No one buys from an email

Sometimes, statistics want to make me scream. My average power on a hill climb, versus any pro cyclist you’d care to mention? Crushing. The grams of sugar in zero fat ‘health’ bars? Criminal.

How about email stats?

There’s a whole industry out there trying to convince you that ‘email marketing’ is an actual thing, with a great future.

Here’s a snapshot of 2015 benchmarks from Silverpop, part of the IBM Marketing Cloud, whose customers tend to be larger B2C and B2B organisations. I’ve selected the most relevant sectors (for me) and the results, harvested from 750 consenting companies, span the US, Europe and Asia.

Silverpop Email Marketing Benchmarks

The full report can be found here.

Interesting isn’t it. The best computer hardware and telecomms businesses have 45% of all emails opened, and 16% of all emails are clicked on. The worst performers have ‘just’ 10% open rates, and a half per cent click-thru.

Like all statistics, these require a little interpretation. Firstly, the top segment contains big consumer hardware brands, marketing to a loyal following. Secondly it contains big service providers, with a regular billing relationship with customers to be cross-leveraged. Transactional email (like receipts of purchase) – for pretty obvious reasons – has high open rates and businesses can cross-sell in those mails to create higher click-thrus. That second segment, computer software and online services may – I’m guessing – has a larger B2B component, and rates are lower across the board.

But are the guys at the bottom of the table just doing stuff wrong? Could they come up with a cannier subject line, or better offer, and quadruple (or more) their outcomes? This is where my screaming starts. If you’re targeting senior, c-level people in larger businesses with sales emails, are you ever going to get better than 1 in 10 emails opened (…and in these days of previews, peaks and pops, don’t confuse opened with read) and 1 in 200 acted upon?

To get to the root of that question, I’m all for people using themselves as benchmarks and to hell with the stats. Do you buy from emails? I bet you don’t. Emails never sell me anything. They might remind me that I meant to buy something. They might encourage me to take those final steps of adding something to a basket and checking out – a promotion, voucher, or whatever. Even then that mostly applies to brands I’ve come to like and trust.

And they’ve been known to overdo it. I’ve a colleague here who’s a big fan of the UK’s most successful and loved large retailer. He opted in to emails from the departments that interested him most; updates, offers and whatnot. Suddenly he’s getting two emails a day from them. “What, I didn’t sign up for this. I expect better of these guys.”

The truth is, he’s every right to expect better. As consumers we demand it. As professionals, we need to deliver it.

Ask yourself this: how do you want your first encounter with a new business to feel? You’ve not heard of them before. You’ve not asked them to reach out to you. You’ve not overtly expressed an opinion or preference for the service or product that they offer. How would you want it to start?

Respectfully? No doubt – but not nearly enough. Permissively? Ah! – you’ve been speaking to your marketing director. But of course you’re both consumers too, and you’re both right. Opting out is a chore: it feels untrustworthy and is absolutely a method of last resort.

How about ‘Valuably’? Yeah – how about that! …Pardon?

You want that first contact to offer you something genuinely useful, right? Insight, maybe. A moment of clarity. A little wisdom. Or how about humour. Some combination of all of the above would be great, but because not everyone can be the Dalai Lama, at least two out of four would probably suit you.

And always, in that first contact, you never want to have to give something in return. When you think about it, value offered in this way is intrinsically respectful. And because nothing is asked from you, your permission isn’t compromised or assumed.

“And always, in that first contact, you never want
to have to give something in return.”

Now here’s the kicker. By this definition an offer, discount or promotion simply isn’t valuable. Not in this first encounter. For an offer to work, there needs to be a transaction – it’s demanding something from you. A free evaluation or assessment, even, requires commitment in return – a ratcheting up of intensity and tempo that you’ll likely be uncomfortable with at this point. Just dwell on that for a moment…

Now I’m danger of conflicting you. As a consumer, you know your instincts are good and honest. As a business or sales leader though, you need results. Sorry about that. I can’t apologise enough. Here’s a link that’ll help 🙂

Is there a choice?

How about if I said that, actually though, you don’t have much choice. The dragnet approach to email marketing will catch you some fish – but let’s look at some stats again. From the table above, a good average is that 1.7 to 2.7% of your emails will generate clicks. Of those, (other sources say) that on average, 2% will go on to engage with your business. Of those that do, let’s assume that 1 in 6 will go on to buy something.

Here’s the maths. In this scenario, I’ll assume your business has identified 12,000 senior decision makers across retail, retail banking, insurance and similar sectors. You’re making them a proposition via email. They’re all heavily regulated vis-a-vis their handling of customers’ personal information. Your business can help them. For brevity I’ll leave out unsubscribes, hard bounces and whatnot.

Now, these are senior people, just like you. They get a lot of unsolicited email from brands they’ve never heard of. They may have an admin that filters their mail for them. It’s fair to assume that a 2.7% click rate would be pretty good then:

12000 x 2.7% = 324 unique clicks

That is, 324 people that have read your mail, and clicked on a link that you provided, to land on a web page. Now, assuming that web page has something compelling to say, industry averages show that 2% of those will go on really engage with your business, browsing, learning and so on.

324 x 2.0% = 6 people (rounding down).

Your marketing director would call these ‘marketing qualified leads’. They’ll go into your CRM as part of your pipeline for follow-up by sales people. We’re assuming that 1 from 6 of those converts…

1 sale.

Whoop! It could be a biggie. It would almost certainly pay for the campaign. But 1 sale from 12000 contacts? Like I said at the top, (almost) no one buys from email.


What’s the alternative?

So consider this: there are 11999 people out there that didn’t buy from you – this time. There are 11,676 people that didn’t engage with you at all. And there are 318 people that got as far as the campaign landing page but not significantly further, then disappeared never to be heard from again. Let’s start with them.

That landing page – it needs to obey all the rules of ‘valuable’. No offers. No free trials. Mostly simple and straightforward signposting to other valuable content: blogs, case studies, and guides. Published articles, through skilful PR work, evidencing your expertise and success in this market make great content. Make it simple for the visitor to subscribe to your content, through social media and RSS.

Next important point: be happy that they move at the pace that suits them; and be with them every step of the journey. Your business goal right now is to notice when they show any propensity to purchase – even if that first ‘purchase’ is a free evaluation or proof of concept. How? A good marketing automation system will map their every move, score them on time spent and assets consumed, and produce a neat report for you.

When their journey pauses, prompt them with a relevant email by all means: their interest is evidence of their consent, and the email content needs to reflect their self-declared interest.

Either when they request it (through a contact form, for instance) or when they’ve built a credible score, they become a qualified lead, for sales follow-up, as before.

And what about the rest of your universe? Be assured that your other content is working hard for you. Your PR coverage in digital form is bringing eyeballs to your site – and lots of those won’t be on your marketing database. Your social channels – atomising the valuable content for serialised consumption – is making you even more discoverable. And your blog is boosting your natural search ranking on those subjects that matter most to your target audience.

Add those together and your ‘Attract’ rate is going to eclipse the paltry click-thru rates of sales emails. More than that, you will be engaged on an ongoing basis with a growing following of decision makers and budget holders, to nurture into tomorrow’s sales pipeline.

I suppose I do stand guilty of being a little hard on email. The point to understand is that email is a channel for content, and no more. It’s an important one in the B2B world for sure – which is all the more reason not to abuse it.

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