Raising Your Automation-Interaction Intelligence

Much has been written about the diminishing success of mass emails and how to develop new strategies that engage your prospects and customers. If you are up-to-date on this then you have probably recognized that it is no small task, not without its own challenges and pitfalls.

From its inception, BizConnector / Lead Follow-Up was built with bi-directional communication in mind. It incorporates the notion that communication is a series of ongoing ‘conversations’ with prospects and customers, and that each conversation is potentially different, just as much as each prospect or customer is potentially different. This is antithetical to the ‘one size fits all’ approach fundamental to the mass emailing model.

A conversation is an interaction between two parties. The term ‘interaction intelligence’ includes, among other things, how relevant one party’s messages are to the other. The more relevant a message, the more likely it will be taken into account by the other party.

Now bring automation into the picture. Automation-interaction intelligence measures how well you do all this automatically.

To be able to send relevant messages using an automated application requires that the application is sensitive not only to differences between its stored prospect and customer profiles, but that it is also sensitive to changes – in real time – in these profiles, and can react accordingly.

Not too many products do this successfully, and the reason for this may lie in their core architecture.

BizConnector / Lead Follow-Up does do this successfully. The main reason for this stems from its core architecture – manifested by (near) real time business rules (see What Is A Business Rule). The other is the Instant Feedback feature (see Getting Instant Feedback) that updates recipient responses in real-time.

These two mechanisms work symbiotically to respond sensitively to the profiles and stated needs of the target population, effectively raising its interaction intelligence through automation.

An Example:

If all this sounds too theoretical, then the following simple example may help to illustrate.

Let’s assume prospect records contain a field called ‘Product Interest’. This (required) field is populated initially by a prospect submitting a form on your website. Let’s say that for one prospect the field value starts off as ‘Product A’.

Let’s say you have two rules; Rule A firing and sending relevant emails over a period for ‘Product A’ prospects and another, Rule B, sending relevant emails over a period for ‘Product B’ prospects.

The above describes an ongoing ‘triggered email’ marketing environment in which prospects are receiving information (drip emails) relevant to their stated needs.

But in one or more of these emails you have an embedded ‘Instant Feedback’ question, and a prospect who initially requested ‘Product A’ information has changed her mind – now she wants ‘Product B’ information. She clicks ‘Tell me about Product B’ in the email.

Rule A immediately stops, and Rule B starts, for this prospect. The effect of this is that emails describing Product A are suppressed, and emails describing Product B start arriving in the recipient’s inbox.

Now wouldn’t you call that automated-interaction intelligence?

 

 

 

 

Handling the Long Tail – Rules Working Together

BizConnector rules are autonomous. Ostensibly, they are not aware of each other.

But through rule actions that update fields, they can be made to work together in a seamless symbiosis!

Handling ‘the long tail’ is one example of how this can be implemented effortlessly in BizConnector. Let’s take a simple example:

  • Let’s say you have a web form on your site inviting people to learn more about a specific product or service.
  • And you have a rating system for leads – say hot, warm, and cool.
  • When anyone indicates their interest by submitting name and email address, you want to send a sequence of seven weekly emails.
  • You think the weekly frequency is appropriate for people who are interested in what you have to say.
  • You set up systems for those who respond quickly.
  • But what about those who don’t respond in the seven weeks?

 

Here’s the BizConnector solution:

  • In addition to the email content for the seven weekly emails, decide on email content that will be sent at a slower pace – for those leads who are not quick to respond.
  • Let’s say you will re-use some email templates, and create a few new ones as well.
  • The solution involves two rules – one for warm leads and one for cool leads. (Hot leads are those that responded within the first seven weeks.)
  • The warm rule will send seven weekly emails, and in the eighth week will update the Rating field to ‘cool’.
  • The cool rule will fire, and send ten monthly emails (note the slower pace…)
  • That’s all you need to do!

