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,


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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