Once marketers have learned the various basics of an email marketing campaign, they might feel they are ready to develop long-term customer plans. Often, however, an important missing ingredient is an understanding of the consumer "lifecycle" and how email marketing tactics should be adjusted at each lifecycle stage.

At its most basic, the lifecycle consists of various stages that customers go through in regard to how they think about, purchase, or otherwise interact with a company's products.

Savvy companies put in place a marketing plan for each stage in order to harness the most value from customers, and then retain those customers for as long as possible before their interest in the company's products or services ends.

Here are the six lifecycle stages for customers:

  1. Prospects are "pre-customers" who need to be encouraged to learn more about the brand and convert to an active customer or user status. The conversion from prospect to customer is challenging, as marketers need to move them from a "just browsing" mindset into a fuller sense of engagement.
  2. Once someone becomes a paying or registered customer, the goal is to build a longer-term relationship. Email marketers need to show customers in this stage that they value the customer's time and privacy.
  3. Active customers want to feel welcomed and important to the company. You need to present the company in its best light during this stage.
  4. For repeat customers, you need to dial back the tone and frequency of email communications, but you still need to keep an ongoing dialogue open through email and other channels.
  5. Lapsed customers have not made a purchase or taken other action within a certain timeframe that you have defined after careful customer analysis, and they should accordingly be segmented into "short-term," "long-term," and "seasonally lapsed."
  6. Inactive or abandoned customers should be segmented into those who should no longer be contacted and those who might be enticed to return to the brand due to a carefully constructed marketing offer.

For this article, we'll focus on best email practices for turning prospects into actual customers, extracting value from active customers who eagerly make purchases, and retaining customers for the long term.

Acquiring New Customers—Prospects Into Purchasers

Many potential customers or leads might not be ready to commit to a purchase, but they do have a certain level of interest in the company's offerings. For example if you sell golf clubs, the prospect might not have immediate interest in buying a 7-iron, she might enjoy email content with lists of the top public courses in her geographic area, or news about a local tournament.

Among the tactics for converting prospects into customers are the following:

  • Offer a free newsletter or auto responder series that offers a blend of informational content and product promotion. Push signups through social media and your main site.
  • Provide information that is useful and engaging while unobtrusively offering your product's value proposition. Content, as always, is king. So you need to stand "in the customer's shoes" and truthfully judge whether you would read your own newsletter content.
  • Don't overdo the frequency of email offers. Marketing campaigns that bombard prospects are asking for a big spike in unsubscribes or spam flags.
  • If your team decides to send out a "loss leader" offer that will result in a slight loss in immediate revenue per responder, be sure you have done the math to reasonably calculate the long-term gain.
  • Segment your prospect list in order to send the most relevant content.

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image of Kevin Gao

Kevin Gao is president and CEO of Comm100, which he founded in 2009 with the ambition to revolutionize online customer service and communication. Its solutions include Live Chat, Email Marketing, Support Ticket, Help Desk, Forum, and Knowledge Base.

LinkedIn: Kevin Gao