This is the third post in our series on selling with content. Introducing copywriting supremo Andy Maslen. Here Andy looks at an important question for every professional seller – how to use content to approach your email list. We love the Bank of Trust analogy and hope it makes you think too. Over to Andy.
Making deposits at the Bank of Trust – how to sell successfully using content
Picture the scene.
You open a bank account on a Monday with a deposit of a pound. The next day you ask to see the manager and ask her for a loan of £1,000.
She, unsurprisingly, turns you down.
The next week, you go to the cashpoint and try to withdraw £100.
It refuses your request.
Two days later you ask for an overdraft facility of £2,000.
The manager asks you to come and see her, and tells you your account has been closed as you’re not the kind of person they want to do business with.
She was kind. She got rid of you in private. We’ll return to this scenario later.
Now, imagine that instead of opening an account with the Nationwide or Barclays, you’re opening an account at a bank run by your customer. It’s called the Bank of Trust.
Every time you give them something that they find valuable, your account is credited and your balance of trust increases. And every time you ask them to do something that YOU find valuable, your account is debited, and your balance decreases.
This is the basic content marketing equation and we ignore its unforgiving maths at our peril.
The Bank of Trust in action with your email database
Let’s look at the Bank of Trust concept in action when marketing with email.
Having built, acquired or otherwise assembled an email list or database, it’s natural that you should want to see some return on investment (ROI). Preferably as soon as possible.
This is fine and commercially very sensible. After all, who invests in an asset and then doesn’t expect an ROI?
The question is, how soon is ‘as soon as possible’?
An easier question to answer is ‘how soon is too soon’? And the answer is, before you’ve built up enough credit to make a withdrawal. In practical terms, that probably means at any point before you’ve sent your newly acquired email contact two or three pieces of content.
Figuring out what to say to whom, and when, requires a plan. You needs to plot the timings and content of all the communications you want to send to your customer. Your plan will include the primary message, content, links and any action you want the customer to take.
Within your overall plan, you need to decide on the tone and style of each individual email.
Plan first, execute later: think KFC
When planning your email contact campaign, try using my KFC planning tool.
This doesn’t mean consuming a family bucket of hot wings and fries. It’s a simple mnemonic for planning the content of your email (or sales letter, call-script or brochure, for that matter).
For each email/communication, write down what you want your customer to:
As a quick example, let’s say you are emailing a company car fleet manager. You might want them to know that if they click this link they will get a free tool for calculating vehicle fleet fuel costs; they will feel that you care about them and reassured that you don’t simply want their money; and commit to opening your next email.
Commitment and consistency
If you do convince your customer to commit to opening your next email, you are exploiting a powerful human desire to be consistent in behaviour.
Once we have committed to a certain course of action – or belief – we tend to make further, similar commitments. These commitments can be deeper and more costly, but our need to be consistent can override concerns about this increasing investment, whether of time, money, labour or emotion.
(For the full story of this and other psychological principles of influence and motivation, read Influence by Robert Cialdini.)
Individuals, not lists
Email marketing borrows much of its commercial underpinnings from the old-skool world of direct mail. Here, what matters is not what individuals do, but what your list does. Everything is measurable and as long as you are making an acceptable ROI, you keep doing whatever you’re doing.
Yet, because of the intensely personal, even intimate, feel of email, and its capabilities as a customisable communications channel, we can treat people as individuals and tailor campaigns to them.
Or at least as far as timing goes.
Thanks to autoresponders and their more sophisticated – and expensive – cousins, marketing automation software, you can write and deploy a series of timed emails related to the initial contact with an individual customer.
Although every customer at stage X gets the same email, Y: on any given day, 15 different customers could be getting 15 different emails.
How selling fits into the picture
One of the strands of your overall plan is the series of actions you want your customer to take.
At the shallow end of the curve, just as you open your account at the Bank of Trust, these actions will be largely, or completely, cost-free. Click this link. Read this blog post.
They get progressively more ‘expensive’ to the customer. Sign up for this newsletter. Come to this free seminar. Agree to a no-obligation assessment of your website.
And, at the steep part of the curve, they are explicitly concerned with money. Buy this software. Hire this lawyer. Enrol on this course.
At some point, you may take the customer relationship offline and hand it over to a sales executive, account manager or partner to close the sale. But the deepening level of commitment will make this transition more fruitful.
