Lots of businesses use email as a marketing tool. One of the big issues they have to overcome is how to get the customer to actually open and read the email. There's an art to it, and even the best can't get recipients to read every email they send.

The one commercial email almost everyone reads

But you know, there's one kind of business email that almost always gets read, and almost never gets reported as spam. It's the confirmation email companies send to their customers when the customer makes a purchase.

I've probably received a few hundred of these over the years. (OK, I admit it; I do a lot of online shopping...) Most of them are pretty standard stuff. They thank me for my business and confirm what I ordered. Some give me information about the expected ship date. A few companies send a second email to let me know when my item has shipped and to give me a shipper tracking number.

All well and good, but if that's all your confirmation emails do, you're missing a big opportunity to grow your business. Did you know you can make your confirmation emails do double-duty? You can!

See, it seems to me one of the most overlooked techniques for getting what you want is to ask for it. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? You ask, the person you ask says no. Oh, the horror -- you're no worse off than you were before. And, ya know, there's always a chance they might say yes.

I admit this is something I had to learn the hard way, as have many other people I know. So it's an issue we're working on with my son. So far, I admit my success is mixed. He'll hint all around what he wants, but sometimes getting the kid to just come out and say what he's after is like pulling teeth. But he's getting better, so I have hope.

HOW you ask makes a difference

The thing we're trying to teach our son -- beyond the basic technique of simply standing up and asking straight out instead of wandering around dropping vague hints -- is to ask with respect. When you're polite, I think you up your chances of getting the answer you want. Get the other person's attention -- but not by hounding them or butting in on them when they're busy with something important. Say "please." Understand it's good to make a specific request, but it's not OK to get upset if they decide to do something for you that's a little different from what you asked. After all, they're doing you a favor. Say "thank you" and move on. It's rude to spend too much time examining the gift horse's dental work.

Fortunately, your confirmation email is something the customer is looking forward to. It's an email you can count on most folks at least opening and glancing over. Some will read in detail and even print it out. In other words, you already have their positive attention.

Now all you have to do is make a polite request.

So, what do you want?

Do you want to make more sales? Use your thank-you to suggest additional products that might be of interest to the customer. You can have a programmer write a routine to dynamically insert suggested cross-sales or upsales based on what the customer purchased. The routine can instead rotate through several standard products you'd especially like to promote. You can just include information about a single product -- perhaps a new release or a special purchase -- you want to share with all your customers. Or you can include a coupon code for the customer to use for a discount on a future order on the product(s) of her choice.

Do you want more links pointing to your website? I don't know too many business sites that would turn down more legitimate links... so use your thank-you to ask for them. I mean, it's possible -- nowadays, even likely -- your customers have one or more websites at their disposal. Maybe some of them will be happy enough with your product or service to give you a link or two from their site(s). Bonus! These are the kind of natural "vote for your site" the search engines are looking for.

Do you want more subscribers to your customer newsletter? Include a little marketing copy promoting the benefits of a subscription and a link to the sign-up page. Maybe you could offer an incentive (a free sample product, a members-only premium or a discount or coupon) for existing customers who sign up.

Do you want to recruit affiliates to sell your products? Many affiliate managers say people who use the product or service themselves are usually better at making sales. So you could add a short paragraph inviting your customers to check out your affiliate program, along with a link to a landing page where they can get full information about all the benefits and sign up.

Would you like more testimonials to use on your website and other marketing materials? Or are you seeking feedback about what you do right (and what could stand some improvement) to make your products or services better? Include a link to a survey page and ask your customers to tell you what they think. Again, offering a small incentive to those who complete the survey might help increase your response rate.

Does your company have a blog, or would you like to get more of your customers to "follow" you on your favorite social networking site? Include a link and an invitation to read the corporate blog, follow your company on Twitter, become your company's fan on FaceBook, or whatever.

Do you want to reach out to people who aren't yet your customers? Maybe you could work out a deal with a complimentary (non-competing) business to trade recommendations. You could include a recommendation of their product or service on your confirmation email, and they could do the same for you. It's a win-win situation -- your companies both get promoted to a whole new group of customers.

Whatever else you might want your customers to do for you -- just ask. You may be surprised at the positive response.

Of course, I wouldn't recommend doing all of these things at once! You don't want your thank-you emails to be the size of War and Peace. (Trust me on this one, you don't.) I recommend starting with your "most wanted" and trying it. If it works, great... and if not, try something else. Over time, as you refine your knowledge of what types of requests are most likely to get a positive response, your success rate will rise.

The possibilities are nearly endless; the potential benefits are great. And to start the ball rolling, all you have to do is ask.

August 30, 2008

Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting www.NineYards.com.


Hi Diane:
What a nice article chock full of ideas and it makes so much sense to do! DUH me -- I am guilty of not having my confirmation emails do double-duty for me! lol


@Claudia - I know what you mean! It's one of the things that seems so obvious in retrospect. I'm in the process of implementing this for my company's confirmation emails. I hope to be able to report back with the results sometime in the future.

Thank you ,Diana,
I am a newbie of business,i have never had so wonderful ideas ,thanks for your sharing.

Great article- I never thought of doing that before!

thanks for sharing

Nice article it is time for me to start a blog.

Thanks for sharing Diana

It's not a bad idea indeed, I'll gonna try sharing recommendations and hope it all work out fine and won't turn negative on other web owners, anyway I guess it won't hurt to try and fail as we can learn a lot of things from failing..

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