Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 8: Email Marketing

By Aaron Taylor

Many of the elements of modern professional services marketing are designed to generate leads. But what do you do with those leads? And how do you convert them into clients? Email marketing offers answers to both of these questions.

Before we delve into the details of email marketing, however, we need to take a hard look at that repository of leads, the list.

The Almighty List

Without a list of prospects, email marketing simply isn't possible. But when your prospects provide you with a single piece of information — an email address — you are suddenly able to engage and delight potential customers. This may sound a little funny (we're talking about email marketing, right?), but it's true. So long as you respect the people on your list and feed them only information that is relevant, they will appreciate and even look forward to your firm's emails.

In marketing today, the best way to assemble and manage your list is with a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Most relatively sophisticated CRMs (such as Salesforce, Marketo, HubSpot, SugarCRM, Oracle and Infusionsoft, to name just a few) can connect the forms on your website to the CRM database. That means any time someone fills out a form, they are automatically entered in the contact database and tagged as a lead.

But many professional services firms that want to embrace modern marketing already have two strikes against them:

  1. Because they have been doing conventional marketing for so many years, their lists lack email addresses; and
  2. The lists they do have aren't segmented.

You can address the first point in a number of ways, including purchasing lists (not allowed in some countries) and implementing opt-in strategies to build a strong list organically. While I don't have space here to go into the many opt-in strategies at your disposal, I've discussed two important ones in detail — content marketing and the high performance website — in other articles in this series.

Join the Segmentation Nation

If you send emails to your entire list, you are bound to alienate some people. Why? Because you will be doing one of two annoying things:

  1. Sending messages and offers that are so broad that most people won't find them interesting; or
  2. Sending messages and offers that are specific enough to interests some people on your list but are irrelevant to everyone else.

Either way, you are doing your prospects and your firm no favors. The answer, of course, is to segment your list. For instance, if you collect segmentation information (such as industry, company size or person's role) on your web forms, you will have the ability to sort your database by those attributes. Then you can send out highly relevant email campaigns to specific portions of your list. Unsubscribes should go down. And email opens and conversions should go up.

If your list isn't segmented, where do you start? If you have a lot of time on your hands (or an intern), you can at least determine the industry for most of the people on your list. First, set aside the emails with non-business domain names. These include emails that end in gmail.com, comcast.net, hotmail.com, yahoo.com, and the like. There is not much you can do with these other than put them in an “other” category.

Now, take the remaining names and plug each domain name (the part of the email address after the “@” sign) into your web browser and see what kind of industry comes up. Then tag each record in your database with the appropriate industry. It's a process as valuable as it is tedious.

How to Turn a Lead into Gold

So you've got a decent list. Now what? If you've been following a content marketing strategy, you can use email as a way to create more engagement — and drive people steadily toward a sale. Once an individual has downloaded a piece of content, you can follow up with them. A great approach is to offer them another piece of free content so that they will stay engaged.

This cycle can continue as long as you like, but eventually you will need to raise the bar and make a harder offer. This might be an in-person or phone consultation. Or it could be a live product demo. It could even be as simple as “Are you ready to get started? Request a proposal.” Once they come to trust your firm, many prospects just need a direct appeal to move them from being an interested party to a paying client.

Email is also a great vehicle to deliver relevant non-content offers to specific market segments. If you are a management consulting firm, for instance, you might invite the CEOs on your list to an exclusive event for captains of industry. If you are an engineering firm, you might offer a special report on MEP trends to the commercial architects on your list. When you narrowly target your offers, you increase the likelihood of getting a good response.

It's Wise to Analyze

Most email service providers (ESPs) and CRMs provide a set of useful analytics on every email you send out. Here are a few of the more useful metrics and what they mean:

Open Rate — How many recipients (approximately) opened your email as a percentage of the total sent. You should keep a few caveats in mind when monitoring this statistic. Do not confuse “opened” with “read.” Chances are a much smaller percentage of recipients will actually spend time reading your message. Also, opens are measured when an invisible pixel image is “viewed.” In many email browsers today, however, it is possible to read a message without loading the images, so these messages would not register as opened.

Unsubscribes — How many people opted out of your email. Unless you have multiple subscription options (you offer multiple newsletters, for instance), you are required to remove these people from your entire list. Unsubscribes are not all bad. People who don't want to hear from you are probably not good business prospects, anyway. So unsubscribes help keep your list clean and more efficient.

Abuse or spam reports — How many people complained about your email or reported it as spam. If you have a good (opt-in) list, this should be a very, very low number.

Bounces — How many emails could not be delivered. Common reasons include full mailboxes, offline mail servers and email addresses that no longer exist. Usually these are separated into soft bounces (temporary conditions) and hard bounces (permanent conditions). Hard bounces should be removed from your list.

Clicks — The number of times recipients clicked a link in your email. This is useful to measure engagement, since people who are clicking are probably reading, too. Most services will also record which links people clicked most often.

Conversions — You may be able to configure your ESP to record the completion of a complex action — downloading a white paper or completing a purchase, for instance.

Shares — How often your email is being shared in social media. Again, a great measure of engagement.

Monitoring your analytics and taking action based on what you learn are critical to the success of your email marketing campaigns. If you aren't measuring, you are flying blind and wasting your money.

Test, Adjust, Repeat

Email marketing isn't a science. But you can use a bit of science to improve your results. Because email is measurable, it's easy to test different subject lines, headlines, calls to action, imagery and just about any other aspect of its content. Break your list into two or three equal batches and test slight variations. Keep things simple and change only a single element in each email you send. Then check the open, click-through and unsubscribe rates to see if the variations outperform the control. If there is a version that shows significant improvement, see if you can figure how you might apply an equivalent change to future emails. If you get in the habit of testing and adjusting, you should be able to improve your response rate incrementally over time.

Don't Be a Spammer

If you talk to the average person about email marketing, the conversation inevitably turns to the problem of spam. Our inboxes are full enough without all that junk! But email marketing is only spam if the people receiving it don't want it. And in business there are many people who are either in the market for your services or want to educate themselves about your industry. Even if they aren't ready to buy, they are ready to be nurtured. These are exactly the sorts of people you want on your list.

The legal regulations that govern spam vary from country to country. In the US, requirements are bit laxer than in Europe and Canada. The United States' CAN-SPAM Act, for instance, requires that every email contain an opt-out link, but a business can legally send email to anyone it likes. Canada's FISA law, however, requires the explicit consent of a person before they can be sent a commercial email. Canada's penalties for violators are also much harsher.

Whether you target prospects in the US or elsewhere, the same logic applies: it makes a tremendous amount of sense to empathize with the people on your list. The more you can get people's permission before hitting the send button, the more successful your email marketing program is going to be. And the more you can customize your emails to specific segments, the more satisfying will be your results — and the fewer precious leads will unsubscribe and be lost forever.

Email marketing is a rich subject, and this article only scratches the surface. If you want to dig deeper into the topic of email marketing, I suggest you pick up one of the many excellent books on the topic or subscribe to our Professional Services Marketing Blog.

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