Email marketing has consistently demonstrated to have one of the highest returns on investment of any marketing channel.
If only email marketing didn’t sometimes feel impersonal…
Many professional services firms understand the potential of email marketing to increase awareness of and affinity for the firm’s practices and personnel. However:
- High-touch professional services firms have a C-level audience exclusively. It is harder with this audience to break through the buzz with an email blast.
- There is a perceived danger among many professional services practitioners that email blasts send the wrong “feel.”
That is why for high-touch professional services, “1-on-1 email marketing” is a tactic to consider. 1-on-1 email marketing isn’t right for most businesses, because it isn’t scalable and because the revenue per customer is too small. But for high-touch professional services firms, supplementing traditional email marketing with a programmatic approach of sending personalized emails to a few clients can make sense.
Before getting into some tactics for how to do this type of marketing, it is important to understand the power and the limitations of professional services firms’ email contact lists.
The “Master Email List”: A Double-Edged Sword
Almost all professional services firms, large and small, have a “master email list” which includes thousands of contacts, including potential clients as well as connectors. Except at the largest firms, most of these lists are not segmented in any way; they are simply one big master list.
Many firms view the master email list as a valuable asset. This list has been built upon thousands of one-on-one interactions that the firm’s professionals have nurtured over many years. Using this list can be a powerful weapon.
However, it can also be a dangerous weapon which, when used clumsily, can harm the firm.
Unfortunately, most firms use their email lists clumsily. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward:
- Almost all people on professional services firms’ email lists did not opt in to receiving email blasts. This goes against current best practice in email marketing to either (i) only send emails to customers, viable prospects and others who have opted in to receiving emails and/ or (ii) cull email lists periodically. Hardly any professional services firms rely solely on opt-in or have the time to cull an existing list.
- Clients have been trained to expect low-quality content from you. Most professional services firms today send content which is not valuable to their clients. This valueless content includes firm advertising, undifferentiated analysis and irrelevant content which leaves clients unsatisfied.
- Most professional services firms’ email lists lack segmentation. For instance, let’s say you run a boutique investment bank: you probably have in your email list CEOs, CFOs, treasurers, corporate development people, other C-level executives, potential selling clients, potential strategic acquirers, institutional investors, etc. Each of these audience types has very different content needs. However, in practice, everyone on the email list receives the same content, which is likely to be irrelevant to most contacts.
If the above bullets sound like your firm’s practices, your current email marketing is likely ineffective.
The solution to this problem, however, is not to avoid email marketing but to send valuable content instead of worthless content. After all, if you send content which is valuable, most clients will appreciate that. In particular, regular email marketing can be especially helpful in advancing relationships which are in the nurturing stage, especially if you segment your contact lists.
The 1-on-1 Audience: Your Most Cherished Relationships
Even if you fix the valuable content problem, however, there are some highly cherished contacts for whom an email blast may not be appropriate. The reality is that not all your content is going to be relevant for all of your cherished contacts, and the last thing you want to do is send irrelevant content to your best contacts. Or maybe it is a sensitive time in the client-advisor relationship. Or maybe the personality of certain clients are such they are not likely to appreciate any email marketing.
For these most cherished relationships, you may consider an additional strategy: 1-on-1 email marketing.
1-on-1 email marketing is exactly what it sounds like: in addition to sending out blasts to hundreds or thousands of contacts, you send personalized notes to a select few.
1-on-1 email marketing does not replace your blasts. Instead, it supplements blasts by sending personalized notes to a select few clients where a more personal touch is required. This isn’t scalable, so you cannot do this for many clients, but even so, it can be worth your time.
Some “1-on-1” Email Tactics
Let’s say you want to incorporate “1-on-1” email marketing as part of the marketing strategy…how do you do that? Here are some ideas to consider:
1) Take your most intimate relationships off your main email list
If your strongest clients may be put off by a more intensive email campaign, you may consider taking contacts at these companies off the master email list. There are a couple of considerations to bear in mind if you take this approach.
