A well-structured email campaign can be a profitable channel that turns prospects into customers, and customers into brand loyalists. But your customers are busy people, battling an endless stream of messaging via TV, radio, print and email. Every email you send them has to convince them to open it, read it, and most importantly, not to opt out.

The reality of the inbox is that people subscribe to a lot more stuff than they are committed to reading. As a result, they sift through the advertising and marketing noise to find the gems–the messages they connect with and that add value to their lives.

Read that last sentence again: your email has to add value to your customers’ lives. From your initial sign up process to the content and frequency of your messaging, your most important job is showing your audience that you respect the privilege of being invited into their inbox.

First Things First: Getting the Opt-In

Rule #1: Don’t ask for more information than you’d personally be willing to give. Asking for too much information in an opt-in form can be a major deterrent to visitors who would otherwise be likely to sign up.

Even if they aren’t required fields, asking for a person’s name, industry, company size, position, how much they spent on X service or how often they shopped for X product in the past 12 months will all significantly decrease the conversion rate of your opt-in form.

Make signing up as simple as possible by requiring only the bare minimum. In many cases, this means just the email address. Every field you add to your form beyond that will decrease the chances of someone filling it out.

Here’s another tip: If you really want to convince a visitor to opt in to your communications, make it clear that the value they’ll receive greatly outweighs the hassle of signing up. An opt-in form that says something like “Sign up for our newsletter,” doesn’t offer any benefit to the visitor. Give people a reason to opt-in by offering them something they’ll care about, like: “Sign up for our monthly newsletter and gain instant access to our 57-page e-book on X.” Offers of buying guides, e-books, case studies, online videos, and instant coupons are all great incentives to test.

The goal with opt-in forms is to get your prospective customer off the market by choosing to engage with you rather than your competitor. Once they’ve invited you into their inbox, you’ve got a better chance of getting them to buy from you, as long as you give them value and a reason to open your mail.

E-commerce Email Campaigns: Reduce Annoyance, Increase Value

I recently welcomed two kittens into the family and we buy our supplies from Petco. As soon as I signed up for Petco’s Pals Rewards program, the store proceeded to email me every single day with a new coupon offer.

Can you guess what I did? Yep, I opted out. I’ll still buy pet supplies from Petco, but at some point, the annoyance became greater than the value of the coupons.

One of the most critical steps in structuring your e-commerce email campaign is to set the publish frequency to align with the types of products you’re selling and who you’re selling to. At a bare minimum, segment your audience into two broad categories of current customers and prospects.

When communicating with current customers, know the lifespan of your product so you can approximate when each customer will be in the market to purchase again, or when they might be looking or accessories to complement their past purchase.

Does your email campaign align with the life of your product?

When you’re communicating with prospective customers, offer discounts, promotions and pre-sale notifications and buying tips in your emails, to move them along the conversion path.

You can further segment your email list by those you send to frequently, those you send to less frequently and those you send to only sometimes.

You’ll find your sweet spot by tracking conversions from the list, looking at the opt-out rate and by allowing your audience to manage the frequency of the communications (for example, by giving them the option to change the frequency before they opt out entirely).

B2B Email Campaigns: Reduce Fear, Increase Knowledge

When most people opt in to receive B2B email communications, they are at the top of the conversion funnel; the “awareness” stage. A smart B2B email campaign will then provide the right content to bring the buyer deeper into the conversion funnel, with content specific for each stage of the buying cycle.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Explore learning concepts that get the reader up to speed on the ideas surrounding your services, and that demonstrate your brand’s unique perspective.
  • Dive into the ideas behind why a service like yours is so important to customers, what to look for in a company, and how your service or ideas compare to others.
  • Answer common questions your prospective customers have at each stage of the buying cycle and even after the purchase.

Don’t forget you’re not selling to rational people. Most of the buying decisions in a B2B environment are based on what could happen if the choice is wrong. Unlike the consumer market, where an item can be easily returned if it doesn’t meet the buyer’s needs, making the wrong purchase decision in the B2B arena could be extremely costly.

Your goal as the marketer is to arm the potential buyer with content that will reduce any fear and uncertainty about selecting your business over the competition. Think of topics like, “7 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Choosing [insert your service here]” as a basis for building your case. If you have a sales team, ask them for the most common objections they hear from prospects, and create your content around the specific concerns known to be top-of-mind for many buyers.

If your company sells more than once service, segmentation works just as well in the B2B environment as it does for B2C companies. For example, if you have one division serving SMBs and another division serving larger companies, segment prospects accordingly so that your email messaging addresses the specific concerns and buying cycles of each audience. You can do this either by placing different opt-in forms in different areas of your site (allowing you to “tag” subscribers based on what page of the site they were viewing when the filled out the form), or you can include a simple check box option on your opt-in form, allowing subscribers to choose whether they’d prefer to receive information geared toward small businesses or enterprises.

In sum, whether you market to business buyers or consumers, you will constantly need to prove that you deserve a place in your subscribers’ inbox. Even someone who has opted in can (and will) flag your mail as spam if it comes too frequently or provides no value. Respect your subscribers by giving them value with each message, and you’ll see greater success turning prospects into customers through email engagement.


This article originally appeared in Tim’s ClickZ column October 29, 2013

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