"Conversion" means different things to different people.
Though many e-commerce companies have an old-fashioned Buy button right on their site, service companies (consulting firms, marketing agencies, accountants, pest control companies, painters...) have prices and requirements that change with each job. For them, a prospect's "conversion" involves more than sending visitors to a purchase page, and a client engagement almost certainly involves phone calls or in-person appointments.
Though it might seem that such a more tailored and customized sales process hinders a service company's ability to deliver email marketing that's immediately profitable, there are actually just as many ways to drive "conversions" (appointments, in person sales) via email for a service business as there are for e-commerce companies.
Emails from consulting firms don't have links to sales pages, or anything that says "add to cart." However, they could be a lot more creative than simply listing a phone number.
Instead, service marketers (and others) can drive conversions using email with unique calls to action that grab attention in different ways and help turn an opt-in into an appointment.
Any service business can use the following four tactics.
1. Surveys and Web Forms
If you send an email to your list asking for a reply, you'll find that your response rates are far lower than if you link to an external survey or Web form. Often, a Web form or survey feels less like the start of a conversation and more like a professional engagement, possibly evoking less fear or trepidation from a prospect or subscriber.
For a simple example, let's say that a content marketing agency is looking to glean more appointments from its current email list. Instead of simply requesting that subscribers send in their biggest content creation frustrations as an email reply, the agency could send out a short survey and promise to return the anonymous results to all participants. The survey could include more than enough detail to warrant a "thank you" call for participation, and set up an appointment to speak further about the participant's marketing needs.
Alternatively, a carpet cleaning company might include its phone number at the top-right of all of its outbound messages, while also linking directly to a "home assessment" Web form. That form might include the areas of the house that the homeowner wants cleaned, the types of carpets and upholstery in the home, and the best times to call the homeowner to set up a time. Though some folks don't want to call in directly, this additional mode of contact could "scoop up" the folks who feel too busy to call, or who are in an environment (such as their workplace) where they'd rather not call a carpet cleaning company.
To sum up: People are often a lot more likely to fill out a survey or a Web form than they are to "reply" to an email.
Whitepapers and reports are another simple and effective way to vet active and engaged prospects and get them on the phone to the right salespeople. By doing some very useful homework for your prospect, and presenting it in a report with a benefit-driven title, you can often re-engage uninterested prospects by getting them to fill out a download form that subtly qualifies them as a good lead.
A great example is one such report I received from HubSpot (it was emailed to me months after I initially expressed interest in the company's software). Any company can simple save their prospects time by creating a great little resource and asking that the prospect jump through a bit of a qualifying hoop to get the information, triggering a phone call to reach out to them personally.
3. Webinars/Educational Online Events
Webinars and online events are great ways to keep your list awake, but also to drive appointments online. These same events help to engage readers who might never again visit your blog or be exposed to your expertise. In addition, you can use extra leverage by promoting these events through social channels, where they make for non-obnoxious ways to build your email list and compound your email marketing efforts.
For example, an email marketing consultancy might host a webinar about getting higher open rates on marketing campaigns. In addition to providing useful and actionable advice, the webinar can provide a call to action for a free email campaign assessment or for a discounted rate on a small-ticket "CRM system cleanup service" (which is all the more appealing if the value of such a service was clearly demonstrated in the webinar itself).
4. Old-Fashioned Calls/Email Replies
There's nothing wrong with the "old school" call to action of simply requesting that the email recipient give you a call or reply immediately to your email. This is usually best done when the email comes from a person, not "ABC Corp." A conversational tone and a simple, relevant question often does the job best. So does having a short email that clearly has the "reply" or "quick call" as the major reason for reaching out.
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No matter what strategy you use, try not to depend too much on any individual email marketing conversion strategy at the expense of others. The old methods get stale, and someone who didn't convert from a "please reply" email is unlikely to do so three months from now.
However, spicing things up with webinars, whitepapers, surveys, and other qualifying and useful engagement tactics helps make your messaging more interesting for readers—and land more much appointments for your company without needing to generate many more new leads.