I’m willing to bet most of you have lists of customers and prospects – or at least a zillion contact names and email addresses scattered all over your Outlook or stuffed into your sales management or CRM software. It’s never to late to put them to work, wherever they are.

A good place to start is by looking at email marketing programs. A Google search of that term will turn up more than 100 million results in a fraction of a second. But before you get overwhelmed, the bottom of the first page of the result will give you a bunch of options to refine your search. You won’t lack for information.

You can also look at some of the more well-known email marketing services and programs, and you can contact your web host to see what programs and services are available for email marketing. Some website content management systems have email marketing modules that you can use.

In any case, you’ll find several capabilities to be absolutely essential:

  • Sorting – The ability to divide and categorize your contacts by market, job title, geography and any other demographic or profile you can think of will help you target your messages and keep you relevant. You should get a much better response from recipients because they’ll know you made the effort to address their needs.
  • Spam Protection – Spamming is not only illegal, it’s discourteous. Make sure the program or service you use stays up to date on all spamming regulations and works with major email systems to ensure your messages won’t get tagged as spam and sent into some black hole in cyberspace. In a worst-case scenario, your email could be shut down. Opt-in or even double-opt-in procedures may seem tedious, but they can protect you.
  • Email Address Verification – This is one of those obvious things you shouldn’t overlook. Your message can’t resonate if it’s not delivered.
  • Forward to a Friend – If your customer or prospect can forward your message to someone who could benefit from it, you have the opportunity to get new business. It’s like a referral – and you’ll get the friend’s contact information. A good email marketing program will give you the ability to ask the friend to opt-in to receive information from you.

Some other points to keep in mind:

  • Keep your message short and sweet. Writing punch, active sentences helps you do that.
  • Include a call to action and contact mechanisms, whether they be an email address (with a link that generates a message with the subject line filled in), a contact form or a phone number. I like the email link because all somebody needs to do is click. You’ll know what it’s about from the subject line, and if there’s a signature (and there usually is), you’ll know who it’s from.
  • If you have a website link, make sure it goes to a specific page. People will click it because they want specific information. They likely won’t take the time to hunt throughout your site. As a result, you’ll lose them, and it will hurt your SEO rankings.

Your contact list may be your most valuable asset. But it’s not worth anything unless you put it use.