This article and expertise originally appeared in Business2Community. Steve Faber's firm, Most Pixels Marketing Solutions, specializes in email and content marketing.
If you’re using email marketing or considering it, there are several key things you need to know that drive long-term ROI. No matter what type of business you run, what vertical you’re in, or how your sales process works, email can help your ROI. There’s a reason it’s almost universally used by the most successful brands, large and small.
We help many kinds of businesses with email marketing. One of our primary focuses is helping contractors build their customer relationships and grow profitability. We’ve used an email marketing system, targeted at their existing customers as our primary tool. The journey has taught us plenty about what works, what doesn’t, and how to be more effective email marketers for our clients. Here’s what we’ve discovered about how to make email marketing more effective for businesses like yours.
Marketing challenges and the right email marketing system solves for small business owners
One of our clients helps small technology contractors with their businesses. About 25% have multiple locations, but most are single location enterprises. What we discovered while working with them for the last 4 years was an eye-opener. If you run or are responsible for marketing a similar business, our discoveries may be right up your alley. Even if your business is different in many ways, for example, you own 12 fried chicken franchises, an e-commerce store, or an aircraft interior panel manufacturer, many of the lessons still apply to your email marketing system.
Small business email marketing challenge 1: High intention, no time.
This is a biggie. Most of our customers are small to medium-sized businesses, typically with 25 or fewer employees and $5 million or less in annual revenue, although some are much larger. As such, there are plenty of multiple hat-wearers involved. The marketing director is usually the owner or someone else who counts a few other things as their primary responsibilities.
They have every intention of staying closely connected with their existing customers as part of their marketing function. Other day-to-day business operations intervene and keep them from any consistency if they ever send anything at all. Maybe they send a holiday mailer a few times a year, but that’s about it. To most small business execs, it’s an old story; 70 emails, 23 customer/vendor phone calls, 3 meetings, and 107 text messages later, the day’s end is long gone, and they still haven’t gotten to half the stuff on their day’s “To Do” list.
One of the first things to go by the wayside is any kind of regular communication to their past customers. Yes, they know it should be done, but so should addressing all those other issues that can have a much more immediate impact on their business. If it’s in your face, it gets your attention, and rightly so. An email marketing system can be a significant marketing time saver if you elect to do it yourself. If you outsource it, you’ll spend only as much time as you need to check your analytics (more on that later).
Small business email marketing challenge 2: Unsure what works best or how to go about it.
The other big challenge we’ve found is many small business owners have little marketing background. Sometimes they have little direct business experience. They started their firm after working at a similar one. One day they decided to strikeout on their own. Most were sales reps, technicians, programmers, designers, or project managers. Some had a combination of those roles.
While some have prior sales experience, sales is not really the same as marketing. Some sales reps do marketing as part of their job, though.
Marketing generates qualified leads that want what your business sells and is able to buy. Sales turn those leads into paying customers. A sales rep needs a steady stream of qualified leads if they’re to maximize effectiveness.
Many business owners don’t know exactly what works best to bring business through the door with the highest return on their investment in time and financial resources. For example, cold calling can be effective for talented, experienced sales reps, but it takes significant time. Those same sales reps would bring in much more revenue if they had a stream of qualified leads to work with. Sales and marketing activities that deliver consistently positive results and require minimal time and financial input are obviously preferred. This is doubly true for bandwidth-limited small businesses.
Small business email marketing challenge 3: They’re not copywriters.
Most of our customers are not copywriters and do not have one on staff. They’re not versed in the subtleties of crafting content that keeps their customers engaged long-term. They don’t know how to solve their problems boost desire, and have prospects take action when called upon. That’s vital in our case because a primary goal is for our clients to score new contacts from their old customers. The ultimate goal is to convert those contacts into contacts and ultimately into sales. For those owners or managers who can write compelling copy, see challenge #1. They simply don’t have the time.
