'Personalized mass emails, really?'
'That is so passé.'
I get it - the idea is kind of old news. In fact, as long ago as 2013, experts were sounding the death knell for the email as a means of selling - just because you couldn’t get people to read them.
We can thank burgeoning technology for making reaching prospects with impersonal blasts basically impossible, says Koka Sexton of Business2Community
'Email technology has made it so that I don’t get junk anymore. It’s filed away automatically based on flags or even my behavior.
If you’re not someone I’ve communicated with before or don’t have a connection to, I will probably never see your email. Tools like SaneBox or even good ol’ Gmail only serve up the email that I want to read and if something slips through it takes a click of the mouse to make sure it never gets past again.'
Sexton’s point is this: Prospects, fed up with the amount of generic sales spam they were receiving, had begun either ignoring emails or using filters to funnel them away to the darkest corners of their inbox.
Social selling, Sexton said, was the brave new world that salespeople must embrace to stay relevant:
'I started connecting the dots between the early adopters of Twitter and My LinkedIn network… It opened my mind to a new way to engage and it more than made up for all of the unanswered emails and voicemails I was leaving.
A Twitter profile should be as mandatory as an email address and phone number for sales people.'
Clearly, Sexton believes that embracing social media in favor of email is the way forward. But is he right?
The statistics back him up: according to the Sales Benchmark Index, 98% of sales reps with more than 5,000 LinkedIn connections meet or surpass quota, while a social-selling initiative by IBM boosted sales by over 400%. But does this mean that the sales email is dead?
Reports Of The Sales Email’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
This is where the statistics let Sexton down. According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, email is still a whopping 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined.
'91% of all US consumers still use email daily, and the rate at which emails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17% higher.'
That’s not to say that Sexton doesn’t have a point, however. Social media enables us to personalize contact with prospects in an unprecedented way. And we can see from the statistics of daily email use that prospects don’t hate on email as such - it’s the lack of relevance and personalization that kills email success.
On the SalesLoft blog, Kyle Porter explains the situation:
'I won’t respond to an email that I know was blasted from a marketing automation system. Why? Because I know there is a lot less likelihood that I am a fit for what they’re selling when they haven’t tailored the email communication to my needs.'
An integration of social media and email, then, would seem like the best way forward, with the former allowing us to improve the latter immeasurably. If this statement seems obvious, ask yourself this: Why, in 2015, are so few companies employing mass sales email personalization?
'We are living in the era of personalization,' writes Emma O’Neill of the Kissmetrics blog. 'We have an abundance of data at our fingertips, but we don’t always make the most of the opportunity it provides.'
'Many businesses have been incredibly slow to take up personalization. In fact, it has been reported that only 5% of companies personalize extensively. That is a shockingly low figure.'
In other words, we know how to make email work. But we’re not doing it.
With the benefits obvious, why have so few businesses adopted an extensive email-personalization policy? O’Neill suggests it comes down to a simple lack of ability: '[I]t seems that we don’t know how to personalize.'
Personalization: A Lost Art?
Salespeople used to contact prospects personally because there was no other choice. The laborious acts of thumbing through contact books, manually dialing and hand - or typewriting - letters represented the only avenues of communication.
But they have been replaced by technology over the years, and the expediency that technology has brought makes it easy to see why salespeople were so eager to embrace it.
Things can be done faster and many more prospects can be reached in a day—and it’s tough to resist the lure of the idea that the more prospects we cram into the top of the funnel, the more buyers we’re going to see coming out the bottom.
Consider the bargain that we’ve made for a minute, though.
With each new technological step, a physical, personal connection with the prospect has been lost. We’re leaning more and more on high-volume outreach that’s tough to personalize. And prospects don’t like it.
Time was, says PersistIQ’s Brandon Redlinger, 'every sales letter, email and pitch was personalized because the rep had to write out each individual communication by hand or talk to one individual at a time.'
But, he argues, 'modern selling has changed everything. It replaced the need for human work, and, consequently, the human element was lost in the process.'
And we’re hugely influenced by that human element. We still gauge trustworthiness by perceived sincerity, and even if the promise contained in an automated message is true and valid the fact that it’s automated sets alarm bells ringing.
All this leads to the crushing sense of alienation felt by a prospect upon opening an email that is clearly the product of automation.
This is the kind of email that Kyle Porter—and plenty more of us—won’t respond to. Why? Because we can smell the insincerity.
'If you’re in the B2B space selling to tech-savvy individuals, recipients can spot automation a mile away,' says Redlinger. Yet as we’ve seen, 95% of companies aren’t practicing extensive email personalization.
The proliferation of technology and the sense of distance this has caused between salesperson and prospect leads Redlinger to pose a few difficult questions.
