Email marketing to the masses is quickly becoming an “old school” idea. Your audience of real people expect customization and personalization. Yet, your email list is one of your most valuable marketing assets. How can you engage your email subscribers to nurture them through your sales funnel and encourage them to convert?
Today’s guest is Val Geisler of Fix My Churn. A self-proclaimed email geek, Val shares some of what she knows about engagement, segmentation, and automation. She describes how email is a powerful communication tool and agent for change in battling churn problems.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- If and when subscribers are ready to take the next step via engagement and interest in purchasing—do something
- Valid Metric: Val encourages and recommends engagement points and emails
- Engagement Equals Responses: Engage with email subscribers by asking them to reply to emails
- Common Complaints Create Content: What’s the biggest problem with email marketing?
- Cross-functional vs. Siloed Teams: Get more people involved in custom email replies to offer personalized solutions to problems
- Mass to Micro Email Marketing: Create a connection and build a bond because it's easy to walk away from software, but harder to walk away from a person
- People-to-People vs. Automation: Different questions during specific email segments and sequences identify and offer solutions to subscribers’ pain points
- Why include more form fields upon subscription? Reduce number of sign-ups with more quality sign-ups
- Clean Cold Contact Database: Every email service provider (ESP) defines a cold subscriber differently; re-engage them via brief email sequence requiring action
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Quotes by Val Geisler:
- “Emails shouldn't just be a one-side conversation where you're delivering information to your subscribers. You are asking them questions, asking them to respond.”
- “Engagement with the email list is the best way to measure their level of interest.”
- “If conversions are increasing...it could be adding those form fields gave you a better quality subscriber and a better quality lead.”
- “Everything about email is testing.”
Nathan: Email marketing has a mass communication connotation, but your audience is made up of real people. People expect customization and personalization. Really thinking about email marketing as a mass communication play is quickly becoming a super old school idea. That said, your email list is still one of the most valuable marketing assets you've got, if not the most valuable marketing asset. How can you truly engage your email subscribers in ways that nurture that deeper into your sales funnel and ultimately encourage them to convert?
That's a great question. It's actually why we're chatting with Val Geisler from Fix My Churn today, in the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Val is a self-proclaimed email geek. She knows a thing or two about real engagement, segmentation, automation. You name it about email and Val knows.
Today, you're going to learn why marketing should ask email subscribers to reply to emails and how to engage with their subscribers. You'll learn why including more form fields up subscription could actually be a lot better than fewer and you're going to learn how to clean up your old cold contact database.
I'm Nathan from CoSchedule and it's time to get AMPed with Val. Hey, Val. Thank you so much for being on the show today.
Val: I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Nathan: I'm excited to have you. I know we recently met at Content Marketing World. It's fun. I think this is overdue for you to be on this show. We're excited.
Val: Yeah. It was nice to connect in person after several emails back and forth over the years. That's one of my favorite things about going to events. They're physically, emotionally, exhausting. They're a very different way of being than my normal day today, but they're worth it because I get to meet my internet friends in person.
Nathan: Yeah, I would echo that for sure. Content Marketing World was pretty fun this year. I've got to meet you and a bunch of other folks. Basically, email acquaintances.
Val: Right, exactly. How fitting that we're going to talk about email.
Nathan: Yeah, exactly. What a great transition. Just for those of us who might not know you that well yet, could you just give us a little bit of your background? Tell us a little bit about you?
Val: Sure. First and foremost, I'm an email geek. Well, first and foremost, I'm a mom and a wife, all those other things. In my work life, I am an email geek. I think that sometimes it carries over into my everyday life. I am an email marketer by trade and I'm pretty interested in churn reduction to the point that I started an agency called Fix My Churn. We help people and suffering companies, mostly, and also subscription-based ecommerce. Businesses that rely on monthly recurring revenue, we help them fix their churn problems, and we do it largely through email. Email is a great form of communication with customers, both active and inactive, especially those inactive customers who might be churning out soon. The best way is to reach them is to go to where they are and that's in their inbox.
I really believe in email as a communication tool and as a powerful agent for change in your churn battling problems. It's not just about top-of-the-funnel acquisition. I would like to say that I kind of lived at the bottom of the funnel or even below the bottom once they are at the end.
