Email Autoresponder Bridge Building: The Art of Following Up

This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

bridge-camelbackSearch marketing is often more like courtship than a shotgun wedding. While some searches lead to online purchases within minutes (usually for inexpensive commodities that people are familiar with), many searches do not.

If you don’t set up your website to capture your visitors’ contact information and follow up with them over time, you are missing the lion’s share of leads and sales.

In fact, it’s useful to think of the entire goal of your website as the ability to stay in touch with good prospects after they leave. Let’s look at how to construct and fill an effective follow-up system.

Choosing a Platform

Some of the better known standalone email management services include Aweber (what I’ve used for 10 years, almost entirely problem-free), MailChimp, and iContact. Some shopping carts like InfusionSoft and 1ShoppingCart include follow-up email capabilities that can be integrated directly with prospects’ purchasing behaviors.

Here’s what you’re looking for, minimum, in an email follow-up system:

1. Broadcast and Autoresponder Capabilities

Broadcasting is like sending out a newsletter. You write it, load it up, and it goes out to everyone on a particular email list at the same time.

An autoresponder is a series of timed emails that approximate what you would write manually and personally if you had an infinite amount of time and patience.

In other words, if you sell replacement windows and someone opts in for more information about your windows and installation services, you might send them an email immediately that says something like, “Hey, thanks for signing up. In this email I’ll describe the different types of windows we carry, and some of the pros and cons of each. If you have any questions, simply hit reply and someone will get back to you within one business day.”

2. The Ability to Segment Lists

You may not want to send every message to every lead in your database. Suppose you know that some prospects are interested in patio doors, while others only care about bay windows. If you email a prospect with something irrelevant to them, you’re training them to ignore your future emails.

3. 1-Click Unsubscribe Feature

You will get prospects who forget that they signed up to be on your list. Rather than have them complain to their ISP about you, give them an obvious and easy way to get off your list.

4. Ability to Send Both Broadcasts and Autoresponder Follow-ups

Both broadcasts and autoresponders are useful, for different purposes.

Use an autoresponder to address quickly all objections standing in the way of an imminent sale. Deploy broadcasts to stay in touch with prospects who are going through a long sales cycle, to stay in touch and stay top of mind as the obvious choice.

Autoresponder Strategy

Think of an autoresponder as a bridge connecting an as-yet-unconvinced prospect to the next step you want them to take. That step might be a sale, but could also be another intermediate step on the way to a sale: a phone call, a download, a completed RFQ, etc.

Now put yourself in the shoes of someone who has just taken that next step. What do they have to feel, think, know, and believe in order to have done so? Make a list. In our window replacement example, the list might look like this:

  1. My house needs new windows because the old ones aren’t [pretty, safe, healthy, energy-efficient, durable, clear] enough
  2. This is a good use of my money right now
  3. I trust this merchant to do a good job and not cheat me
  4. I know which windows to buy
  5. All other stakeholders for this windows issue will be happy with my decision

Now reverse engineer from those statements back to where an as-yet-unconvinced prospect is at this moment. An easy way is to negate each of those statements. For example, the negation of the first statement:

My house doesn’t need new windows.

Now you know one of the tasks of your autoresponder sequence: to convince the prospect that some aspect of their current reality needs to change.

Go through the other statements and do the same thing.

At a minimum, each negated statement gets its own email in the sequence. In this example, the first statement might require three or four emails, each focusing on a different type of improvement.

Remember that each email has two jobs. The obvious function of each email is to shift your prospect’s perception about some aspect of your product or service.

The less obvious function, but even more important, is to predispose the prospect to open your next email. If your emails are deemed irrelevant, or boring, or pushy, then they’ve effectively unsubscribed from your list even if they don’t do it officially.

So you need to make sure that each email is as useful, brief, educational, and entertaining as possible.

Broadcast Strategy

Since the goal of a broadcast strategy is to develop a relationship over time rather than push for an immediate decision, you ask yourself a different question:

“What do I want my prospect to think about every time they think about this need?”

Obviously, you want them to connect this issue with your business. You want to educate them to make the best possible decision, so you want them to think about your rules and criteria for making a decision. You want them to feel gratitude for your generosity in sharing your guidance.

Basically, you want to, as Perry Marshall puts it, “take them off the search market.” Once they’re on your list, there’s no reason for them ever to do another Google search on that topic.

Your broadcasts can be scheduled an expected, like a weekly newsletter that comes out every Monday, or you can just send out a casual email whenever you have something to share.

Your goal with each email is to make their day. Your bar should be, “Is this the best thing they read, watch, or listen to today?” If not, aim higher. You want your prospects to share your emails with their friends who have no interest in your products.

Bridge builders custom design their bridges to accommodate specific loads, to cross specific spans, and to attach to specific land structures. They start with basic structures (suspension, pontoon, stone steps, etc.) and then craft their designs to fit the needs of that place.

As you create email follow-up, think about creating a stable, safe, and enjoyable bridge from where your prospects are to where you want them to go.

Image Credit: Donald Lee Perdue/Flickr

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