A topic I've blogged about frequently is the importance of good follow-up and of nurturing relationships over time.
In The Importance of Good Follow-Up I highlighted the futility of the “Nice to meet you, if you ever need our services…” email follow-up to networking meetings and suggested a number of value-adding alternatives.
One trend I've noticed recently is the increasing use of email newsletters as a follow-up mechanism. It's a trend I whole heartedly applaud – my business is driven by email marketing. But only when you do it right.
And signing people up for your email newsletter without their permission is absolutely the wrong way to do it.
On at least half a dozen occasions recently I've found myself subscribed to email newsletters from people and companies who I've met briefly at networking meetings. I've given them my business card and they've plugged it straight into their email distribution list.
This is a follow-up mechanism that has the potential to add value if the newsletter is of high quality and relevant to me. But how does it make me feel to have my details “harvested” in this way?
To be honest, not great.
It feels impersonal. I've not had an email or call from them. Nothing mentioning any connection we made at the event and no thought from them on tailoring the message to my specific needs. I've just been fed into their email marketing machine.
I wondered whether I was the only one who felt this way, so I posed the question on Twitter to see how others felt:
As you can see from this sample of responses, people's feelings are almost universally negative. They range from “I want to *smack* them!” and “it sucks!” to at best, “my junk filtering can soon take care of them if they fail to send me anything interesting or useful”. And remember, these negative responses are to something as seemingly innocent as adding someone's name to an email distribution list after meeting them. For me, Kneale Mann summed up the sentiment best best when he replied: “A handshake does not make you a customer”.
Obviously, Twitter followers are not a sample that's representative of the public at large. But I do believe they represent an important and growing sensitivity to the appropriate use of information.
So what's the alternative?
Well, since you are interacting face to face with them, there should be ample opportunity to offer to send the newsletter and get their permission.
If the time isn't right when you meet them, then send them an email afterwards with a sample copy of the newsletter suggesting it might be of interest and giving a link to sign-up if they are. Personalise the emails – recalling topics you discussed or better still – add value by suggesting ideas for questions they posed or challenges they highlighted when you were talkign with them.
Now don't get me wrong, this is my opinion as to what you should do rather than something that is proven to have better results. I haven't done any testing to see what results in better long-term subscriptions, click throughs on the newsletter or eventually sales.
But for me that doesn't matter. If you want to establish a reputation as someone who can be trusted then you mustn't do anything early on in the relationship to suggest an abuse of trust. Auto-subscribing people to your newsletter without asking is hardly the crime of the century – but to many people it suggests that you will not treat them as individuals with their best interests at heart.
Personally, I'd rather lose potential newsletter subscribers than lose that reputation of trust.
PS Many thanks to all the Twitter users who replied to my poll on this topic – your answers were most helpful.
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ianbrodie