Nathan: That makes a lot of sense. Actually, some of the things that we've been thinking about doing now here at CoSchedule, maybe we can start there. Let's say that someone is already on our list, subscribed. One of the things I wanted to ask you is, how do you know if they're ready to make that next step? Do you do that by engagement? How do you know when a cold subscriber are becoming interested in purchasing?
Val: Yeah. I think engagement is a valid metric. I encourage a lot of engagement points and emails. Emails shouldn't just be a one side conversation where you're delivering information to your subscribers. You are asking them questions, asking them to respond, asking them to click on things, and go do something whether that is reading an article or taking a quiz.
Quizzes, actually, are really a great way to judge or validate your customers interest level. Not asking them in the quiz, are they interested in signing up for your product, but asking them questions related to what your product does, how you help people solve their problem, and using all of that information—their actions, interactions with your email, and the other points they might have. I guess we're talking about pre-trial even at this point. Is that what we're asking?
Nathan: Yeah, that's what I was at.
Val: I think engagement with the email list is the best way to measure their level of interest. That's where I think a really strong email service provider can help you to segment your list. It opens a surface-level engagement. I'm really looking for replies, clicks, and things like that. You can ask people to click on certain things and a click can tag them on the backend of the system. Then, you can segment by a particular tag and send customized emails to those people. The more engaged someone is with your content, especially if you're top of the funnel, the more likely they are to move further down the funnel.
Nathan: That makes a lot of sense. I was actually going to pick on that word, “engagement.” I think that means a lot of different things to different people. For you, something that I've been hearing is the responses. I think that's an interesting thing for marketers to think about because typically, that seems like sales play. How do you encourage someone to actually respond to an email?
Val: One of my most engaged emails from my personal email list is my very first email where I share a few facts about me. Kind of random facts that you wouldn't know just from Google-ing me. I asked them to share a couple in return. I get such incredible engagement from it and people saying things like, "I usually don't respond to these emails but since you've told me a little bit about you, I'll share a little bit about me." Or, "I'm just so intrigued, I have to reply."
I asked them that, but I also ask them what the biggest problem is that they're facing with email marketing. I get responses that really help inform the content that I create from then on. All of those replies end up in my inbox. Yes, it is more email for me to reply to and this is the complaint I get from clients all the time. It's like, "My customer service team is not going to want to hear that we're going to add a reply to an email because they're going to have more inbound tickets to respond to." My argument back is that, “It doesn't have to be customer support or success that gets those replies. Other people on the team, could definitely be hoping into your ticketing system and replying to emails, especially really top of the funnel, I think it's important that the marketing team gets involved.”
I'm very big on cross functional teams. If you work in very siloed teams, then that's going to be really hard to do. If you are open to cross functionality, I think getting more people involved in the replies can help in volume, and also helps the marketing team know what people are saying their problem is, providing either that resource that already exists, and you can send it to them. Or, it's a problem that, maybe, they need someone to talk through with them. You can offer 20 minutes of your day to hop on a call with them and create a connection.
If none of that is the solution and you need to create a piece of content, now you have a list of future blog post ideas or content upgrade ideas or those solutions that you can fill in the blanks for them. I think replies are more in volume, but they are still worth it for the information that you get.
Nathan: I think that word “engagement” that I was picking on, is we bastardized that a little bit as marketers, like, "What does that even mean?" It seems when you get a reply from a person, that is actually true engagement, and you engaging back really means a lot to a single person. Something that's interesting about what you said that's pondering in my mind is taking email from thinking about mass to micro.
Val: Yeah. You mentioned when somebody replies to you and you responding back to them. I think that's the key in all of this. At the company level, you have to respond to them. Let's say you're scheduling software, and you want to say, "What is your biggest problem with time management?" That's typically what people are trying to solve when they pick up a scheduling software. They respond to you and tell you. Even if you don't have a resource for them, replying back to them and saying, "Yeah. I totally struggle with that, too. Here are a couple of things I've done in the past. That makes me think I really need to write something on our blog about it so stay tuned. I'm going to put that together for you."
