Like most small businesses, we at Feed. The Agency used to get 90% of new clients from referrals. If we had more time, we'd generate leads through inbound marketing. If we had more money, we'd purchase $30,000+ in advertisements or sponsorships.
But we had limited time AND money. So, we had to come up with a different solution — email sequences.
Email marketing ROI can be as high as 3800%, generating as much as $38 for every $1 spent. An email sequence adds even more value because of the time it can save. In addition, they've been found to generate 320% more revenue than non-automated emails.
As a result, we built a follow-up email sequence.
What is an email sequence?
An email sequence is a series of emails that is sent automatically to a prospect, user, or customer using automation software. The emails are sent based on predetermined criteria such as a time delay or action being met.
In other words, if you build your emails out beforehand and set it up with email marketing automation, you can follow up with prospects at scale... without being the one to click the "Send" button over and over.
At Feed. The Agency, we built our own follow-up email sequence — using the free Email Templates tool from HubSpot Sales — that generated $100,000 in 30 days. Our total revenue increased by 215% since we started sending these templates in a sequence.
To create an effective email sequence, you'll need a few tools to get started:
- Lead Generation Form: Before you consider your content, the platform you'll use, or how you'll segment your lists, you'll want to decide how you'll collect the information you receive from these emails. Think of it as working backward from the end goal of sending the email.
- Email Builder: Choosing an email building tool that has list segmenting capabilities, an intuitive design interface, and a reasonable send limit for your pipeline will be the top priorities you'll want to look into.
- Subject Line Checker: The subject line is the first part of your email sequence that your readers will see — whether they open the email or not. So, take a little extra time to get it perfect by using a subject line testing tool.
HubSpot's Email Marketing Tool is a great place to start building personalized email sequences that target your prospects or customers.
How long should an email sequence be?
There's no set length for an email sequence. The duration of the sequence and number of emails will depend entirely on the buyer persona, the buyer's journey stage, and the average sales cycle length at your business. It will also depend on what you're hoping to accomplish with the sequence.
Let's say you are creating a nurturing email sequence to prompt a prospect to take action. Such an email sequence should do a few things:
- Educate them along their path to purchase
- Handle any objections they have along the way
- Establish your authority and credibility in the industry (and thus make you their provider of choice when they're ready to buy)
- Keep you top-of-mind until they're ready to buy
You don't want to do too much in a single email, so each email must be crafted to play a part as you get the prospect from where they're at to where you want them to be.
But the number of emails and duration of time will depend on several factors. For example, a first-time homebuyer may start their path to purchase years before attempting to secure a mortgage loan, while someone who is seeking an emergency HVAC repair is ready to take action immediately (and thus would not need a nurturing sequence at all).
Furthermore, someone who has downloaded an ebook for "How to Prepare My Credit for Buying a House" is much earlier in the process than someone who filled out your contact form and isn't sales-ready.
In other words, how long is your buyer shopping around, where are they at in that process based on what you already know about them (actions they've already taken on your site), and what information do you need them to know during that time? Understanding these factors will help you determine how long a sequence should be.
How to Create an Email Sequence
Now that you have an idea of what email sequences are, the situations in which you'd use one, and how long a sequence can/should last, let's talk about how to put one in place:
1. Determine the sequence's purpose.
Generally, most email sequences (especially those created in a sales context) have the broader goal of earning new business. However, there are many ways of going about "earning new business," and context matters for delivering the right message at the right time. Honing in on your reasons will help as you structure your automation logic, craft your emails, and measure success.
For example, let's say you want to build a straightforward follow-up sequence designed to convert a conversation into a demo. In this case, success would mean the prospect booking a meeting through your scheduling software.
Alternatively, you might want an automated nurturing campaign to trigger after they download an ebook or content offer. Success for this would mean turning them into a sales qualified lead (SQL), so you'd provide information and opportunity for them to take action and meet your SQL criteria. Once they do, you can have your system hand them off to sales.
The opportunities for targeted experiences are endless if you're strategic about it.
2. Identify the enrollment criteria (or trigger) for the sequence.
Automation software can't read minds (yet?); just like any tool, we have to tell it when and how to work.
This is where enrollment criteria comes in. When you set up your sequence, you'll specify the conditions that must be met for the automation to trigger. For a sales follow-up email sequence, it can be as simple as manually enrolling them using your CRM or email marketing software.
