Contact to Contracts and Spam


Communicative Selling

It doesn't take the brains of a brainy person to work out that the whole point of your business website is to create business. Too often our business owners forget that what drives business is not clever push or spammed information but a valued two-way conversation with your clients and customers. I'm trying vCita as a hassle-free message management gadget as I think it may have a value to small business owners.

Academic caveat

Now this isn't an academic blog, so you marketeering students (auto correct suggests "racketeering" there – uncannily close?) looking for some free copy for your assignments can help us here. Start by skipping through the links below and then feedback please to help us to understand the issues better. For the rest of we small business mortals the aim is to provoke thought – my own included.

Email farming and harvesting

It's fashionable to place an email-capturing gadget on business sites to "farm" and then "harvest" email addresses to store for future "email campaigns" (spam). There are a variety of ruses to entice you to part with your information offering you free stuff that is free anyway but ends up as part of an unfair barter: their free content for your identity and an invitation to direct marketing (spam). But no matter how irritating direct sales (spam) can be, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that it does work. Custom is generated via unsolicited and direct marketing campaigns (mass spam).

But I think there's a distinction to be made here. If your website isn't optimised for your customer using sound information architecture and user experience design then you are not going to pull anything except your own leg if you think you'll generate more business. Thus, you add an email address harvest gadget in the desperate hope to capture one of the approximately 8% of the population who might actually respond to direct marketing (spam).

According to Chief Marketing Officer Council World Wide:

"People want to be in control of the content they receive: 86% of people skip TV commercials. 44% of direct mail is never opened. 91% of people have unsubscribed from company emails they previously opted into. February 2015"

Now, you may not have noticed but I do have a prejudice toward spam. It clutters our cognitive space and clogs the information highways with mistrust and disdain but, it seems to work. It works because 8% of 1,000 is 80 leads. 80 leads would keep me in work for over 5 years! Doh!

Response rate (or click thru rate)

How do you measure response? Simply count up the number of responses the mail creates, and then divide this by the quantity of mails sent, and then multiply by 100. 

  • Example: (100 responses / 5,000 pieces mailed)x100 = 2% response rate. 

The average rate is just 2%. According to McCarthy & King Marketing Inc. the ceiling could only be between 3% and 5%!

"Free offers are central to all lead generation campaigns. The concept is simple. You create a free report or white paper on a topic closely related to what you sell. You then offer the report to your target audience – and those people who are interested in the topic will respond. These leads are then considered potential customers. Because these offers are free, you can expect more people to respond." McCarthy & King Marketing Inc.

Oh dear. For me 2% of 1000 is only 20 leads: barely a year. But it is a year of work. It seems almost worth the money to sell out to the Email Harvesting Spam Devil? (No!)

But then again, we need to have confidence that we can "convert" responses into sales - and that's definitely down to you having your product, marketing, and sales processes working transparently and together.

What sells online?

But what's really going to help to capture your sales is no secret. You need to display:

  • Interest or attractiveness
  • The description of the service or goods on offer
  • The price (without cleverly hidden escalators, unfair upselling, or false scarcity please)
  • A method to contact you.

As an online customer I may not be quite as impulsive in my purchasing as I might be in the high street. This is because online we cannot get a tactile or cognitive feel for how trustworthy a product, site, or its business is. We tend to hover about a bit and do some comparisons before coming back to buy or to make a formal enquiry. That's when your visitor looks for your email address and your telephone number.

Email addresses and undesirable spam

But - and this is a biggy - as soon as you place your phone number and email on a webpage along come those silly thieving b'stards who ruin the Interweb with dark scams, personal information harvesting, and other devious activities that just turn us off the medium with uncensured and unwelcome content.

I'm losing count of the professionals that want to **** my brains out on the condition I respond to their (spam) email sent to me because my address was online for more than a moment. "It's in the public domain…" they cackle.

So, how can we protect ourselves? The only option would seem for us not to publish our email address in the HTML or supporting scripts?

"Spam averaged between 71% and 80% of all emails sent globally during the fourth quarter of 2012. November 2014." Chief Marketing Officer Council World Wide.

There is another way?

Well, back to that email-capturing gadget that exchanges some "white paper" or other for your email address in turn exchanged for participation in crap email campaigns (spam) for life. The device gives the business anonymity from email harvesting and spam in return for email addresses to spam! 

What value does that give to your prospective customer who is only valued as a record entry in a database? None. None. None. Yes, one or two recipients become leads (they saw value) but one or two out of 100? What attitude do your non-respondents have: you've got a sale now but what of the future: do your audience learn to ignore you or your service as easily as they did your spam? What attitude and behaviour are you promoting?

I read recently that, "non-respondents and un-subscribers aren't your customers". Depending on your product that could be a terribly short-sighted and unambitious statement to make?

We need to be more creative in our communication strategy. We need to open a two-way dialog from within our web presence.Scamming an email address is not a part of the recipe of a good website:

"A great website must be accessible, usable, learnable, and engage the customer's journey with your own." Pat Godfrey - Learning Too Limited
ßMe, but based on the great works of Jacob Nielsen et al J

So, consider a shared communication channel – not a greedy push from a database - but a valuable pull too. Add a message field. Let your visitor/customer/client write you a message and at least feel that they are sharing a moment with you. You can still harvest email addresses but you can also THINK about what content you are going to send them.

We are not dogs that run to a whistle: you need to think about our learning too.

Resource, budget, and time solutions

Now, yes there's a question of scale here. If you genuinely have 100s of prospective customers asking questions then there is a matter of the resources required to answer them all. But just imagine that with a little effort you surveyed the questions you received and acted on them as follows:

  • Clarification-type questions: make the information on you site clearer and reduce the traffic.
  • Classifiable / common questions: add a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to your site.
  • Offer a newsletter (making clear its frequency, contents, and how to cancel the order).

The Point

The point is that I have had to consider changing my online business contact email address and phone numbers again. Sometimes it's inquiries-at and at others it's enquiries-at, but each lasts less than a month before offensive and at times distressing filth arrives in my inbox.

So, I'm looking at a messaging gadget – somewhere my visitor can write a question that I can respond to asynchronously as soon as I can (caveat the message management techniques above). Now, I can code up a contact form myself but it risks its post method being hijacked. So I took a look at vCita's Live Site gadget (www.vcita.com), which claims to be a free method of enabling messages to be written to you by your site visitors.

Now, for all I know this could just be an elaborate email farming scam and I'm due some more "sure things" in my inbox, but it seems worth a try. The vCita offering goes on to add subscription services, but the basic package is very simple to implement on one of the popular website hosts or in your carefully hand-crafted HTML pages. It's a widget so you configure it simply via a web app.

Anyway, I'm giving it a go. I'm giving my visitor the value they should have from me in my readiness to share our communication – not to just to harvest an email to a spam-bot database.

Evaluation

I'll evaluate the widget over time, but for now I can at least lament its lack of CSS styling support – especially around the responsive change from "Desktop" to "mobile" (between viewports) and it's general UI (not to mention that, being free, it plugs itself in embedded advertising). The text and colour theme is modifiable though, so it's not all bad. But watch out, I think that for a rather larger fistful of dollars than I'll ever part with it can be upgraded to facilitate some more traditional spam…er…direct marketing!

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