The effect of this is:

  • Everyone will start receiving the seven weekly emails.
  • But those who respond will only receive the weekly emails up to the point that they respond. They are not sent ‘irrelevant’ emails because of the ‘Check Before Send’ feature basic to the tool.
  • After the seventh week, those still on the drip will have their Rating field changed to ‘cool’.
  • This kicks off the cool rule, which starts sending the monthly emails.
  • You remain ‘top of mind’ for these non-responders.
  • Think of this as the ‘long tail’, about which plenty has been written – on the internet and elsewhere.

Now that was easy, wasn’t it?

How Are Customers Using BizConnector / Lead Follow-Up?

An informal survey of BizConnector customers shows that the tool is being used in a number of different ways by different customers. Here, and in posts that will follow, are brief descriptions of some of them.

The most prevalent use of the tool is for lead nurturing.  Applications implemented in this category range from very simple to sophisticated.

A simple lead nurturing application  is:

  • New leads are added – via Salesforce ‘web2lead’ – when people fill out a form on a website page to express interest about a product or service.
  • A rule matching the profile of the new lead fires and schedules five to ten emails, distributed evenly over a period (usually weekly). The sequence of emails is often referred to under the category ‘drip marketing’.
  • Changes in lead ‘state’ – eg. was the lead contacted? – are usually not taken into account.

So for example, if this applies to one product or service, the effort required is to:

  • Articulate the strategy that drives this rule (the most difficult step)
  • Write the email content for the five to ten emails (hours or days per email, depending on a number of factors)
  • Create the rule (minutes or hours), test it (hours or days), then switch to ‘production mode’.

Even with such a simple application, customers report a huge benefit in that they are relieved from the tedious task of manually following up with new leads. This is a great timesaver with a big impact on the bottom line – lower costs.

To implement a more sophisticated lead nurturing application, additional todo items are:

  • Leads are given an initial rating of ‘warm’ (values can be hot, warm, cool, cold).
  • A rule matching the profile of new warm leads fires and schedules at least seven (*) emails.
  • There are more fields in the rule condition than in simpler applications, to take the ‘state’ and other factors into account, such as whether the lead has been contacted or not.
  • The ‘Check Before Send’ feature suppresses emails if the lead fields no longer match the rule conditions. This maintains relevance, so that leads are not receiving emails about products and services they are no longer interested in.
  • If a lead does not respond with the period of the rule (say, ten weeks), a ‘cool’ rule takes over (because the warm rule updates the lead rating to ‘cool’).
  • The ‘cool’ rule schedules, say, ten emails over a longer period (say ten months). This rule is effectively dealing with the ‘long tail’.

And if you are feeling adventurous, these additional steps make for a powerful application:

  • Create a rule to fire when recipients click on a link in an email
  • Embed a question in one or more emails to get instant feedback

More effort is required here than in the first example, but is still manageable:

  • Articulate the strategy that drives the two rules and the relationship between them.
  • Write the email content for the emails for both rules (hours or days per email)
  • Create the rules (minutes or hours), test them (days), then switch to ‘production mode’.

In addition to the benefits as for simple applications, customers love the ‘intelligent’ responsiveness of:

  • suppressing emails when they are no longer relevant
  • switching over to the ‘cool’ rule for non-responsive leads
  • rules firing when recipient click on links in emails
  • getting responses to the embedded questions directly in the records without having to mess with cumbersome uploads from spreadsheets, etc.

Automated lead nurturing was ‘top of mind’ when Lead Follow-Up was first released on Salesforce AppExchange in 2007. But it is not the only reason why customers use the tool – workflow applications can be implemented too. Come back again to see more posts on this.

 

 

Getting Instant Feedback From Your Emails

One feature that has been available for some time now is Instant Feedback. This is a closed-loop feedback mechanism that works by embedding a question in an email, and updating the recipient’s lead or contact record in real time when he/she responds. It’s a gem that deserves more attention.

