Entitlement & Miscommunication: Understanding & Fighting Email Burnout

I get hundreds of emails a day, and am always behind on email. Recently I sent out emails to affiliates letting them know that I was changing my model, and let high volume affiliates know that I wanted to give them a free limited trial so they could see what they are selling. It only makes sense to have your best affiliates know what changed.

In response to my email to 3,000+ affiliates, my email load sharply increased. The people who were top affiliates typically sent an unassuming email "not sure if I am a top affiliate but I would love to take a look." At the same time hundreds of affiliates who had 0 or 1 sale ever (some even with 0 clickthroughs and 0 ad impressions) considered themselves high volume sellers and demanded a free trial. Friction. Uggg.

So then I had to tell those people no, and that the launch was going better than expected, and I wanted to ensure I was able to keep up with current community members. One of them told me that they were going to use something that sounded to me like "creative spammy marketing" to sell my ebook and I said that I preferred they did not. They responded saying that I am an elitist. In a short email exchange that person went from "a long time fan" to a person who "would never listen to anything I said again."

The problem is that it is easy to be misunderstood via email. And as soon as people pay you anything or establish any type of relationship with you, some feel they own you. Email is great for sending personalized messages to a few people to help get feedback and spread important ideas. Email is also good for mass-emailing people via autoresponders that do not get responded to. But email is not good for establishing lasting relationships with many people.

To be fair, I owe a lot to email. The first version of my sales letter was reformatted by a customer who liked the ebook so much he wanted to help me sell more of them. And the ebook itself was formatted nicely by another customer who I did a bit of consulting for in a work trade. And I met my wife via email before our first phone call. So I owe a lot to email. But not too many deep and meaningful relationships can not stem from emails when you have hundreds of people emailing you every day.

Any time your business model contains recurring access to you for a one time price, if you are a decent marketer, you will create more demand than supply, and eventually you get burned out by people asking 15 or 30 questions at a time. When there is no opportunity cost to keep asking people do.

A guy who was profiled in an "internet marketing success stories with multi-millionaires" book asked me about 100 questions via before I told him enough was enough. The same guy sold information as the main piece of his business model. I asked him if he valued his own time at $1 an hour, because if he did I could use some of it. I got no response. A year later he wanted to buy "affordable and reasonable" SEO services from me and I told him no thanks. I would not ever refer him to anyone because he was so selfish in our prior relationship.

It eventually got to the point where people were asking me so many questions to where I was getting emails like "where is adwords" and I would just send them a link to the associated search result. And some people who bought the book would never subscribe to updates but email me 5 times a year asking for the latest version. 5 emails a year adds up when you have to verify each account and 1,000+ people are doing it.

As more and more information gets commoditized the value of weak, quick, and fast relationships loses value. And if you have 20,000 customers who have no opportunity cost in asking you lots of questions, many of them will treat you like a search box. But since the seller is not an algorithm that does not work out to well for sanity. And if you send out too many emails it starts to feel like you are a high volume email deployer

The good news is that as the web ages and the market suffers further information pollution, the value of reliable trustworthy advice and quality service goes up. But to provide lasting quality service you have to charge recurring.

Here are some email hacks I have come up with to lessen email load...

  • Automatically have your newsletter subscriptions archived and tagged...read them when you have time to.
  • Unsubscribe from anything you do not read in 3 months.
  • Do not provide email support for free stuff. Make them post feedback to your site.
  • If people are really nasty and are not yet your customers do not respond to those emails. At best they waste your time. At worst, they waste your time, do a reverse charge, AND may put you in a bad mood.
  • Do a quick pass through and wipe out anything that looks like spam.
  • If you have common answers then prewrite templates for them and use cut and paste, modifying each slightly.
  • Answer emails that are closely aligned at the same time.
Published: February 20, 2008 by Aaron Wall in marketing


Search Engine O...
February 20, 2008 - 11:25am

Very good post! We are all too familiar with how much time can be spent on emails that are useless and time-consuming. Sometimes it is certainly tough to discern which ones are important and which ones aren't. People want to bleed the pros dry of free information by going back and forth on email - these are great tips to avoid that. Always good information on this blog!

February 20, 2008 - 11:58am

I think the time management issues associated with e-mail really are nothing new. You can go back to the time management tips applied to the inbox that sat on your desk for mail, reports, inter-office communication, etc.,etc., and they'll probably all still apply. (e.g., touch once and act on it or file it, using priority based folders)

My biggest change for managing e-mail is to use different e-mail addresses for different areas and setting rules based on these. I especially like how I can manage these in Thunderbird, but it works in Outlook as well.

I keep meaning to investigate the David Allen 'Getting Things Done' approach to productivity. I keep hearing more and more about it, and it was even just on NPR talking about how it has really become popular for tech-minded people.

February 20, 2008 - 1:06pm

Too Funny, it seems Aaron is talking about my email exchange with him.

Aaron, you totally do not understand the concept I very very briefly mentioned as but a single possibility on how I ~could~ promote your program.

I could have very easily played stupid and not bothered to inform you of anything, letting you find out on your own, if you ever even figured them out....

However calling my technique(s) spammy after such a general and quick statement is very much a stretch, especially since I gave you a simple generalization based on how one person has blogged about a single angle of these techniques.

You assumed based on your obviously cursory knowledge of these technique(s) that you assumed they would be spammy.

Thus I consider this to be an Elitist attitude in my book.

