This guest-post is from Joannes Vermorel, founder of Lokad which produces sales forecasts for off-line companies. He has a personal blog about cloud computing.
Despite experts routinely claiming Email 1.0 will soon be replaced by their own Email 2.0; Email 1.0 is here to stay. Yet, when it comes to email management, most companies seems to adopt a somewhat broken posture: either they don’t advertise any public email or they advertise too many of them.
The right number of emails to be advertized by your company is ONE.
Being the founder of Lokad.com, a B2B SaaS startup, I was eager to do the “Right Thing,” and immediately set up a CRM for sales, a ticketing system for complaints, web forums for whatever, and a handful of email addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org that would flow to distinct mailboxes, nice and organized. This was, I believe, one of my biggest early mistakes, and it took us about one year to understand the problem: premature partitioning was crippling our interactions with prospects, press, clients, and influencers.
Fragmented communication issues were numerous and yet subtle. Here’s some anecdotal evidence:
- Sales team pitched a prospect with the usual 3min introductive verbatim, later to discover that the prospect was already very familiar with our technology, as the prospect was already one week into integrating with Lokad. As a result, the pitch was less than useful, and the sales team appeared clueless. (They were clueless.)
- Support team, not aware of the importance of a prospect, replied with a short email pointing toward our online documentation to a VIP (Very Important Prospect) who was basically asking for a direct call. Not only we missed a big opportunity to engage with a VIP, but we appeared somewhat carefree too (VIPs expect to be treated as such).
- A client with a technical question our billing, unsure of the proper contact, decided to separately email sales@, support@ and billing@. He got 3 distinct answers, triple effort for us, and one of them, poorly phrased, seemed to bring a different answer. We spend hours undoing the confusion afterward.
Issues usually proved not to be deal-breakers, but as they were happening on a daily basis, they were causing lots of ongoing friction and a huge waste of time.
At the same time, I personally observed at the startup incubator of Telecom ParisTech the impact of one co-founder leaving his company after 18 months. CRM and support tickets were already in place. Nevertheless, about 1/3rd of all company contacts were damaged because no full email records were available for those contacts. The details of many commercial proposals were lost, and the leaving cofounder wasn’t much inclined in giving support.
Those observations, plus many others, lead me to following conclusion: whenever an email crosses your company boundary, it has to go through a company-wide unified setup. Then, once the unfied setup is in place, a single email address is just the most logical way to go. From a practical viewpoint, a single shared webmail is good enough for a small team. However, we did end up with Relenta.com an email-based CRM which is worth your attention if you’ve never heard of them (Disclaimer: I have no stakes in Relenta).
While transitioning toward unified email setup about two years ago, we uncovered what I believe to be two common antipatterns:
- Not advertising a public email was bad. We were denying our prospects the possibility to contact us in a highly cost-efficient manner. I did consider offering a web form, but thinking again, web form is a rather hellish alternative to email: why would anybody prefer my half-baked web UI they never used before over the email client they use daily? Nowadays, a small percentage of our leads come through direct mails instead of webapp registrations, yet, those are frequently our most interesting prospects: super-large companies!
- Then, as we did start exposing multiple email addresses like sales@, support@, billing@, partners@ we also started to inflict headaches to our prospects, clients, partners … Why should those people, who know less than us about Lokad, be responsible for decoding our emerging corporate layers to figure out the right mailbox? After the transition, we realized that internal mail routing made everything simpler.
Then, some unobvious benefits appeared over time:
- We improved responsiveness: Instead of having a “personal” auto-replier begging my prospect not to turn to the competition before I had a chance to return from my leave, a fellow team member is now capable of taking over the case, frequently ghost-writing on my behalf if the answer is simple enough.
- We started delivering smarter replies: By letting support folks having a look at the initial pre-sales discussion, support is frequently able to deliver better suggestions that really fit the prospect context, instead of forcing the prospect into a tedious rewrite of what has just been explained to sales.
- We created room for peer reviews: Through unified email setup, Lokad found itself with the opportunity to put egos aside and start having reviews concerning email interactions with prospects or clients. It’s great way to train people too: let them read a few dozens threads so they learn how everything works (hint: most startups don’t have the resources to produce training manuals).
- We boosted morale and teamwork: facing a disgruntled prospect is bad enough, facing him/her alone is worse. With collective email ownership, there is no easy blame to be put on anyone. The team is here to diagnose what went wrong and how to do a better job when the same situation happens again.
- We improved resilience against turnover: So far Lokad has been lucky, but we are no exception — someday, somebody will quit us for good or bad reasons. Yet, I am confident that unlike the startup I observed at the incubator, the damage — beside the unavoidable loss of talent and experience — will be minimal.
Naturally, I had doubts while transitioning toward such a setup, but most initial concerns proved to be non-issues. First, we did keep personal mailboxes and the combination personal+shared is working just fine. The collective email setup only concerns messages that cross company boundaries, not internal communications. Spam is a non-issue. We have been prominently exposing a public email address on Lokad.com for years now and modern dead-cheap spam filters are simply doing an excellent job. Public perception is a non-issue as we personalize replies so that they originate from
"Joannes Vermorel" <email@example.com> or
"Matthias Steinberg" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or from any other team member. Only geeks pay attention to the actual email address. Security concerns have not increased either. Someday, somebody will end-up sending stuff to the Wrong Bob: email cannot be made ultra-secure. Unified email setup is only making the issue more obvious, not worse.
Finally, I believe that the single email approach remains valid no matter if you happen to be two guys in a garage or MegaCorp Inc, but I digress. Are you still exposing a number of emails not equal to one? What are you waiting for?
Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.