A Cheap Way To Stay In Touch With Your Customers

by drjim on December 7, 2009

Sometimes The Pen Is Mightier Than The Plane Ticket

Sometimes The Pen Is Mightier Than The Plane Ticket

So let me guess, the travel budget for your product which was measly to begin with has been slashed to the bone and you’re going to be home for dinner for the foreseeable future. That’s great news if you don’t like to travel, but it sorta sucks if you want to stay in contact with your customer, discover their pain points, and uncover new product requirements. What’s a product manager to do?

Maybe Email Isn’t So Bad After All

I almost hesitate to say this, but have you thought about using more email to stay in touch with both your existing customers and your prospects? Yeah, yeah I know that we all shudder at the though of bombarding our customers with even more email than they are already getting, but in these difficult times perhaps this is what we need to be doing.

What innovative product managers are discovering is that some well-done emails are turning out to be quite effective and even, dare I say it, personal. It turns out that email is apparently a tool that we use with abandon internally, but it can also be an effective external tool with which to make strong customer connections.

The reason that email seems to work so well has to do with the simple fact that your customers view it as being non-threatening. Instead of having to deal with finding the time to have a face-to-face meeting with you and potentially getting bombarded with lots of product questions that they may not have the answers to, they are in the driver’s seat. After all, they can always delete your email if they want to…

Product Manager Secrets To Successful Emails

So if email is this secret path to your customer’s heart, then why don’t we do a better job of using it? I mean we must write like a million of these things every week so shouldn’t we be pretty good at it by now?

Well, no actually, we’re not all that good at it.

The first thing that we often overlook is the most important part of any email, its subject line. Look, this is the $1,000,000 waterfront property part of your email, why would you waste it? I can’t tell you how many emails I get that have either a blank subject line or a single word like “Issue” or “Problem”. What a waste!

The purpose of an email’s subject is to motivate me to open it up. I get so much email everyday that if your email looks like its going to be boring, there is a very good chance that I won’t open it and that it will end up getting deleted later on when I’m on one of my “clean out the email inbox” rages.

The next mistake that product managers make is that they make their emails too long. In other words, they type like they talk. Since you are writing to your customer, you have the ability to go back after you’ve written the email and edit it long before your customer ever sees it. All too often, we skip this critical step and create these lengthy “War and Peace” length novels that nobody takes the time to actually read.

Finally, all too often our emails are basically junk. We write the email with no real purpose in mind and the resulting email is basically empty blather. What we should be doing is finding value-adding content and then using emails to get this critical information into our customer’s hands.

What All Of This Means For You

When times get tough, one of the first things that companies often cut back on is the travel budgets that product managers use to get in front of our customers. When this happens, the very worst thing that we can do is sit back and passively start to lose contact with our customers.

Instead, what we need to be doing is finding creative new ways to stay in our customer’s minds even if we can’t be physically present. The old standby email is one tool that often gets overlooked.

This can be a dangerous tool — in the wrong hands, email can end up doing more damage to your relationship with your customer than good. However, if you take the time to think out what you want to communicate to your customer and then do it creatively in a brief way then you will have found a way to connect with your most valuable asset — your customers.

Do you think that you can overuse email as a way to get in touch with your customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers, we have somehow convinced ourselves that our customers both want and need more choices when it comes to our products. This thinking has allowed us to heap on more and more choices for our customers to make: colors, pricing plans, features, etc. However, it just may be the case that the one thing that our customers really don’t want is to have to make more decisions in order to buy our products…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry McKeogh December 7, 2009 at 11:29 am

E-mail marketing has become an effective tool for companies to reach the Internet generation, but a new study warns that one-too-many irrelevant e-mails may risk driving consumers completely away from a brand or product.

My personal approach is to use with caution. There may be other ways to interact with your customer base like Twitter / Facebook, etc.

Good reminder though, thanks.


Dr. Jim Anderson December 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Larry: I 100% agree with you. The trick here is that if you do it right, it’s a powerful tool, if you do it wrong, then you’ve shot yourself in the foot. What seems to work the best is if you make sure that any email that you send to your customer is loaded with useful info. They may or may not take action based on that, but you won’t come across as spamming them. Nice words, just really, really hard to do correctly…!


Tom Hamilton December 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

Jim – Great observations. Many times the most simple and accessible methods of communication are the ones we use every day. Two observations:
1. Much like other forms of social networking you really need to have already established a relationship with individual, actual people first in order to really get the benefit of direct email. Otherwise you run the risk of appearing to be cold calling spam.
2. In our age of instantaneous, always on communication the quality of our content has decreased dramatically. We write emails and respond to them at the speed of thought, which can lead to shoot from the hip decision making and half baked planning. Sometimes I really wonder if we are any more effective than back in the days of the inter-office memo delivered in those old yellow folders. Sure we communicate more often and more quickly today, but is the quality of those communications any better?


Dr. Jim Anderson December 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Tom: Ouch! You make a good point. I don’t have a magical answer, but lately I have become fascinated with the world of copywriters — the people who get paid to convince us to open an envelope or email that has been sent to us. Sure, in the world of direct mail they might be peddling junk, but I’m starting to think that their techniques might provide some guidance to how we should be building our communications with our customers. I guess getting paid by the word is a powerful motivator to make each word count…!


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