What does a good depositor do?
Alongside my writing agency, Sunfish, I run an online learning business for copywriters. It’s called the Andy Maslen Copywriting Academy. All our marketing is digital. We don’t have the resources for anything else.
Right from the start, we decided on a content-based strategy to sell places on our training courses.
As a small outfit, we have neither the need nor the budget for marketing automation software like Marketo or Eloqua. So we use the list-building and autoresponder capabilities of Campaign Monitor instead. Others use Mailchimp or Aweber.
We planned and wrote a series of 20 emails that get delivered to a new customer over a period of five months or so from the day they sign up. We define ‘customer’ in this context as somebody who has signed up for our monthly newsletter, so ‘prospect’ would be better from a commercial perspective. In fact, we refer to them in emails as ‘members’.
It’s worth bearing in mind that even to acquire a member we deliver a lot of content: up to five separate pieces depending on which page you sign up from.
These include a report on online copywriting, an article about b2b copywriting, a pack of seven marketing fact-sheets, an e-book on how to brief a copywriter and a dummy text tool.
So, right from the get-go, we are making regular deposits in the bank of trust.
What should a good autoresponder series include?
The first five emails in our series are a mini-course, including lessons and exercises. These are all contained within the body of the email. Each email includes a link to the sales page of our paid-for course, but these are very subtle.
Then we send a set of emails containing either links to blog posts or interesting ideas about how to write better.
As the series progresses, we make a series of increasingly direct references to our services. After each sales-focused email we return to offering more content – to top up our account.
By the time the autoresponder series is in full swing, the member is also receiving a monthly newsletter containing, guess what, yet more useful information about writing, plus links to pages on our website.
Here comes the selling bit
In case you’re wondering when we actually get down to selling, it’s now.
In between the newsletter emails, we send out promotional emails. These usually promote training courses.
They follow all the rules of direct response copywriting and do not really offer anything you could call content.
But the lure of more money or professional success is enough of a carrot for enough people to make it a profitable promotion.
What should your numbers look like?
Nothing is for nothing, and, despite its superficially attractive economics, content-driven selling needs to pay its way like everything else.
So here are a few ratios you might want to take note of.
- Our list is 100% opted-in.
- Our newsletters have an average open-rate of about 25%.
- Our promotional emails are about the same, although one recent promo hit 33%. (I think the subject line contributed: “Jeff, Your copy is fantastic”.
- Our clickthrough rates are around 20%.
- Our ROI for promotions varies wildly but the high is 3,200% and the low is 500%.
Above and beyond the direct results of sales promotions, it is hard to quantify precisely the financial benefits of our content marketing strategy.
But across both businesses it is generating sales worth somewhere around 20% of our overall revenues.
A word of warning
What can go wrong? Well, if you do it properly, only the same sort of things that always go wrong in sales: not enough leads, not enough appointments, not enough orders, But those are all fixable and essentially expected problems with any sales system.
You also need to develop a thicker hide. Some people only opt in to your list to get their hands on your content and didn’t notice (or ignored) the message about getting regular updates from you.
Send out a promotional email, even one with content attached, and people will unsubscribe. Some will even email you, complaining about receiving unwanted emails. Some may even take to social media. (They aren’t as discreet as our fictional bank manager.)
Apologise and move on – it’s part of the hurly-burly of commercial life.
Ready to talk?
Let’s return to our High Street bank. Imagine you’ve been paying your salary in for the last twelve months. You’ve kept your account in credit, and you’ve borrowed and repaid a small personal loan.
Now when you want to talk to the manager about a business loan, she trusts you enough to have the conversation.
For all of us in business, having valuable conversations is where selling begins. And starting with high-quality content is one of the best ways to do that.
Thanks very much Andy. Valuable analogy, tips and some fascinating statistics there too. If you’re using content to generate business I’m keen to know how these stack up for you. You can find out more about Andy Maslen’s work here and connect with him on Twitter too.
Other content you might like:
- Content marketing and the forgotten sales person
- Content marketing – the view from the sales department
- Email marketing: harness the power of valuable auto-responders
If you’re in the Bristol area and curious about how to use great content to help you sell, come to the next Bristol Content Group meet up – Wednesday 4th June at Roll for the Soul Cafe. You can find out more and get your free ticket here.