Alternatively, you can use more advanced criteria if your automation software allows it. Examples of triggers include:
- When a contact fills out a form
- When a contact visits a particular page
- When a contact enters a new lifecycle stage
- When a contact books a meeting
And many more. If your CRM records it, and if the data in your CRM is reliable, you may be able to automate around it. (If you’re using HubSpot, you can find more information about HubSpot's enrollment criteria here.)
3. Determine the duration of the sequence and the number of emails required.
As mentioned previously, there's no set timeframe or number of emails. You'll need to get strategic about the touchpoints that are required and the frequency of those.
For example, if I know the average sales cycle for my buyer persona is 30 days and I want to have twice-a-week touchpoints, I'd need to map out around 8 emails. This provides a framework to plan the messaging necessary to get the prospect from A to B.
On the other hand, if it's a follow-up email sequence from a face-to-face conversation, you might consider fewer emails before sending yourself a reminder to reach out by phone (yes, this can be automated too).
4. Write the emails for the sequence.
Once you have your framework and you've outlined which emails are needed, it's time to get pen to paper.
Here are some resources to help you out:
Keep in mind that each email will be sent to multiple prospects, likely at different times. Your emails should be evergreen, and the information you include should be universal enough to apply to any prospect who fits the criteria you set. However, personalization tokens can be added to provide that custom touch.
The delicate balance between universal and specific is how you can scale while still making each prospect feel as though you're talking directly to them.
One additional tip: each email should have one purpose. Don't water down the message by overloading each email with information. By keeping it to one purpose, one goal, and one call-to-action, you eliminate confusion and increase the likelihood of success. You can always add more emails if one email is doing too much heavy-lifting on its own.
5. Build the emails using email software.
Once you have all your emails in text form, it's time to put them in the system.
- With sales emails, it's often better to keep things simple as if a rep sent the messages personally from their inbox.
- Marketing emails, though, have more room for branding flair and eye-catching visuals.
Regardless of your approach, you'll be able to copy and paste your text into your email builder. Putting them in your system allows you to be able to tell your automation software what to send.
6. Set up the automation.
Consider this part of the process as instructing your automation software, step by step, how to execute the tasks you want it to. This includes:
- Specifying the enrollment criteria you decided on
- Designating which actions (e.g. email sends) to perform and when
- Setting up how much time should elapse between each action and what to do when specific scenarios happen (if/then logic)
Automation software is extremely literal, so make sure you're not taking anything for granted or leaving stones unturned as you create these "instructions."
Here are some resources for working with HubSpot’s automation tool:
7. Test the sequence.
If you're able to, it helps to test the sequence before launching to see if it behaves the way you expect it to. You can do this by setting it live and enrolling yourself.
Alternatively, you can also send test emails. You'll want to ensure the emails look good across devices and whether the personalization tokens are functioning correctly.
Take it from me — testing helps save a lot of heartache.
The success behind this sequence comes from its ability to influence the psyche of your prospect. Pride, gratefulness, and regret are powerful feelings that can prompt people towards actionable steps. The following sequence draws in prospects by catering to their pride, provides them with content they can be grateful for, and leaves them with feelings of regret if they miss the opportunity.
Ready to see this sequence in action? Here's how we earned $100,000 in 30 days.
Step 1: Find prospects who are mentioned in the news.
As a branding agency in the healthcare industry, the majority of our clients are doctors or dentists. The first step we take in this sequence is to find news stories that mention doctors. Once we can secure a list, we reach out to congratulate them. Not only does this warm up the initial email and catch their attention, but it also plays on their pride. Many equate a news mention with success, and chances are, your prospects do too. They will likely be proud of this mention, and congratulating them will open doors to establishing a connection.
Google Alerts and Feedly are two resources for monitoring the news. Google Alerts allows you to monitor the web and receive email notifications for particular keywords. Creating a Google Alert is simple. Type the keyword and save the alert to send it to your email address.
In the example below, we track the keyword “orthopedic surgery.” After entering the keyword and my email address, I click Create Alert. Now I will receive an alert any time the news mentions an orthopedic surgery or orthopedic surgeon.
Feedly is another tool to use when monitoring news topics. It is a space where you can privately organize and research topics relevant to you. It is an alternate tool Feed the Agency uses to discover doctors mentioned in the news. To use the platform, add websites to your “feed.” When a website you’re monitoring publishes a new article, you’ll receive an alert within the platform.
