For the past few months, I’ve been getting a lot of emails, texts, and even calls (the horrors!) about inquiries. (If you’re super old school, you may refer to these as “requests.”)
I’m hopeful that a big part of this is because marketers are FINALLY starting to realize how important their data is in our new one-ask-one-answer world. The next decade will wipe out a lot of businesses, but the companies with solid data who know how to use it? They’re the ones that will have THE most significant advantage.
Inquiries are visitors who ask about your products and services by giving you something of market value to them. They haven’t yet purchased, but they’ve signed up for an email or SMS; opted in for push notification messages; downloaded a white paper, etc. In other words, they’ve said, “hey, I want to know you more. Not ready to commit, but I’m interested.”
The most common way to capture inquiries in eCommerce is by adding pops and modals to your sites. Many businesses offer discounts (ex: spin the wheel for your savings and take 10% off) or FREE info to entice users to trade their personal information for the offer. Users gobble up the incentives like Cookie Monster chomps cookies, the company gives out the discount/freebie, adds the users to their email/SMS lists, and then starts emailing/texting/pushing. Sometimes new inquiries get a welcome trigger or two, but it’s almost always followed by getting dumped into a blast list.
There’s no doubt that this works at some level. It’s just not as effective as it used to be. The churn rate is increasing, but beyond that, there are many ways to make it a more rewarding and, frankly lucrative experience for you and the inquiry/lead.
If you want to turn more of your inquiries into buyers, reduce your churn rate, and improve your inboxing and deliverability, here are several tried-and-true tips for developing a successful onboarding program.
WHAT IS ONBOARDING?
Onboarding is just a fancy way of introducing a visitor to your products, services, and brand with the goal of becoming a customer in the future.
DEVELOP YOUR INITIAL SERIES
These days, most companies still use just one welcome email, or one triggered SMS. Maybe two. Then, they dump people into their respective daily blast programs. I guess it’s better than nothing, but it drives me bonkers because it leaves so much money on the table. SO. MUCH. MONEY.
When someone signs up for your emails or SMS, you want to ensure they have a proper introduction to your company. This is also your best opportunity to optimize your deliverability. That’s why you should consider mapping out a comprehensive onboarding series that introduces new sign-ups to your brand, your products/services, and your USP (unique selling position – the things that make you special.)
Today’s most successful onboarding series typically comprise 5-7 emails sent out over two weeks at different times of the day. After the new inquiry has completed the initial series, they’ll either go into a full version of the blast campaigns or a reduced “warming” version. (The latter tends to work much better, especially if you’re mailing daily or multiple times a day.)
Many email providers recommend that the minute the user becomes “active” by opening or clicking on the email, you move them straight into the blasts. You should test this thoroughly instead of blindly following that recommendation. Why? A couple of reasons. First, you will get a lot of clicks on the first email – especially if you include an offer. This means that the minute the inquiry shows interest, you act like they’ve agreed to marry you. That’s too aggressive for many people.
Second, you haven’t gone through your entire sales pitch of what makes you special, all the products you think everyone should know about, and so on. When you develop a controlled onboarding series, you design your perfect elevator pitch for the user. If you skip that, they often miss out on your bestsellers, benefits, and more.
Third, you won’t give yourself the best shot at future inboxing and deliverability. With a control series of onboarding emails, you’ll have various formats and sizes, subject lines, and preheaders that you already know work. Deliverability is a HUGE key to your success. Full stop.
Fourth, and the most important reason, is tracking. At the end of a well-developed onboarding series, whether it’s five emails or 500, you’ll know what products the inquiry was interested in, which offers they clicked on, what type of subject lines they responded to, what format was best received, and so on. This information gives you a solid foundation to test and an idea of how you should approach the user in the future. Will seven emails really give you ALL the information you need? No, but if you frame things properly, it will provide you with A LOT more information than you’ll get going on willy-nilly.
By controlling the experience, you know you’ve given it your best shot.
For example, let’s say you use offers. If you did a 5-part series, you could do at least five different offers – perhaps discount, dollars off, free gift, bonus product, shipping-related (free ship, discounted shipping, free upgrade, etc.) By the end of your 5-part series, you’ll know which of the offers the user responded to. (By user.) Tagging this info to the customer record is INCREDIBLY USEFUL for future emails, especially triggers. If you did a choose your own offer (choice of 3-5 offers) in one or two of the emails, you’d gather even more intel about what your user responded to most. You can do the same with products, categories, messaging, format, design, reviews, ratings, and more. Keeping a dossier about everything you learn about the user (aka tagging them) is very lucrative long-term. You’ll create bespoke journeys easier and faster and reduce churn rate. (Artificial Intelligence helps a lot with this, but it works with old-school tracking methods, too.)
USE A VARIETY OF FORMATS
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to onboarding is that the initial emails they send out are filled with everything and the kitchen sink… The emails are often massive, poorly optimized, and already have two strikes against them before they’re even deployed. It’s ok if you have an email or two like this throughout a series, but be sure to balance them out with smaller emails. (For example, a postcard.)
