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How to Use Email Segmentation to Shorten the Sales Cycle

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The Internet has made sales cycles longer: "Selling now takes more time and resources then ever before. The sales cycle has become 22% longer as buyers are taking longer to consider their decisions. Plus, buying is being managed more professionally." (Source: Sirius Decisions)

Is this true for you? If you are a B2C marketer, check your ecommerce Web site path reports. If you are in B2B marketing, ask your sales team whether they find it to be generally true. It's certainly true for my clients.

What a great opportunity for email marketing segmentation strategies! Just by segmenting your prospects from other subscribers, you can boost revenue, improve conversion from email marketing, strengthen buyer satisfaction, and build your brand.

Sound like a tall order for a segmentation strategy? Consider these ideas:

1. Segmentation simplifies


Even wide segmentation slices can greatly simplify the email marketing message challenge, and boost performance.

Not all prospects are the same—you may have new buyers (never before purchased from your company), active buyers (or customers who are currently using one of your products) and lapsed buyers. Tailor the message for each, featuring the information you know they need to make a decision.

Present the information in a compelling and credible way, and you can shorten the research phase for them (and close deals faster).

Further segmentation can be done by product line or category, and by allowing prospects to select information that is most interesting to them (what we call self-segmentation).

2. Cadence counts

Match your prospect email marketing to the buying cycle—send less email when your prospects are not in market, and send more when they are actively in market and researching for solutions to their problems.

How do you know? Base it on seasons (holidays, end of the quarter, business cycles), vintage (new subscribers are typically more in market), or behavior (recent purchase, recent client status change, recent Web site visit).

3. Message matters

Prospects have different needs than customers. Don't send them the same thing. Tap the prospect desire for unbiased information by presenting benefits, not features. Speak in a friendly tone, but avoid hype.

4. Storytelling sells

Prospects are researching, that is what is lengthening the sales cycle. Use a series of email "conversations" to help them compare competitive sets (the more honest you are, the longer they stay on your site!), find testimonials and bloggers, and make a strong business case.

Give them confidence they can find the best gear, gadget or appliance, or let them download tools that help them forecast productivity, revenue, or cost savings as a result of your product.

Test whether increasing incentives as prospects move through the cycle helps or hurts your conversion (and margin).

5. Nurture, don't numb

Depending on your business and products, the right frequency for prospects can vary... from four messages in six months to four messages in four days.

If your prospects make a decision in a few days, make sure they have the info they need. If the decision is top of mind or life changing, a daily frequency can be welcome—but test that and be cautious.

Too much email in short time periods will increase complaints, hurting the deliverability of all the email you send. Listen to customer service and your sales team—they likely know the optimal cadence and frequency for helping without being annoying. Let that inform the number and speed of your email marketing touchpoints.

Note: Stephanie Miller is leading the Email Intensive at the Marketing Profs "Driving Sales" Conference on October 1, along with email marketers from Cicso, Citrix Online, and IBM. See the full agenda here. Reach Stephanie with ideas, feedback, and suggestions for the Email Intensive at stephanie.miller@returnpath.net.


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Stephanie Miller is vice-president of market development for Return Path, Inc. (www.returnpath.net). Reach her via Twitter (@StephanieSAM) or stephanie.miller@returnpath.net.

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