People are so amazed by that, that you took a moment to reply to them. That their response didn't just land in an inbox somewhere and never get any kind of reply to it. For you to say, "Hey, I'm going to go create that thing just for you," even though obviously you're creating it for lots of other people, too, it feels really special. It starts to build that bond. Especially, in a world of software, it's so easy to walk away from a piece of software. It's a lot harder to walk away from a person.
Nathan: I think that's a really good way to end that note there. This is people-to-people, in many ways. Like I said, I think email, you about the masses. This idea of responding, I really, really, like this. I was wondering. How does that fit with automation? Do you wait for someone to respond then you use that as a trigger from some drip emails? How does that all work with this engagement play with email marketing?
Val: It depends on the questions that you were asking and how they respond. Let's say I'm asking a question and it's more open ended like, "What's your number one problem?" asking them for a long form reply by hitting reply and typing out their answer. That's probably not going to trigger an automation of any kind. if I say, "What's your number one problem with this topic?" Then, I offer four choices for them to click on. Out of the top answers that people are most likely to give, I let them click on something. Then, that is likely to trigger then an automation of now, they were welcomed on the email list after they signed up and we are targeting their number one problem in this industry.
Then, there's this four different segments of welcome emails or sequences of welcome emails that they get based on their biggest problem that they've identified. Sometimes, there's "None of the above," or "All of the above." Maybe there might be six sequences in total. Giving them a customized welcome sequence based on the problem that they're facing. In a lot of cases in software, your product solves multiple problems for people, but if you can focus on that one big thing, especially in a pre-conversion like, "Let's just talk about one thing," maybe some features that are related to that one thing.
Focus on keeping it as simple as possible so that they understand, they start to relate your brand in their brain. That becomes the solution to the problems that they're facing, even before they've ever implemented that solution.
Nathan: It makes sense to me. I know we've been hoping around here, which I really enjoy. I think that's been a pretty natural conversation.
Segmentation seems like something you would do from the very start when someone's a brand new prospect or a brand new email subscriber. Do you have any advice? If we're fielding subscribers in, do you recommend having specific form fields or would you use engagements for segmentation? What would you recommend there?
Val: Really high top-of-funnel. We're just talking about the main list. I think that we're so trained to have as few fields as possible, either just email address or first name and email address. Anything more than that, it starts to reduce the number of sign-ups that we get. My argument for that is it might reduce the number of signups that we get, but are they more quality signups if we asked one of their questions or asking them to choose something from a dropdown? Now, in the world of GDPR, you often need to ask them to check a box if they want to continue to get emails from you besides just an initial welcome email. We're already asking for potentially three things and to add more to that starts to feel a little overwhelming.
I know I've seen people share screenshots of those enterprise email list where they're asking for the first name, last name, phone number, company size, name of your first born—those kinds of questions that come up on those forms. The friction is higher to join the list but the quality of the people that they get on their list is much better because you're more invested in enjoying your list. You have to want it a little bit more.
I think playing around with that and see what kind of quality you get as far as, adding another form field or two over the course of 3-6 months period, are we increasing our overall conversions from main list subscriber to trials or accounts? If conversions are increasing, it could end the only thing that changed was your form field. It could be adding those form fields gave you a better quality subscriber and a better quality lead.
Nathan: I like that, too. I can tell you that we've experimented with that here at CoSchedule. Asking one more question or not asking it, there was no significant difference. We just erred on the side of collecting more. It seems that might be something you would suggest at least testing.
Val: Yeah. Listen, everything about email is testing. That's the number one answer I give. It depends and test it. That's what my email marketing keynote talk is. I’ll walk out on stage and say, "It depends. It's test it," and walk off. It's true, you have to test everything. If it's showing no significant change or an increase in conversions, then keep doing that thing because, like you said, err on the side of collecting more information. It gives you an opportunity to segment from the very beginning.
If you're asking them to click on something in that initial email to self-segment, they might not do that. Then, you need another sequence that's for people who didn't segment themselves at all. Whereas if on the form field, you can ask them to choose from a dropdown of what they came there for. Then, you can segment from the very beginning without ever asking them to do anything.
