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Opting Options Dos and Don'ts

Permission Marketing is the current jargon for the politically correct way to manage your customer relationships: you make sure you have consent before you email anything to anybody. There's opt-in and opt-out, double opt-in and double opt-out. It's really a bit of a double bind, with some folks saying unsolicited email is just another way to inform people of all their options, while some folks receiving the unsolicited email are chanting "invasion of privacy." Don't worry (or maybe you should) - lots of lawyers have their teeth firmly clamped to the issue as you read!


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I'm going to assume you are not one of those spamming Plutonians, and you really do have your customers' best interests at heart. You want to inform them, and you want to know they want to be informed. Are we on the same page? So here's how to ďwalk like a GrokianĒ when it comes to Opting Options.

Any form of opting-in, whether itís for a newsletter, future mailings, membership, registration or simply a request for information, involves an exchange of value. You get something from your prospect that you want (usually contact and profile information) and your prospect gets something from you that they want. It's a very simple equation. It's only when folks start feeling youíre taking advantage of them that things take a turn for the worse. So do your Permission Marketing with sensitivity, sense and style.

DO make the opt-in procedure simple.

DO swear upon your favorite relative's sainted soul that you won't share this information in any way without the customer's permission. If thatís not your policy, then:

DO make it crystal clear, if you are in the practice of passing along customer information, that this is what you do, make clear the details of what, when and with whom, and give the customer an out if she wants her information to remain private. Then honor that as if your survival depends on it (it does!).

DON'T ask for any more information than you absolutely need, unless there is some real value to your customer in providing it.

DO allow the customer to agree to different mailings from you, or not. If she agrees to receive a newsletter, that's the only thing she is expecting from you. You might have it in mind to send her lots of other stuff too, but get her permission before you go flooding her with it. Fail to do this and you are likely to find your customer opting-out.

DO provide immediate visual confirmation that the opt-in procedure (or opt-out procedure) was completed successfully.

DO follow up with a e-mail confirmation that includes:

your appreciation

the information the customer provided

a reminder of what the customer has subscribed to or requested

your contact information

how to unsubscribe if the confirmation was sent in error

DON'T opt for double opt-ins. A double opt-in means your customer signs up for something on your site, then receives some form of communication from you that requires her essentially to sign up again: "Reply to this e-mail to confirm your registration." Some people do it, but it in this Martianís opinion it is completely unnecessary and only confuses the situation. When was the last time you placed the items you wanted to buy at the cash register and heard the cashier ask, "Are you sure you want to buy these things?" You don't have to make folks jump through an extra hoop for a sale thatís already closed! If the communication was sent in error, your unsubscribe information will be sufficient.

HOWEVER, if you are in the business of selling lists, you do need a double opt-in. Without it, you sacrifice quality and risk ticking off your customers. You must be sure your customers agree to let you share their information with others.

DO include unsubscribe information in every communication you send.

HOWEVER, this information does not have to be a direct hyperlink, nor should you feel you need to make it too easy to opt-out. It's a fine line you walk here - you don't want folks opting-out on a whim, just because they got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. By the same token, you must make it possible for them to say "Thanks, but no thanks." One or two extra steps to the opt-out procedure are acceptable.

DO test, double-test and triple-test your opt-in and opt-out procedures to be certain they work properly. Folks get grumpy when they opt-in to something and never get value for having done it. And they get really grumpy when they opt-out, but keep getting your mailings. Either way, you are abusing your customers, and they aren't going to take it kindly.

DO these things effectively and in good faith and you'll have your customers feeling happy about having opted-in. And satisfied customers are far more likely to opt-in to a purchase!

DON'T manage your Permission Marketing scrupulously, and you can kiss not only your existing customers, but also your potential customers goodbye.


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Coming soon to a website near you Ė 
in fact, maybe YOURS!

Dear Digital Entrepreneur:

You guys and gals have been asking and asking, so OK: I'm now making house calls. Thatís right, I'm visiting your own websites and will be writing in future issues about how you can apply the stuff we talk about here.

So, want a free Grokanalysis of your site? Itís simple. Just click here, fill out the form, send it to us, and if I think your site illustrates something that will be of interest to a lot of our readers, youíre in!

Good luck!!

The Grok

The Prodigal Customer

You've heard me say this a lot: keep your customers happy - downright delight them - and youíll develop loyal customers.

There's more than just a (hopefully) smiling face on the other end of your website, there's a dollar equation taking place. You "bought" that prospect with your advertising, marketing and maintenance dollars. That's money out of your pocket. And truth is, first-time buyers almost never spend enough to offset that cost.

However, a repeat buyer gives you much more than that warm, fuzzy feeling of having made a sale and conducted a transaction well. He or she keeps increasing your revenues. Yeah, you want to get lots of the right people to your site, but you really want to work on delighting them so they come back!

Let me throw a few statistics at you.

"Fewer than 5% of B2C website visitors make a purchase." (Nielson/NetRatings) Intermarket Group says the conversion rate is closer to 2.7%. Shop.org says itís only 1.8%. Depends on who you read which day, but take it from me - the numbers are appallingly low.

"Companies spend an average of $250 on marketing and advertising to acquire one single customer." (Shop.org)

"The gross income from a typical customer is $24.50 in the first quarter and $52.50 in every quarter that he or she remains a customer." (McKinsey & Co.)

Two-thirds of all first-time buyers do not return to purchase again.

"A 10% increase in repeat customers would translate into a 9.5% increase in revenue." (estimate by McKinsey & Co.)

See what I mean? You spend $250 to rope them in, and they buy $24.50 worth of stuff from you. Sixty-six percent of them don't come back, so you never see that subsequent quarterly $52.50 from them. Can you say "red ink"? But look what you stand to gain if you get them coming back again and again!

We've talked about the whole "beef stew" (love the stuff!) of elements that go into satisfying your customers. Everything is important - you can't overlook the basics such as customer service, fulfillment, policies, decent design, and so on. But once you have a customer, you can set about managing a relationship with the person that might include newsletters, mailings of special offers, new product or update announcements. Don't discount the value of snail mail in these efforts! One human I know made an online purchase. Later she received a paper newsletter in the regular mail and discovered an item she wanted to buy. She'd also received several e-mails, which she had deleted unread. (Typical!)

Perhaps most effective of all is to focus your energy on helpful, personalized site options that have people longing to come back. Amazon.com does this one-to-one online salesmanship brilliantly. Look at their searchable Wish List. Their Shopping Cart has a "buy later" option. They have an incredible 1-Click feature (no wonder they want to maintain that patent!). They offer "Customers who bought this book also boughtÖ," listings for almost every item. Notice how they can offer recommendations that improve over time, as a customer adds more information to the query database through each purchase. And get a load of the "Page You Made" based not on your purchases, but on where you've been clicking during that session! Even if you don't buy more than you originally intended to right then, you might click an item into your shopping cart and save it, or add it to your Wish List. And you'll want to come back.

Amazon expertly manages to create, in the world of e-commerce, a perception of community, something you might want to be a part of. They entice and reward their customers at the same time with features like Listmania, online reviews, Friends & Family. Best of all, this online sales pitch Amazon has created is not intrusive. For lots of folks, it helps, not hinders, the sales process - and leads to even more sales.

If you can find a way to apply variations of Amazonís tools and incentives to your own site, all the while giving your prospects the shopping experience of a lifetime, you'll go a long way to encouraging your customers to return. And each time they do, you sell more without having to spend more to acquire them. Even on Mars, that spells p-r-o-f-i-t!


click here for a printable version of this entire article

P.S. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with your colleagues and friends? They'll appreciate it.

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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