Communication Hacking

Was it always difficult to stay in touch? Or is this a new thing?

Perhaps it’a byproduct of the Internet. Email, texting, chat, video messages. It’s moving ahead so rapidly, the protocols are evolving faster than we can memorize the terms.

If you value keeping your relationships fresh, as I do. Then it can be a bit troubling to feel like it has become harder to just write a note to a friend or colleague and trust they’ll respond.

Lots of testing and analysis on this subject has concluded that people are too distracted. You can’t send an email with more than 5 sentences and expect a response. Chances are it was too long to read, so the recipient set it aside for later, and then 80% of the time the recipient forgets to reply. Probably because they got another 30 emails since they first opened yours, and there are already new emails to read later which will mostly be forgotten as well.

What a wonderful world.

This being the case, the best way to get a response to an email if a response isn’t received within 48 hours of sending, is to send a follow up. And if the follow up doesn’t get a response, or perhaps it does, but the response is just a “yes I plan to get back to you today” kind of message, then after 48 hours another follow up message can do the trick. And so it goes. After the 4th or 5th follow up an “ok I’ll assume you’re not interested or are in some serious trouble, should I call for help?” is probably an acceptable bow out.

See, the way people process the messages they receive is fragmented. If they get a message that requires more than a basic response like “[Message] ‘do you like ice cream?’ [Response] yes I like ice cream”.  The recipient will need to take more time to think about it. They will look at the email many times, even up to 20 or more if question in the email contains conditional issues.  And the more time that is needed [the more that is asked in a message] the greater the chance the message will never be responded to.

An email like “Do you want to meet for drinks in a couple weeks?” Is simple. This can be responded to almost immediately, spare maybe a glance at the calendar. It might take the recipient 3-5 views of the email to reply. Once to see it, once more after checking the calendar, but not yet ready to respond. And then finally a third time (we’d hope) to say yes “I am free, what day works for you?”.  If the recipient has multiple calendars, and possibly pending engagements with other people, the amount of views before being able to response increases, as does the likelihood they will ever reply.

Add more layers on complications, and the number of views increases, to the point where, unless the recipient is highly motivated to make the plan, you may have just overwhelmed them, and you won’t hear back unless they are worried about offending you, which generally might just create a “sorry I’m way to busy right now, let me get back to you”. This cop out, is really just a way of saying “It is too difficult for me to analyze your request and provide a respectable response back”. Sadly many people are too busy these days too, but they’ve just defaulted to not replying if it isn’t super easy to do so. Apparently, not responding to emails just doesn’t count as a diss in the modern world. It’s not a diss to ignore someone if we like their photos on Facebook right? (sarcasm)

In work settings: when dealing with these situations, there may be motivation to respond and work through complicated requests via email, from colleagues and potential partners out of the sheer desire to keep their jobs/business positive. But this context doesn’t automatically generate immunity to failure, and if the recipient has nothing obvious to lose by ignoring your message–even if they have nothing agains’t you–then you may also be out of luck, simply because they will have more time for other pressing issues by ignoring you.

This last topic, communicating with people who don’t have a strong motivation to respond, in fact we can say, they are the recipients who stand to lose time by responding to a pitch email, is the most difficult and a really big focus for me. A fool proof solution does not exist, however repetition, simplicity, and a positive manner can go a long way.

How do we keep the 2 way messages flowing? If single sentence emails are the most response friendly, yet least able to carry the information needed to get the next step.  How do we pitch and not scare?

I’ve taken to experimenting with automatic reminders. The idea is basic, I track all emails I’ve sent in the last two days. If I haven’t gotten a response on day #2, I write a reminder, or continuation of the last email, but always maximum 1 sentence in length, and the reminder shouldn’t somehow add information, this would add complexity, adding additional time for the recipient to process or decide not to at all. Then I schedule the reminder email to be sent in 2 days or less depending on the urgency of the communication, only if the recipient doesn’t respond to the original message first. 

This works. It probably wont work forever, in an ever evolving world of communication, we adapt to stimuli by decreasing our tolerance for interruption. And if too many people use the same method, the results will have diminishing returns. So then what?

What ever it takes.


Who Invented the 30 Day Trial Anyhow?

This morning after posting a tweet, I noticed I had some new followers on Twitter. In this event I normally look at the new followers, decide if I want to follow them or directly message, or ignore completely.

