What's New with Newsletters?

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While some may see newsletters as old school marketing, many resellers and CPAs are finding both print and electronic newsletters are the EXTRA tool they need for their marketing programs.

They fit right into people’s busy lifestyles-they’re a quick read, with short articles and easy-to-find content that is appropriate to the readers’ needs. Many resellers and accountants view newsletters as essential tools in communicating with a wide variety of audiences including prospects, customers, and partners.

“You need to be informative and offer options and assistance to implement these solutions. Newsletters help you maintain a relationship with your clients long after a sale,” says Manny Buigas, CPA and vice president of sales for NextLevel Information Solutions. “Additionally, the newsletter has been a nice tool to assist in closing deals with prospects, especially where the sales cycle takes several months. It has allowed us to maintain communications in a less obtrusive manner.”

Partner Insights

Miami, Fla.-based NextLevel is an Accpac reseller with offices in New York, Florida, Louisiana, South America, and the Caribbean. Besides selling accounting software, the company offers custom programming, workflow analysis, systems support, tailored reporting, and training.

A basic part of the strategy is the fact that the newsletter, emailed to 1,600 subscribers each month, has no name.

“Our newsletters include a large company logo across the top of the page. Our objective is to brand the corporate name so that customers refer to it as ‘NextLevel’s newsletter,’” says Buigas.

Use of email insures both speed of delivery and staying in touch with recipients in a highly mobile profession.

“In our market, the job force is extremely mobile, and in numerous occasions we have had controllers and operations personnel that have moved on to new positions reference past articles on products and engage us in their new places of employment,” says Buigas. Other avid readers include Accpac resellers who hired NextLevel to assist them with implementations in Aruba and Curaao. The free newsletter builds on relationships that were started during initial visits.

Content in the newsletter includes new product information, timely news about the company, contact information, and a support Q&A section that publishes technical issues the NextLevel consultants encounter in the field.

To be successful, newsletters must accomplish things, Buigas believes. They must offer value to clients and they must convey an image to the client.

“Our belief is that the newsletter should have a primary focus on our company, with a secondary focus on the products we represent. Our newsletter is branded with a look and feel consistent with our Web page, company logo, and other marketing collateral,” Buigas adds.

Selling Credibility
Ensemble Business Software feels newsletters are effective marketing tools, but resellers have to be specific about what type of marketing tool it is.

“My guess is that some resellers consider the newsletter a lead generation tool and measure success by the number of referrals and/or client-base cross selling opportunities they generate,” says president Jon Walker. “By contrast, we consider our newsletter to be primarily a credibility tool designed to extend our brand and enhance our position in the marketplace.”

Located in Beavercreek, Ore., Ensemble, a Best Software vertical market reseller, focuses on the apparel, footwear, and soft goods industry. The monthly newsletter, named “The Buzz,” helps emphasize such specialization to its 1,852 subscribers.

“Our branding speaks less of what we do, business software, than who we do it for, apparel brands in active/outdoor/sporting markets,” says Walker. “In our newsletter, we try to convey that we’re a dedicated player in this community. We do this by ‘dropping names’ of successful clients and by demonstrating that we understand and embrace industry trends.”

The newsletter has generated a number of opportunities not only for Ensemble, but for its clients as well, says Walker, who provides this anecdote: “We featured a dance shoe and accessory wholesale/distributor in an issue last year. Another client manufactures a line of products that seemed to fit this market. As a result of our newsletter, client number two contacted client number one about establishing a business relationship.”

In Your Face
Gene Marks, president of the Philadelphia-based Marks Group, finds that newsletters are one of the best marketing tools, and he provides Webinars to his clients as a supplement to the newsletters. “I believe clients decide when they want to do business, and newsletters make it easier for me to stay in my clients’ faces,” adds Marks.

The company provides five monthly newsletters, one for each product line it offers. Each issue gives tips, usually twelve, for using the software. The newsletters cover GoldMine, Microsoft Great Plains Small Business Manager and Microsoft CRM, Heat, and UA Business Software. Each newsletter lists schedules for the free Webinars, through which clients can use the Internet to take a class at a scheduled time.

Each issue provides links to the Marks Group Web site where clients can register for the Webinar. “Our ‘Best Practices’ Webinars are designed for our clients and friends to learn more about how to make the best use of our software applications,” adds Marks. About 150 people take the courses each month.

“Each time I send out the newsletter, not only do people sign up for the Webinar, but I get a handful of clients raising their hands at an opportunity. Maybe the newsletter reminded them that they needed to upgrade their software. It’s important to always educate your clients, and to give stuff away for free-it let’s them see how smart you are,” says Marks.

Content vs. Style
The great debate when it comes to newsletter marketing is whether the style or the content attracts the reader.

Bonnie J. Nagayama, CPA, and an Intuit Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor for the Moraga, Calif.-based For the Love of Business, produces a weekly newsletter that includes a handful of items that subscribers have submitted regarding various accounting and management issues in QuickBooks. Her company provides both QuickBooks support and training. Currently, QuickBooks E-News has just under 1,000 subscribers.

Content is important to Nagayama because she wants to build a relationship with her clients, not just make a one-time sale. Newsletters feature an ask-the-expert section based on questions that have been e-mailed to her, QuickBooks updates, and QuickBooks tips and tricks to make working with the product easier. Resources must be pitched to the reader’s needs, she notes. “Some newsletters seem to be too self-serving; those are the ones I do not read. I try instead to provide information to help the QuickBooks user and accountant,” she says.

Fluff Hurts
Readers find content more important than style, says David Bilbrey, president of Everest Manufacturing Software, a manufacturer and VAR.

“Resellers/CPAs need to have quality in the words they write. Fluff will just end up in the garbage can,” he says. Bilbrey’s St. Clair, Mich.-based company sells software from AccountMate, BusinessVision, and Accpac, along with offering its own manufacturing software.

Bilbrey, who has been producing his monthly newsletters since 1997, thinks good content creates credibility. “I’m a source of information to my clients and giving them content they can count on lets them know me without even meeting me,” adds Bilbrey.

And the Survey Says

Repeat business comes from marketing to clients that resellers and CPAs already have. In fact, the acquisition of new clients costs two times more than obtaining repeat business.
For just that reason, just over a year ago, Terri Zeh Jacobson, president of Long Lake, Minn.-based Resources for Small Business, had a marketing consultant survey clients about the company's newsletter. The survey was conducted through telephone interviews of decision-makers among the client base.

1. Did clients find the newsletter useful? Most of her clients said yes.

2. Did clients read the entire newsletter, parts of the newsletter, or just scan it? The majority of respondents read the entire newsletter.

3. Did clients think it would be more readable if Resources for Small Business had glitzier newsletters or professionally written newsletters? Clients said the fact it was not professionally written contributed to their belief that the information was directed at them.

4. How often did clients like getting the newsletters? Biweekly, monthly, quarterly, biannually, or annually? "Everyone responded they liked quarterly or when I thought something was important," she notes.

5. What features did clients want to see added/subtracted from the newsletter? "Most said they were happy with the content. A couple suggested more information about events (which I subsequently added) and information about what others are doing," says Zeh Jacobson.

However, Walker also considers style, both visually and editorially, important in delivering the Ensemble message.

“We work on the assumption that most people don’t read the newsletter word-for-word, but may merely glance at it or scan the headlines,” he says.

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