'Have we gone too far?' he asks. 'Have we become too reliant on automation?'
Have we really lost the human touch at the expense of factory-style 'correspondence production'?
How Personalization And Automation Can Coexist Peacefully
Personalization and automation might seem at first like strange bedfellows, but they can actually work together to produce stunning results for you and your company. It’s just that we need to take a slightly different look at both strands to create a coherent, credible whole.
We’ve looked at sacrificing the personal touch at the altar of reach and expediency. This is the first area to reconsider when attempting to personalize. Instead of pumping out thousands of Identikit emails, scale back your ambition and take time to make the correspondence you send truly worthwhile to the prospect.
'[I]t’s not the number of emails, rather the content that drives the engagement,' writes Daniel Barner on the ToutApp blog. ‘Information overload leads buyers to want one email, not ten. It’s simple: send one email instead of ten—just make the one email 10 times better.'
Barner emphasizes the less-is-more strategy:
'Let’s say you have 1.5 hours a day to send prospecting emails. The following options are available:
- Send 15 hyper-personalized emails
- Send 500+ non-personalized emails
It’s important to realize that the level of personalization is on a sliding scale, and as personalization diminishes, so too does your response rate.’
This is where Sexton is spot on about the worth of social media. By taking a bit of extra time for our correspondence and tapping into the wealth of information available on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles, we can create an email that is extremely personalized and well informed—and therefore far more likely to draw a prospect’s interest.
Can Personalization At Scale Be Achieved?
Barner’s emphasis on less-is-more suggests a dramatic drop-off in the number of emails sent per day. Redlinger, however, thinks that personalization at a mass level is not only possible, but an absolute must. It’s just a matter of finding the right system.
'[R]ather than asking yourself, “Should I be sending highly personalized emails?” [instead ask yourself,] “How can I set up a system to send highly personalized emails without spending too much extra time?”’ he writes.
If, as in Barner’s example, you’re trying to whittle a huge list of target customers down to a small number of priority accounts, it can be a—forgive the pun—daunting prospect. No less an authority than John Barrows has admitted he hates it—but he hates offering discounts to secure business even more and so he simply bites the bullet and gets on with it.
Barrows suggests a way to build mass personalization into your daily routine and, like Barner, he proposes a less-is-more method to achieve quality. '[H]igh-quality prospecting takes time to do,' says Barrows.
'You have to schedule time in your day, figure out what clients you’re going to target, research them, think through your approach, develop your messaging, write your email or call and then make the call or send the email. That’s all usually for one ‘touch’ (email or call) and we know it takes more than a few ‘touches’ to reach an executive these days.'
The key to saving time is to identify your A-list clients so that you can devote more time to them and then make sure that information about them is coming to you, so that you do not have to waste time searching for it yourself. Barrows suggests tools such as Owler and Twitter Lists as a means of gathering prospect information on a daily basis.
Pull The Trigger
With these tools in place to provide us information, Barrows suggests creating notifications for five or six 'triggers'—that is, specific events going on at target accounts that have a high probability of offering a sales opportunity. Your tool will send you an email flagging up a major event that has happened and you can then create a template that requires very little customization to make it seem personal.
'I tend to choose 4-5 different events that I can make a connection to and develop messaging around them since every time you see a certain event (e.g. [the company is moving into a] new office) you can pretty much say the same thing,' says Barrows. 'Keep in mind, these are not templates or scripts that are meant to be blasted out to 1,000 people. These are templates to be used for efficiency purposes but still sent to individuals one at a time with slight customization.'
What events other than a company moving to new premises would be considered trigger events? Redlinger suggests the following:
- Merger or acquisition
- Product launch
- Hiring of a specific role related to what you do
Redlinger’s article also includes some excellent, Barrows-inspired templates that you might consider cribbing for your own use. Redlinger emphasizes that the tone and form of the email should be right in order to make it seem personal. 'Write in a conversational tone… Don’t sound like a salesperson… Keep it concise and to the point… Offer value… Make it about your prospect.'
In short, sound like a human being rather than a salesperson.
That’s not to say that salespeople aren’t human - it’s just that people have in their minds an archetype of how a salesperson talks and corresponds. Like Ben Sardella said in his interview, ‘the worst part about being a salesperson is that sales is in the title.’
With your well-researched, to-the-point, warm email, you’ll be able to smash that stereotype—and get your sales figures moving skywards.
So in a way, Sexton was right: social media is the way forward. Not because it replaces other means of reaching out to prospects, but because it allows us to pinpoint A-list prospects and correspond with them at a volume and level of personalization that is unprecedented in the sales industry. Join the 5% of companies who are getting this right and watch your numbers go up and to the right!
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About the Author
A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.More Content by Geoffrey Walters