What to do when your email team breaks down


I don't know about you, but I am crazy-busy these days. Not to brag about my agency, but I think it reflects the general increase in email marketing and all the attention we and other marketers and agencies are getting lately.

And while I love hearing the phone ring and seeing our teams busy on projects for our clients, I know all this work has a dark side.

When things get busy, they break easier. People are in a rush to meet deadlines. They're hurrying down the hall faster, trying to cram in as much as possible. This happens a lot in email marketing especially at high-stress moments like the holidays when you have even more screaming-down-the-hall moments thanks to somebody else's deficiency in making sales or targets.

Increases in errors of all kinds, from misspellings and wrong offers to broken links and campaigns sent to the wrong lists, are a measure of how much more companies are relying on email. We're not immune to the problem, either. With the number of campaigns we do, it's inevitable that someone will make a mistake.

In a client's words, we understand mistakes happen, but we need to ensure they don't happen a lot.

What steps do you take in your email program to recognize when and where mistakes happen? When do you know it's time to pause, not to go faster or take on more work but to take a step back?

These are the times when you can't just fix a mistake on the fly. You need to sit down, calm down, center your mind, and figure out how to solve the greater problem – why mistakes happen.

This happens often. In my years with email, whether I'm working with enterprise-level companies or smaller businesses, everybody gets stretched. But the quickest way to get on your company's bad side is to send out an "oops" email to 25 million people – repeatedly.

So, let's take that moment now. Here are my 3 tactics for preventing process breakdowns that lead to email errors.

1. Put your new members on training wheels.

When you hire new people, explain your email process and give them time to learn it. This is not the time to throw your newbies into the deep end. That's a sure-fire way to increase your error rate.

It doesn't matter how experienced your new team members might be. They don't know the ins and outs and quirks of the workflow you follow to develop and launch a campaign. But don't just explain the process. Help your new people succeed by taking them through the process. Let them experience it, but don't let them completely control it.

At the same time, make sure the rest of your team knows that you have a new person involved in the process, and that means mistakes could happen. Check their work to be sure they're following your protocols.

Don't just hand your newcomer a brief and hope for success. In the words of email great Loren McDonald, hope is not a strategy.

At the same time, though, your new employees will need to feel empowered in the process and in control of their particular pieces of it. Ask for their feedback after they complete their work. What worked and what was hard to understand? Find out how they managed their work at other companies.

We all hate that new person who can't stop saying, "When I was at big company, this is how we did it." But in asking your newcomers to explain how they worked in similar environments, you could learn something.

In short, empower your new team members, give them the control they need, check over their work, listen to their feedback and change something in your process if it makes sense.

2. Stop, drop, and roll if you notice more errors.

Fixing errors is like putting out wildfires. You have to correct them quickly but also find out why they happen. Here's what to do if you find more mistakes creeping into your pre-launch process, if people aren’t meeting deadlines, or if you're sending "oops" emails more often:

  • Stop what you're doing now. Right now.
  • Drop everything, including work on your future campaigns.
  • Roll everybody into the conference room and figure out what's going wrong

You might have deadlines all over the place, but this is something you need to identify and fix ASAP. Grab your people and review your entire campaign process – who does what when and where. Review your expectations for the process. What's breaking down? Just because you always did it that way doesn't mean that's how you'll always do it in the future.

Go over your process from start to finish and make sure everybody understands their role and what needs to happen before and after their part. Look for areas that might need to change.

If you do change something in your process, give everyone a chance to get up to speed with it.

Document every change, including the benefits you get from it, such as greater efficiency, better communication, or fewer errors and time lost to rework.

Your campaign process is a fluid document. In our agency, we have different processes for different clients because each one has unique needs and their own internal processes that we have to mesh with.

It can get confusing, but we have documented everything so we can keep the streams from crossing.

Even if you don't have an error problem, check your process every so often. Don't wait for an "oops" moment that forces you to scramble and plug a leak. Sometimes an "oops" is just an "oops," and sometimes it's a sign that your process is breaking down under the strain of extra work.

3. Explain your process to people outside your team.

Your non-email team members probably share the quaint notion that email lives in a can tucked away on a high shelf, out of everyone's way until it comes time to use it. "Just send another email," some executive will say.

As we all know, making money in email isn’t that simple. But nobody knows that unless you explain it to them.

If you haven't shared your email development and production process, your boss and your boss' boss probably have a vague notion that you just drop copy into a template and blast it out to the list. They don't understand the cost and time involved in developing a well-executed campaign that generates measurable, expected results.

It's up to you to educate them. So, set up a lunch-and-learn to walk people through your process to help them understand why a good email campaign has so many moving parts to get right. Create a document for your SharePoint, internal Slack, or intranet.

This is especially important if you work with multiple business units so they can understand the complexities involved in getting campaigns out on time and error-free.

As you take people through your email process, make sure they're paying attention. Highlight who does what at each step and put faces to names. You'll find that if people are more informed about your processes and results, you'll acquire more gravitas in your organization.

Heck – if you can show your executives all the work you have to do to get a campaign out and the strain you're under to get things right, someone might say "Wow! That's too much! We need to give you more people!"

Well, a guy can dream, right? But you won't get more resources if you allow people to keep thinking email is easy and anybody can do it. 

Wrapping up

Nobody likes errors. They aren't fun to do, and they aren't fun to correct. I've seen funny "oops" emails, but I wouldn't want to be the marketer who has to send one.

Nobody likes change, either, because it means we have to learn something new, and who has time for that?

But we have to recognize that email processes break down because they have outgrown their usefulness, and people don't pay attention until it's too late.

When was the last time you revised your production process? If it has been more than six months, it's time to take another look.

Yes, email marketing has a lot of demands on your time. This process review is one more. A high-functioning company looks at the production process and asks, "How can we optimize this? How can we change it to make it work better so we can free up our team members and eliminate break points and redundancies?"

It's hard work, but it pays off. Fix the process, and then tell your story so your company knows how hard you work to get it right.

sarah kilian 52jRtc2S VE unsplash 600Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash