Archive for October, 2008

Oct16

Using GMail filters to make company email addresses intelligent [Google Apps]

Many online businesses provide generic email addresses on their ‘contact us’ page for their customers to use – sales@, admin@, press@, etc.  While they may be easy to set up they can become difficult to manage which is why including a little business logic may help ease the pain.  If you’re using Google Apps to run your back-end office operations you’re in luck.  We’re profiling how to set up those generic email addresses with a little workflow to make those in to dollar producing assets.

The Setup:

For the purposes of this post, I’ve created a generic ‘sales’ address and an address for a fake employee – Johnny.  Johnny is so good, I want my big-dollar product leads going straight to him for quick conversion.  Every sales organization is structured differently, but we’re working under the assumption that our sales reps are product and territory based.  Our high-dollar product lines are the XY9500 and the YZ9900.  Johnny handles sales for MD, DC, VA, TN, NC, SC and GA.

The Approach:

GMail has a very advanced set of search operators built-in that happen to work with filters when included in the ‘Has The Words:’ text box during filter creation.  We’re going to create a set of filters in the ‘sales’ inbox that will forward matching emails to the appropriate sales rep, label the message as ‘forwarded’ and then archive it.  Labeling and archiving the email keeps the inbox clean so that the generic address ‘manager’ only has to review and react to those messages that our logic doesn’t recognize.

The Execution:

Here is an email from a potential customer that found us on the web.  They’re interested in setting up a contract to purchase 100 of our XY9500 products.

Dear Sales Team:

My name is Phil and I’m the purchaser for Acme Associates based in Washington, DC.  We are in the market for 100 of your XY9500 products and would like to speak with a sales associate to obtain some additional information.

The best way to get in touch with me is via email or at 123-123-1234.

Thank you,

Phil

Acme Associates

Washington, DC 12345

For the state determination we’re relying on the fact that people use a full signature with the address.  You could also include area/zip code in an ‘or’ condition.  You can create another filter for just products that goes to an individual to distribute accordingly or to a distribution list of all the reps that handle that product.  Google Apps allows you to easily create distribution lists.

Within the ‘sales’ email account enter the ‘settings’ and create a new filter.  We’re going to leave everything but the ‘Has the words:’ field blank.  If you’re using a web form to capture the data you may be able to use the ‘subject’ field but I think it’s a little more robust and easier to maintain if it’s all in one field.  One of the more important aspects of the operators to understand is that parenthesis “( )” equate to ‘AND’ and brackets “{ }” equate to ‘OR’.

The filter rule we’re going to use is: “({XY9500 YZ9900} {MD DC VA TN NC SC GA})”  This means that the email has to contain both a product of XY9500 or YZ9900 and a state of MD, DC, VA, TN, NC, SC or GA.  If it passes our filter, we’ll send it to Johnny, mark it as ‘forwarded’ and archive the email.  You could expand the list of states to include area codes since most people include at least one phone number in their signature.

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2

Step 2

Once you come up with a filter you want to use, test it by emailing yourself a few emails and entering the filter in the search field.  You know your customers best and if the email is caught (either included or excluded) as you expected then you should be good to go.  Here are a couple screenshots of the search – one note, the search feature will highlight pieces of the email that fit your criteria.

Search results from Sales inbox

Search results from Sales inbox

Email with highlighted search results

Email with highlighted search results

The Debrief:

While this is in no way an exhaustive list of the advanced search operators, I think it is a good introduction and should get you started.  From a maintenance perspective, it would be best to create one filter per employee (sales person, PR agent, etc) so that in the unlikely event that they leave, you only need to adjust the forwarding email in one label to the interim employee.

If your website uses a contact form that potential customers fill out you have a little more opportunity for drilling into the data.  If you know how the data will be formatted when it hits your inbox that allows you to create more advanced filters and get things to exactly the right employee.  Maybe, your contact form has a ‘budget’ field with preset amounts and anything over a certain dollar figure gets sent to an urgent-response team.  There are so many applications for the search operators that spending some time to familiarize yourself with them will pay off in the long run.

