The conversation around email is different than what it would have been just three weeks ago, and certainly before that. So let’s talk about what’s working, what’s not, and what makes a great email. Obviously, with the pretty radical changes over the last few weeks, everyone’s been adjusting to this new normal, and what worked yesterday, doesn’t necessarily work today. But let’s be clear in saying, there’s no perfect email and there’s no perfect approach, especially now that we’re all going through something nobody has ever gone through before. It’s really new ground for all of us. This is the time to take an extra minute in any outreach that you’re doing. Be thoughtful, empathetic, and intelligent about how you’re going to be approaching any new conversations with brands or prospects that you want to work with.
The truth is, we’ve already seen commerce will continue. Once we get through the initial shock of everyone saying, “Hang on, freeze, let’s figure out what the heck is going on here,” everyone is still going to have to find ways to go about their day. Brands are going to continue to have to market to their consumers. They’re just going to have to find new ways to do so. And budgets will be moving from one area to the next. With that being said, our priority at Catapult is to ensure our agency partners are the ones actually guiding brands while they’re examining this new marketplace.
There are two very different approaches with regard to emails.
These approaches are the mass email approach and the account-based marketing approach. From our perspective, the ABM approach is where we typically find ourselves seeing the most value in our prospect interactions. Certainly, within the current climate, we would see all of our agencies needing to double down in the ABM approach even further.
What is a custom one-to-one ABM approach?
The ABM approach focuses on getting the message of your value proposition and what you’re trying to sell in a very customized way using things you know about the brand and the prospect and incorporating that throughout your messaging. An example of that, in a normal world, would be doing specific research on an individual or company. You can look at earnings reports and try to anticipate what they’re looking for, or if they’re shifting dollars into eCommerce you should write a message about that. You could include language like, “I read recently that you’re shifting dollars into eCommerce, and you want to grow your eCommerce efforts 9%.”
And then, the account-based portion of that, you would write a different message to different stakeholders within that company. Each level of seniority is looking at things through a different lens, so use that same value prop with your stakeholder in mind as well. As far as quantities of email, I think there’s a lot of teams that are out there plugging into something like a HubSpot or an Act-On and saying, “Here are 1000 people we’re going to send out our new business emails, and get those out and about.”
So what should be the quantity goal when you’re creating these more highly customized emails? You’ll want to keep in mind when you are creating a highly customized piece that’s going to be focused on an individual stakeholder, or group of stakeholders within the organization, it’s going to be small because it’s a lot more time consuming to dive into the research. In terms of the number of people in a cadence, it could be anywhere from 5 – 15, depending on what types of similar themes you might be able to weave through each of the individual stakeholder groups. So, it’s certainly much smaller in scale than would be a broader-based approach.
Within those groups, if you’re sending a lower quantity and you have 15 really highly targeted messages that are going out then your response rates are obviously much higher. We know this greatly changes depending on the category, vertical, title, etc., but you’re typically looking at an average of 10 – 20 percent higher open and/or reply rates.
Our Group Directors and Business Development Directors say the same is true for them when working on behalf of our agency partners. The open rates for highly customized messages are incredibly higher, and the reply rates are sometimes as high as 5%, which is substantial if you’re reaching out to enterprise businesses as it’s far above the industry average. Our way of going about this at scale for our agency partners is by utilizing SalesLoft, which is different from a marketing automation tool like a HubSpot, or Pardot because it allows our team to take those really targeted groups and customize each one of those emails without entirely recreating the wheel.
How do you still take an ABM approach if you’re customizing 50% of the email? This is definitely possible if you are filtering vertical information, especially, because there is a common theme people will recognize and that will resonate with a particular audience with a certain industry. Just balance your messaging with a little less personalization based on an individual or what you might know with a higher focus on their industry or vertical.
Here are three key elements of a successful email in today’s climate:
There are three parts to successful emails in today’s climate which are research and insights, focus, and ensuring we’re being human in our tone and in our actions within these emails.
Research and Insights
Here’s the kind of research our team is doing on a person, and then on a company before deploying any outreach. We’ll break this up into two parts – pre-pandemic, and then post.
We research any senior-level stakeholders, C level and above, and even a step underneath that. Those people typically have been interviewed by multiple different organizations, where you can go find them talking in their own words to see what they’re saying about their business. For those people, it is absolutely best to communicate on a personal level, because you’re usually getting a personal point of view during those interviews, directly, on their business. So regurgitating that back to them, answering some of the things that they’ve said is their focus. Multiple times they’ll say, “We’re going to shift everything to creative this year. We’re going to shift everything to this. We’re trying to do this.” They’ll tell you what their attempts for the year are in those types of interviews. And the interviews are everywhere. Just Google their name and you’ll be able to find them.