First, set a high bar for what is a “strong relationship.” A strong relationship likely means a combination of: (a) consistently talking to the key decision maker on the telephone on at least a biweekly basis (partially obviating the need for an email campaign) and (b) rating yourself as the #1 or #2 service provider at the client. Don’t let decent but not necessarily the strongest contact relationships creep into a list of people to be excluded from your email marketing. These good-but-not-great contacts can benefit from content marketing.
Second, while you may likely have a strong relationship with the most important contact at your strongest clients, other stakeholders at the client company may still benefit from receiving emails from you. Executive teams change, and you want to make sure that your marketing reaches the up-and-comers in the organization. In addition, there are many projects and companies where multiple people influence the selection of an advisor. Make sure that all of these people are educated about your firm’s capabilities.
Third, do not forget the downside to removing key contacts from your email campaign: you are relying solely on your personal interactions for maintaining the relationship. Should those personal interactions fall by the wayside because you grow busy, these clients will not be continuing to learn about your capabilities.
2) Force yourself to do some 1-on-1 email marketing for every new piece of content
Remember: the potential issue in using email marketing with intimate relationships is the lack of personalization, not necessarily the content itself. In many cases, the content will be interesting to your best clients, and you do not want to waste an opportunity to provide something valuable to them.
In these cases, it can be very effective to send a quick note along with a link to the suggested content.
There are couple alternative tactics to consider using:
- If you do decide to take you most important contacts off your main email list, take the time to email 3-5 close contacts with each email campaign. Even better, you can identify these contacts in your editorial calendar, so you know exactly who you have to email for each piece of content. (If your content is consistently not relevant to any of your most prized contacts, you should revisit whether your content strategy is addressing the right audience.)
- If you do not decide to take any people off your main email list, one effective tactic is sending an “exclusive preview.” Essentially, a few days before sending out an email blast highlighting the new blog content, you send a personal email to 3-5 of your top clients noting that blog content has just been published which is especially relevant for them, and you wanted them to see it before anyone else. Even if your contacts do not respond to your personal email, they may click through to the content when the full blast goes out, since they have been primed to expect this content to be valuable.
3) Get the email copy right
The copy of a personalized email can be tricky: you need to balance friendliness with effective marketing copy.
- The subject line should grab the reader’s attention, calling out a key need for the client.
- The copy should probably start with a quick personal note in the first paragraph
- Then follow that with a standard marketing copywriting formula – AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is particularly effective with emails. The “action” should be a clickthrough, which should be tracked if possible.
- Create a reusable AIDA blurb which can be used in multiple 1-on-1 emails. This enables you to re-use that part of the email, saving you time.
4) Reference existing content in follow-up emails with cherished contacts
As an advisor, you likely send follow up emails after many conversations with key clients. There is usually an opportunity in these follow up emails to reference existing blog content which addresses issues which you and the client have been discussing. This is a great way to do content marketing without it feeling like marketing, and you can definitely count such emails towards your 1-on-1 marketing goals.
Set a Goal, Track It, Stick with It
The real risk with 1-on-1 marketing is that you as a practitioner fail to follow through on the execution. Almost invariably, a 1-on-1 email should come directly from a senior practitioner’s email account and requires the senior practitioner to personally write copy. However, senior practitioners can get busy, and this follow-through may not happen.
That is why it is important to set a goal in terms of your 1-on-1 email marketing execution. For instance, let’s say you publish a new blog post every two weeks. Your goal may be to send out 3 personalized emails per new blog post. If you can, log your activity and if you get a positive reply or thank you from the client, you should note that in the log (positive reinforcement!).
While this may seem cumbersome for the senior practitioner, keep the following in mind: for your most cherished relationships, you should be doing anything and everything to provide valuable touches to these contacts.
Instead of viewing 1-on-1 email marketing as a chore, view it as an opportunity not to be missed: any time you have something valuable to provide to your most cherished clients, you should relish the chance to offer it.