Build Sales with E-Mail Marketing

Follow these three steps for an affordable campaign that yields a strong ROI.

learn more about Kim T. Gordon

By Kim T. Gordon • Feb 2, 2011 Originally published Apr 4, 2005

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're looking for a highly effective, yet low-cost way to up-sell or cross-sell current customers, consider setting up an e-mail marketing program. Since it can cost as much as five times more to win a new customer than to keep an old one, retention programs using e-mail are a solid small-business marketing tactic. E-mail programs to in-house lists perform at least as well as direct mail--and often considerably better--without the postage or printing costs. And results are easy to track and measure.

Here are three steps that'll help you build a successful e-mail marketing campaign:

1. Build your list. Today, having a terrific website is simply not enough. You need a marketing program that drives traffic there and keeps visitors coming back. And since e-mail to rental lists is often kicked out as spam, it's essential to build your own opt-in list of customers and prospects. These are individuals who have visited your site and given you permission to contact them.

Prominently post a sign-in box or button on your home page accompanied by brief copy that induces visitors to join your list. This simple one-click button or single-entry form should click through to a more in-depth form where you can gather demographic and other pertinent information. To induce visitors to register, you can offer entry in a sweepstakes or contest, special notification of sales or new products, a free newsletter, access to members-only content, or even the ability to post product reviews or participate in message boards. Brick-and-mortar retailers can also capture e-mail information by asking for e-mail addresses from customers at checkout. And service businesses can contact satisfied clients and gain permission to add them to an e-mail list.

As you build your list, it's easy to add the e-mail addresses, names and demographic information to an in-house database using contact management software. Affordable off-the-shelf software products, such as ACT! 2005 from Best Software and GoldMine 6.5 by FrontRange, will help you track all sales and marketing activities as well as maintain vital demographic and sales information.

2. Send the right message. For many e-mail marketers, it's beneficial to alternate promotional messages with softer-sell communications, such as newsletters. This helps avoid list burnout and may increase the frequency with which you can successfully communicate with your customers and prospects. The most crucial element is to make the content of your e-mails relevant to the needs of your recipients, because off-target e-mails and those that come too frequently are generally treated as spam.

E-newsletters allow you to share information with your customers, position your company or yourself as an expert in your field, introduce new products and services, and get vital feedback from customers. There are two types of editorial styles: short blurbs with links to longer articles, or one major article interspersed with ads or promotional links. The key to success is to make your newsletter content so compelling that customers and prospects will look forward to receiving it. Choose a name for your e-newsletter that communicates something important to the subscriber, and keep your design, tone and format consistent from one issue to the next.

In addition to e-newsletters, e-mails that include sales promotions, coupons, customer reward information and invitations to events are generally well received. Nearly one-third of respondents to a recent DoubleClick consumer e-mail study said they'd made an immediate online purchase as a result of receiving an e-mail, and close to one-third said they'd clicked on messages for information and later made an online purchase as a result.

3. Design and track like a pro. The two elements that most dramatically affect your e-mail "open rate" are the "from" and "subject" lines. So it's essential to make it clear the e-mail is coming from you, a valued source of information. And the subject line must contain a benefit, or at least convey what your e-mail contains--otherwise your open rate will plummet. Comply with all CAN SPAM regulations by including your company's name and physical address in the body of the message as well as an unsubscribe option at the bottom.

When it comes to design and execution of your e-mail campaign, it's not necessary to go it alone. In fact, it's difficult for an entrepreneur to send more than 50 e-mails at a time, since higher numbers are usually blocked as spam by ISPs. Fortunately, e-mail marketing services that cater to small businesses, such as Constant Contact or those available through major web hosting services like Interland, will generally e-mail up to 5000 subscribers for $50 a month or less. The service will also maintain and clean your list by removing bounces and addresses of people who choose to unsubscribe.

Choose an e-mail marketing service that provides design templates for e-newsletters, promotional offers and coupons that are easy to customize. Since only about 56 percent of internet users have broadband, it's essential to design full-color, high impact HTML newsletters or promotions but still give recipients the option of receiving a text-only version.

Best of all, most e-mail marketing services will provide all your campaign metrics, which are vital to evaluating the effectiveness of your mailings. You'll be able to identify who opened your e-mail and clicked on each link. Then you can fine-tune your key elements--from your offers to your subject lines--for maximum ROI, and compare your results from one mailing to the next.

Kim T. Gordon
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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