Whenever you get lower into brand managers and senior-level marketers, you’re not going to find a personal point of view, so it’s best to do your research on the company. Find what’s going on in the organization, especially if you get down into what their typical responsibilities are, and speak directly to that. A lot of times they will want to introduce you to someone more senior than them if you can nail down what is going on in their world. So essentially, do your research for messaging to lower titles on a company level and for higher-ranked titles, get really personal. You can also reference earning reports and use direct quotes from almost the entire C suite. Those are extremely helpful as well.
Now, in our current pandemic climate, it’s harder to do that, because things that C suite executives said last month are no longer relevant in most cases. Their focus before the pandemic was completely different than what their focus is right now.
So now that we are here, in the middle of this pandemic, it is still important to connect with individuals on a personal basis, but really focusing on what is going on in their industry and how they are affected by this new normal. If you are reaching out to CPG brands, for instance, hone in on the brand and category level, and understand the challenges they’re facing in today’s world. Position the agency in a way that the brand knows you understand the challenges they are facing. This is your opportunity to connect the dots between what your value proposition is, and the strengths and expertise that your agency has.
Keep in mind, you never want to reach the point where you have over-researched and over-customized. Our goal should not be to write a 100-page white paper on every single one of the companies and individuals you are reaching out to, so how long should your emails be and what is the right amount of research to include?
The email size can depend on the touchpoint that you’re on. If it’s your first one, try a few paragraphs of customization, or a few paragraphs in total. As far as customization, if your email is customized over 62%, then at that point there is the potential that you lose everything to say and you just end up sounding more like a stalker. We recommend customizing about 50% of your email which is a true ABM approach without overdoing, and sometimes even just 25% can still be a super powerful email. If you’re just talking to beverages and non-alcoholic beverages, or even if you go into just functional beverages, it sounds very targeted, very customized, but you’re only probably customizing the first 25%.
In terms of how much time you should spend researching, Google makes it easy. You can spend 5 – 10 minutes finding most of the information you need for multiple stakeholders. Occasionally, it may take you longer, but for the most part, it doesn’t take hours to find what you need with the resources available to you these days. And a really good piece of insight can be used against different people. We’ve had much success at Catapult with our agency partners when we have done so. You can repackage your data and your narrative in outreach that you’re doing for multiple companies within the same category to save a lot of time.
When customizing emails right now, use a lot of caution in what you’re saying. If you’re trying to anticipate what the brand is planning or referring to anything that’s dated longer than yesterday, you might be better off keeping your messaging shorter, simpler, and to the point, just because there are landmines everywhere within every bit of the economy right now. Assuming you know everything that’s going on within a brand will be challenging to do right now.
A lot of times, what we see from agencies when they first come on board with Catapult is a lot of over-research when we discuss what they’ve done in the past. They want to put together a huge insights piece that requires significant time from their research team before they ever send out the first email to whatever brand it is that they’re aiming at. They usually aren’t thinking about the fact that it will take three weeks to get the first email out once it’s built. The goal of your first email is to secure a conversation and not to sell anything, but just to provide value in what your agency can do for a brand. That kind of email can be achieved through a very short message, that maybe pulls out one little piece of an insight that maybe they already know, but it’s just showing you understand their business and then you can carry on to the next step. You don’t have to blow their mind with a single great insight and piece of research but to assume you know more about the beverage industry than the person that’s sitting in the beverage industry all day is slightly offensive. It’s all about balancing your understanding and expertise and how you can help a brand solve a problem and doing it in a very empathetic way.
One of the best places we go for research is Winmo. We use Winmo alerts for our agency partnerships to bring information to us on a particular category, person, or company as it changes. The alerts allow us to through the right communication and messaging to put out in front of clients or potential prospects. Also, the search engine universe gives you B2B publications that focus on a particular category.
When we talk about concentrating on a particular category, it also translates into our second point around your focus. The idea of focus is about understanding the position of your agency’s core promise which is what you do best and where you bring the absolute most value to any of our prospects.
Why is the focus around your agency’s promise so important for your messaging given everything that is going on in the world today?
Especially right now, people are busy. They don’t have the time to connect dots between if you’re referencing a bunch of different case studies and past work. They need to know exactly what you can do, what your core capabilities are, how you can help them at this moment. Anything other than that in your messaging will be ignored right now. It’s important to be crystal clear. If your email answers the questions: What does your agency do? What do you excel at? And How do you help? You are on the right track. It’s more important than ever to just remove the fluff and quickly get to the point. That way, if a brand is having the same problem that you can solve, then you are at the forefront of their minds when looking for a partner.
If you’re looking for a way to quickly talk about yourselves in any of your outbound emails or LinkedIn/social messaging, we recommend thinking about it as a sentence which answers these four questions:
Who are you?
Who do you actually serve?
What is the problem that you’re actually going to solve?
Why are you different?
