December 02, 2009
How To

Personalized Emails, Website for Sales Agents Boost Response: 5 Strategies to Lift CTR 23%

SUMMARY: See how a cruise agency uses an automated, centralized email and website system that creates personalized communications for its 2,500 sales agents.

Putting an agent’s face and name on correspondence has lifted clickthroughs 23%, and helped the team create a lifecycle of messages that includes pre-sale marketing and post-cruise “Welcome Home” emails to solicit trip reviews.
Dave Mossop, Interactive Media Specialist, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, doesn’t sell cruise packages directly to consumers, but his team plays a crucial role in marketing to prospects and communicating with customers.

The brick-and-click cruise agency has more than 2,500 cruise consultants who operate independently or from franchised locations across North America. Mossop’s team supports those agents by sending email and direct mail communications to leads on the agent’s behalf -- customized with the agent’s contact information.

"Our goal, ultimately, is you’re not dealing with the faceless Expedia CruiseShipCenters," says Mossop. "You’re dealing with 'Kathy Cruiser,' cruise consultant with CruiseShipCenters."

The approach is working. Compared to emails sent from a generic CruiseShipCenters account, personalized messages from a cruise agent have achieved a:
o 5.5% higher open rate
o 23% higher clickthrough rate

Mossop’s colleague, John Mast, VP, Marketing, will appear at MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Email Marketing Summit in January, to share details about how the team combines email, social media and mobile in their marketing efforts. But as a preview, we spoke with Mossop to learn how the team puts a personal face on their marketing, and helps keep sales agents in touch with leads and customers.

Here are five key strategies the team uses in their personalized marketing efforts:

Strategy #1. Customize website on the fly

The team’s website is a central location for customers to learn about cruises and contact sales agents. The team has a "wide spectrum" of customers that skew age 55+ with household income about $100,000, Mossop says.

First-time visitors to the website, who arrive through a search or by typing in the URL, are served a generic page. The generic page has contact information that connects visitors to nearby franchise locations.

But the website is also customizable for sales agents’ marketing outreach. They can send leads to a page that looks exactly like the homepage, but is customized with the agent’s:
o Photograph
o Email address
o Phone number
o "About Me" page
o Banner ads

Customers arrive at an agent’s customized page by clicking on an email link from CruiseShipCenters, or by viewing the URL in a local advertisement. The URLs are often the website’s address appended by "/agentname."

- Cookies

The website cookies visitors to agent-specific pages. The cookies ensure returning visitors who type in the generic page’s URL will be served the agent’s page they last visited.

Strategy #2. Send customized emails from sales agents

Mossop’s team in the corporate office handles email marketing to prospects. All emails are customized as if they were sent by the agents to their contacts.

"Most people don’t realize what’s happening," Mossop says. "They think the consultants are sending these emails ...which means we’re doing it extremely well."

The team has five primary email marketing alerts and newsletters, which are sent in three languages (US English, CA English and CA French.) Those email programs include:

- CruiseShipNews, a monthly travel newsletter.

- CruiseShipFlash, an alert email that offers last minute deals.

- CruiseShipWeekly, which offers deals and promotions. There are Alaska, Europe Exotic and Caribbean editions.

Each email is customized with an agent’s:
o Photo
o Email address
o Phone number
o Reply-to address

Leads who receive an email from a personal cruise agent are 5.5% more likely to open the email than those who receive an email addressed from a CruiseShipCenters location, Mossop says.

They are also 23% more likely to click a link in the email if it is addressed from a personal agent.

Further customization based on the subscriber’s personal information can compound the benefits. For example, the team sent a February 2009 CruiseShipFlash email that featured a personalized subject line with the customer’s name:
o "[First Name], Exclusive Savings and Bonuses Await"

The three different language editions of the campaign had the following results:

1. CA English
o 31.2% open rate
o 8.6% CTR

2. CA French
o 43.8% open rate
o 16.7% CTR

3. US English
o 17.0% open rate
o 3.6% CTR

"We’ve found personalized subject lines lift our open rates upwards of 10%," Mossop says. "Although, we only use it for really big promotions, as to not desensitize our subscribers to it."

Strategy #3. Automatically route leads to agents

Because agents are responsible for all selling, the team created a system to send each lead to the most relevant agent.

Website visitors are presented with an 800 number and an email address to request information about cruises. When a visitor makes a request on an agent’s customized page, that agent will receive an email notification about the lead’s inquiry.

Leads gathered through the generic CruiseShipCenter page are routed through one of two methods:

- Email address

The system automatically checks the lead’s email address against the company’s database. If the lead is already associated with a particular agent, that agent will receive notice of the lead’s inquiry.

- Zip code

Leads that come through the website and do not have an agent associated with them are routed to the nearest CruiseShipCenter franchise by zip code.

Strategy #4. Use internal email to notify agents of leads’ actions

Mossop’s team has a system that automatically sends agents notifications when one of their leads takes an action that requires communication.

When customers book a trip, a series of email messages to the agents are initiated that are timed according to the departure date.

The reminders include:
o Collect final payment
o Have a "Bon Voyage" call
o Check all travel documents

The system also sends other reminders and alerts to agents, such as when a lead requests more information or a quote for a cruise, or writes a review about a cruise he or she has taken.

Strategy #5. Send automated follow-up email to solicit trip reviews

Three days after the client returns from his or her cruise, Mossop’s team sends a "Welcome Home" email that asks passengers to complete a cruise review survey.

As with the team’s other messages, the Welcome Home email is customized with the cruise agent’s personal information and photo.

Maintaining this relationship with the individual cruise agent helps the team convince about 15% of clients to complete the survey. They now have 14,000 reviews in their system that prospects can browse from the website.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Expedia CruiseShipCenters customized communications program
John Mast, VP, Marketing, Expedia CruiseShipCenters will be speaking at MarketingSherpa’s Email Summit ‘10 in Miami:

Lyris: The team’s email service provider

Expedia CruiseShipCenters

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