To Email or Not to Email, That is the Question.

Written August 11th, 2009 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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It always starts out innocently enough.

Something irritates one of our clients and they give us grief about it.  Internally, we complain that they complain and then we lament over the fact that they don’t appreciate all of the great things that we do do for them.  We close our lament sessions with the same question: Why do they always have to focus on the negative???

We then take a little breather and always come back to the same realization. Where there is an irritant, there is always an opportunity.  We don’t take the criticisms personally (for long) but try and take an objective look at the situation.  Is their perspective rational and justified, or are they just being cranky?

Every time we get one of these inbound comments, we always go through the same set of triage questions:

  1. Has our client uncovered a defect that we should just fix and be done with it?
  2. Have they uncovered a new requirement that with a little extra effort (hours), can immediately add serious value to their business…and our service?
  3. If it will take a serious extra effort (days)to satisfy, will our other clients benefit from this as much as this one?  Is it worth putting on our product roadmap?
  4. Is this irritant specific to this one client and can it be solved cost effectively via a local customization?
  5. Or, have we uncovered a potentially brand new service offering that could provide serious value to our clients and spawn new revenue streams for us?

Rarely does an inbound query make it to that fifth triage question.  In fact, the last time that happened was at the end of last year when we made an investment in supporting Digital Print catalogs.

With that said, it’s happening again and I thought I’d write about the process while we’re going through it.  I’m not sure whether or not we’re going to launch this service, but these blog postings will document our Agile Product Management process that governs our investment decisions.

So what is this potential new service?

It’s email marketing.

Not revolutionary by any means, but a potentially very valuable one to our clients and a very logical extension to our core service.

Here’s how it all got started.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our clients, with close to 2000 registered users on their b2b2dot0 website, was about to launch an enhancement to the service and complained about the fact that he didn’t have an easy way to inform his customers about it.  His actual comment was something like:

“I wish you guys would develop some sort of email marketing capability so that I can more easily communicate with my customers!”

My first reaction was, why…in 2009, with over 12,000 google hits for the search term “free email marketing software”…would I even begin to think about spending the energy to do that???

My second reaction was, just export your registered users list from our website and import it into your favorite email marketing program and leave me alone!  Every email program accepts an Excel import as a way to build a mailing list, and we make it trivial to get that list…or at least that’s what I thought.  Turns out after working with us for 6 months, he didn’t have a clue how…let alone that he could…get that data out of our system…but that’s a whole other issue 🙂

My third reaction was, hey, that’s a great idea!  But frankly, I’m not going to build the application but find one that I can “seamlessly” integrate with.  Our clients can manage their campaigns and their content.  But since I have user, login and usage information out the kazoo, we can build some finely segmented customer lists for our clients and make sure they are synchronized between our service and the email marketing program.

My fourth (and final) reaction was, wait a minute…I’ve seen the way our clients develop marketing and training materials when they launch our service.   It’s clear that their day job is to manufacture and provide customer support for industrial products 🙂 Why don’t we become a “total solution provider” for our client’s marketing and training requirements for their B2B web portal initiatives????

And that’s where we are today.

I’m convinced that we can (and probably should) become a total solution provider for our client’s b2b2dot0 marketing and training services.  But just because I say so, doesn’t make a new product or service offering.

Next steps?  We’re going to simultaneously do three things:

  1. Talk to our clients.  We need to learn more about their desire and capability to improve their level of communications and training with respect to their b2b2dot0 websites.
  2. Explore email marketing programs that seem to strike the balance between easy to use, feature rich enough to support our (undocumented) requirements, and that have an affordable and scalable pricing model.
  3. Come up with an integration strategy and high level requirements between our service and email marketing programs.

Stay tuned for the next episode of “To email or Not to email”.

Sam