Here’s an example:

You would start by creating a custom field in (let’s say) the lead record that will receive the response. In this example the custom field, with name When Expect To Buy, is a picklist created in the Salesforce Setup area under Customize Lead Fields.

With this in place, it’s a simple matter to embed the question in an html email. In the html editor Instant Feedback tab, you would make selections something like this.

Custom field selections

You would then set the insertion point by clicking where in the email body you want the questions to go, and then click Insert. The question would then appear in the email, with a look as follows:

Although they look like radio buttons, they are actually links which, when clicked, update the lead record in real-time.

This is a ‘self-service’ feature, the advantages of which should not be missed.

  • The effort required to make changes in lead records is eliminated – the prospect does this for you
  • It provides an opportunity for interaction, which interested prospects and customers appreciate
  • It can take advantage of the ‘Check Before Send’ feature to move a prospect or customer to another rule more relevant to his/her needs
  • It can be used to automatically segment your database – without you lifting a finger!

This is automation at its best, and it has been used effectively by many users. Is this something you would be interested in?

A Little BizConnector History

At this juncture, with the start of a new year and the relaunch of this website, it may be useful to take a look at the history of BizConnector since its appearance in 2005, to relate it to its offshoot ‘Lead Follow-Up’ on Salesforce.com, and in a future post, to describe its expected evolution and roadmap.

BizConnector started off as ‘a web-based email communication tool that enables ‘contextual interaction’ with recipients, addressing the needs of companies seeking to cultivate their customers and grow their businesses by using the latest web technologies to manage marketing campaigns in an intelligent way’. Essentially, it was a mass-emailer with interactive ability – a trail-blazer in many ways.

The original BizConnector had a place for business rules, but it was the development of Lead Follow-Up – a marketing automation app on Salesforce AppExchange – that featured real-time business rules as its core architectural foundation. As the name implies, Lead Follow-Up was built – with a more restricted vision than the original BizConnector – to address the needs of marketers to nurture leads and prospects. Integrated deeply with Salesforce.com through the API, its basic modus operandi is to use events in Salesforce data to trigger ‘drip marketing’ campaigns and workflows. It was expanded to attach not only to Leads, but to Contacts, Accounts, Opportunities, Tasks, Events, and Cases. And it incorporates features such as landing pages and a closed-loop feedback mechanism that makes it a powerful tool, despite its apparent simplicity.

BizConnector can now be described, at its core, as a (Near) Real-Time Business Rules Engine for small business. With the development of ‘channels’ that can be used for business rule triggers and actions, BizConnector now has the ability to connect with external systems and applications, be triggered by events outside Salesforce, and pull content from multiple sources. Channels are open-ended, and can be developed by third parties. And the forthcoming BizConnector API, to be announced, will provide a platform for new and exciting applications.

Please visit here again for more information about the BizConnector roadmap.

What’s your vision of customer interaction?

From its inception, the BizConnector/Lead Follow-Up vision has promoted two-way communication with prospects and customers. This is in stark contrast to the one way communication paradigm manifested in mass emailers, and is exemplified by the ‘Insert a Question’ feature in Lead Follow-Up which makes it easy to get customer feedback.

Let’s assume for a moment that two-way communication is the preferred approach. Well, of course there are risks, but I am not the first to submit that this – interaction – is a cornerstone of the trust between business and customers that is a requirement for sustainability.

But here’s something else to consider – as posed by Gary Lemke, publisher of CRM Advocate:
Any strategy which posits a holistic view of the customer and attempts to co-develop value with these same customers must have in place a methodology for unfettered two-way communication…. …too many companies take a transactional, cash-register approach…‘.

In other words, a ‘holistic view of the customer’ is a precursor to (unfettered) two-way communication, and this is antithetical to a ‘transactional’ approach.

It seems that industry trends are well on their way towards ‘one view of the customer’, although there is plenty to be done before this can be considered an established practice.

What do you think? Do you regard this as a no-brainer? What obstacles do you consider are in the way to this ideal?

Here’s to new beginnings!

Colin Goldberg