If you can answer those four things in one sentence, then you are giving a clear view of exactly where your focus is, what your promise to a brand is, and then pushing into that area of what’s going on with them. Keeping all of this in mind while being really empathetic in the beginning shows that we’re all human and we’re all going through a whole new reality. After you have shown your empathy, we recommend including the messaging around your focus. But always remember to lead with empathy and ensure that your message doesn’t sound fake.
Let’s talk about how your tone changes now that a brand’s focus is very different.
In terms of where we are today, one of the most important things to be is really empathetic to what everyone’s going through, and having an understanding tone. That means acknowledging what’s happening in the world, but also acknowledging the fact that you’re in business, they’re in business, and there’s still business to be done. You can do this in a very tactful way by always offering up assistance in areas where they might need help. This is crucial for emphasizing the value proposition and strengths of your agency and communicating it in an effective, tasteful way.
From there, it is important to keep in mind that you’re not so much trying to do a hard close, even though that’s what you want in a perfect world, but rather end up with a conversation that moves the relationship along. Understand that people are a lot more sensitive now with everything that’s going on in the world, so a softer close may sound like; “If now’s not the right time, perhaps sometime when it feels right based on where you are with your business.” That sort of an approach represents the fact that “Hey, this is my job to reach out to companies and create and nurture relationships. And I know you have a job too, so let’s talk when the time is right, based on whatever is happening in your world right now.”
Your tone should never lead with fear or sound fake.
We all know that it’s going to be a tough couple of months. You don’t have to remind your prospects of what is going on or scare them into working with you. Never lead with fear, instead be as positive and optimistic as possible, while still being realistic.
The other part to mention about tone is sounding fake. I’ve gotten a ton of emails from just all sorts of different providers offering help. And just the term “help”, comes off very fake. In that instance, I don’t know who you are, we’re not connected on LinkedIn, we’ve never had a conversation, and you just offered your help, but you’re an email testing software that has nothing to do with what it is that we’re doing, or what we’re going through right now. So the idea of just that word “help” feels very manufactured to me.
We encourage you to position your messaging regarding help around something very specific. You could say something like, “Hey, we know that those dollars from conferences and events are going to be moving to digital, and we specialize in digital services.” Offering to help guide someone through those kinds of shifts, and where you should be prioritizing or getting the most out of those dollars, it’s a very different conversation than, “We’re here to help with anything you guys need.” It just feels very fake and cold.
We know this is going to look different for every agency. If you do have information to leverage that’s of value, like published reports or relevant content, use it. That’s certainly a way to help without saying you’re helping, you’re providing a service. And if you don’t have those resources, it’s about using empathy and understanding to show you can solve a unique problem.
Keep in mind, just because your agency may not have the global reach, data, and analytics as others doesn’t mean that you don’t have something of value to offer for free, which is nothing more than your own expertise, and your own ability to help provide analysis on something very specific. That’s key when we’re talking about offering to help in any of these different areas. We’re offering our help or our expertise on something that we believe they are thinking about and that’s keeping them up at night. Offering something for free can be as simple as just a conversation. Maybe that’s all they need, is just to be able to sit down and say, “Holy crap, we have no idea what we’re going to be doing with our budget over the next few months, and we’re sitting right here.” And you can say, “You know what? I actually work with three other companies just like yours, and they’re in the exact same boat. Does it make sense for us to sit down and talk this through? Would it be helpful for me to be a sounding board for you?” It’s not a crazy ask, and it sounds very personal and human and empathetic.
There’s not a brand out there that will say, “We’ve got this, we know exactly what to do.” They’re exactly like everyone else in this situation. No one has a coronavirus playbook or a pandemic playbook, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar to do this homework, and everyone’s kind of figuring it out as they go. So people do appreciate it if you do have any sort of advice that’s actually helpful. If you do have something for free, we’re seeing some success with webinars right now, whether it’s a one to one webinar, or hosting a group of like-minded people.
It’s okay to be human and tell people, “No, I don’t know what’s going to happen two or three months from now, and no, I’m not an expert on pandemics and the way brands are going to react to every single pandemic. But what I am is an expert in is crisis communications, or SEO/SEM, or video production. And I can give you an expert’s viewpoint on those things, what may or may not happen, but more importantly, how we can potentially help you put your dollars, your budgets, your time, and everything in the right places as you go about trying to make the best decisions for your brand.”
The most important thing for agencies right now is to be consistent, be on point, and be smart about what you’re doing and how you’re saying it because, at the end of the day, this world pandemic is going to be in the rearview mirror. And if you’re being thoughtful about your outreach and communicating in a meaningful way, brands are going to be interested in you even if they’re not raising their hand right now.
A positive free conversation right now, that means absolutely zero revenue to your agency, may absolutely turn into real revenue a year from now. All because you were the trusted, decent person who had a good conversation with them while all this was going on.