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How to improve business sales and customer retention using email

Growth and Operations

How to improve business sales and customer retention using email

Updated: February 13th, 2023

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In an ever-evolving marketing landscape, one method stands the test of time and technology: email. Simple and effective, email marketing doesn’t just help drive sales—it also keeps you connected with customers at every stage in their buying journey. 

To take full advantage of email marketing, it’s crucial to continue experimenting and refining your practices. Below, we’re sharing how you can optimize email marketing to grow your customer base and increase sales.

The impact of email

Despite the rise of social media, SEO, and content marketing, email remains one of the most successful forms of outreach—and for good reason. 

Benefits of email marketing 

Email is versatile 

You can use email to: 

  • Introduce yourself to prospective customers
  • Reconnect with past customers
  • Upsell current customers
  • Strengthen your customer relationships
  • Improve your brand recognition
  • Drive traffic to your website
  • Build credibility as a company
  • Share business updates
  • Drum up excitement
  • Spike sales

Email has a high ROI

When you do it right, email marketing works extremely well. For every $1 spent on email marketing, you get roughly $36 back on your investment, according to The CMO’s Guide to Email Marketing from Litmus

Email is easy to implement

It takes creativity and strategy to perfect your email content and distribution tactics, but in general, email marketing has a low barrier to entry. You don’t need any special training or technical skills to get started. 

How to increase your email subscribers 

Improving your email marketing techniques can net you more email subscribers over time, but it’s still important to actively work on increasing your subscriber list. Here are a handful of simple but effective strategies to get people to sign up for your business’s emails:

  • Add an exit pop-up on your website: Before someone clicks out of your site, encourage them to sign up for your emails to receive special news, exclusive product looks, or discounts. 
  • Add a button at the end of blog posts: if you share content on your business’s blog, tell people they can get more bite-sized information by signing up for emails. 
  • Post about it on social media: Share stand-alone posts about the perks of your email list, and make sure to share your email sign-up link in your profile bios. 
  • Turn popular content into gated content: If you’ve created shopping guides, ebooks, infographics, or webinars you’d like to share, consider posting them on a gated web page, so people have to input their email addresses to receive access.
  • Run an online contest: Consider doing a giveaway or contest with your customers where part of the requirement is to sign up for your email list. 

8 ways to improve your email marketing for higher sales and customer retention

Ready to step up your email game? Consider these eight strategies to take your emails to the next level:

1. Give customers a reason to read

Every email you send should have a goal, whether it’s to build trust, bring someone to your website, or boost your sales on a specific product. Behind every business goal should be a customer incentive; in other words, why would someone open and read your message? 

Clarifying your internal goals and customer incentives can help you tailor your content, strike the right tone, and ensure you’re appealing to your customers’ unique needs. Here are some high-level ways to compel your customers to read:

  • Educate: Teach your customers something new, either by sharing an important fact, doling out advice, or detailing how customers can use your products or services to enhance their lives. 
  • Share news your customers care about: Be the first to clue them in on something relevant to their lives.
  • Solve a problem: Acknowledge a problem your customers might be facing, then introduce your business as the solution. 
  • Create a sense of urgency: Use time-sensitive words to get customers to jump on an opportunity. 
  • Promote scarcity: Tell customers when your products or services are selling out. 
  • Share social proof: Share positive business reviews and social media comments to build trust with your customers. 
  • Tell a story: Give customers a chance to escape for a few minutes with an intriguing or fun read.
  • Express authority: Give customers expert advice or reassurance.   
  • Be clever or silly: Appeal to your customers’ sense of humor.  

2. Send excellent welcome emails

A welcome email is the first impression a new customer gets of your business, so it’s crucial to make it count. Your welcome email should grab a reader’s attention and inspire them to take action in some way. Here are the key components of a strong welcome message:

  1. A clear and inviting subject line: Depending on your brand, go for something warm, exciting, or helpful. Think: “We’re happy you’re here!” “Get ready for exclusive discounts every month!” or “Your first step to getting started.”
  2. A peek into your business: You want to be informative without giving everything away. Share a few details about your business and explain why your customer should care. Here’s an example for a fake pet food company: “As the largest organic pet food producers in the state, we pride ourselves on delicious, nutritious recipes your animals will love! Our personalized bundles and fast shipping makes it easy for you to get the formulas you need to keep your pets fed and happy. Plus, we send discounts and exclusive perks every week.”
  3. A next step suggestion: Give customers a way to keep interacting with your business, either by sharing your website, linking to your social media platforms, or inviting them to browse products or purchase a service. You can say “Follow us on social media” or “see more of your favorite items here.”

3. Improve your aesthetic and formatting 

Just because email is text-based doesn’t mean it’s not also a visual medium. Aesthetics and formatting play a big role in how readable and captivating your emails are. The more often customers read through your entire email, the more likely they are to open the next one—and the next one. 

So, instead of formatting your business’s emails like business emails, try formatting them like the cover of a print magazine. These changes can make a big difference:

  • Pre-set the preview text: The preview text is what shows up next to the subject line of your message in the preview panel of your email—and it’s a great opportunity to further engage your reader. If you don’t create specific preview text, email platforms like Gmail will pull words from the body of your email into the preview line, which can look clunky. 
  • Add alt-text to your call-to-action image: If you incorporate a call-to-action button at the end of your email, make sure you add alternate text to it—like “See new products now.” This helps customers who can’t see images in their email, as well as customers who want to hover over the images and get some additional context. 
  • Incorporate dynamic content: Use striking images, embed videos into your messages, or experiment with playful graphics. 
  • Use an email template that matches your business’s website and social media aesthetic: You can hire a graphic designer to create a custom email template for different types of messages, or search for free templates on sites like Bee.
  • Keep paragraphs short: Break up your paragraphs every two to three sentences, and embrace visual reading aids like bullet points. 
  • Optimize email for mobile use: More people than ever scroll through their inboxes on their phones, so it’s smart to make sure your emails look just as sharp on a smaller screen. 

