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Five Thoughts After Five Years Of Texting For Business

January 6th, 2020

Let’s go on a little journey for a second.

It’s July 2014.

A young Eli Robinson is sitting at his desk, pondering the effectiveness of what at the time we called the “call queue.” You see, back then, the way that we verified leads was by placing phone calls to all the leads to see if they actually were interested in the information they were ostensibly requesting.

And on this specific day, I’m guessing the call queue looked like this…

You see, after a couple years of call verifying leads, the general consumer sentiment had begun to shift. People really stopped answering their phone. Especially from a number they didn’t know. Especially with regard to an action they just took on the internet.

And thus, the mother of invention took over again and we went to the drawing board.

At the time, we were using this little upstart call provider named Twilio. And we were pretty interested to see that they offered programmable SMS services on top of the calls we were already using.

Kevin, our CTO, posited that it wouldn’t be too difficult to send a text message to our leads in lieu of the calls we were making, however, he made absolutely no promises about its effectiveness. But ultimately, we didn’t really have that many options. So our careers as professional texters began.

Four months later, I had the gumption to write an article entitled “What We’ve Learned Sending 6,636 Text Messages in the Past 4 Months.” (Humorously, we now send more texts than this in a single day!) In the article, I pointed out these four interesting findings:

  • Sending (and receiving) text messages is relatively inexpensive
  • When you ask for responses, you’re going to get a very wide variety
  • A LOT of people provide us mobile telephones
  • The technology isn’t that complicated

Five years later, I’m confident in saying that even after those first four months, we still had no effing clue what we were doing. But as any startuper would tell you, that was no barrier!

Our texting continued. And as it did, something interesting began to happen. It started to work. Better and better and better. Over the course of the next year, the evidence became overwhelming. I kept writing about just what was happening:

May 2015 -- “Call Me” Has Turned to “Text Me” for Franchisees

February 2016 -- Text Messaging Is Absolutely Eating Phone Call's Lunch

By this time, interest in text messaging wasn’t just limited to the halls of our office. More and more, we were hearing from other businesses that they too wanted to try out the burgeoning communication channel.

Thus, FranFunnel was born. A brand first. Then a proof of concept. And finally a business.

And as 2020 kicks off, we’re into our fourth year of operations. Who knows how many texts we’ve sent? It’s millions. And more importantly, the team and I have spent five years now learning and innovating and listening and thinking.

On the back of this story, here are five thoughts on what’s going on in the texting world:

1. Everyone is finally texting

Let’s start with the most important. In 2014, when Gallup last published their study on communication, texting had just taken over emails and calls as the primary form of communication in American society. Now, five years later, it’s not a close competition. It used to be that everyone knew people who didn’t text. That persona is gone. (I even got a birthday text from my grandmother!)

The most common pushback on texting as a sales and marketing channel was always, “What about people who don’t text?” And now you never hear it. At this point, I would be downright stunned to hear that a successful salesperson wasn’t texting their current and potential customers, at least some.

This means there’s not that much more white space for additional people to begin texting. However, fear not, as the growth will continue to come from people simply texting more. These days, messaging is used to make payments, open locks, hire people, and win elections. There's no limit to what you'll see get swept into the texting ecosystem these days.

2. Legal Is Still A Mess (And There’s No End In Sight)

We all know that there was no possible way that text messaging was pondered when the TCPA was passed back in 1991. Yet, here we are, almost 30 years later, using that law as our primary guidepost for how texting can and can not be used in the business world. It’s a real shame that our federal government isn’t able to modernize the law, as it would be a real win for businesses and consumers alike. Letting courts handle this issue is simply a mess.

Unfortunately, this is going to continue to be the single largest roadblock to investment in messaging over the next five years. Businesses, who for the most part are in the risk minimization game, are paranoid that they’ll be the next target for a TCPA lawsuit. Which, as we all know, can be VERY EXPENSIVE.

The best advice I can give you here is to find a good lawyer, one who specializes in TCPA law. While the most common thing he/she is going to tell you is something like “All of this could change at any time. There are some scary cases looming in the 9th circuit,” it’s worth it.

3. When Will Consumers Really Care About Data Privacy?

(I get the feeling that this may end up being the most prescient of these five.)

The average American consumer simply doesn’t give a rat’s a** about data privacy. Not only do we give out our personally identifiable information willy nilly, but we trust the companies we’re giving the information to to use it responsibly. Basically every service out there today requires a name, email, and phone number, and more and more companies want you to register with them.

But this pendulum simply has to swing at some point soon. On the consumer sentiment front, Pew recently released this fantastic study on the changing attitudes. (TL;DR Americans claim they’re wary of these companies / government even if their behavior doesn’t reflect that.) And of course, certain government entities are focusing on it. (California launched the CCPA in 2020, similarly to Europe’s GDPR in 2019.) I don’t think these new laws are going to make a difference themselves, but it’s a sign of what’s to come.

It’s going to get harder to capture and use contact information from people one way or the other. And this is, of course, a discouraging trend for believers in text messaging for business. Ultimately, there are a few ways to combat this. 1) Store your customers’ data responsibly. Definitely DO NOT resell it. 2) Treat your customers with respect. Tailor your phone, text, and email strategy to provide value to customers, not bother them. The golden rule could be a good guide here. 3) Read up on the topic. This will be one of those topics you wish you knew more about as you grow your business.

4. Automation Continues To Dominate

If there were a single word to describe the evolution of the American economy over the course of the last decade, it would be “automation.” Firms have realized that there are profits to be made when you replace expensive, unpredictable humans with inexpensive, reliable machines. Ten years ago, robots were something people considered when they were thinking about manufacturing, now they’re everywhere.

When you’re looking at your business, it’s vital that you position yourself to take advantage, rather than fall victim, to this evolution. Your business needs to be searching for ways to automate tasks. Think of it this way, if a lead submits a request for information at 11AM on a Saturday, wouldn’t you want to respond to them as quickly as you can? (Hint: yes)

I am certainly not a fan of simply replacing people with machines. But I am a fan of changing jobs to get your work force to embrace technology. A great employee, equipped with the right automation, has the ability to share their gifts with more customers, better and easier.

5. The SMS vs. Data War Is Coming

As we’ve written about many a time, the concept of “text messaging” is actually two separate concepts rolled into one: SMS and data. As it stands today, these conflicting pieces of technology actually play pretty nice (short of Apple deciding to display all SMSs as a puke green on iPhones). Consumers have the benefit of not really caring how their various messages are sent through the ether.

This is going to change. There is far too much money to be made in texting for all of the various players to exist in harmony as time goes on. Facebook may be required to divest WhatsApp. Apple will continue to rebuff any business’s attempt to access their iMessage, and the cellular providers are going to have to decide simply how important SMS services are to their business models. There will be winners and losers, unlike today.

For the time being, SMS is certainly the place to invest your company's resources. The fact of the matter is that practically every phone is equipped with SMS capabilities, while the data world is fragmented. But you'll need to do about a quarterly analysis over the next few years to determine how long this truth stays valid. And of course, we'll be right here to help you along the way.

Eli Robinson is the General Manager of FranFunnel and COO of Metric Collective, FranFunnel's parent company. He's already working on his ten reflections article due out in 2025.

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