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.

Engaging Active Customers With Email

Customers in the active stage are often the real revenue drivers for the organization. They have not yet lost interest in your brand. Here are some best-practices for using email to increase your active customer's value:

  • Use email as a way of talking about industry trends or other news that would likely be of interest to the recipient. The emails should not be thinly veiled attempts to push consumers toward a purchase.
  • Contact the customer immediately after a purchase. If the experience was positive, reinforce those feelings and provide a simple form for feedback along with a benefit such as repeat purchasing discounts. If the experience was negative, quickly present options to remedy any issue.
  • Send cross-sell and up-sell emails by offering other products from the customer's preferred brands, upgraded services, or new product models. These are sound techniques for increasing the frequency and dollar value of active customer purchases.
  • New product announcements (especially those that complement the consumer's previous purchases) can drive sales.
  • Use surveys to make consumers feel they are part of your brand conversation.
  • Segment out VIPs that fit the 80/20 rule (the 20% that drive 80% of revenue) and provide them with personalized email offers.
  • Revenue generation emails require some familiar tactics, including presenting a clear call to action, segmenting as deeply as possible, not overdoing images, watching for spam words, and displaying unsubscribe links prominently.

Keeping Them Hooked—Email Tactics for High-Percentage Retention

Retention and win-back campaigns vary widely among different industries. You need to evaluate your data carefully before implementing email retention campaigns, including in-house data and industry trends, and a look at your email processes over time.

For a retention plan to work over the long term, you need a broader strategy than just sending steeply discounted products or services as a hook.

Take a look at your customers' past behaviors to segment them properly, and then craft your emails to logically take into account their preferences. Customers' desires certainly might change over time, but a marketer's best strategy is to pull from past information.

  • Find any "tipping points" where you can see a trend in customers' losing interest. Perhaps you can look at the gap between "first purchase" and "last purchase/brand interaction" and then time communications to fall within the average gap between those two dates.
  • Clear off of your database those customers who have reported a negative experience with your brand. The core reason for doing so is to avoid a high number of spam complaints or unsubscribes, which might affect your ability to send out email communications at all.
  • Retention email tactics require A/B testing to work through multiple variables to see which combinations (type of offer, length of time passed since last customer action, etc.) obtain the best results.

* * *

Maintaining relationships with customers, regardless of their lifecycle status, is best served by fully understanding what your customers want and how they will likely respond to various communications.

Companies that properly guide their customers through each stage can use email as a powerful tool to maintain relationships.

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Email Best-Practices for Developing and Maintaining Crucial Customer Relationships

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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