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A couple of years back, a colleague and I visited Las Vegas to demonstrate a “sales person-controlled marketing technology” for representatives of a large PC company who were attending a tech convention.

The night after the pitch, an inconvenient thing happened: I lost my wallet. Now, I realize that many folks visit Las Vegas and, figuratively speaking, lose their wallets, but I literally lost my wallet: all the credit cards, cash, business cards, my driver's license, etc.

This, for those who know firsthand, is not a good feeling. A cold sweat beads on your forehead. The palms of your hands turn clammy. There's a hole in your gut. You feel as though you've been cut off from who you are.

What I didn't know at the time—as I was anxiously calling various credit card companies and trying to establish that I was who I was and wondering how I might buy an airplane ticket without a driver's license and lamenting the fact that I was not going to have any fun in Las Vegas—was that my wallet was beginning a grand and amazing adventure.

Over the next several hours and into the next morning, my wallet and various of its contents were off for, what would have been, the time of my life: terrific food and bottles of wine, all manner of night clubs, a night at one of the best hotels, and so on. (Later, I was able to reconstruct much of the wallet's journey thanks to photocopies of receipts.)

Similarly, when you let loose of your e-mail newsletter, a marvelous and (to a great extent) verifiable journey begins.

Some Important Background Information and Qualifiers

Owing to the advanced technology of a campaign metrics and web site analytics provider that our firm is working with, I recently got the chance to observe quite a lot of the marvelous, mysterious life of an e-mail newsletter.

The technology allows us, among other things, to know exactly who's opening (and reopening) the newsletter and when, what they click on, where they subsequently go on the client's web site, how many times they forward the newsletter to colleagues, and more.

I won't name our client. But you do need to know some key facts about them, their “constituencies” and the newsletter, itself.

The company is a clear market-leader and known innovator. The business-to-business newsletter reaches a variety of constituencies: purchasing professionals around the globe (our client's customers and prospects), corporate suppliers who are having to come to grips with the realities of online sourcing, current and prospective employees, industry analysts, members of the press, shareholders, and academicians.

The client's average deal size is around $700,000. The lifetime value of a long-term contract numbers in the millions.

One key fact about the newsletter: although we try as best we can to insist that the newsletter be “opt-in” only, we have not been able to control the client's sales organization in this regard. As a result, the list of some 11,000 subscribers contains a thousand or more who were opted-in, presumably without their permission. I don't like that fact. But, I have to put it out on the table.

Another important point: the data I am about to share is based on watching the “deep” metrics associated with just one issue of the newsletter. Obviously, this is not enough data to discern any meaningful trends.

Signs of an Interesting Life: Metrics and Musings

When observing the life of an e-mail newsletter, what you look for are signs that recipients are engaging with, using and interacting with the message. Roughly put: the more interaction, the more valuable the newsletter.

Couple these signs with knowing which constituent categories the recipients fit into— legitimate prospects, existing customers, suppliers—and you have the beginnings of data that you and your sales team can, with care and common sense, act upon.

For example, you may want to identify the newsletter's “power users” and survey them to improve the quality of the overall effort. The survey can also do the duty of fleshing-out the profile of an important prospect: their challenges, fears and greatest interests.

Another example: let's say that that you are able to determine that an as of yet unidentified prospect is forwarding the e-mail to 12 colleagues. This information could be quite valuable to your sales team.

Some of the signs of an interesting life are fundamental and unequivocal. For example: the percentage of folks who are opening the newsletter. Others require interpretation: if somebody opens the e-mail newsletter and just reads the article summaries and introductory copy, but does not click on any of the article links, does this mean they're not interested in the content, or what?

Here's what I and we observed over approximately six days of data. (Incidentally, up to nine days after the newsletter was distributed, there were still some folks opening and reading it):

Open Rates & “Reopen Rates.” The newsletter was opened by about 40.5% of recipients. I assume that you know the limitations of measuring open rates (i.e., HTML vs. text, and previewing in Microsoft Outlook), so I won't belabor this point.

The e-mail went out at 6:00 p.m. CST on a Tuesday night. About 1,000 recipients opened it that first night. Over 2,000 opened it during the next day.

Interesting side note: I think there needs to be something called “reopen rates”: a measurement of those who revisit the e-mail newsletter, going back to engage with more articles and click on various links. I was heartened to see several legitimate prospects re-opening the newsletter and engaging with more of the content.

Measured over more than one issue, reopen rates could be an important gauge of the intensity of interest of a given reader.

Subscribe/Unsubscribe. Slightly less than 1% of the list decided to unsubscribe. And almost half of that number chose to subscribe. While one month alone of this data isn't particularly helpful, I just wanted to touch this important base.

In my opinion, any kind of action by a e-mail newsletter recipient is good news. I'm happy that 1% enabled us to not waste any more bandwidth on educating or courting them.

Reader Feedback. This particular issue of the newsletter had the first segment that actively solicited reader feedback. We created a realistic scenario with a negative result and asked readers how to avoid the problem in the future.

Only four responded. Is that disappointing? Nope. One of the four is a customer. The other three are important influencers in companies where the client is actively seeking to begin a sales cycle. And, the responses themselves were helpful, informative and quite detailed.

Content Analysis. To “frame” this observation, I focused on the top 200 readers of the newsletter as measured by how many articles they clicked on.

A link to a third-party article featuring an interview with a well-known business author about how to encourage change in a large organization, netted, by far, the highest click-through rate.

And this was despite the fact that it was placed in the lower half of the newsletter.

Two points here. One, don't think for a moment that, because of the crash of the New Economy and those that got burned in the process, that business innovation as a topic of interest to readers is dead. However, you have every reason to believe that it's hard to get anyone in the enterprise to go beyond reading about innovation and start actually funding it.

Second point: though the article wasn't about or by the client and didn't even mention the client's name—and, in fact, had only one sidebar devoted to the client's core competence—it was, to repeat, the most popular link.

There's a message in that data point, one that I'm always quick to reinforce. Whether it's your e-mail newsletter or any of your marketing messages, remember, it's not about you. It's about them: prospects and customers and other key constituencies. If your issues (the things you advocate and champion and, with palpable conviction, believe in) are not their issues, you've got some serious re-thinking to do.

Who's Forwarding? In the life of an e-mail newsletter, those who are forwarding it are in the process of educating their colleagues and attempting to build a “culture” that could support what you have to offer.

Four active prospects and one growing customer forwarded the e-mail newsletter to a total of over sixty colleagues. One of those prospects who forwarded the e-mail is the Chief Financial Officer of a large industrial valve company. Ideas that flow downhill from such high points on the organization chart have a little more urgency attached to them.

It was also interesting to note that numerous competitors (who up until this point had not been purged from the list) were among the most active forwarders.

The “Power Users.” Again, focusing on the top 200 readers, I was able to find approximately twenty “power users.”

These “power users” include those folks who: · may have won recognition in their industry (awards, published articles or event speaking engagements); · are the client's most high-profile, most-quoted customers · might be members of the press or industry analyst community · and/or are CXO-level prospects.

In order to assign the (arbitrary, I grant you) “power user” status, our team had to do in-depth Google searches and, of course, compare the data to the client's database and list of prospect/”sales pipeline” organizations.

Even if the “power user” isn't a customer or prospect, you know that an industry best practitioner is using your e-mail newsletter to enhance their careers. That's great news. It means you are creating something of objective value that will, over time, translate into sales.

And you may want to specifically invite a “power user” to be the subject of an upcoming article.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Maher is president of Fosforus, an Austin-based, business-to-business marketing, media, and interactive design firm. Reach him at CMaher1997@aol.com