But today the new followers notification sparked a curiosity about my stats in general as a Twitter user.

Ever since reading this post about tools for Social Media Managers I’ve created accounts with those social media account tools, and had a bunch of fun dashboards to look at and gain new insights from on my social media accounts with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and more.

So, today, instead of looking at the new followers I’d gotten I wanted to head over to Sprout Social, one of several social monitoring tools recommended in that post.

What I discovered when getting over to Sprout was, my 30 day free trial with them was over.

Trial is over

It was curious that the trial was already over, because I have probably looked at my Sprout Dashboard 3 times since I started the trial.

After opening the account I got some emails from them with customer success managers offering to help me and nudging me to learn more about their tool.

Your New Sprout Social Trial Getting Started tomhillard Gmail

I declined the help, maybe after finding some useful stuff on my own, I might want a more thorough introduction was my thinking. Also, when I started the account it took 2–3 days for my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts that I connected to be analyzed. This waiting step is a big obstacle in gaining new users. I believe people have an expectation to be excited about a product when they start it. At least, in the generalist pool that’s the case. Specialists know better and probably already have much more information about what to expect when they get started with a new product. But for a guy like me who has had no recommendations to use this Sprout dashboard except from a blog post, I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I really want to wait three days to start using it. But I did anyways.

After three days, there really wasn’t much data to look at. I know I’m not the biggest tweeter out there, I only post a photo on Instagram ever week or so, and my facebook is really not a business tool, just friends family, and a photography page, so I don’t have many people liking, commenting, or sharing/retweeting my posts, but really, the data was little or not useful at all. There was a good reason for that though, Sprout like a lot of these social monitoring tools are useful for tracking events in time, and changes over time, there isn’t much you can do except get an overview of your follower count, and some demographic data on those followers like the gender breakdown. Honestly I’d explain more about what data they do give you, but I can’t access my account at the moment. (play sad trombone here)

This whole shut out at 30 day trial ending thing really got me thinking. It created a reaction in me.

In the past, this moment of 30-day-trial-ending-before-proper-analysis-is-achieved has just been a turn off. In that case, I walk away, unless one of the many “come back to us” emails I would get down the road was really convincing, I just didn’t bother to look again, I wasn’t terribly informed about the product, but if someone asked I probably say I didn’t find it useful.

If after the ending of a 30 day trial I really believe I might learn something but wasn’t ready to spend money yet, I could use a new email address to make a new trial account. The whole pressure to sign up now or stop, just doesn’t leave a good feeling.

It forces my opinion of the product to be captured at that pay now moment, and asks me to decide.

So naturally since I hadn’t really gotten attached, my decision and forced analysis was, “this product must not be for me because I don’t feel motivated to open my wallet so I can keep using it” when they expect me to.

This paradigm of the free trial customer acquisition is very common in SaaS (software as a service) products. Sampling before buying, goes back to the beginning of time as a business strategy. Think of merchants at a market offering a sample of their food before you go in on a real purchase. But in the modern software online world, somehow, a lot of companies think that 30 days is the typical duration necessary to evaluate a process.

I’ve signed up for so many of those online services with a free trial, I just assume it’s a 30 day trial, I would be really blown away to be told I got anything else at this point. But as SaaS Marketing Strategist Peter Cohen rightfully points out in his article here, there is no magic number, the duration largely depends on the complexity and economics of the product. So why is everybody going the 30 day route? Who invented this? I’ve read dozens of marketing strategy books, and several historical non-fiction novels about the origins of modern salesmanship, I haven’t seen the initial starting point of this concept told. To be safe, I did a Google search, and also posted a question on Quora. Since those are the two lazy ways of researching such a topic and I don’t have a publishers advance to write about about it, that’s probably as far as my search will go for now.

But if there is any return on writing investment I hope to gain from this post, it’s not to discover who the creator of the 30 day product trial, it’s that companies think more carefully about what is required to fully try out and evaluate a product, and offer customers time to reach whatever metric / milestone that is, instead of this totally dumb and non-sensical 30 day period business, it just makes no sense.

In my case with Sprout, I wrote to their sales department, told them I hadn’t had enough time to evaluate the product, and if they would extend my trial I would continue using it and would be more likely to pay for the subscription after having more time.