One thing to experiment with is the ‘exclusion’ operator.  If you include the “-” symbol before one of your clauses it excludes items that meet that statement.  For example, if your filter criteria was “({XY9500 YZ9900} -{MD DC VA TN NC SC GA})” and you used the email above, your search results would return 0 results because it contains ‘DC’.

Don’t forget to have the office manager login and check those inboxes and forward those leads to the appropriate person.

If you have some other ideas that you use to make things easier, let me know in the comments.

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Oct15

No Built-in XML support for Google Chrome

For anyone that reads this regularly, you know I’m a pretty big fan of Google products.  So, when they announced the launch of Chrome, their web browser, I was quick to install and start browsing with it.  It has since become my default browser (other than when testing webpage rendering) on both my personal and business computers.

Chrome got rid of the ‘fat’ around the browser giving me the tools/options I use the most and increasing my viewing area.  Another great feature is the fact that each tab runs independently so if one crashes it doesn’t destroy your entire browser session.  Just that one tab!  One thing I do wish they had though, ALT+F+C/X to close a tab.  However, that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyways, I’ve been using Chrome extensively the last few weeks and was disappointed when I discovered that there doesn’t appear to be any built-in XML/RSS rendering support.  I already use Google Reader so I’m not looking for an IE approach (feed in the browser – I don’t even use the browser), but something similar to Firefox would be nice if I happen to land on a page that is XML/RSS.  Not only does it not offer a way for me to subscribe to the document, it just displays raw text.  Here are some screenshots for comparison.

I’m disappointed but I’ll continue use Chrome.  It just makes it more difficult to subscribe to things than it was with Firefox.

RSS feed in Google Chrome

RSS feed in Google Chrome

RSS feed in Firefox

RSS feed in Firefox

RSS feed in IE7

RSS feed in IE7

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Oct14

ThemeForest Disables Deposit Hack

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about how to deposit a specific amount into your ThemeForest account so you didn’t forfeit monies that weren’t spent.  An Envato employee and I exchanged a couple comments and it appears that they’ve disabled the hack.

ThemeForest Deposit Hack Shutdown

ThemeForest Deposit Hack Shutdown

I must give them credit for at least modifying the pre-set amounts on the deposit page – now they’re in increments of $10 instead of $20.  Sadly, the lowest amount still starts at $20 and doesn’t really keep you from wasting, say, $8 on that $12 theme you want to purchase.  Keep in mind though, allegedly, if you email customer service they’ll extend your forfeit period beyond the stated one year.

I ran through the hack for a several different amounts but it appears everything is down.  Looks like a little validations before submitting to PayPal goes a long way.

In my comments I noted that I’d probably be back when I need another theme…I’m going to go ahead and retract that until this process is fixed.

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Oct13

LinkedIn Scraps Tabbed Profile Layout

LinkedIn.comLinkedIn.com

Last week LinkedIn quietly launched a new, cleaner profile layout that I much prefer.  The previous layout used a ‘tabbed’ approach that just didn’t do it for me.  I’m a Facebook user (never got into MySpace) and the clean profiles make it so much easier to navigate pages as you browse peoples profiles.  Hopefully, they tackle the ‘network updates’ layout next.  That thing is awful.

Along with the cleaner layout, they also enhanced the progress meter for profile completion and decided to group all the profile tools (send message, recommend, download, etc) in a single location – the top-right corner of the members profile.

Apparently, users complained that the ‘next suggested step’ in completing your profile was too hard (or not incredibly easy) which led to people not completing them.  The new profile meter displays all the actions users can take to baby-step their way towards a profile that is 100% complete.  LinkedIn claims that users with a profile that is 100% complete are more likely to land jobs.  I should have a citation for this but I can’t find the quote on the site anymore – it may only show up when your profile is not 100% complete.

