How to engage customers through transactional e-mails

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Sysco Corp. sells foodservice products directly to 400,000 restaurants, nursing homes, hotels and colleges—anyplace outside of the home where food is prepared. In the past, the Houston-based company got its marketing messages out the old-fashioned way, said Shelley Carr, senior manager of Sysco’s convenience food area: Sales reps left postcards, leaflets and coupons with their customers.

It was a strategy that didn’t work that well, she said. “In terms of effectiveness, it was just junk in the trunk because people really didn’t care.” Papers left behind also meant that people had to call their sales reps directly if they did want to make a purchase.

This fall, Sysco took its promotional messages online in a bid to provide instantly accessible information. Sysco marketers also took it one step further, building in transactional functionality as well—allowing customers to make purchases directly from e-mails.

Carr and Scott Madlener, exec VP-interactive strategies for Performance Communications Group, Sysco’s marketing communications firm, provided these tips to help extend the effectiveness of your transactional messages.

  • Keep it snappy and useful. Every e-mail message you send, even transactional ones, can further your brand awareness and reach. Sysco, in conjunction with its e-mail service provider ExactTarget and Performance Communications Group, used PCG's Internet Secured Application Technology to create rich e-mail messages that have a secured form built in. “This lets us facilitate secured commerce,” Carr said.
  • Don’t forget the pass-along factor. Your message may be delivered to someone who makes decisions but doesn’t handle purchasing or vice versa. By creating a “send-to-a-friend” link, you can boost your chances that your message will make it to all the necessary recipients in its entirety. A recent Sysco holiday message, which went out to about 4,000 people, had a 36% open rate (or approximately 1,440 people). The total viewership of the message, however, was about 3,600 people. “We had a lot of people utilizing the integrated send-to-a-friend,” Carr said.
  • Make sure offers are worth the trouble. Sysco’s message contained a coupon giving a discount on a combined purchase. By Dec. 1 the redemption rate was 9%, far more than the typical 1% coupon redemption rate. An attractive message can be more engaging, but in the end it’s the offer that matters, Carr said.
  • Keep the action in the e-mail. If you send someone a video-based presentation but request that they click out of their message to take action, you’re taking a chance that they will either miss some of your presentation or won’t bother clicking through, Madlener said. “We know statistically, 85% to 95% of people do not click out of e-mail,” he said. “Because we integrated the form, people can fill it out and still watch the entire video presentation.”
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