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It's a mystery–-much like trying to solve a crime in a large mansion filled with wealthy debutants, intriguing associates, international guests, family members, maids and butlers. Everyone who had “opportunity” is considered a “suspect.”

In an e-newsletter community of your customers and targeted prospects, every e-newsletter recipient is also seen as a “suspect.”

Unlike those at the crime scene, however, your mailing list members are not suspected of foul play. Your readers are suspected of being interested in buying your product or service. The mystery to solve is how to identify which ones are prospective buyers, so your sales team can spend their time wisely.

Your Suspect Pool

Like the suspect in any good mystery, a suspect is one who just shows up. Suspects are those who continuously subscribe to your e-newsletter. As mentioned in the article Online Newsletters: Building Trust, these readers are not from a purchased mailing list, they are carefully chosen and connected to your organization. They expressed some interest in the business problem addressed in the newsletter. They appreciate the value that is discussed in Online Newsletters: Demonstrating Value, from the same series.

If a suspect unsubscribes to the e-newsletter, he or she is no longer visible to your organization. This lack of interest means one of two things: 1) either the reader does not have a business problem that you can solve, or, 2) the newsletter does not deliver good value (information) related to the business problem.

In the first case, this is a good thing. No time or money needs to be spent on those who disqualify themselves. It's too expensive pursuing those who have little or no interest in the value you offer.

In the second case, you have a problem. You are losing suspects, not because they are no longer interested in the business problem you solve, but because the e-newsletter is not delivering high quality information about the business problem.

Potentially valuable prospects may be unsubscribing from your newsletter due to poor content, not due to a lack of interest in solving the business problem.

Tracking Suspects' Interests

So how do you know whether or not you are delivering high quality information in your newsletter? This is where tracking comes into play. Many types of tracking technology are available that can be applied to your e-newsletter. These tools generate real-time feedback on unsubscribe rates, e-newsletter open rates, and article read rates.

With these statistics you can see what articles your subscribers are reading, and just as importantly, what articles they are not reading. By focusing your content on popular topics, you will ensure both a high-quality newsletter and a high-quality prospect selection process where suspects unsubscribe to your newsletter only when they no longer have an interest in the business problem that you solve.

Filter Prospects from Suspects

Start with this premise: All suspects are in complete control over their own buying cycle. They place themselves into your sales cycle in their time frame, not yours. The key is how to use the e-newsletter to identify when the suspect has turned into a prospective buyer.

Suspects come from a variety of backgrounds with many different needs and behaviors. As suspects become more and more interested in the services you have to offer, your relationship with them deepens and they become prospects. In e-newsletter marketing every prospect comes from your suspect pool, and can be filtered out by tracking their behaviors.

The following prospect levels show you how your relationship changes with the readers as they move themselves through your sales cycle--from suspects to prospects to qualified leads:

Level 1 Prospect. Many of your e-newsletter readers will eventually visit your Web site when you provide them easy links and ways back to the site from the e-newsletter. Suspects become prospects only when they click on a link that takes them to your Web site. This form of communication is one-way. They visit your site, but do not invite a two-way communication. This is an indication they are interested in the information in the e-newsletter relevant to their everyday professional life, and interested in the company providing it.

Level 2 Prospect. Fewer readers go to the next level and begin two-way communication by filling out a reader survey about the e-newsletter, or entering a contest to win a prize. This type of communication shows that they are not only interested in your company, but willing to rely on your organization enough to interact more fully and submit information about themselves to you. These prospects are one step away from being a qualified lead.

Level 3 Qualified Lead. Prospects move to the final level, becoming a qualified lead, on their own accord by responding to your "call to action," such as a free offer. They look to you when they need to solve a business problem that is addressed by the e-newsletter and offered as a solution by your company.

Whether from the suspect pool or the prospect pool, this type of prospect becomes a qualified lead when he or she requests a free offer and fills out a questionnaire required to receive it. Not only does the prospect respect your e-newsletter information, but also believes in your company enough to provide you with the information needed to deliver a free service to him or her such as a ROI analysis or prototype marketing piece.

Why Do Prospects Put Themselves in the Sales Cycle?

The e-newsletter helps your suspects trust that you are stable and understand their business. So when suspects arrive at your web site from your e-newsletter, and they receive your "call to action," they are far more likely to act on your call. Think in personal terms: which stranger is more likely to accept your dinner invitation, someone who does not have a clue who you are, or someone who knows and respects your work?

The e-newsletter is NOT a one-time direct mail piece--it is not a hard sell. The e-newsletter is a patient conduit and sieve, attentive to your readers' natural buying cycles.

Once you create an effective e-newsletter marketing process, you'll be amazed to see how quickly potential clients become interested in your services and identify themselves. Distributing your e-newsletter consistently makes it easy for them to buy, rather than having your sales force try to sell them. This leaves one remaining piece of the puzzle: closing the sale.

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Watch for Step Six: Closing Sales from e-Newsletters, the final article in the series on finding, acquiring and retaining customers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Tamara is a writer at InternetVIZ and is available for freelance work.