According to Hubspot, only 1% of cold calls result in a meeting and only 90% of decision-makers are open to taking a cold call. I think those are generous estimates. Due to phone SPAM, only the old and the clueless take calls from strangers any longer.

Email marketing is another story. While it's far from a panacea, email marketing can generate new business, if it's done correctly. Unfortunately, almost nobody does email marketing well, mostly because they focus on the wrong things.

So let's start by focusing on the right thing. In email marketing there are three key metrics:

  1. Open Rate. The percentage of prospects who open an email.
  2. Response Rate. The percentage of prospects who respond to an email.
  3. Conversion Rate. The percentage of responding prospects who subsequently buy.

Most email marketing "experts" focus on Open Rate because, frankly, it's the easiest metric to raise. Very focus on Conversion Rate because that's very difficult to raise. However, it's the Conversion Rate metric that's most important, because that's how you make money.

How, then, do you ensure that you get the highest Conversion Rate? Before getting to specifics, I must quash the widely-held belief that the higher the Open Rate, the higher the Response Rate and, therefore, the higher the Conversion Rate.

While that relationship seems intuitive, for a prospect to move from opening to replying to purchasing, the customer experience must be congruent with no irritating surprises.

For example, in the quest for a high Open Rate, many so-called "experts" in email marketing recommend Subject lines that statistically get high Open Rates:

  • Subject: [blank]
  • Subject: RE: [blank]
  • Subject: RE: [a term that commands attention like "Accounts Receivable"]

Unfortunately, while these Subject lines do indeed produce high Open Rates, prospects know immediately upon opening the email that they've been tricked into opening it. Prospects resent this, which lowers both your Response and Conversion Rates.

You may believe that the contents of your email are SO compelling that prospects will, in their joy at your value proposition, overlook the fact that you tricked them. Dream on. Trick Subject lines damage your reputation and risk getting your email address blacklisted. 

Keeping the need for congruence foremost, here are the five most important elements to winning new customers through email marketing:

1. Make it easy to buy.

This is all about what happens at the end of the sales process, but since we're focusing on Conversion rather than Open, we'll start at the end, as it were.

Regardless of whether you're selling a customized solution or a commodity widget, your most important marketing task is to make your offering easy to buy. Don't make the prospect struggle to give you money.

Does this happen? Oh, mai oui. One of the big online conference providers used to insist that prospects talk to a salesperson. You couldn't order a basic version of the product without having that conversation. That was dumb; now you can sign up for the basic version online.

Similarly, to buy something on the Verizon wireless website you click a button labeled "Add to Cart." When I recently tried to purchase an item from Verizon, I kept looking for the shopping cart so I could check out.

When I couldn't find it, I contacted support. The customer support person couldn't find the shopping cart either. I finally figured out that that, rather than a shopping cart, there's a tiny shopping BAG with no item counter. Dumb.

One excellent definition of marketing is "removing barriers to buying." If it's difficult for a prospect to become a customer, you might as well not bother marketing. Focus on buyability until you've got that right. Then work on everything else.

2. Communicate from the customer's viewpoint.

Based upon the thousands of cold emails I've seen, there's an overwhelming tendency to use such emails to explain/justify/hype the sender's identity or corporate brand, like so:

Hi, I'm Joe Schmo, executive account manager for XYZ, which is the premier provider of state-of-the-art widgets. As the industry leader in widgets, we always provide superlative customer service...

Look, prospects don't care who you are until they're convinced you have what they want. It's only after prospects have considered buying something that they bother to consider: "is this the right person/company to provide this thing I want?"

Prospects will only open, read and respond to an email that is primarily or entirely about what they want rather than who you are. And they'll only become customers if they believe that buying will somehow benefit them.  That's why effective emails are about benefits not features.

WRONG: "Our widget has double-framistats." (feature)

RIGHT: "Our widget reduces failure by 50%." 

3. Avoid sales-like language.

Most prospects neither like nor trust salespeople. Some of that antipathy stems from stereotypes, but most of it comes from long experience dealing with pushy salespeople who use aggressive sales techniques.

That animosity has exploded over the past few years with the proliferation of intrusive robot telephone solicitation. The effect of this awful technology has been to make wide swaths of the country actively HATE salespeople, rather than just find them annoying.

As a result, if you're selling something, you can't EVER come off like you're a salesperson. This doesn't mean hiding that you're selling something but rather not using stereotypical sales-y phrases and terminology like:

WRONG: "What if I told you I could..."

WRONG: "full guarantee"

WRONG: "standard discount"

WRONG: "highest quality"

WRONG: "friendly support staff"

WRONG: "We care about our customers."

General rule: if it sounds like something a salesperson might say, don't put it in the email. Also, remove all unfounded claims or opinions. If you can't back something up with a fact, don't say it:

WRONG: Our service department is world-class.

RIGHT: We won the tri-state "best service" award three years running.

4. One benefit, one differentiator and one call-to-action (in that order).

I call this the "rule of one." While businesspeople use email to send long internal document, prospects are only willing to give cold emails a few seconds of mental attention. You can't afford to waste those seconds repeating yourself.

The one benefit should explain, from the prospect's viewpoint and as specifically as possible, what buying your offering would mean to the prospect.

WRONG: "Our product has the following benefits:" (too many)

WRONG: "Our widget saves you money." (too vague)

RIGHT: "Our widget reduces downtime by 50%"

The one differentiator should explain, again from the prospect's viewpoint and specifically as possible, why you're the right person from whom to buy whatever you're offering:

WRONG: "We've been in business since 1984." (irrelevant)

WRONG: "We're the industry leader in widget production." (too vague)

RIGHT: "We sell more widgets than anyone else."

If your product is a commodity that can be ordered online and your email contains sufficient information--within the constraints of one benefit/one differentiator--to make a decision, the one call-to-action should be a link to where the prospect can purchase your offering.

In all other cases, your call-to-action should be a YES or NO question that the prospect can answer by replying to the email. The goal of a cold email is to open an online conversation, and a YES or NO question is the lowest possible barrier to having the conversation take place.

Under no circumstances should you include additional links or verbiage that suggests another method of response. I can't emphasize this enough: Response Rates are INVERSELY proportional to the number of calls-to-action.

WRONG: "For more information, go to our website."

WRONG: "If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call." (also sales talk)

RIGHT: "Are you the right person to make this decision?"

RIGHT: "Is this something that might interest you?"

RIGHT: "Would you like me to send a link to very short video explaining how it works?"

5. Stick the benefit in the Inbox

I was going to include some examples but I already did that in a previous post. To summarize, prospects are most likely to open an email if the listing in the Inbox looks like something that would interest or concern that prospect.

  1. A subject line that requires mental attention to parse, like "Fourth annual Sales Enablement Optimization Study."
  2. A subject line that's irrelevant to the prospect.
  3. A teaser that repeats the subject line.
  4. Default teasers like "Having trouble viewing this message? Click here."
Published on: Jun 29, 2018
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