Nathan: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. I can tell you that we tried to do that. First email, you select your problem. It's a lot of guesswork at that point. "Oh, they've click on..." for us, a topic could be social media. "They must be interested in social media." It might've been the state of their mind at that point. Then, we nurture them for months on something that was just interested in the moment.
Val: Yes, and that’s it. It's an interesting problem to solve with something like CoSchedule because there are so many built-in capabilities that you are trying to figure out why that one individual came to you. Whereas, a more lightweight software with less robust functionality, it's very clear why someone came to them. When you start to add in complexity, which is a great feature, a great thing to have in a tool, it starts to make things like emails more complex, too.
If you don't have a dropdown on your opt-in form, think about where they came from on your website. If they came from a blog post about a particular topic, they might be currently researching that topic. It doesn't necessarily mean that's the only topic they're interested in. Or if they signed up for a particular content upgrade or a webinar of a particular topic, you want to make sure that you're thinking about segmenting not just from your homepage but all of the places where people are opting into your list.
Nathan: It sounds like another way of saying one size does not fit all. It sounds like you would favor, more often than not, more segmentations, smaller list, with more targeted messaging, is better.
Val: Yeah, I think so. You learn a lot about your customers that way. Let's take your example. Say, they're interested in social media or that's their biggest problem right now. They're trying to solve is their social media scheduling. You could give them a week’s worth or two weeks’ worth of content on social media. By the time that two weeks has passed, they've also realized they have an editorial content problem of scheduling on their blog. If you weren't talking about that, then they won't necessarily think about you as the solution for that. You want to focus on the main point but also share how it relates to the other feature sets that you have without deterring from that main point.
The other thing that you can do is talk about the main point. Let's say in social media, you can talk about that social media thing. Then, do a check-in with them. If they have opened every single email, if they've taken action on those things, they get to the end of week one, you can do a little check-in email, and say, "Hey. We've been sharing all of these with you about social, in particular. We have solutions for your content problems.
Doing a quick check-in, are any of these other things, problems that you are facing now or ever in your business, you can do one of those recap emails where you say, "Just a reminder. Here are the other problems we can solve for you." If they click on something, then you can move them off of one segment to another. Really giving them that kind of choose your own adventure model for emails so that they are really in the driver's seat of what emails come into their inbox and when.
Nathan: I really like that analogy, choose your own adventure.
Val: I loved those books when I was a kid.
Nathan: Why shouldn't email be any different, then?
Val: Yeah, exactly. That's really what it is. When you're asking them, "Hey, do you want to go down this path or that path? You want to keep hearing about social media? Or do you want us to tell you a little bit about how your content marketing relates to that social media piece?" Then, you can let them opt-in into a content marketing sequence that then carries them through that journey. Then, you can check in with them again. You can check in, "I'm going back to social media or talk about something else."
It's a really great way to show that you have a robust feature set without throwing it all in their face all at once and overwhelming them. It also lets them feel like they're in charge, because they are, of what comes into their inbox. That's builds a level of trust and respect that you wouldn't otherwise have.
Nathan: Makes a lot of sense, Val. Something that we're kind of hinting at is that after a while, if I'm just an email subscriber, I'm not engaging with things, and I kind of become, for lack of a better word, a cold contact, but I'm still on your list, I feel like maybe I could find value from you. What have you done to re-engage those folks who are the silent subscriber?
Val: Yeah. I'm a really big advocate for cleaning up cold subscribers on email list. Ultimately, those cold subscribers—people that aren't opening your emails—they are impacting your overall deliverability. Let's say, you have 1000 email subscribers and only 100 of them are opening your emails, then the inboxes—the Gmail side of things—starts to say, "Wow. Only 10% of the subscribers to this list, people that belong to this IP address, are opening these emails." Is this a good email to be delivering to other Gmail subscribers? Other Gmail users?
Gmail has their own reputation to protect. Outlook, Yahoo!, and all the inboxes, they all have their own reputation to protect. If there is a sender who has a very low open rate on a consistent basis, you start to wonder about your validity. They're going to look at potentially, suppressing your emails from your subscribers. If you clean up your cold subscriber list and that bumps your open rate now up to 40%, then Gmail starts to chill out a little bit. They start to say, "Okay. Maybe more people do actually want this email." If you go from 1000 subscribers to 800 subscribers, it's the same number that people are opening. It's a higher percentage of people that are now opening those emails. It gives the inboxes a little bit of relief. It's great for your deliverability.
