Most companies are now doing some form of email marketing. Based upon my experience, though, many of them don't have a clue about how it works.

With that in mind, this post will describe, in brief, the single most important thing you need to know about email marketing:

What Doesn't Work

Based upon the hundreds of marketing emails that I've reviewed and critiqued as part of my free weekly newsletter, many marketers tend to think of email marketing as a one-shot event.

When marketing by email they broadcast information-rich emails to as large a list as possible, hoping that the information will convince some percentage of recipients to contact or meet with a salesperson.

Figure 1: Dumb email marketing


The approach shown in Figure 1 originated in the hoary world of direct mail marketing, where the main strategy is to keep sending letters, flyers, and brochures to a list of people you believe to be potential customers.

If you're mailing to prospects who've already shown an interest in your company, the "email blast" method will get you about a 1 percent response rate. If you're doing a cold mailing (a.k.a. spam), you'll be lucky to get 0.1 percent.

In other words, unless you understand the key to email marketing (see below), you're 1) wasting your time and 2) annoying potential customers with spam.

What Does Work

Email marketing isn't like direct mail. While you can send big documents through email, most email traffic consists of short messages conducted in the context of a back-and-forth conversation. Email is a conversation, not a one-way distribution.

The best way to envision email marketing is as a process consisting of several short, tight emails that attempt to open a conversation (i.e., get an email response). It's only after you've gotten into that back-and-forth conversation that you ask for a meeting.

Figure 2: Smart email marketing


Here's a quick explanation of Figure 2:

  • Honed List. Before doing any emailing, hone your list down to prospects whose profile suggests they'll be interested in your offering. That way it's not spam.
  • Initial Email. This should be 3-4 sentences long and contain only enough information to intrigue the recipient. I've discussed this several times before in this column.
  • Follow-Ups. If you DO NOT get a response to your initial email, you follow up with two reminder emails (i.e., "Did you get a chance to think about this?"). These reminders are forwards of the initial email. They don't contain more information.
  • Hail Mary. This is a third email that offers the prospect a last chance to respond. If there's still no response, you can assume you're pursuing a dead end. Hail Mary emails are a breed apart; I'll post about them in the near future, so stay tuned.
  • Additional Research. If you DO get a response to either the initial email, the follow-ups or the Hail Mary, do additional research on that prospect. Your goal is to connect what you're offering to what that prospect specifically needs.
  • Qualification Email. This is a customized email describing the potential match between your offering and the prospect's needs, based upon your research. This can be longer than the initial email but not an information barrage. Go for relevance, not volume.
  • Meeting Request. If you feel you've made a particularly strong case, you can ask for the meeting (telephone or in person) in the qualification email. However, if you're not almost 100 percent certain you've built a case, go for a "Yes, this sounds good" response from the prospect.
  • Other Contact Methods. You can increase the likelihood of a response to all of your emails by simultaneously using additional contact methods such as voice mail, a personal letter, social media engagement, and so forth.

The No. 1 Secret and What It Means to You

The No. 1 secret of email marketing is that you've got to make that initial email as short and tight as possible.

This is important for your own success and that of your firm because, assuming a honed list, a tightly-written initial email can get a response rate of anywhere between 20-100 percent.

Now, if you've done email marketing in the past, you're probably thinking: "100 percent? What's this guy smoking?"

Well, I recently helped Peter Trombetti, a recruiter for the pharmaceutical industry to hone his initial email. Here's what he emailed me last week: "I sent out four emails and one voice mail since Monday and got FIVE responses. That's a 100 percent response rate! Not bad, eh?"

So, yeah, it's possible to hit a 100 percent response rate.

Of course, most initial emails will have a lower response rate, but basing your follow-up emails on a strong initial email can add another 5-10 percent (per follow-up) to your overall response rate. The tighter the writing, the higher the response rate.

As for Hail Mary emails, I'll be writing about them in the future, so stay tuned. For now I'll just say that they're very different from all other sales and marketing emails. They can be long and even playful.

Remember that even with an almost perfect initial email, the number of meetings you actually land will depend upon how much and how well you customize the qualification email to match the specific prospect. (Hint: you need a template.)

I've know I've crammed a LOT of information into this post but it's information that can make or break your company. As always, if you run into problems or have questions, shoot me an email or leave a comment.