By outsourcing permission-based email delivery to application service provider (ASP) Roving Software, dotcom golf pro shop Go Golf LLC of Albuquerque, New Mexico has seen a positive ROI on every email campaign. The virtual golf specialty store of Go Golf LLC, golfbargains.com, has witnessed its opt-in, permission-based email list grow from 8,000 two years ago to over 100,000 today. Since visits to its Web site are down, reflecting the tight economy, email campaigns have become the medium that has kept golfbargains.com successful.
And the ASP has kept this buyer out of the sand trap of spam. That has become an increasingly important skill for an email service provider since many of the major U.S. ISPs are instituting challenge response, a new technology designed to smoke out automated programs by forcing all senders to verify their authenticity. For example, Earthlink instituted challenge response on June 1.
Early Email a Bogie
Early email efforts left much, if not everything; to be desired since golfbargains.com went online in 1996, according to IS Director Travis Erickson. "It was tough because there wasn't much to choose from." Initially, the company used programs like Microsoft Outlook. Later, it purchased an email program but this was not easy to use and couldn't generate email in HTML. A service provider followed but did not offer adequate controls. "We didn't even have an opt-out button. All we had was a reply with 'remove' in the subject line," laments Erickson.
From the Rough to the Fairway
In April 2001 Erickson discovered Constant Contact by Roving Software of Waltham, Massachusetts. The Web-based email marketing ASP specializes in meeting the needs of small businesses. It offers a cost-effective monthly pricing structure based upon the number of emails sent.
Constant Contact delivers messages in HTML or text depending on the email client of the recipient and automatically formats the email for proper display even in difficult programs like earlier versions of AOL. Constant Contact accesses the list in the database to accomplish personalization. The service also provides an opt-in link on the client's Web site to register guests for mailings with a survey feature to enhance targeting and recipient preferences.
Roving Software has a network of partners that can meet the needs of the small business lacking expertise areas like creative design, cleansing and segmentation. The company also sends out a newsletter every three weeks with tips and news as well a hosting Webinars.
From the Fairway to the Green
Erickson was immediately delighted when he took the free trial. He sent a small test batch email that included his own personal AOL account that often displayed raw code. The message came through perfectly.
The first email campaign was swift and efficient for Erickson. "We were able to create our first e-marketing campaign in about 20 minutes. Altogether we generated $12,500 from that first campaign."
Every email campaign has been successful. "Often we have oversold a campaign. It is just amazing that in some campaigns we sold out in 24 hours. Prior to the email, it would sit in stock for six months."
The email campaigns have been a salvation for golfbargains.com in these lean economic times, according to Erickson. "Being able to target our customers has kept us on an even keel during these rough times. If we hadn't had the email campaign side of it, it would have been brutal. Every time we do an emailing, sales jump dramatically."
Avoiding the Sand Traps
Over time, Constant Contact's value has increased for Erickson due to the backlash against the spammers. ISPs are very quick to pull the trigger on anybody who appears to be a spam monger. "I have a greater chance of being blacklisted as an individual mailer than an organization like Roving," he notes. This is a major consideration companies decide to use a service provider instead of buying software. "If you bought software and then there are new requirements, then what? Will they maneuver to meet the needs?" he asks.
Roving Software CEO Gail Goodman says, "We are the eyes, ears and voice of small business in the increasingly loud debate over spam. With over 10,000 ISPS in the U.S. alone, the small business working alone does not have the resources to even begin this process."
The real time campaign intelligence is of tremendous value to Erickson. "Now that we have the features that can analyze the bounces, we can see if we inadvertently get blacklisted," he says. He has "a good idea of the success of the campaign" through reporting which lists the click throughs and how many people opened their email. The reports also show when a message hits a filter.
Kent Allen, a research director for Aberdeen Group, says small and medium-sized businesses need help with their email campaigns. "Too often their digital direct marketing options are limited. Off-the-shelf software offers little insight into email best practices. Many are seeking the right partner to supply them with the most appropriate set of email technologies and digital marketing expertise," he says. Aberdeen Group, based in Boston, Massachusetts, is an IT market research and consulting firm.
Outsourcing provides benefits recognized in the figure below from survey results reported by Aberdeen Group in September 2002.
"For years, Roving has focused solely on supplying SMBs with email tools that lower marketing costs and increase overall email campaign effectiveness. In addition to offering hints and usability tips, Roving continuously monitors how its SMB client base uses its Constant Contact," Allen reports.
In an environment with increasing cries from the public on spam and a tough economy, golfbargains.com has had success on every email campaign. That makes it one of the winners on the tour.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing targeted permission-based email has produced success in every campaign and sustained golfbargains.com in lean economic times.
- Outsourcing provides defense against being an accidental casualty in the war against spam. The service provider has skills and leverage buyers dosn't have in ever-changing spam war.
- Real-time reporting allows buyers to better judge the success of their email campaigns.