For example, a website we follow in our industry is KevinMD.com. To add it to our feed, I:
- Click +Add Content
- Enter the URL in the search bar: KevinMD.com
- Click the green +Feedly button
- Click Add
In those four steps, we added KevinMD to our feed. TEDmed.com, AdWeek, and Advertising Age are other websites we’ve used to acquire new customers. They are examples of other websites I have added to my Feedly account.
To view the content from these websites, I click on the Health tab where all the content appears at once.
Step 2: Send an email congratulating them on their news coverage.
Once you find a prospect, send the first email using the free email templates builder from Sales Hub.
Here's our best-performing initial email template:
Dr. [Last name],
Because I work so much with [targeted industry], I constantly follow industry news. Recently I noticed that you've [insert company action].
Usually when that happens, [insert business issue] becomes a priority. That's why I thought you might be interested in finding out how we helped [similar firm] get going quickly in their new direction — without any of the typical cookie cutter approaches to marketing.
P.S. If you're not the right person to speak with, who do you recommend I talk to?
Typically, this email garners two reactions — a reply or time scheduled on my calendar. If you I don't receive a response in 24 hours, I follow up with a second email.
Step 3: Send a follow-up email with helpful content personalized to their industry.
If you can add value to someone’s life or profession, it will boost credibility and strengthen the relationship. Because of that, this email template always drives a ton of responses.
For example, I send physicians a valuable branding survey tool we use to help clients differentiate themselves.
Here's what that might look like:
Hello Dr. [Last name],
I'm following up on my previous email with a free tool I think you'll love.
It's a brand analysis survey I created just for you (literally, your name is on it), that will help you understand how your practice is different from other doctors in [insert their city].
Click here [add hyperlink to survey] to begin the brand differentiation analysis survey. When we speak, I'll benchmark your responses against the top physician brands around the country.
I'm sharing my calendar (click here) so we can schedule a convenient time to discuss.
Enjoy your weekend,
Add names whenever possible. Adding a doctor’s name to the survey caused our response rates to skyrocket. Although it was a small tweak, personalization is a powerful tool. If this email fails to drive prospects to reply or book time on my calendar, I’ll send a second follow-up email using the “Trying to Connect” email template.
Step 4: Send the "Trying to Connect" email template.
For prospects who have yet to respond, I’ll follow up with this email template:
Hi Dr. [Last name],
I'm sorry we haven't been able to connect. Again, I know how hectic things can get at work and with family.
I would be available for a call during weekends or before or after work hours if that's easier for you? I don't mean to bug you, but I do want to help you manage your team so you can exceed your goals of [insert custom goals].
To schedule a time on my calendar, just click here.
This single email has the highest response rate of all the templates. Why? We can’t say for certain; however, offering extended hours could be the key. Without mentioning explicit hours, prospects might automatically assume that scheduling times would be during their business hours. Offering times outside of regular “9 to 5” hours can push prospects to action.
Step 5: Send the final "Permission to close your file?" follow-up email template.
When struck with silence, you want to send a final email that prompts them to respond. We handle this with our final follow-up where we ask for permission to close the file.
Hi Dr. [Last name],
I'm writing to follow up. We are in the process of closing files this month.
Typically, when I haven't heard back from someone, it means they are either really busy or aren't interested. If you aren't interested, do I have permission to close your file?
If you are still interested, what do you recommend as a next step?
Thanks for your help.
This email performs well. Why? I think it’s a combination of two things. One, it could be FOMO or fear of missing out. No one wants to feel as if they’re missing an opportunity.
Two, some people want what they can’t have. Once an opportunity feels like it’s about to slip away, some prospects might jump on it. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure. My assumption is they realize, “Oh, I’m never going to hear from this guy again. Maybe I should look into the offer…”
Once you’re able to drive a prospect’s reaction to reply or close out the communication, the last step is measuring the performance of the email templates.
Step 6: Improve your email templates by measuring their performance.
HubSpot’s free email templates tool allows you to measure open rates and click rates. At Feed. The Agency, we constantly measure email performance and make improvements as we see fit.
Measuring email performance will help you understand what templates are performing best versus what needs improvement. Without this tool, it would be exceedingly difficult to make decisions due to the lack of data.
The return on this sequence has been tremendous, but we’re still early in the process. We will continue to test these templates until we discover the “perfect” email.
We were able to close $100,000 in just 30 days. These templates give you the potential to get similar results. Try it out. Create a free HubSpot account, open the email templates tool, and click send.
