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How to use email marketing to boost your sales

Email marketing is a cost-effective way to reach potential customers, but you’ll need to have a strategy and carefully craft your message

9-minute read

It’s a challenge to get a customer’s attention. Email marketing—the strategic use of email to keep customers engaged with your brand—is one of the most successful ways to do this.

Email marketing can tell subscribers about your products, services, discounts and events, as well as industry trends and company news. It can help you upsell and cross-sell, increase customer satisfaction and retention, solicit referrals, drive traffic to your website or social media posts, and generate brand loyalty.

Best of all, the money you spend will likely see a healthy return on investment (ROI). According to Françoise Sonnet, Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services, estimates of ROI for email marketing range from $36 to $42 for every dollar spent.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that involves sending promotional messages or newsletters to people through email. It’s a way to reach out to potential or current customers who have said they want to receive messages from your business. 

Email marketing campaigns typically include various types of content, such as:

  • product updates
  • special offers
  • event invitations
  • newsletters

Companies can use email marketing to build relationships with customers, drive website traffic, increase sales and strengthen brand awareness. 

Why email marketing is effective

Email marketing is a sure way to reach existing or potential customers because people constantly check their email on multiple devices. That makes it easy to get your message in front of your target audience regularly and stay top of mind.

Email marketing also forces customers to act. Once a message has made its way into someone’s inbox, they need to make a choice: delete it, save it for later, or read it—or maybe even forward it.

Email is highly cost-effective as there is almost no additional cost to sending an email to more people. There is virtually no limit to the number of people you can reach.

Different types of marketing emails

Françoise Sonnet, Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services, says when deciding what kinds of email to focus on, it’s wise to consider whether you’re in the B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) space. If you’re marketing to other businesses, it’s best to stick to newsletter-style articles. These build customer loyalty by sharing practical news and information and industry trends. Business customers may be put off by advertising emails that urge them to make purchases.

But retail-oriented businesses that market directly to consumers have more scope to send out transactional or promotional emails, says Sonnet. These customers expect a certain amount of such emails and may appreciate knowing about upcoming sales or discounts.

If you’re in the B2B world, avoid sending out emails that look like ads. In B2B, the information needs to seem pertinent to the client.

7 steps to craft your email marketing strategy

Before you bang out your 800-word update and hit send, take a step back and look at the big picture, says Sonnet: ideally, you should have a six- to 12-month strategy.

“It’s not just ‘let’s send an email today and forget about it for the next two months,’” she says. “Think about why you’re sending the email, who you’re talking to, what information they want from you, and what you want to tell them and when.”

1. Decide whether to segment your target audience

Adapting your message to suit specific groups can work because it lets you speak more directly to their interests. For example, you could divide customers by:

  • type of business
  • location
  • age
  • shopping habits
  • product preferences.

But consider your capacity. If you’ve identified four different customer groups and plan to email them on separate schedules with unique content, you’re going to be very busy trying to come up with ideas and sending out your blasts.

2. Create an editorial calendar

Make a schedule that sets out when to send your emails and what topics they will cover. Try to outline what you want to cover in the next six months to a year. This will force you to give some strategic thought to what you want to convey and ensure you don’t repeat yourself.

3. Decide on frequency

Sonnet says most small businesses should aim to send emails out about once a month. More often is fine if the pace suits your industry and you have the capacity.

4. Set up a double opt-in strategy

The “double opt-in” ensures that, having agreed to join your mailing list, a customer must still confirm their interest by clicking a link in that initial email. This approach can reduce the odds that messages end up in spam folders, help you develop a quality mailing list and increase your chances of generating leads.

5. Test out a prototype

Known as an A/B or split test, this involves sending out slightly different emails to two sets of recipients and measuring their responses. You vary the elements you want to test—such as headlines, images, design, length or call-to-action buttons—and measure how the two groups respond, in order to see which approach works best.

6. Build your distribution list

You need to make a list of addresses for sending mass emails. You’ll want to enlist the help of email list management software for this. Some CRM applications now include email marketing capabilities. Dedicated tools, while typically pricier, can integrate your emails with your website, social media and other marketing tasks.

7. Track your performance

Most businesses use analytics to gauge the effectiveness of their website, social media posts and email marketing efforts. You’ll need to look at some key performance indicators (KPIs) to know whether your strategy is working. Elements to measure include:

  • conversion and click-through rates
  • list growth
  • email sharing and forwarding rates
  • unsubscribe rate
  • overall return on investment

Some B2B businesses may be able to buy distribution lists. You can also start to build some leads using social media, such as LinkedIn. But for B2C businesses, it’s all about collecting addresses.

What are open rates in an email campaign?

There are two key metrics to keep an eye on when you’re measuring the success of your email campaign, says Sonnet.

  • The open rate which refers to the percentage of people who open your email.
  • The click-through rate, which refers to the percentage of readers who take the next step, such as registering for an event, reading a blog post or browsing products on your website.

According to GetResponse, an email marketing technology company, the average open rate in North America is 23.5%, and the average click-through rate is 3.86%.

It’s a good idea to track your rates. It helps you assess your performance against competitors and measure your own progress over time.

Best practices for email marketing success

Sonnet has a few suggestions to help businesses boost their conversion and click-through rates. Foremost among these is: make a good first impression. That first email is important; it contains the subscription confirmation link, which is key to the person continuing to receive messages.

Seven out of 10 people will open the first email you send, so it’s important to aim for the best possible response rate.

Come up with an attractive design

Sonnet suggests including a photo or some other colourful image near the top. Photos of people tend to generate more responses, she adds.

Keep your email subject line concise

Subject lines should be no longer than 40 characters (six or seven words). Remember that many customers will open your message on a mobile device, not a laptop.

Limit the email to a five-minute read

For the average reader, a five-minute read is best, which would be 800 to 1,000 words, or up to two pages.

Project your image

Make sure the email’s appearance and writing style reflects your company and cannot be confused with something a competitor could have sent.

Include a call to action near the end

Invite the reader to act, whether by reading an article on your website, registering for an event or forwarding the email to friends. Keep it clear, concise and action oriented.

For smaller businesses, Sonnet says it can be a good idea to hire a marketing agency to write the emails. This can help you get good results without needing to develop this expertise and capacity in-house. Ask the agency writer to interview you, so you can better control the message, and make sure you and others read the letter before it goes out.

Respecting spam laws

Canada’s anti-spam legislation is among the world’s toughest, and penalties for contravening it can be steep. So, before you start your campaign, make sure you know what’s acceptable. Obtaining consent from recipients and providing an unsubscribe mechanism are two key features to the law. See BDC’s article, Canada’s anti-spam legislation: Your questions answered.

Next steps

Discover what it takes to build a successful brand online in the free BDC guide, Attracting and Selling Online.

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