Four Ways to Grow Your E-mail List: Get Offline Customers to Go Online

How much does it cost to acquire a new customer? Whether it’s $5 or $500, expanding your relationship with an existing customer is always more profitable than acquiring a new one (although maybe not as exciting as running a sexy TV campaign or whatever you do to attract business).

So how do you expand your business relationship with a customer? Well, you probably already offer cross-sells and upsells, so what’s next? Increase the channels through which they interact and do business with you. The Direct Marketing Association found that customers who buy from two channels rather than just one are 20%-60% more valuable, while triple-channel buyers are 60% to 125% more valuable. Furthermore, JupiterResearch determined that by 2011, more than $1 trillion of offline retail sales will be influenced by the online channel, up 56% from 2007.

To get a piece of this action, you need to expand your online customer acquisition efforts now. And the fastest, cheapest, and most effective way to do this is to grow your e-mail list with the best potential buyers: existing offline customers.

E-mail works; DMA research shows that it provides significant cost advantages and the highest ROI of any other online marketing effort. It should be a no-brainer to build your e-mail list with your offline customers. Yet, according to JupiterResearch, surprisingly few marketers tap obvious offline sources for e-mail addresses: only 36% use stores, events, or catalogs, while just 28% use call centers. Maybe they lack the cross-channel integration or think this is difficult, but there are simple, proven ways to accomplish this while avoiding ways that are problematic, even harmful to your e-mail program.

Let’s immediately dispense with the potentially harmful ways, specifically e-append and sweepstakes. With e-append the service provider takes a list of offline-only customers and purchases their e-mail addresses from various third-party sources. This is an inexact science and is difficult and costly to do with the proper checks and controls. Instead, you are more likely to get inactive or incorrect addresses that, when mailed, will hurt your e-mail reputation. Further, the low percentage of good matches will belong to customers who did not opt in to your e-mail program, and mailing them, while not illegal, is risky for your relationship. As for sweepstakes, they are costly to do right, and the respondents may not be your most qualified long-term customers. Most people consider them a scam, and regulators are all over them. While some benefits can be found in both of these techniques, you should approach each with extreme caution and careful planning.

On the other hand, there are plenty of good ways to bolster your e-mail list with offline customers. These revolve around capturing e-mail addresses through regular Web, phone, mail, and in-person customer interactions, which, according to Forrester Research, is the most effective and low-cost way to grow e-mail subscriptions. JupiterResearch adds that such lists, which leverage existing customer relationships and interactions, produce the most satisfying results. Anyone surprised?

Here are four proven ways to entice offline customers to opt into your e-mail program:

  1. Make an offer—everybody likes an incentive. Free shipping and handling is a sure bet. Or offer them information and deals only online customers are entitled to.
  2. Show the benefits of participation in your e-mail program—the benefits are speed, ease, and convenience. For instance, customers will learn of special promotions or local events sooner.
  3. Leverage a loyalty (frequent customer) program—the goal is to get participants to opt-in to your e-mail program for more relevant and timely communications.
  4. Actively invite customers to participate—in-store and contact center requests work well. But you have to ask!

The last is, by far, the cheapest and easiest. The customer is right there at the cash register, sales desk, or on the phone with customer service. Just ask them if they want to get news of discounts or event alerts or any incentive you offer via e-mail and take their name and e-mail address. Most will happily give it to you.

Yet this is surprisingly difficult for many companies. When I took my car to one of those quick lube places I watched the attendant as he clicked through the screens for my transaction and just skipped the one asking for my e-mail address. Why didn’t he ask me? Probably because some people, when asked in the past, grumbled about spam and peppered him with questions he didn’t know the answer to, so he stopped asking. Also, he must have had no incentive to capture my address. These issues are easily overcome with little cost – it just takes commitment and a clear plan supported at all levels.

This leads us to some best practices for getting your offline customers to sign up for e-mail too:

  • Insist your people in your other channels offer the e-mail option—make sure you give them short, easy answers to overcome objections like, “I’ll just get spam.” (No, you will get discounts you can use the next time you come in). A counter-top sign that explains the benefits and promises around the use of an e-mail address helps your clerk quickly handle objections. Even better, give your store or call-center managers measurable goals and incentives to collect e-mail addresses, and you will see results skyrocket.
  • Stress information security—emphasize the security of your systems; assure customers that their e-mail addresses, credit card, personal information are safe; and you will not sell their address to anyone but only use it to send your e-mail messages. Then, remind them that they can opt-out at anytime.
  • Use the e-mail addresses immediately to ensure they’re live and valid—follow-up with confirmation/welcome messages, which helps keep bogus addresses off of lists while keeping your brand top of mind. But don’t lump new addresses into existing promotional or retention streams; instead develop a strategy that introduces subscribers to your program through a string of welcome e-mail communications that work to build a long-term relationship.
  • Measure to see what works—use a landing page or promotion code to track lead sources and results.

With the cost of acquiring new customers only going up, it makes a lot of sense to use fewer dollars to move existing offline customers to your online world and then enjoy the increased lifetime value of these deeper relationships. These few easy steps are the right place to start. Now get started before your competitors acquire your favorite customers online.

John Rizzi is president/CEO of e-Dialog, an e-mail services provider based in Lexington, MA.

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