The sad thing about this change is that no one seems to care.  At the time of this writing, not a single blog had referenced the post and not one person had left a comment.   So exactly how irrelevant is LinkedIn these days?  I’m a huge fan of the service!

Tabbed layout vs Clean layout [both via LinkedIn blog]

LinkedIn Tabbed Profile

LinkedIn Tabbed Profile

New LinkedIn Profile

New LinkedIn Profile

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Oct12

Mint.com gets custom categories

Mint.com logo   Mint.com

Mint.com announced Friday that users of it’s free online money management suite can now create completely customized categories for tracking and reporting on spending habits.  Mint is a great tool (although admittingly, I haven’t set up all my accounts with the service) and they continue to roll out features that their users request making it more relevant to their needs.

Mint continues to make themselves more relevant to users everyday lives and ease the process of properly tracking their personal finances.  In the wake of the global economic disaster it becomes even more important to understand exactly where you stand financially and Mint aims to help.

Mint employs what I call a hybrid approach to expense tracking – users categorize and then tag expenses.  This gives users a very granular view of how money is spent.  My restaurant tabs could be either personal or business which may also be reimbursable.  It’s like the ‘folders’ of Microsoft Outlook meets the ‘labels’ of Google’s Gmail – the ultimate organization approach.  Now users can create their own categories if they don’t find a suitable one from the standard Mint list.

Categories can be created under any of the standard Mint ‘parent’ categories.  Here’s a shot of me making a custom category to for expenses related to this blog.  There isn’t really a good ‘parent’ for this so I placed it under ‘uncategorized’ for now.

NathanHJones.com Category

NathanHJones.com Category

The only problem I have with the customizable categories is that they had to be placed under existing ‘parent’ categories.  At least I couldn’t figure out how to create a new ‘parent’.  While this obviously isn’t a deal-breaker, it would still be nice for situations where there isn’t a suitable ‘parent’ already.  I’d like to see one where I could create my ‘NathanHJones.com’ category that is a little more appropriate than ‘uncategorized’.

All-in-all, I like the idea of customizable categories and thanks go out to the Mint.com team for constantly enhancing the application.

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Oct06

Gmail Adds Mail Goggles Lab Feature

Gmail just launched a new labs feature by the name of ‘Mail Goggles’.  Yes, you read that right…Mail Goggles.  It’s tasked with the job of making it more difficult to actually send those embarrassing emails when you’re sitting behind your monitor inebriated.  I don’t know about you but if I’m out enjoying a beverage (or few) I’m not carrying a computer with me and as far as I know the Labs features don’t work with IMAP.

I guess for those few (maybe there is actually a lot) that have problems with drunk-mailing this could be a good fix but I’d much prefer Gmail spend the time to come up with ‘mailbox rules’ similar to Outlook.  Before people start screaming, yes, I know you can use Outlook with Gmail but I don’t want to have to use it.  With rules, I can easily setup a 1 minute delay on outbound emails.  This allows me to catch that last sentence or add that last recipient that may have slipped my mind as I clicked ‘send’.

You can configure the settings on the ‘general’ tab after enabling the feature.  It’s a pretty quick configuration and let’s you tell Google when your preferred drinking times are and allows you to make it as easy or as difficult as you want.

As I found while I was testing, once you ‘pass the test’ once you can send as many emails as you want without being prompted to take the quiz again.  Apparently, you have to logout and then login again to re-prompt the ‘Mail Goggles’.  At least I had to logout, even when I tried sending messages to a different address.  Maybe it only asks you to verify once every set amount of time?!?

Verdict: Leave this one disabled.

Settings:

Gmail Adds Mail Goggles - Settings

Gmail Adds Mail Goggles - Settings

Easy: 

Gmail Mail Goggles Easy Settings

Gmail Mail Goggles Easy Settings

 

 

Difficult: 

Gmail Mail Goggles Difficult Settings

Gmail Mail Goggles Difficult Settings

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