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Power Up Sales With Promotional E-Mail

When done right, promotional e-mail captures customers' attention and drives them to action. Here's how to make it work for your business.

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Looking for an easy way to increase sales? Want it to be cost-effective with little risk as well? Promotional e-mail may be the tactic you need to stimulate demand in an audience already interested in your product or service. No business or franchise is too small or too light in the wallet to effectively put promotional e-mail to work for them.

Let me first explain why targeting promotional e-mail to your existing customer base is so incredibly cost-effective. Then I'll share a few pointers to make sure your promotional e-mail is valuable, compelling and drives customers to take action.

More Bang for Your Advertising Buck

Small businesses are particularly conscious of how and where they spend their advertising dollars, and whether that upfront (and often expensive) investment is effective. It costs money to place an ad in a newspaper, magazine or on a website. Now there's pay-per-click advertising, which adds another variable to the advertising budget mix. The choices can be confusing, mistakes can be costly, and many forms of advertising can be difficult to track as well.

With e-mail promotion you don't have to put cash upfront. You're marketing to your existing base of customers for just pennies per e-mail with no risk to you. These customers have "opted in" to your e-mail list, so they're already interested in your product or service. Think of it as putting ad dollars into promotion to a qualified audience. That's so much more effective than spending on finding an audience.

Here's the cool part: If your e-mail offer contains a coupon for dollars or a percentage off, you only pay out if your customer redeems the coupon. You're giving up gross margin, but you're not taking that dollar out of your wallet. For a cash-strapped business, that's fabulous. And once your customer is back inside your business environment (be it virtual or a physical store), they're more apt to spend with you again. Even if a customer was already planning to come to your store when they received your e-mail, they're now apt to spend even more given the added savings you gave them.

Three Keys to Promotional E-Mail Success

Effective promotional e-mails do these three things to capture customers' attention and compel them to take action:

1. Create a sense of urgency. We all get bombarded with offers. You don't want customers filing yours away for future use--or worse, ignoring or deleting it. Make sure your e-mail offer is something worth acting on now. Do that by creating a sense of time urgency, limited availability, or exclusivity.

Put time limits on your e-mail coupon offers so customers will print them out (or click on them) and use them right away. The large retailers have consumers trained to take advantage of time-limited rewards and offers, which drives customers into stores and stimulate additional sales. Money-saving coupons should expire, as should other incentives (such as "buy one, get one half off" deals, free shipping and gift wrapping, introductory rates, free product upgrades, sales tax exemption, etc.).

Likewise, customers will act if they feel like they're getting something special or a bargain. Offer a freebie to the first 50 customers "this Friday only"--a manicure, mouse pad, appetizer, consultation--whatever you peddle--or a rock-bottom sale price "while supplies last." Make them feel special: "Shhh, our secret sale for preferred customers. Get 10 percent off your total purchase with this coupon, this weekend only." Or "Enjoy our employee discount when you spend $100 or more. Offer expires Saturday at closing."

2. Make the offer compelling. Give your customers something worthwhile and of value. It might be a coupon for dollars off or percentage savings (note: studies show flat-out dollar amounts stimulate more consumer action than percentages off, though it depends on the market and the price range); or "spend this much and get something for free"; or a free upgrade to expedited shipping. Need to drum-up business during an otherwise slow time? E-mail customers to offer them "just-opened slots" on your appointment calendar--whether you're a spa needing warm bodies for empty massage tables or an accountant wanting to fill the schedule for a fruitful tax prep season. Promote any aspect of your business. Set yourself apart from the competition by knowing your customers and making it easy for them to say "yes." Drive a call to action.

3. Track results and try new things. Was your e-mail promotion successful? Try swapping out dollars-off coupons with percentage discounts--see which works best. Be creative. Hold an in-store event like a wine tasting, a demo of new solar-powered camping gear, a free mini-consultation, or a sample giveaway. Try something unusual and use e-mail to spark interest. If customers don't show up, you haven't given anything away. If they do show up, they may stay and buy something more. The more creative you are, the more likely you are to engage people. Have fun with offers, make them worthwhile, and be sure to test, test, test to see what clicks with your customers .