Strategic e-mail campaigns can be easy, intuitive and ultimately profit-building
by John McGeeMr. McGee is president of OptifiNow, creators of a software platform that delivers a complete suite of customer engagement solutions. Visit www.optifinow.com
Everyone has experienced the sensation of being overwhelmed by seemingly useless emails filled with coupons, special offers, information about new product launches and other messages you do not have time to read.
Business users send and receive an average 121 emails a day in 2014, and this is expected to grow to 140 emails a day by 2018. While it can be annoying to receive messages from every company you ever purchased something from or expressed interest in, email is a necessary part of business and making sales in the digital age.
Email is a particularly important form of communication for the health insurance industry. Insurance sales people rarely go door-to-door to meet with potential clients and introduce them to available plan options any more. And, with the introduction of Affordable Care Act, more people have to turn to the Internet to learn about their healthcare options.
Sending an email to policy holders to inform them about changes to their plans, new plan options, changes to healthcare policies, privacy right notices, and the many other pieces of information that must be regularly communicated is much simpler, and more cost effective, than mailing a letter.
But, if you as an owner or employee of an insurance company are annoyed with how many emails you have to delete each day, you have to assume that your current or potential customers may feel the same way about emails you are sending them.
Instead of sending the same tired sales and marketing emails you typically blast to customers, you can realize improved lead conversion by changing the timing and content of email campaigns. By using your insider knowledge of the insurance industry and a typical customer you can create campaigns that are more engaging.
For example, insurance industry trends can be compared to current client databases to build customer personae’s. Instead of the old blast campaigns, today’s technology allows companies to develop targeted personalized communications for each personae. These new personalized communications can be timed and triggered to each client at the correct time based upon their individual needs.
The timing of sales outreach can be further improved by approaching sales with less direct tactics. Instead of always relying on a product offer or announcement to spur customers into the buying stage, use industry news to your advantage. Create an email campaign around a new regulation, an industry change in insurance coverage, or another news topic that is trending and relevant to your customer. Alert them to what is going on and how you provide a solution.
You can also create your own news for lulls in the sales cycle. During known times of slow policy sales, use tools like customer surveys to generate a buzz. The statistics generated by a survey can be used to create an intriguing subject line that makes sales leads want to read on. Rather than riding out a lull or bombarding leads with nonstop offer emails during that time period, be more strategic about why you are contacting a potential customer. An email campaign about how 45% of Americans make unnecessary out-of-pocket healthcare payments each month is much more likely to draw the attention of a lead, wondering if they fall into that statistic, than a generic product email. Especially if it is a time of year when the sales lead would not be in the market for insurance in the first place.
Timed Sales Outreach
Here is a guideline to follow when planning the timing of sales outreach:
- Develop a calendar including all events that would impact a customer’s buying process. Critical dates such as holidays, seasonal buying spikes and lulls, and national events like tax season or open enrollment periods should be included.
- Analyze current sales outreach timing. Is there a strategy behind emails and flyers going out or is a shotgun approached used each time more sales are needed? Look back at old campaigns and rank which campaigns were the most effective. Identify core commonalities.
- Organize sales collateral. Not knowing what is available to send to potential customers greatly inhibits a business’ ability to time outgoing messaging properly. Create categories for sales messaging and assign each piece of collateral a category. These should include general sales/product messages, special offers, customer testimonials, case studies, third-party research and newsletters.
- Once sales collateral is categorized it needs to be assigned timing. Developing a standard operating procedure for when each piece of messaging is appropriate to send to a lead, based on that lead meeting certain criteria, will help take the guesswork out of the sales process.
- Next, it is important to review past sales to identify the average buying process timeline for customers. By reviewing how long it took for past leads to make a purchasing decision, a sales team can better align current outreach efforts to match typical response times and interest levels of leads that are in the pipeline now.
- Begin building the master sales calendar. Once a business has identified key dates that will impact its sales cycle, organized and categorized sales collateral and reviewed past successes it is time to merge the information together. Put events and past sales wins on parallel timelines. If successes in the sales cycle are not aligning with key dates, as they should be, further research into why a campaign was a success (or failure) needs to be done.
- Next, map out on a third parallel timeline the buying process of the average customer. Create buying stages for the sales funnel. For example, name Stage One, “Awareness”. This is when the lead is first learning about a business and evaluating its offerings and benefits. Stage Two is “Consideration”. This stage is when a lead is reviewing and contemplating a business’ offerings versus competitors and seeing what options are out there. Stage Three is “Short Listing”. The lead knows what it wants and what businesses best fit that need. Now it’s time to make a decision.
- On the timeline for the average customer’s buying process, overlay the collateral materials available to send to the customer in each stage. It is crucial to create a campaign that builds and leaves no doubt about the superiority of your business’ product or service. Use past sales data to determine the average length of each stage for a typical lead.
In “Awareness”, leads should be interacting with news stories, banner ads, white papers, social media communities and receiving a newsletter. In this stage leads are being made aware of a business’ capabilities and are being alerted of their need.
Once a lead has entered the sales cycle and is made aware of a business’ offerings, the pressure is on. During the “Consideration” stage leads need to be consistently reminded of the superiority of a business’ product or service through third-party verifications. At this stage, sales messaging should focus heavily on analyst reports, case studies, references, testimonials, third-party research reports on the industry as a whole and media coverage balanced with selective messaging about product/service benefits and competitive advantages.
Only at the point when a lead lapses into the “Short List” stage should a business begin to deliver special offer sales messaging to a lead. During this final stage of decision-making, a lead should be well enough known to a sales team to identify any additional collateral materials that need to be sent to push the sale over the edge. ◊