What doesn’t work in email marketing
If business owners had dabbled in email marketing before, we’ve found 2 big mistakes they typically made that kept them from seeing the kind of success they were hoping for. As to what doesn’t work in email marketing, we are going to ignore the basics, like poor layout, cheesy graphics, and spelling errors. You’re not making these. The audience expects more from you.
Email marketing mistake 1: Sending emails that were primarily product, service, or company focused.
This is what email marketing means to many, especially to those used to retail marketing. It’s been the norm for many non-retail business too. Their emails were all about the new products from XYZ Company, all the arcane features, and why those products are so special. Images, yes, but just big product pictures, straight from the manufacturers’ stock, and product description (ditto). Some call this strategy “brochure marketing.”
The problem with that?
Others can sell those same products. Even if they can’t, a winning message is not about the product (yet), it’s about the problem and the solution. There is a place to talk about a product, but it’s very strategic, at the end of a sales funnel. Talking about a specific product and why it’s cool doesn’t deliver the small business’ audience any value, and value must always come first to build the relationship and maximize conversion rate.
“Product speak” only serves the business, except that it doesn’t, really. It’s a key reason behind email marketing failures. See closely related Mistake 2, below.
Email marketing mistake 2: Pounding their customers over the head with endless “Buy! Buy! Buy!” emails.
It’s all too common practice among email marketers. You’ve seen them too; probably the last time you checked your email. Your audience has too. They get that all day, every day from everybody else. Don’t fall prey to the temptation; your audience will just tune you out. Worse, unless you’re in restaurants or some retail verticals, that email style significantly increases long-term unsubscribe rates, and reduces open rates. At best, customers ignore those emails.
“Buy! Buy! Buy! this New 4K TV From Us Now! It’s Sooo Cheap!” “Sump pumps 25% off – Now only”
It highlights the need to target email marketing campaigns for specific audiences and markets. The promo style emails work well in the hospitality industry, where subscribers subscribed specifically to get timely specials and promotions. Having 2 for 1 chicken nachos tomorrow during happy hour? Yum, I’m on the way!
On the other hand. that style doesn’t translate as well to the software or contracting spaces, where the goal is long-term engagement, an eventual customer email or phone contact, and a consultative sales appointment. For example, when it comes to email marketing messages for custom AV or IT contractors, very few clients are going to buy a $80,000 system tomorrow because you just sent them an email today.
Think about it this way: Email marketing is just that; marketing. It isn't email sales. While selling directly from email messages can be highly effective in some spaces, we’ve found that it does not work well for technology, consulting, or building contractors. In fact, it can be a real killer.
Another reason blasting out specials doesn’t really work in the contractor market is simple. Customers aren’t buying components. In this case, our customers’ are contractors. They provide a solid value-add, and sell complete, installed systems. In most cases, their audience doesn’t know enough about exactly which components work with their system to know if that new network switch special the contractor just blasted out is even a good fit for their system.
Consultants work with businesses to strengthen their processes. Their prospects aren’t going to respond to “Buy Bombardment” either. They must demonstrate value first. Their consulting service is a large ticket purchase, not something bought on a whim because the price is 20% off. It’s about the value they provide and using email to help demonstrate that is what drives sales.
Here’s another example: How well would it work for a general contractor to offer a special on Glu-Lam beams? Not very well, probably. Who, but possibly other general contractors or framing contractors, would know if those specific beams would work for their project or what a good price would be? It’s all about knowing your target audience and ideal customer.
Email marketing mistake 3: Don’t make this one!
A common way many small business owners try to leverage content is simply using their vendor’s press releases as email newsletter content. Don’t fall prey to this one! Sure, it’s easy, but so is tripping over your feet. It can work for some highly anticipated products, but it’s a rarity. A big problem is those releases all lead back to the manufacturer. They stimulate interest; good. They make your audience go elsewhere, not to you, to get more info; bad!
The natural reaction to a press release on a product is going to the product manufacturer’s website for more info, even if you don’t link to it in your email.
If you do send out manufacturer press releases, add significant value to the basic release as part of your email. How does the release benefit your customer? How can you increase the value to them?
This article was written by Steve Faber from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.