4 terrible email marketing practices and how to fix them

Bobby Lehew, marketing pro and productivity expert, correctly refers to email as "one of the two most sacred communication points for people, right after the mailbox." Not surprisingly, email is one of the most effective sales and marketing mediums today. It's also one of the most misunderstood and abused.

Distributors use email because it is an efficient way to communicate. However, when email is used the wrong way, it can lead to all sorts of challenges for the sender. Let me highlight the typical distributor reaction to the following types of emails from suppliers that we find in our inbox every day.

1. Email type: "We just scanned you at the latest industry show and now we are spamming you" email
  • Marketing effectiveness: Minimal (0.5%). Once in a blue moon you will have a client looking for blinking whoopee cushions right at the time you receive an email from an unknown supplier hawking said promotional item. The rest of the time, these emails are noise.
  • Ramifications: Distributors provide a fake email address to the trade show organizer so that spam email goes away OR Distributors get so annoyed with the supplier that they will simply not buy from them.
2. Email type: "We just joined the trade association and wanted to send an unsolicited introductory offer to every distributor on the list" email
  • Marketing effectiveness: Zero
  • Ramifications: In most cases, there are minimal ramifications because the email won't be read by many people. In the worst cases, distributors will blacklist said supplier.

3. Email type: Supplier emails with no easy way to unsubscribe

This is really annoying. You know the emails. They are sent either by a supplier rep's email  client and the only way to unsubscribe is to reply with a "take me off this list" which is usually ignored because they aren't using a formal email campaign management system.The other scenario is when you are sent an email with an unsubscribe button that takes you to a web page asking you to login to your association account where you can manage your mail settings. In some cases, I don't know my association account password and while I can follow 2-3 steps to reset my password, why do I have to go through this trouble in the first place.
  • Marketing effectiveness: Zero
  • Ramifications: Extremely negative. I am filled with extreme frustration because I have no easy ability to remove these people from my inbox. This leads me to establish a filter that immediately sends any emails from that supplier directly to spam. Problem solved.

4. Email type. Just plain old spam from suppliers that never scanned you at a show, have done business with you, or even know you at all.

How many of you receive emails like this in the subject line? (this is an actual email I received today, by the way)

"Budget Flash Drives on Sale - now even lower pricing -  We are told our prices are the best!    Budget Swivel Silver 5 to 7 days production time* with FREE Delivery to You. "

  • Marketing effectiveness: zero
  • Ramifications: Mark as spam, never to hear from the supplier again

The problem with email is that it's a lazy way to sell. The great thing about email is that it can be an enormously effective way to sell. Here are 4 ways to be an email marketing pro.

1. Build a permission based list. Sure, this takes time, but it's 100000000x more effective in the long run than sending spammy emails to people who don't want to hear from you. Services like MailChimp are setting the bar high on this as they now require double opt-in to send out emails to lists.

Just because you scanned me at the show does not mean I want to receive your email blasts. Sure, there may be a clause in the show agreement that says my email can be used for this purpose, but I am challenging suppliers to be smarter and more respectful about this.

2. Create segmented lists. Not all reps are the same in the industry. Some reps focus on financial institutions while others sell to sports teams. Suppliers should be doing a better job of understanding who their distributor reps sell to and then start building segmented lists so that I start to receive highly relevant and targeted content. Relevant content means that I can sell more effectively to my end users.

3. Establish a connection first. Being asked "Can I scan your badge" by the bored and disengaged supplier rep on the show floor is not my idea of engagement. The missing piece in these email blasts is that there's been zero effort to engage the distributor first. Has a needs assessment been done, has a personal connection been made, has the supplier demonstrated an interest in the industries and clients you serve?

Once a connection has been made, it's so much easier to sell to distributors via email so long as the content is fresh and relevant.

4. Personalize. Some of the most effective email I get from new vendors are those that take the time to write a personal note that is relevant to my business. This suggests that the supplier has done their homework and they understand a bit more about my business.

Social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus are great tools to use to find out more about distributor reps. Some suppliers are using commonsku to engage with distributor reps in an industry specific environment (apologies for the plug, but commonsku was built with this purpose in mind :)

It's very important that we understand how a supplier's product fits into our model. I don't need faster/cheaper/better. I need a genuine solution that will allow us to serve our clients. The best suppliers in this industry take the time to understand this. The worst suppliers clog up our inboxes with lame offers that don't resonate at all.