I have used these techniques very successfully with many merchants both in and out of the IM market(s).... sure a few were initially not all that happy with a few of the methods, however when they looked up my conversions they gladly cut me checks - and asked me to continue to do what I am doing.

It is your loss, I have already focused my efforts elsewhere.

February 20, 2008 - 7:35pm

I've always been amazed at the degree with which you are willing to engage with your constituency. Can't imagine where you find the time. I thought about writing you an email today to ask an inane question that would not likely be helpful to anyone besides myself but then thought better of it - decided to spend a little more time looking into it to make sure that I couldn't figure it out myself. I hope that more people follow that example so that you are able to continue to address intelligent questions in a way that helps a great number of people.

Thanks for all you do!


February 21, 2008 - 1:53am

Another way to filter the amount of email might be to add an FAQ before the submission form so that people can check if there question is already answered - and if they still email you, you can ask them to check the FAQ.

Not as personal as a response of course but could help with volume.

February 21, 2008 - 8:21am

Great idea.

February 21, 2008 - 4:55am

Great points, especially about not providing email support for free stuff.

I find that people are selfish, and don't bother to read even the most basic instructions. It has probably helped me to link prominently to the FAQ page on my contact forms, or in one case have the contact form directly on the FAQ page, but there are still some people who don't bother to read them.

I hate to seem rude by ignoring people, but at some point you have to enforce your own rules and just hit delete. If you have said you won't deal with X via email, then it pays to be consistent.

February 21, 2008 - 9:37am

I think it's time you hired someone to handle all those e-mails: customer service, etc.

February 21, 2008 - 11:58am

Can I give you a suggestion? As a software developer and businessman, when I hear someone saying they're being buried under a tide of repetitive no-skill, no-value-added work, I think "automate or outsource".

Automate: Install POPFile. Create categories for your 3 most common, most quickly answerable types of questions (such as new update, password recovery, I want free consulting, and spam). Train the categories, then watch the computer sort incoming mail into the appropriate buckets.

Automate #2: Macro up your largely stock responses with any appropriate software -- I use Direct Access from www.nagarsoft.com and it saves me a whole heck of a lot of time. (I type in "regcode", hit F1, and my cursor expands into the preprinted template that I give for a registration code, for example. You could just as easily type in "update", F1, and spit out a two paragraph "Yes, SEOBook has been updated frequently recently. You can download the new updates at http://www.seobook.com/yoururl. I suggest that you sign up for the update notification at blahblah, as it will give you up-to-the-minute updates when critical information is added to your SEOBook." response. After you have five to ten of these templates stored under memorable names it is easy as pie, and this works MUCH better than having to copy/paste from a template file -- saved keystrokes and task switching add up quickly.)

Outsource: I consider customer support one of my core differentiators and will not outsource it. However, outsourcing filing and templates is another matter altogether. Using GetFriday or someone similar (see Four Hour Work Week and ignore the hype, just adopt a similar system), pay somebody $10-15 an hour to sweep your email account twice a day, deal with the low-hanging fruit and spam, and mark the stuff that needs your attention. You can respond to that in a quarter of the time you're using every day on email. If you get the feeling that they're getting competent, let them write use your common template emails and/or write brief, fairly standardized messages as "Aaron's secretary".

e.g. "Thank you for writing in with your business proposal regarding SEO consulting for the Natural Pony Farm. Aaron is quite busy with a full plate of projects at the moment, including his new SEO teaching program, so I don't think it will be possible for him to take you up on it. However, I will be happy to tell him you wrote in. You might consider looking at the SEOMoz job board to find another qualified consultant. *link*


(Name of outsourcer)
Executive Secretary to Aaron Wall"

February 21, 2008 - 3:32pm

Thank you for that great recommendation. Will give it a go.

The main thing that was holding me back on email was not just the quick response stuff...but more people sending me *literally* 10 and 15 page emails full of questions.

People would buy my book, not read it, then write a book of questions via email :)

February 28, 2008 - 7:09pm

agreed that email is a huge productivity killer. unless you're getting paid for it, i would search for every way possible to minimize your time working with it.

my solution is automation and delegation. start by writing templates you keep in text files in a folder and copy and pasting them with minor modifications. then once you've successfully used it 3 or more times, automate it further by putting it into your website or newsletter and then just link people to it.

the end result is more professional, because then it fits into your marketing campaign and over time you can perfect the copywriting used in it and maybe slap some metrics on it to increase conversion rates. meanwhile, you keep your emails nice and brief which helps people respect your time because they see you respect your own time.

with templates and links, you can also easily begin to delegate the task of responding to email to an assistant.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Gain a Competitive Advantage Today

Your top competitors have been investing into their marketing strategy for years.

Now you can know exactly where they rank, pick off their best keywords, and track new opportunities as they emerge.

Explore the ranking profile of your competitors in Google and Bing today using SEMrush.

Enter a competing URL below to quickly gain access to their organic & paid search performance history - for free.

See where they rank & beat them!

  • Comprehensive competitive data: research performance across organic search, AdWords, Bing ads, video, display ads, and more.
  • Compare Across Channels: use someone's AdWords strategy to drive your SEO growth, or use their SEO strategy to invest in paid search.
  • Global footprint: Tracks Google results for 120+ million keywords in many languages across 28 markets
  • Historical data: since 2009, before Panda and Penguin existed, so you can look for historical penalties and other potential ranking issues.
  • Risk-free: Free trial & low price.
Your competitors, are researching your site

Find New Opportunities Today