Email marketing is similar to social media in that it's a marketing tool that's most effective for follow-up, not lead generation.

Consider these statistics about follow-up: 2% of sales are made on the first contact; 3% of sales are made on the second contact; 5% of sales are made on the third contact; 10% of sales are made on the fourth contact; and 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact.

Yet... 48% of salespeople never follow up with a prospect; 25% of salespeople make a second contact, then stop; and just 12% of salespeople make more than three contacts.

Effective follow-up equals more sales, yet most businesses do not follow up enough with prospects. Enter drip email marketing: To nurture leads, you can send a series of emails on a set schedule—a drip email campaign—to your prospects until they become ready to buy.

Now, let's talk about how to create effective drip email campaigns. It only takes four simple steps.

Step 1: Choose an email software program

The first step is choosing an email marketing program to use for your drip email campaigns.

Here are some of the most popular ones:

Each of those has pros and cons, depending on your particular situation, so you should research them for yourself to see which one best fits your business needs and budget. For example, MailChimp is a more user-friendly program that helps beginners in the campaign creation process. On the other hand, Aweber is a bit more complicated, but it has more advanced capabilities. Many have free options as well as premium paid versions, so you can choose the program that fits your budget.

Step 2: Build your email list database

Once you have an email program, you need people to email to. You can collect email addresses from prospects via...

  • Contact forms on your website
  • An email subscription form for your blog
  • Social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Offering "bribes" (e.g., $5 off, 10% off) in exchange for an address
  • Collecting contact info, including email addresses, from everyone who calls your office

Just make sure the people giving you their address understand up front that you'll be emailing them newsletters, offers, etc.

As you collect email addresses, compile them into one database so you can use it as your email recipient list.

Step 3: Choose an email drip schedule

The right email marketing schedule depends on the sales cycle of your business. A sales cycle is the amount of time it takes an average prospect to become a customer after your first contact.

For example, a business with a sales cycle of 4-6 weeks should probably send drip emails twice a week for a total of 8-12 emails. For a shorter sales cycle of around five days, for example, I'd send daily emails. In industries with long sales cycles of six months or longer, I would suggest using monthly or bimonthly emails.

The key is finding a healthy balance between being "out of sight, out of mind" and being marked as spam for filling up their inbox with marketing emails. If you get marked as spam, it's game over for marketing to that prospect.

Step 4: Choose the right content

These are some examples of great drip email content:

  • Customer testimonials
  • Description of a product's or service's benefits
  • Facts or background on your company
  • FAQs

Your email message basically has two main parts: the subject line, and the message itself.

1. The Subject Line

With the amount of email people get on a daily basis these days, your subject line has to be good. If it sounds like an advertisement, it's going to be deleted or sent to the spam folder before it even gets opened. The subject line of your drip emails has to be engaging enough to grab the reader's attention, but it has to be personal and informal to get opened.

This is the first impression you're making, so you want to do it right.

Check out these stats about email subject lines:

  • 64% of people say they open an email because of the subject line.
  • Discount terms in subject lines generally performed below average.
  • Personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened.

2. The Message

On average, Americans receive more than 100 emails a day. That means your drip emails aren't the place for long blocks of text. Prospects who see a ton of text (usually) immediately move on to more pressing emails. So keep it short, simple, and fun. Using bullet points is a great way to make your message easy to read.

Remember, you'll be sending several emails, so you don't have to tell them everything in one shot.

In fact, changing up the type of content you send keeps your marketing fresh. For example, you could start out your drip email series with a quick introduction to yourself and the staff. Then, your second could go into how you can help your prospects. For your third one, you could send a few great testimonials from satisfied customers. You want to keep new information in front of them so your marketing doesn't become monotonous.

* * *

Your Action Items:

  • Research various email service providers to find the best fit for your company's needs.
  • Transfer all your current leads' email addresses into an email list for you to use with your drip campaigns. Keep up with building your list as new leads are acquired.
  • Write out 3-5 subject lines for each email; make them short, engaging, and personal. Then, choose the best one you come up with. You can do A/B tests to find the one that works best.
  • Use some of the examples provided above to plan out all the emails for your campaign. That way you can be sure the whole series has a cohesive marketing message. Then create short, engaging copy for each email to communicate each one's planned message efficiently and effectively.

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Are You Doing Email Wrong? Just Four Steps to Increase Sales

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Joy Gendusa is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania, a marketing firm that specializes in direct mail, email, and website development. She used postcards to grow PostcardMania from almost nothing—just a computer—to a $20 million enterprise in less than a decade. Download her free "95-Step Total Marketing Checklist." Find her on Google+.