Email Sequence Examples
While we sent a follow-up email sequence, there are a few types of sequences you can send to engage your prospects.
1. Nurturing Email Sequence
A nurturing sequence introduces the prospect to your company. They may have downloaded an ebook or opted into a content offer, but they are not sales-ready. A nurturing sequence is designed to get them there by providing social proof, handling objections, and establishing value.
Example of an email in a nurturing sequence from Moment:
This email sequence is best for companies that have short sales cycles like many consumer packaged goods or even simple B2B digital technologies. To have the best results with a nurture email sequence, you'll want to focus on educating your prospects rather than selling to them. This builds trust and familiarity between your brand and the recipient. When they're ready to buy, you'll be top of mind.
2. Engagement Email Sequence
An engagement email sequence uses email to build rapport with prospects. The idea is to get them engaged with your content to build interest and keep your organization top of mind. This type of sequence might help you identify engaged subscribers who open, click, and take action on emails so that you can enroll them in other sequences tailored to their specific journey.
Example of an email in an engagement sequence from A Kids Book About:
The engagement email sequence works well for brands that have frequent events. These emails are best used once the relationship has been established and the recipient looks forward to your emails. Ideally, an engagement email sequence should be sent after there has been meaningful engagement on past email sequences.
3. Conversion Email Sequence
This sequence is used when you're asking something of your prospect (e.g., booking a call or meeting, or scheduling a demo). This means that you'll focus the entire copy around a single call-to-action, and you'll use the sequence to get the recipient to take that action.
Example of an email in a conversion sequence from Yokel Local:
SaaS companies and other service providers who rely on booking calls and demos to close deals will find value in a conversion email template. This type of email should be the final one in your email sequence because it no longer educates or inspires the prospect — instead it asks for something, their time. So, make sure this email sequence is reserved for those who have opened, engaged, and even responded to past emails.
4. Follow-Up Email Sequence
Just because a prospect doesn't respond to a sales outreach email doesn't mean they're not interested. They may need a few "impressions" before noticing and taking action. A follow-up email sequence loops back and touches base with your prospect after a few outreach attempts. This is so sales reps can reduce the number of manual emails they send and admin work they have to do.
Just about every business can benefit from a follow-up email sequence. If you notice your prospects have had otherwise great engagement and open rates but still haven't taken action on a conversion email sequence you've already sent, a follow-up message can be a nudge in the right direction. This type of email sequence works well when it's personalized and empathetic — assume positive intent and genuinely relate to the person on the other side of the inbox.
5. Reminder Email Sequence
Whether a lead has booked a demo, signed up for a webinar, or even snagged a seat to an event, your organization has a chance to delight that individual (and possibly earn their business). However, you can't provide that delight if the lead forgets to show up. Little reminders can go a long way in attendance rate over time, increasing the number of opportunities you'll have "at bat," so to speak.
Reminder emails are a low-friction way to ensure that the lead doesn't forget about the event or appointment and also provide them with any necessary logistical details.
Example of an email in a reminder sequence from Dyspatch:
Reminder emails are similar to follow-up email sequences in that they're a best practice when communicating with potential customers. The key to making these sequences work is to keep the subject line simple, the copy straightforward, and the call to action prominent. Remember: the goal here is to get the prospect on a call they've already agreed to.
6. Re-Engagement Email Sequence
To get results from email as a channel, you naturally need a healthy database. Over time, however, email addresses change and prospects lose interest. The average email database loses contacts at around 25% per year, so even if you're generating new leads at a rapid rate, you'll naturally get some data skew from uninterested or deprecated contacts.
As a last-ditch effort to win back some of those contacts, you can deploy a re-engagement sequence. This type of campaign's goal is to prompt the user to open emails and take some kind of action; otherwise, the result is you removing them from your database. This will help you keep your email list healthy and accurate.
Example of an email in a re-engagement sequence from Return Path:
If your brand sees an opportunity to nurture prospects with a nurture email sequence, then you'll want to make sure your messages aren't going to the wrong person, or worse, bouncing. It might seem counter intuitive to intentionally ask people to opt out of your email subscription, but it can do wonders for your engagement metrics. Rather than having a bloated list of contacts, you can become laser focused on the individuals who are interested in the email content they receive from your company.
Create Your Own Email Sequence
Email sequences can nurture your leads into becoming customers without the work of writing a new email every so often. Take from the examples above and get started with your own sequence to start winning over customers.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.