy from you.

Today, customers expect results. Quickly. Even to routine questions. If you can’t handle the work load of prepping personal responses, don’t leave your client base wondering. Use auto responders to get the response out quickly. And be sure to provide additional contact information (a telephone number is always appreciated) in your auto responder.

Marketing Your Site

Auto responders are also a low-cost method of marketing your goods or services. In fact, many web hosts allow unlimited auto responders even with their lowest-tiered pricing plans. It’s not a big expense for the host so why not?

Now, you can’t just buy a list of email addresses and start spamming people at random. It’s frowned upon by law and the TOS (Terms of Service) of web portals like AOL and Yahoo. Any hint of spamming sets off alarm bells at portal HQ so don’t even bother. Besides, the positive responses to these mass mailings are usually well below 1%. In other words, they just don’t work.

However, if site visitors request information (opt in) in the form of an e-book (the bait) or a “free” newsletter (another kind of bait) then the site owner has established a business relationship with the opt in and is free to email that person without repercussions – all legal and legit. That’s one reason for the proliferation of downloadable e-books, quotes of the day in your email, and weekly or monthly newsletters. Once visitors opt in, you can market the wares unimpeded.

There are some general rules about this type of marketing auto responder, though research on just how successful this technique is isn’t available. However, because the marketing effort is free (or should be) it really doesn’t matter if the conversion rate is low. Even one new buyer is a plus.

Time marketing auto responders so the first one arrives immediately after the opt in. This first automated response thanks the individual for downloading the e-book or other bait, and prepares the reader for the additional emails coming over the next few weeks: “In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sending you additional information on this unique investment opportunity.” In this way, the opt in knows who you are and that yours is the site that offered the bait. (Another reason for the bait to be good, BTW.)

Allow time in between e-mailings. If the receiver sees an email a day from you, you’ll be categorized as a nuisance and your emails will be trashed unread. Initially, auto responders can be sent every few days but as more time passes, the intervals between mailings should increase. So, during week one, opt ins receive two emails, then one a week for a few weeks, then a follow-up email a month or two later and finally, a “last time opportunity” email five or six months later.

Consumers must hear or see a product brand name six or seven times before it sinks in, or so goes the old Madison-Avenue-traditional-marketing adage. So it’s okay to keep your name in front of the consumer through auto responders, but don’t be a pest.

Include useful, interesting info in each auto responder. The straight hard sell hype every week isn’t going to be read. However, a few tips, suggestions or notification of money-saving opportunities will be opened and read.

Finally, don’t over do it. One company sent out 13 auto responders over a period of six weeks. 13! If you haven’t closed the customer or made the sale after six attempts, give it up. The chances of it happening on the 10th auto responder are slim and zip.

So, step one: check to see if your web host offers free auto responder software. It would be a part of your site email or database offerings.

Step two: if no software is available free, buy some software. It’s not pricey and it’ll be loaded on your hard drive rather than the host’s server.

Step three: develop auto responders for routine email chores first. It’ll free up enough time each day to manage an auto responder marketing campaign. You can use your existing customer list (an invaluable resource) or you can plant some bait on the site to entice opt ins. If you use auto responders judiciously, they can be an effective means of growing site revenues.

Whether you’re trying to cut down on email chores to focus on other, more critical matters of business, or you’re looking for a low-cost means of marketing your site, auto responders can be an important tool in managing your workload and your site’s profitability.

The conclusion? It’s so low cost it’s worth experimenting. And even if you don’t use auto responders as a marketing tool, you can use it to cut your daily workload by freeing up hours of customer care. So, go for it!

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