Whether in sales or not — okay, maybe more in sales — we know the statement “out of sight, out of mind”. Human beings are social creatures. Even the yogi living alone at the mountain will end up talking with the mountain goats, just that he doesn’t tell you about it (I really don’t know, and I am kidding – no pun intended).
As a sales person, I know that I need to be near the top of mind of my prospective customers and existing customers. But yet there is only one me and the whole universe of them. Email would often be one of the most basic options to remain before their eyes, yet if I start sending mass non-personal emails (“Dear valued customer” — *cringes*), they don’t only eventually get ignored by customers’ attention filters, their email software would also start routing these emails into the Junk folder (technology hates mass emails too). But you have to get your message out, and you want your customers to receive a more personal feel from your communications.
Enter mail merge.
Yea, you roll your eyes because this is so basic, and you have surely heard of it before. However, if you have not actively used it, bring your eyeballs back to the screen, and start the habit of Mail Merge. And before your create a habit, you got to learn it first.
For the uninitiated, mail merge is the process to automatically add names and addresses from a database to letters and envelopes in order to send mails to many recipients. However mail is so 1990 (yes spammers of my snail mail box, please take the hint and save the trees in the process), and humanity has already progressed well into email for decades. You can apply mail merge to emails, and this is what this post is all about.
In this post, I will be describing mail merge using Microsoft. While it seems to make sense that you will find this feature on Microsoft Outlook, Mail Merge is really a feature found on Microsoft Word.
But why not use free services like Mail Chimp?
Because services of Mail Chimp is not all the time allowed by your company policies. And sometimes what you just want to do is a very simple personalised email blast. Needing to set up campaigns, importing contact details etc do not always contribute to productivity. Besides, with hackers getting better and better these days, you may feel uncomfortable putting your customer contacts in a third party service. But hey, by all means, there are situations that using Mail Chimp would be ideal. But anyway, if you are opting to mail merge from your laptop this time, then let’s move along.
What to prepare beforehand
First, you have to put together a spreadsheet/database of contacts whom you want to email to. You can build one from scratch using Microsoft Excel, or you may have an exported spreadsheet from a software or app that you use to store and manage contact information. In this example, I will use a spreadsheet that looks like this:
I’d recommend to have a column for your contacts’ first name, and another column for second name. You wouldn’t consider a personalised email to you addressing you in your full name, would you?
You don’t have to worry if this list contains contacts of people whom you may not want to send in this particular mailing campaign as you can filter them later. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Second, prepare the message that you want to send, not in Outlook, but in Word.
When you are done with the above preparation, you may start the Mail Merge process.
Begin the Mail Merge
IMPORTANT: If you have not done this before, or somehow feel that you need to test things out before sending out the real emails, I highly recommend that you create a short test list. Include your own email address(es) in this test list, so that you can see how your email will appear. When you are confident and sure, switch to the actual list.
Microsoft Word has an inbuilt wizard, but I’d recommend getting familiar with the full Mail Merge process as it really is not difficult, and you will have more options.
Go to Mailings > Select Recipients > Use an Existing List…
Select the file that holds your contact list
Select the table in the file (usually required if your file is a spreadsheet)
Click Insert Merge Field…
In most cases, in order to make your email personalised, you should address your recipients by their first names. So, if you have a column for their first names in your contact list, select the field that represents their first name. In this example, it would be First_Name (yours might be anything else).
You’ll see the field reflect on your message like this. It looks weird, I know, but don’t panic. We’ll come back to this later.
If you would like to put other fields (represented by the header column in your contact list) into your message, you may do so too. In this example, I want to include the recipients’ company names to add a more personalised touch, relating the message to the companies the recipients represent. I can also include formatting properties (eg bold, underline, colours, etc) to the field. So I add a field in the message as follow:
If you want to make a selection of whom to send this message to from your list, click on Edit Recipient List.
You may manually select which contacts you want by marking a check on each desired line item. Usually, if I had already categorised my list in the spreadsheet, I will then click on Filter, and create conditions. In this example, I only want to email prospects and exclude customers. So I click on Filter, and when the conditions window pops up, I select “Category” as the field for the first condition, select “Equal to” as the Comparison, and type in “Prospect” under Compare to.
Now I want to see how the message will look like before I send them out. If there are changes that I want to make, now is the time.
Click Preview Results, and you can scroll left and right to view all the messages as how they would appear to your recipients.
When you are satisfied with what you want to be sending to your recipients, click Finish & Merge. Select Send Email Messages…
Make sure the To: field shows Email, and that you include the subject line. In most cases, you should want to have HTML selected as the Mail format.
When you are ready, hit “Ok”. There is no turning back after this. Once again, if you are not sure, experiment with a test list that has your own email address(es) in thre.
Microsoft Word will fire up Outlook and it will start sending out the emails one-by-one to each of the email addresses of the recipients whom you have selected for this mail merge campaign. Sometimes, the Outbox somehow gets stuck. If that happens, shut down Outlook and open it again. Usually, the issue gets resolved.
So there you have it. Once you have understood this capability, you can plan email campaigns. For example, my company keeps a record and notifies me of our website visitors and the activities that they do on our website. I use my company’s CRM to export the contacts of new visitors to our website, and I send a mail merged personalised message to them to introduce myself. When they reply to these emails, the replies go straight to my mailbox and not routed or relayed through another service.
There are many ways to use mail merge for your email campaign to very quickly send personalised messages without needing to employ third party mailing services. Give it a go and see how this may help you keep in good touch with your customers without causing you to break a sweat in sending to a list of hundreds of contacts.