Why 5 Emails Are Better Than 1 – This Tough Love Cost Me a Project

Business project

Recently a client asked me to write a single email to promote his business. This was to be sent to a list he’d created after scouring the web for prospects.

Now, I could have taken his money, written the email and wished him all the best. But I thought I’d make him aware of a few realities…

Open rates for commercial email are dismally low. Even with the clearest ‘tell’em, don’t sell’em’ subject line, the highest open rate you can expect is 30%. What’s worse, only a meager 3% will click through to your website.

Mailchimp’s widely shared stats on open rates can be dismal reading indeed.

So I advised the client to do the sums before deciding whether hiring me would be worthwhile.

Now, I can imagine you’re rolling your eyes, wondering how I could jeopardize a project this way. But it gets worse…

I then gave the client another reason why hiring me to write a single email was a waste of money.

An oft quoted stat (and rallying cry, for some) among salespeople is that 81% of sales come after the fifth contact, but most salespeople give up after the first one or two.

This stat comes from a study by the mysterious Association of Sales Executives, an organisation that regularly catches out marketers. But while the stat’s validity is questionable, the thinking behind it makes complete sense.

Few people are ready to buy on the first contact. You need to warm them up first. You need to earn their trust by demonstrating you know what you’re talking about with information that addresses real problems. Only then will they be willing to listen to your sales pitch.

For this reason, email marketing best practice is to follow the 80/20 Pareto principle – send four helpful emails before delivering your sales pitch. That way you can soften them up, poke at their pain and give them reasons why they need your product before asking them to buy. The smart folks at Copyblogger tend to agree.

I advised the client that his best chance of success would be to hire me to write a series of emails – four educational messages about a common customer challenge followed by a summarizing sales pitch presenting his product as the answer.

The beauty of this tactic is that these emails can be setup as an autoresponder or compiled into a report and dangled in front of website visitors as a lead magnet.

Repurposing content in this way would enable the client to continue generating leads from my content for months or years to come. Clearly, this offered a much higher ROI than a one shot deal.

But after laying out my doomsday scenario for a single email’s success, I didn’t hear from the client again. Maybe it wasn’t a smart move to dampen his enthusiasm in this way, after he’d collected all those email addresses.

But you’re judged by results in this game. Treating email marketing as a marathon, and not a sprint, is the best way to win.

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