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E-mail marketing secrets and lies: Conversion rates

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E-mail marketing experts often say that it’s not the click-throughs or open statistics that matter so much as your conversion rate, which translates into revenue. Janine Popick, CEO of VerticalResponse, and Morgan Stewart, director of strategic services for ExactTarget, let us in on one secret and one lie about conversion—that Holy Grail of e-mail marketing.

Secret: Because b-to-b products and services can have long sales cycles, you can boost conversion rates by giving customers a taste of what you’re offering. By offering potential customers a limited-use trial, you can help them get comfortable with your product and create good will for your company, Popick said. The key is to make sure you don’t screw it up by betraying that trust, she said.

“A lot of companies ask for a credit card and, in fine print, tell customers they won’t charge them until 30 days after the trial begins. This is one of the simplest ways to lose a customer forever,” Popick said. “When you offer something free, make sure it’s really free.”

Also, make sure that you follow up during the course of that trial so you can provide any help and actually close the sale.

Lie: More is always better. If you have two campaigns, one yielding a 1% conversion rate and the other topping the 2% conversion rate, which one performed better? If you said the one that had a 2% rate, you might be wrong, Stewart said.

“The conversion rate alone is not enough information,” he said. “If the campaign converting 1% has an average order value [AOV] of $300, while the campaign with a 2% conversion rate has a $100 AOV, then the campaign converting at 1% provided a better return than the one with a 2% conversion rate. You really have to maximize the average order value.”

This may mean offering custom-packaged orders that may have a higher price point—and a lower conversion rate—but provide more bang for your customer’s buck, and more revenue for you once a conversion does take place.

Another tip: Don’t misrepresent what conversion really means. Conversion for a free e-mail newsletter may be when someone signs up for it, but for conversion on a solicitation e-mail, the only thing that counts from a statistical value is the actual purchase.

“Some people look at conversion as the percentage of opens,” he said. “Others gauge conversion on people putting stuff in a shopping cart. You have to be very clear and explicit.”

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