The majority of e-mail dollars—70%—are spent on retention efforts, according to a Forrester Research forecast released last June, “U.S. Email Marketing Forecast, 2009 to 2014.” Acquisition via e-mail, said David Daniels, the firm's VP and principal analyst, is much more difficult in today's business climate. Still, when done right, e-mail marketing can become a strong tool for lead generation. The key, Daniels said, is to handle lead-generation e-mails as you would in-person sales calls; it might be the electronic equivalent of a cold call, but there should be nothing cold about it.
You can warm your prospecting efforts by doing something you should already be doing with your retention e-mail marketing database: creating narrow segments whenever possible. This strategy, often called “microtargeting,” enables you to reach out to customers and better match where they are in the buying cycle, said Heather Blank, director of strategic services with e-mail service provider (ESP) Responsys. “Our clients who have been more successful [with lead generation] are the ones creating dynamically generated content by bringing in either Web or profile data,” she said, “and sending content that matches someone's profile very closely.”
You can see this play out when you compare results of purchasing a list to renting space in a publisher's e-newsletter, said Matt Wise, president of online marketing services provider Q Interactive. “If you're a technology marketer, for instance, and you're reaching out to a list where someone has signed up to receive an e-mail from CNET about technology, you're going to get better results than if you bought a list where you don't know where the names came from or how long it's been sitting around,” he said.
Companies can also run into trouble committing one of the most obvious mistakes—the hard sell—jumping right into an offer without creating a relationship. But even those marketers willing to take it slow often commit marketing faux pas. Brand inconsistency, for example, can turn prospects off immediately, said Jamie Schissler, strategy director of interactive agency Razorfish. “This still goes on where you've got multiple groups responsible for a brand,” he said. “If you're sending e-mails divorced from the core marketing team, the message isn't going to be on mark all of the time.” If customers are aware of your brand but then receive a message that seems very different than what they already know about it, they may become confused and look elsewhere, he said.
Marketers also miss out on an opportunity when they don't mention how they got the recipient's e-mail, said Sara Ezrin, ESP Experian CheetahMail's senior strategy consultant. Unless you're buying a list, the people in your lead database have raised their hands somehow—at an event, on your website or by clicking through on a banner ad. Mentioning that source will help you get a better start on your relationship, she said.
“Unless you indicate the source of that e-mail acquisition and personalize it—'It was great to meet you at our most recent event'—you're missing out on one of the most important, relevant pieces of messaging.” Of course, Ezrin said, you have to be sure someone on your team actually met that person. If the address came from someone dropping their card into a big fishbowl, you'll need to couch your greeting to reflect that, too.
It's also important to tailor the message to new recipients; they should get a completely different sales message than someone who has been doing business with your company for years. However, e-mail marketers often lump new prospects into their more mature database, Ezrin said, sending newly opted-in prospects their regular stream of e-mails. “We're always pushing for nurturing, but we're not tailoring different messaging based on relationship,” she said. “And sometimes we add people to a new leads database, send them an introduction to the company—but they've been a customer for a while. They're just buying a new product. That's exactly what you don't want to do: Say "Welcome' to someone who is already a customer.”
Segmenting doesn't just stop once you've got new prospects in a single database and are using microtargeting practices, said Kara Trivunovic, senior director of strategic services at StrongMail. “Consider classifying prospects even more so you have two subgroups of leads: qualified leads and those people likely seeking education,” she said. “Then you're going to market to them differently.”
Otherwise, messaging should as always be highly focused on the prospect's business problem, and marketers may best achieve that goal by using customer testimonials in their e-mail copy, said Forrester Research's Daniels. “Those people who are doing this are getting the highest conversion rate,” he said.
StrongMail's Trivunovic said one of her customers—a human resources software vendor—created a strong “onboarding” program by introducing testimonials sequentially. The first e-mail or two had written commentary included, while subsequent messages included links to video testimonials. “The videos were so [that] people could see existing customers talk about how the organization helped them. The company felt it humanized them. They were doing more than marketing; they were showing that they understood their customers' needs,” she said.
And if you do everything right and your prospects haven't opted out but aren't opening your e-mails? Don't keep them in your prospects database. Instead, move them to a separate list whether you intend on remarketing to them again or not. Unopened e-mails are causing some marketers to have issues with e-mail deliverability, said Q Interactive's Wise, who also sits on the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “If you send your e-mail out and no one engages with it, you're risking that the ISPs and corporations, which use ISP black lists, are going to stop delivering your messages,” he said.
Originally published Nov. 16, 2009