Do you know what the average opening rate of welcome emails is, compared to regular business newsletters'? No? So prepare yourself to be surprised. It’s around 60%. Yes, you read it correctly. Almost 200% higher than a 20% opening rate of a promotional offer. And then you think: why am I not using this information to get more from my company’s sales procedures?
I can’t answer that, but I can definitely say, you are not the only one missing on it. Until recently we were also part of this group, along with thousands of other companies, neglecting the power of these automated messages. “And what has changed?” We realized we could use our SharePoint environment and some SharePoint Alerts and Reminders customization to make it work. And so can you!
Having gone through the experience of planning and redesigning our set of automated emails, I thought I would share my learning in a two-part blog series: first, listing some ideas, based on our experience and use cases, of how to improve sales procedures using custom SharePoint Alerts; and later, talking about some best practices when designing SharePoint transactional emails.
Feel free to use all this as inspiration, adapting every case to your company’s requirements and needs. But first, let me talk a little more about this type of automated message I was mentioning before.
What are Transactional emails?
Welcome emails are part of a group of messages called transactional emails or triggered emails. Like the name suggests, this group contains messages that are triggered by specific events or user’s actions. They are automatic responses to client’s engagement with your company.
For example, when a user purchases something from your company’s website, they should receive an automatic order confirmation, and later a shipping and delivery notice related to the purchase. They are all transactional emails. The same happens when you subscribe to a blog, receiving a welcome note, or with social media platforms (like Facebook) receiving alerts when somebody comments on your posts.
“So, since they are triggered messages, are they just like a SharePoint alert or reminder?” Almost! Transactional emails are more directed to exterior users and clients. But besides that, they are pretty much the same. And that is why using SharePoint Alerts for this purpose makes a lot of sense. I just wished it were that simple (I will tell you more about it further on).
Why are triggered emails so important?
Transactional emails are considered the most effective form of email marketing for the simple fact that users are actually waiting for the message to get to their mailbox, and they are confident that the email content is going to be important and useful to them. That translates to a higher open and click-through rate. Imagine using that for sales purposes. It's Gold! Trust me.
It’s different from a bulk email campaign, or commercial email, where every user of a list receives the same content. Transactional emailing is sent individually, it's personal, it’s customized, it’s relevant and it’s absolutely convenient, for both the company and the client. And you should keep it that way if you wish to get the most out of them.
Another point is that only around 2% of sales get concluded on the first contact. Studies show, that before closing a sale, the majority of users require from 5 to 6 contacts with the company to ensure an alignment of expectations and a trustworthy relationship. Transactional emails can be a great way to solve this problem. A well-designed and effective automatic email campaign, with the right type of content, can increase brand awareness, improve business trust, and strengthen customer loyalty.
Customizing SharePoint Alerts
As I've mentioned before, SharePoint alerts theoretically would be a great solution for this situation. You could fire an alert every time a new purchase is concluded, for example. But until now, with SharePoint 2010 and 2013 out of the box features, it is not simple to select custom recipients, personalize templates and mail merge information from multiple lists. If you are not willing to use complex SharePoint Workflows, the possibilities are quite limited.
In this case, it is necessary to use a 3rd party tool, to extend the SharePoint alert feature. You can find some options in the market, but I will be using JungleBell for this demonstration.
Business Case: Product Trial’s Download
I've created a case based on this trigger event: when a new customer downloads a trial of our SharePoint Newsletter solution, JungleMail, on our website. I am going to list 4 possible messages that can be triggered by this event, and the SharePoint alert features used on them.
Day 01 - Welcome Email
This is the first email sent to the customer, right after the product trial’s download. I am not going deep into the content, but basically, it contains a welcome message and helpful information (links to documentation and support email address).
Triggered when an item is created
The way I implemented this message was by creating a SharePoint list called “Download Requests”, automatically including new items every time the download form is submitted on the website, and setting up a SharePoint alert to be triggered whenever a new item is created. Note: “Download Request” list must contain a column “Email” to be used as the recipient for the alerts.
I used JungleBell, first of all, because I wanted to build a condition for the alert to be triggered only when a “JungleMail” product trial has been downloaded, not any other. This way I can use one SharePoint list for all downloads and filter the triggers. Then I wanted to use the new item’s “Email” metadata as a recipient for the alert, which SharePoint by itself won’t let me do. And finally, I wanted to work on the template mail merging information to make it personalized.
Check the configurations I used:
Day 05 - Complementary Content
The second message gets sent 5 days after the trial’s download, containing links to complementary readings related to the product (blog posts and new features files).
Mail merging from multiple lists
The point here is to follow up the customers with the latest information we produced about the product they are trying out, but without having to change the SharePoint reminder template every time new content gets uploaded. I wanted to mail merge data from two different existing SharePoint lists: “Blog Posts” and “Tutorials”, presenting 3 items of each list in the reminder body. Those items should be related to the downloaded trial product (JungleMail), and also should be the newest uploaded/created.
I managed that using JungleBell repeater feature, selecting the source lists, the conditions and item limits. For me to bring only the newest data I ordered the list views by new to old. From now on, every time something new gets uploaded to both source lists, the alerts are automatically updated.
Day 20 - Approaching Deadline
This message is sent 20 days after the download and contains a reminder that the trial period had almost run out.
Send alert on approaching date
This is a simple one: triggering a reminder email when the Due Date (End of Trial) is approaching in 10 days. Working with approaching or overdue dates is not possible with regular SharePoint functionality. In JungleBell I included that information as a trigger condition.
Day 30 - End of Trial
This email, sent 30 days after download, announces the end of the product’s trial period, bringing for the customer a call to action for the product’s full version purchase and a subscription link to our newsletter mailing list. This, also, is the last transactional email planned for this case and represents the end of this specific sales procedure.
Execute SharePoint Workflow
I've mentioned it before, this marks the end of this triggered sales procedure, and it needs to be registered for future actions, like triggering phone calls and monthly follow-ups. The point is that the information that the trial period had been over needs to be included in the customer’s metadata, and the best way to do it is through a SharePoint Workflow.
With JungleBell I could start a SharePoint workflow (EndTrial) when the alert is triggered, changing a specific column date to say that all messages related to the trial period had been delivered.
I guess it is clear that a good pack of transactional emails will help your set business expectations and start relationships with your customers. So use them wisely. Remember that no one wants to be overloaded with too many messages. We always joke that the perfect number is always 1 message less than the original plan. Run some tests and find a balance.
We've been testing and learning new ways to reach our customers, and, until now, customized SharePoint alerts remain as the best option. It is cost efficient, easy to implement and to customize. If you decide to give a try, let us know about your experience in the comments below. And if you want to learn more about transactional emails, stay tuned for the second part of this blog series, exploring some best practices.