Cleaning up your cold subscribers' list can save you money on your ESP. Most ESPs charge by subscriber, especially when you start to get up in a higher numbers, which a lot of software companies have really big email list. I just worked for the client and we cleaned their list from 180,000, we took 100,000 people off their email list. They ended up at 80,000 solid subscribers. That was after we did a cold subscriber re-engagement sequence. That increases their deliverability, it saves them a ton of money, and it's just better, overall, for their email program. Sending a re-engagement sequence is really important.
Nathan: I was going to pick up on that. I really understand the value of a clean list—understanding when those people become cold. Could you share a little bit about what do you mean by cold subscriber re-engagement? How could we do something like that?
Val: It's different for every ESP. You want to find out, it's usually in the knowledge base or support can tell you. Every ESP defines a cold subscriber differently. On average though, it hasn't opened an email from you in 90 days, at least in the world of SaaS. In ecommerce, it's a little bit higher.
Looking at that, pulling that list of subscribers, what we do is we engage them with a short email sequence. Typically, I run somewhere between three and four emails over the course of two to three week period. It depends on the time of the year, quite honestly, when we're doing it because if we're doing it over the summer, I'll do it for three weeks because people take long vacations. Especially if we're doing it over the holidays, which I don't recommend cleaning your list over the holidays. It just depends on the time of the year. Also, that business. If it's a list full of school teachers, we're not going to clean the list in June or July because they're not even in their school inboxes.
We send a sequence of emails where in these emails we're saying, "Hey. Just really upfront, we noticed you are opening our emails and we don't want to junk up your inbox if you don't want to hear from us. In two weeks, on such-and-such a date, we're going to remove you from our email list. You can always re-subscribe. If it's just not the right time for you right now, that's fine. There's no hard feelings. We're just going to remove you from the email list to save your inbox."
Really putting it on them and showing them it's not about you saving money. It's not like, "Hey. You've got to go. You're costing us money over here." It's really about, "Hey, we recognize that people get hundreds of emails a day. We don't want to be junking up your inbox if that's what we're doing." Then, you want to ask them, " If you want to stay, click on this link or button. Take an action inside of the email to say, 'Yes, I want to stay.'" Then, that click will trigger something in the ESP that pulls them out of that cold subscriber list and drops them back into your main subscriber list.
You want to ask them to take action to remove themselves from that cold subscriber list because if you are saying, "If you click on this, then we will remove you." That kind of defeat the purpose. You're reaching out to people who've done nothing and you're asking them to remove themselves through clicking. If they are still doing nothing, then, they're never going to open those emails. They're never going to be clicking. You always want to ask them to take the action to stay on the list not to remove themselves from it.
Nathan: Makes total sense to me. I think this is a good place to end this episode, too. Let's reengage those cold people if we can. Clean up the list. It will be good for getting more opens and that magical term, engagement. Val, thank you so much for being here today. It's so nice to meet you, finally.
Val: Yeah, absolutely. I had a great time meeting you in Content Marketing World. Thanks for letting me geek out about email for a little bit, today.
Nathan: We're all geeks so I'm right there with you.
Nathan: With email marketing, testing matters a lot. We test all the time here at CoSchedule. One of the coolest things we learned was a simple framework we called the one-two punch. For new email subscribers, we send one value email. Then, a second value email. If they engaged with the second, we send a product education email.
For example, you can receive an email that shares an in depth marketing strategy guide as your first value email. Then, the second email could be a value email that shares a free content marketing editorial calendar template. Now, if you engage with that template email, we assume you're interested in a marketing calendar, and subsequently, email you some information about a marketing calendar product offering from CoSchedule. If you don't engage with that template email at all, you just don't receive the product education email.
This one-two punch has really helped us increase open rates to consistently more than 40% because we send the right messaging to the subscribers who demonstrated interest. Will the one-two punch work for you? I think Val's advice is best here. It depends and you need to test.
Val, thank you so much for being on the show. It's been a long time coming. I really appreciate you being here and sharing all this awesome advice around email marketing.