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March 2, 2016 // 8:30 AM

4 Surefire Ways to Improve Prospecting Emails [Research]

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Many people claim to know the secrets to optimal email performance. But a closer look reveals this advice is often based on assumptions about human behavior and logic. Testing remains ever important for all elements of email marketing. After all, numbers don’t lie.

At SaleCycle, we use email to educate and share content with our potential clients. In Q4 2015, we took it upon ourselves to test the four most important elements of prospecting emails, and found out just why they are so important.

Over a period of three months, 6,340 prospecting emails were sent to prospects in SaleCycle’s APAC region. We sell to managers and C-level executives in marketing and e-commerce, focusing on enterprise brands in the fashion, retail, and travel industries. Statistics in the below examples come from the performance analysis of these prospecting emails.

4 Data-Backed Techniques to Improve Prospecting Emails

1) Keep subject lines casual.

The subject line is your first impression, and it's the most important element of an email. That small unassuming phrase can literally make or break you.

A subject line signals to people why they should open and read your email, and care about what you have to say. We found that the best subject lines sound like the email comes from someone your prospect already knows.

As part of this project, I reviewed my own inbox. I was amazed by how easy it was to tell which had come from friends, and which were marketing messages, even if I didn't read the sender name.

Emails received from people I knew had simple subject lines: ‘Which one do you prefer?’, ‘Want to go?’, ‘Hoping you know someone ... ’. These stood out in stark contrast to marketing emails, with subject lines like: ‘Save an additional 15% when you book by February 21st!’.

Trying this approach on prospecting emails worked like a charm. Taking a casual and personal approach of ‘Take a look at this’ resulted in almost double the open rate (38%) than the more formal ‘10 things you didn’t know about cart abandonment,’ which was opened by 21% of prospects.

Remember, everyone gets a lot of emails every day. Why should they open yours? Go for a casual approach and tone to create an instant connection.

2) Shorter emails are more effective.

When it comes to email, size matters. With 53% of emails now being opened on mobile devices, it's crucial to make sure your message fits on the average size phone screen. Prospects are more likely to read bite-size messages -- no one likes to scroll.

When testing email length across multiple industries, the shorter messages always performed better than longer ones. We A/B tested emails with the same message that were three and seven sentences in length. The call-to-action, linking readers to a case study from a competitive brand, was placed at the bottom of each.

The Short Version

Here's a quick update on the latest stats from our airline clients. Last month, airlines were experiencing the highest average abandonment rates of the year, at 85.7%.

Remarketing helped them increased their online sales by 4.6% over the month, with Virgin Atlantic seeing a sales uplift of more than 5%.

Check out their campaign here.

send-now-sidekick-hubspot-content
The Long Version

In November, SaleCycle airline clients experienced the highest abandonment rates of the year at 85.7% (the lowest were in June -- 80.5%). Users are time-starved while online, but when they have 'down time' they're opening recovery emails on their mobile devices, engaging and buying.

Despite the high levels of abandonment, engagement with SaleCycle remarketing emails increased in November.

  • Open rates of 50.3% (second highest of the year)
  • Click rates of 12.6%
  • Average sales uplifts of 4.6%

Virgin Atlantic saw a sales uplift of more than 5%.

Check out their campaign here.

send-now-sidekick-hubspot-content

The average click-through rates of these tests was 36% for the three-sentence email, and only 9% for the more wordy seven-sentence versions.

The takeaway? Keep emails short and sweet if you want your prospect to take an action after reading your email. If it does need to be longer than a few sentences, make sure the most important points come first. 

Teasing a snippet of information that'll be elaborated on in the future makes people actively seek more if they are interested. Telling them everything at once gives them no reason to reach out for more detail.

3) Build relevance into your content and references.

It is always better to pretend to know less than you do, rather than to show you know more than you should lest your prospect thinks you're creepy. However, referencing something that resonates with the reader is a sure way to increase engagement.

If you know your prospect's demographic information or what they like, use it. But make sure you’ve got it right. There's nothing worse than an irrelevant, ill-informed email clogging up your inbox. This is a sure way to create detachment and turn readers off instantly.

Results from sending emails referencing retail brands to prospects in Asian countries showed that engagement was almost six times higher when local brands were mentioned. The clickthrough rate jumped from 6% on emails displaying U.K. and U.S.-based retailers, to 35% when swapped for well-known local ones.

Likewise, breaking out statistics relating to a specific travel vertical, rather than the travel industry as a whole, resulted in a 84% increase in prospects downloading content

Remaining relevant can refer to an industry, location, job title or even personal likes. It helps a prospect to create a connection between their needs and your solutions.

4) Send emails in the morning or at night.

The time of day that you send emails is also crucial. Getting to people before they start their busy days (or after the dust has settled) means you’re more likely to have their attention, and it gets an awesome response.

Keeping all other factors the same (subject line, content, and CTAs), we sent emails to prospects separated into three lists at 8:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. local time. Multiple email tests were sent, with the scheduled send times being rotated across the lists.

Early-morning emails performed the best, with an average open rate of 42%. Almost half (46%) of these people further clicked on CTAs. Late-night open rates average 44%, with 31% of those prospects clicking through to a website or link.

The middle of the day is a time for lunch and meetings, and when people have multiple tasks on their minds. It’s understandable that they are less likely to engage with external content.

In our experience, the middle of the day is the clear underperformer. Emails during this time period had an average 33% open rate, with only 14% of people advancing to a website or engaging with linked content.

To sum things up:

  • When writing the subject line, keep it casual.
  • Size matters. Create curiosity if you want a click.
  • Stay relevant to increase engagement. 
  • The early bird gets the worm.

If you're more of a visual person, here's a handy graphic you can use to build your next prospecting email.

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