E-Mail Marketing


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Can You Automate Personal E-mails For Your Company?

That sounds like a paradox. Aren’t personal e-mails supposed to be, well, personal? Don’t I need to customize every single one of my e-mails to elicit a real response from my potential customers, the press, and investors.

Yes and no. I believe in personal e-mails, I do them every day. I send personalized e-mails to my design friends asking for feedback on a logo.  I’ll ask my lawyer friends about how to incorporate my business. These are all personal e-mails since I already have a relationship with these people, but what about the ones I don’t have relationships with?

E-mail Outreach

E-mail outreach is still one of the best ways to reach your target audience (77% of consumers prefer to receive marketing communications through e-mail via Salesforce). Being able to send a cold e-mail to someone you want to talk to is always nerve-racking since you are putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. You need to research your prospect, understand what they are interested in, and of course, pitch yourself and your company.

There is a ton of information about automating these type of e-mails, or what I like to think of as the “science” behind cold e-mails. Getting people to know about what my startup does is always a challenge (small plug, my company helps you do this through blog posts), so I thought I’d try a little experiment in e-mail outreach for business development purposes.

The Goal

The goal I set for this experiment was as follows:        

            “Get as many people to learn about Cooperatize through a series of e-mails.”

The important thing to note here is that my goal wasn’t necessarily to close a ton of business or develop long lasting friendships with people (these goals, of course, were by-products of this experiment and should be for any company). It was simply to get people to know. These e-mails would be like mini billboards that drivers along the infinite e-mail highways would have see on their daily commute, or like the funny local TV commercials you are forced to see during breaks in national TV shows.

Setting Up The System

I won’t get into too much detail about how I set everything up, but the two main components you need for this experiment are the prospects (e-mail addresses) and the e-mail automation tool. To get a list of 10,000 leads, I used a combination of Elance and Odesk to find e-mail addresses of my company’s potential prospects.

There is no shortage of e-mail automation software to execute the actual task of e-mailing your prospects. Most of you are probably using Mailchimp which is great for sending newsletters with fancy formatting and designs. With e-mail automation, I needed something that combines bulk e-mailing with CRM (customer relationship management). Platforms like Intercom.io, Customer.io, and Drip are good at getting this job done. These platforms come with all sorts of bells and whistles like support desks and on-site communication with your customers. At the end of the day, I just needed a tool that could send out hundreds of e-mails a day with an ability to follow up. I chose Outreach.io since they had a free trial.

Making the E-mails Personal

If you do a quick search for “best cold e-mail templates,” you’ll find a variety of templates that so-called marketing gurus claim have resulted in a 60% response rate or a 25% close rate. Needless to say, I’m skeptical of these numbers and my results were much more modest (see results later in the article). I just looked at a few of these templates and created a cold e-mail that incorporated various elements from each template.

Making your e-mail “personal” is the biggest challenge that e-mail automation software, in my opinion, aims to solve. A good read about how personalized e-mails can go wrong or breach certain ethical considerations is this article from Sixteen Ventures. A few strategies I used to personalize:

  1. Follow up. I mentioned already that the follow up e-mail continues to keep your message top of mind. I only scheduled 1-2 more follow ups after the original e-mail, as to not completely piss off the person I was cold e-mailing. I listened to a podcast where a marketing guy said it took him 67 follow ups until he got his prospect to convert as a customer. I wouldn’t be that relentless with your e-mail automation, but that just shows you how aggressive you can get!
  2. Time delay. Spacing out the follow up e-mails ensures your messages aren’t clogging up the inbox of your prospect. I had set a period of 5 business days for the first follow up, and then another 6 days for the final follow up. Additionally, I also made sure that we would only send e-mails during normal business hours (9AM-5PM). All these features should be a part of your e-mail automation software so that you can customize the “rhythm” of your follow ups.
  3. Non-founder e-mail. This may cross into the questionable practices of e-mail automation, but I essentially created a fake e-mail account to send the e-mails out to my prospects (if you happen to receive one of my automated e-mails, trust it was in the name of e-mail science J). The Sixteen Ventures article mentions the pitfalls of automated messages that come directly from founders (i.e. that automated e-mail you get from the startup founder when you first sign up for that startup’s service). I had this fake e-mail account forward directly to my e-mail address so I knew when someone responded to my cold e-mails.

Results

I am still in the middle of the experiment but here are some early results:

  • 24% open rate on the first outreach e-mail across all templates
  • 4.5% response rate to all e-mails
  • 1% sign up rate

Conclusion

My results are much more modest compared to the astronomical rates I’ve read about from the marketing gurus out there. In terms of reaching my goal, however, getting 24% of people to just open the e-mail and read a few sentences about what my company does is pretty cool. How they felt after they read the e-mail, well, could’ve been anything from pure disgust to exuberance. But they saw it.

I could have experimented with the e-mail length, the call to action, or the follow up length. Regardless, I was able to experiment with different e-mail templates and subject lines through the automation software to figure out which e-mails worked and sounded more personal, versus the ones that felt spammy. If you have any questions about the experiment, hit me up at al@cooperatize.com.

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