Standing out in the inbox: Recipe for email marketing success

By Bob McCann

People receive hundreds of emails a day, if not more, which means that outdoor power equipment dealers face steep competition when launching an email promotion, sending out a newsletter, or revealing a new product or service to customers. Despite this challenging reality, recent surveys about consumer channel preferences reveal that email marketing still stands as the most likely way to influence consumer buying decisions.

Well-executed email marketing campaigns can be a highly cost-effective, performing and measurable tool. Most OPE dealers are small- to medium-sized businesses that can’t outspend big-box stores on marketing, but what you can do to stand out and win is keep in touch in a very relevant way. The following proven best practices will allow you to stay connected with both prospects and customers, turn more leads into sales, and convert more buyers into returning, loyal customers.

Put it on paper

Consistency is a key ingredient for success in any marketing campaign. The best way to guarantee that is to develop a strategy. First, let’s assume that at this point, you have been diligently collecting email addresses from all lead sources, including online inquiries, walk-ins, and phone prospects. Hopefully, you have also tagged these customers by interest, so you can easily segment the database in your lead management platform, separating commercial from residential customers for example.

Having a plan starts with answering some questions. It sounds obvious, but when you know where you’re going, it’s so much easier to get there.

– Why? What is your goal? Objectives can be lead generation; customer nurturing; brand awareness; and product, service or event promotion. If you have more than one objective, prioritize them.

– Who? Catering to your subscribers requires knowing more about them than their email addresses. Who are they? How are your products and services solving their problem(s) or fulfilling their need(s)? What are the barriers or other hurdles that may prevent them from taking the next step with your business? Don’t forget that recipients are people and people like to be informed, but also entertained and engaged.

– When? If you’re promoting an event, how much lead time do you need? How many reminders are considered acceptable?

– What? This is about action, about taking the next step. The question is: What do you want your recipients to do next? Watch a video? Sign up for an event? Take advantage of “Free shipping available until midnight”?

– How? Measuring results is crucial to your ability to succeed and achieve a greater return on investment (ROI). Hopefully, your email campaign tool allows you to quickly generate comprehensive reports featuring key metrics, including number of emails that were sent, bounced, opened, clicked through, or shown as “unsubscribed.”

Another key question: Who will take ownership of this very important activity? In most dealerships, whoever manages leads is often in charge of generating the reports to be reviewed and discussed with the marketing and sales teams.

Determine the right frequency

There is a fine line between being consistent and being annoying. The same goes for “out of sight, out of mind” vs. “in your face.” If you email your subscribers too often, you risk having your messages ignored, deleted, marked as SPAM, or even worse “unsubscribe.” Ironically, you may encounter the exact same problem if you don’t email your subscribers frequently enough!

There are no rules about the correct frequency for sending marketing emails. However, there are some effective guidelines.

– Stay in touch once a month to maintain an open, personalized dialogue with prospects in order to remain at the forefront of their minds.

– Among dealers using a lead management tool, which includes email campaigns, recent survey results reveal that the highest open and click-through rates are from emails sent mid-week and midday, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time. Avoid Friday through Sunday because that is when people tend to neglect their inbox, and when the time comes to clean it, your email stands a good chance of ending up in the “Trash” folder. The same holds true for the time of day. If you send an email out late afternoon or evening and the recipient doesn’t go through emails until the next morning, your message will get lost (and deleted) amid a barrage of overnight emails.

– Test what works for you. Try sending your campaigns on different days and times within the aforementioned survey results to see which day works best for you. Once you figure out the timing, be sure to maintain a consistent email schedule. If you don’t, some Internet Service Providers (ISP) may see irregular sending patterns as possible SPAM. Additionally, your customers will begin to anticipate your emails at a certain frequency, day and time, which will improve open and response rates.

Create content that sells (eventually)

A compelling offer is the cornerstone of valuable, effective content in email marketing. It’s about giving recipients a good reason to view your email and get what they want, need, or expect.

– Bring something to the table: Whether it’s interesting information, tips or tricks, ways of dealing with problems, or specials and promotions, your emails must contain something that the recipients will value. “What’s important to them?” should always be on your mind as you create your email. Visualize your customers. Who are they? What do they do? How is your product or service going to make their lives easier, solve their problems, or save them time? For example, it wouldn’t make sense to send commercial cutters offers on low-end, entry-level residential equipment.