List the products, offers, and messaging you want to include in your onboarding program. Figure out how many emails you need to showcase everything, then split your offerings into several different formats. Take your control brand template, a postcard format (you probably already have one of those at the ready), and then choose the others.
Some of the most popular (and productive!) formats for onboarding are onebys, strips, and MPOs. A oneby is typically a 1×3, 1×6, or 1×12. One hero and x 3 (or 6, 12, or whatever) smaller products in rows of two or three. MPO stands for Multi-Product Offering and usually has 12-36 products. Strips are emails with 3-6 long skinny horizontal strips featuring different product “ads.” (If you’re texting instead of emailing, you can also try out other formats. However, please make sure you’re at an advanced level of texting and are reading your results frequently, VERY closely, and in real-time because format tests in text messaging can be risky, depending on your audience.)
E-X-T-E-N-D Your Series
After the user has gone through your initial onboarding series, it can be pretty profitable to cherry-pick which blasts they receive for the first 4-6 weeks. One of the main reasons our clients with two to three months+ extended onboarding programs are the most successful (outside of those using AI-powered hyperpersonalization) is because the visitors’ journeys are so well defined.
HYPERPERSONALIZATION and AI
Let’s be frank, AI-powered emails will take your program to the next level, a new planet. Ok, that’s slightly hyperbolic. Let’s compromise at 50 floors up, yes? Using extreme personalization (not in a creepy way) to create individualized journeys for your users is nothing short of a game-changer. These days, it’s also easy, affordable, and accessible to anyone with solid data. AI will help you improve pretty much everything related to email, from “outside of the envelope” elements like your deliverability and subject lines to the “inside” items like your featured products, messaging, and segmentation. 5 out of 5 stars. Will come again.
That said, even if you’re not using AI, personalization works and is worthy of testing. Many marketers focus on adding a name to the subject, preview lines, or the first name in the email, but if you can, go deeper. Work on personalizing the offers and the products you are promoting so you can get/track the clicks to use in your trigger emails. (Your triggers should perform at least four times your best performing blasts.)
OFFER A PREFERENCES PAGE
I get it. Preferences Pages can be a flipping hassle but, you gotta have ‘em anyway. They reduce churn but more importantly, they can increase engagement. Yes, really. Many companies have found that allowing visitors to sign up for the topics they’re most interested in improves how they interact with them in the future.
Additionally, people who choose their weekly frequency (# of times they want to be mailed per week) often opt-in to more than what you usually send them. Plus, giving the users choices extends the life on your email list by about 6 months on average. (Incidentally, if you’re not calculating your churn rate, you should be.)
FIGURE OUT YOUR DTS (DAYS-TO-SALE)
It’s no secret that I’ve had it with most email providers. Their cookie-cutter offerings and advice from the 1990s just doesn’t cut it for me. And please don’t get me started about the companies who sell their “AI” solutions that wouldn’t even impress Fred Flintstone at this point. I’m over them too.
The thing about many (not all, but most) providers is that their recommendations about YOUR file are heavily influenced by their deliverability standards/issues/weaknesses. So, they’ll commonly tell clients that after xx days, if the user hasn’t responded to your offerings, you should suppress/delete them. If you’re not immediately convinced, they’ll use SPAM traps and all sorts of other malarkey to scare you. The thing about deleting/suppressing names is that it can make sense in theory but is often the kiss of death in practice. A good rule of thumb is to eliminate if/when you must but build a suppression list that you can bank on. (Graveyard programs, for example.) But I digress….
It’s important to figure out your number of Days to Sale. That’s the average number of days it takes for someone to purchase or purchase again from their inquiry/last order. Once you figure out your DTS, it’s easy to build a marketing plan around it.
How can DTS help your email plan?
Say you sell personal tax forms. The majority of your business will be done within a 4-month period. Each customer will buy from you once a year, and that’s it. So, if someone has purchased from your forms for the year, they won’t buy from you again till the following year. That means you have almost a year of “wasted” emails (unless you have something else to sell them.) Mailing them every day when they don’t want to think about taxes leads to only one thing: unsubscribes.
Plus, if you don’t get opens or clicks for x months, your provider will likely tell you to eliminate the “bad” names. This is NOT good. The names aren’t bad – they just don’t have anything to buy from you right now. Suppressing them may make your stats look better, but it will not do anything for your long-term sales. The better thing to do is to market around your DTS. In this example, perhaps you’ll mail once every couple of weeks from May till December and then increase your mailings until the hot and heavy peak of “my taxes are due in x days!”
And yes, I realize the above example is extreme, but you get the idea. Figuring out your DTS is important for all companies. Maybe you’re a B2C gift company that receives an average of one purchase yearly at Christmastime. Perhaps you’re a B2B company, and the majority of your business is from the government, where there are intense fiscal buying cycles. Maybe you sell training to teachers or prenatal vitamins to pregnant ladies. Whomever you are, and whatever you sell, there’s a way you can increase the efficacy and sheer power of your email marketing. Knowing your DTS will help you become a better mailer as it enables you to determine how many times you should mail during your offseason and/or to keep your prospects warm.
Do you have questions about your onboarding welcome series? Have any tips you’d like to share? Tweet @amyafrica or email firstname.lastname@example.org.