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E-mail Marketing vs. E-mail Sales

  |  April 20, 2009   |  Comments

Most e-mail campaigns only promote sales. Why don't they promote brands or customer relationship building?

Early in my career, during a job interview, I was asked to talk about the relationship between marketing and sales. After a moment's thought, I said marketing was the umbrella term for a lot of different activities, of which sales was one. Marketing was about doing things that would help grow a business in the short, mid-, and long terms; the focus of sales was closing business today, this week, and this month. The director of marketing and sales (that was his title, in that order) seemed to agree, and I got the marketing position.

In many companies the marketing team is tasked with driving leads to the sales team. This isn't a trivial thing; businesses must sign on new customers to grow. But sometimes, especially in e-mail marketing, the broader responsibilities and goals of marketing, over and above immediate sales and lead generation, seem to get lost.

Case in point: e-mail messages that are strictly promotional. Don't get me wrong; I'm not against sending these types of e-mail. But if the only thing you send your prospects is a "buy from us now" or "take a demo now" message, you aren't doing true e-mail marketing. You're doing e-mail sales or e-mail lead generation.

Why Do True E-mail Marketing?

True e-mail marketing, which would include branding, relationship-building, sales/lead generation, and other efforts, will not only deliver sales or leads today, but also make it easier for you to deliver sales or leads in the future. These other efforts can be used to:

  • Position your company as one that understands your prospects and their needs

  • Keep your brand name top of mind so when prospects are ready to buy, they think of you

  • Address common objections prospects have to taking a demo or buying your product, moving the sales process forward

  • Build a relationship with prospects, increasing their comfort level about doing business with you

Could you use direct mail or an ongoing telephone campaign to your house list to accomplish these goals? Maybe. But it would be more expensive. E-mail is an affordable way to provide targeted content to a large group.

Why Don't More Companies Do True E-mail Marketing?

Many companies have made the investment in true e-mail marketing and are reaping the benefits. But just as many, if not more, haven't. Why?

One reason is that laser focus on short-term sales or lead generation. If you have even a halfway successful promotional e-mail program, it's likely that your first relationship building e-mail effort won't meet or beat the promotional e-mail's conversion rate. If a company has a strong focus on short-term results, that can be a hard sell: why spend additional money to develop an e-mail with a mix of editorial (read: nonpromotional) and promotional content when you could just do an additional send of your promotional e-mail?

In the short term, another send of the promotional e-mail is the wiser choice. But if you're looking at the mid- to long term, the logic shifts. There comes a point of decreasing returns. If you send a promotional e-mail to your house list once a month and generate 100 leads from it, that doesn't mean that a weekly send of the promotional e-mail will garner 400 leads per month. And it's very unlikely that a daily send to that same list will bring you 3,000 leads for March.

Promotional e-mail attracts a limited audience: people who are ready to buy or are investigating buying. Relationship, branding, and other e-mail messages not strictly focused on sales or lead generation appeal to a larger group and give you the chance to frame the discussion. Success stories might cause readers who didn't know they had a problem to want to learn more about your solution. Interviews with experts in readers' industry might position you as someone who understands their business, which is always appealing in a partner. Getting a daily tip with your branding might trigger a call to your sales team when a need arises.

The key to success is your content's quality. Developing an e-mail message that isn't 100 percent promotional takes more effort than creating a single promotional e-mail. Many companies have an e-mail newsletter but find it isn't driving sales, leads, or other business goals; often it's being sent but rarely opened, read, or clicked through from. The reason is quality.

People are deluged with e-mail today. And they are busy. Just sending an e-mail newsletter isn't enough; you have to make sure your content is compelling to your readers. This is where many attempts at true e-mail marketing fall down. Companies are going through the motions, but they either don't have the resources or don't know how to create an e-mail newsletter that's engaging to readers and effective at forwarding the business' goals.

When done well, efforts that aren't strictly promotional can drive more sales or leads than your promotional e-mail. I've worked with clients where their e-mail newsletters, which comprise 60 percent or more editorial (read: not promotional) material, delivered sales at a higher rate than their 100 percent promotional efforts. In one instance, the relationship was two-to-one; its e-mail newsletter had double the conversion rate of its sales e-mail. This requires great quality content and some strategic placement of promotions in the e-mail newsletter, but it can be done.

The beauty of a true e-mail marketing program is that the branding and relationship-building efforts aren't replacing the promotional efforts, they're being added into the mix. So you aren't losing the 100 leads your promotional e-mail brings in every month. Instead, you'll add a different type of communication to the mix in hopes of providing a short-term lift to leads and building value over time that allows you to maintain and increase this monthly lift.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Until next time,


Today's column originally ran on March 24, 2008.

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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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