Delivering value, not self promotion, means that you tie your recipients’ needs with the benefits provided by your products or services. Educate first, then offer. For example, a good dealer will send an email featuring a “Spring Tune-up for only $50!”; a better dealer will send a checklist for what to do to tune up one’s equipment and include an offer for recipients who are interested in having it done. These value-packed emails that have the potential to truly help will make recipients look forward to future emails, or at least welcome emails from the same sender.

– Lead the way: You must have a clear call to action that tells recipients exactly what to do next. Effective hyperlinks include “click here to learn more,” “sign up here,” and “a link to a map and directions.” These measurable links provide great insights on the effectiveness of your campaign. They also narrow down a list of highly interested prospects that you can target more specifically. For example, you send an email to hundreds of your commercial cutters to introduce a new, faster and more powerful zero-turn mower with a link that says, “Click here to view a demo video of the new [brand/model] mower!” Tracking results shows that 60 of the recipients clicked through to watch the video. These 60 prospects represent a new, more defined audience that should be further targeted with additional touch points, including a phone call.

Be seen and opened: “From” and “Subject” lines

The “From” and “Subject” lines of the email are the first things recipients will see. In a matter of seconds, they will either be intrigued or unimpressed. Make them count, and enjoy a significant increase in open rates — and click-throughs, if you did a good job with the content.

The “From” line is your way of making sure that the recipients recognize you and are comfortable with opening your email. It should clearly contain your exact company, brand or newsletter name. However, if the recipients have already had some form of interaction with your sales team, make sure that this pool of prospects receives emails “From” the salesperson that they have come to know — not the company. In this case, studies show that email campaigns from someone a recipient knows at the dealership register much higher open and click-through rates — as much as a 400-percent increase. That’s when a solid lead management platform makes a difference, allowing you to quickly change the “From” name to what works best, depending on the audience your email campaign is targeting.

The “Subject” line is a critical element of your email campaign’s success. It should be succinct and specific to summarize the email’s content and give readers a good reason to open it. In other words, you’re “selling” what’s inside. The subject line should be limited to 35-50 characters, as that is typically the maximum amount of space that most email clients display of the subject field. You want the reader to be able to see the entire subject line without having to scroll or arrow over. If you are sending emails “From” the assigned salesperson, be sure to include the company’s name in the subject line.

Subject lines are very subjective, and everyone you ask will have a different opinion on whether they’re effective or not. This is a good opportunity for A/B testing. Simply take two versions of the subject line that you think are the most effective; send half of your campaign with subject line A and the other half with subject line B. Then, see which one performs best when reviewing open and click-through rates.

Keep image suppression in mind

For many email clients, including Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook, images within emails are disabled by default. This is called image suppression. Other email clients disable images unless the sender is in the recipient’s address book. Therefore, make sure that you do not include your entire message in images. It’s best to separate your text and images and use alternative descriptions for each image. That way, even if the images are being blocked, recipients will still be able to get a better idea of the email’s content. Plus, they might be enticed to unblock the images or click on the link to view the content on a Web page.

Image suppression can be an even bigger issue when it comes to the more than 4 billion mobile device users in the world. Fortunately, email applications on the latest Android and iOS devices have improved immensely to allow image-rich emails to render nicely. However, older smartphones and even BlackBerrys will block the images.

Lastly, most SPAM filters will block an email with only one image, so some senders break up their email into several images to get past the filters, but the message will still be blocked if your message is embedded in the images.

Ongoing testing of all key elements of your campaign, including content, format and frequency, is vital to the long-term success of your email marketing efforts. Have a plan; know who you’re talking to and deliver value; keep testing and measuring; and you’ll be well on your way to standing out in the inbox.

 Bob McCann, a 20-year sales education veteran, is the author of the nationally recognized e-business sales method known as TIPS (Traffic, Interactive Website, Process, Sales). As Director of Education at ARI, McCann has developed proven e-business sales processes to support the company’s growing list of dealer and manufacturer clients in the marine, RV, powersports and outdoor power equipment industries. McCann can be reached at (757) 217-3534 or


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