4. Test out different subject lines and calls to action

Different subject lines and calls to action (CTAs) get different results. You can use A/B testing—sending one variation of an email to one group of subscribers and another variation to another group—to experiment with different options and see which ones yield the best results. 

Subject line

A subject line is like a door into your business. If a customer likes what they see, they’ll open it and step inside; if not, they’ll walk away. Getting people to open your emails starts with creating subject lines that grab their attention or pique their curiosity. Here are some subject line best practices: 

  • Keep it short—between six and 10 words is generally the sweet spot. 
  • Use numbers. 
  • Use words that create an emotional response (such as “unbelievable,” “exclusive,” and “top-secret”). 
  • Share a specific offer, like “Get 10% today on all cards.”
  • Create a sense of urgency using phrases and words like “for a limited time,” “only now,” and “one-time offer.”
  • Build trust by being helpful and using words like “guarantee,” “money back,” “approved,” or “certified.”

When testing different subject lines, try these simple variations:

  • Name vs no name
  • Long subject line vs short
  • Emoji versus no emoji
  • Vague vs specific copy (e.g. “Score amazing deals” vs “Get 15% off today”)
  • Urgency vs no urgency
  • Sentence case capitalization vs title case (e.g. “You Should Try This” vs “You should try this”)
  • Vague benefit or specific (e.g. “Unlimited support” vs “24/7 customer care line”)

Call to action

Whereas a subject line gets people interested, a call to action (CTA) keeps them interested. Usually located at the top and bottom of an email message, CTAs are an invitation to take a specific action, like visiting your business’s website. Here are some CTA best practices: 

  • Make your CTA visual, either by using buttons, larger font, bold colors, or images. 
  • Keep the copy short (four to eight words is best) and clear, like “Start your free trial today” or “Book an appointment.”
  • You can put your CTA in multiple locations, but make sure you use the same CTA button per email so you don’t confuse people. 
  • Add supporting text before the CTA. If your CTA directs people to your best-selling products, for example, you could say something like, “Find your next favorite shirt.”

When testing different CTAs, try these variations:

  • One color vs another color
  • One size vs another size
  • Hard sell vs soft sell (e.g. “Buy your first pair today” vs “Browse our options”)
  • Longer copy vs shorter copy
  • Urgency vs no urgency
  • Sentence case capitalization vs title case

It’s important to note that these are general rules of thumb, but every audience is different. Find what works for your customers and business voice, then try to stay consistent. 

5. Tighten your email copy

Good email copy can make people feel excited, seen, inspired, connected—or all of the above. Not only that, but good copy converts, driving people to keep clicking. Improving your email copy starts with writing in your business’s voice, whether it’s professional and authoritative or friendly and lighthearted.

From there, it’s helpful to employ these five copy best practices: 

  1. Use fewer, better words: Keep your message concise, readable, and easy to absorb.
  2. Write like you speak: People respond to conversational, human writing, so don’t be afraid to embrace slang if it makes sense—and make sure you eliminate confusing jargon. 
  3. Keep your content relevant: Every sentence in your message should convey something customers care about or need to know. 
  4. Know your customers: Think about your audience—and what they respond to best—when deciding whether to crack a joke, use an emoji, or share certain statistics.
  5. Give a directive at the end: Tell people how they can take action if they want to.

6. Revamp your transactional emails

Transactional emails are the ones you send when a customer buys something or schedules an appointment. They may seem formulaic and basic, but they’re actually a great opportunity to impress your customers and generate more business. 

Here are some easy ways to take your transactional emails to the next level:

  • Thank customers for their business by offering a discount on the next purchase. 
  • Share products or services you’d recommend based on your customer’s purchase.
  • Direct your customers to more information, like your website FAQs or blog hub.
  • Ask customers to write a review or give a referral. 
  • Include a feedback form or rating scale, so customers can share their thoughts.
  • Invite customers to enter a giveaway or contest. 

7. Embrace email segmentation

Growing your subscriber base requires tailoring your messages to customers based on their personal interests and relationship with your business. Enter: email segmentation, which lets you send different messages to different customers at different times. 

By segmenting your emails, you can send more valuable, relevant messages to your customers—and potentially get them to click more. There are endless ways to segment your customers, but here are some common categories to try:

  • Demographics: Targeting customers based on their age or gender can be helpful if you sell items like clothes or jewelry. 
  • Email engagement: You may want to change your subject lines and message content for people who never open your emails versus people who open them some or all of the time. 
  • Location: Depending on your business model, segmenting customers based on their geographic location might be important. You can let them know about in-store offers near them, location-specific news, and the like. 
  • Past purchases: Breaking out your messages according to past purchase behavior—and money spent—can help you secure repeat sales more easily. You can let people know about upcoming product releases, sales on certain types of items, or drops in prices. 
  • Website interaction: Pulling from your website and email analytics, you can connect with different customers based on how frequently they’ve interacted with your website. For example, you may want to send a follow-up message to people who’ve added items to their online carts, or send more information to people who’ve browsed your FAQ page. 
  • Personal interests: If you’ve surveyed your customers before, it’s smart to segment emails according to what your customers have shown interest in, whether it’s a particular product or a certain type of email update. 

8. Track your email analytics

Reviewing your email analytics tells you what’s working and what isn’t. By tracking and observing a handful of key metrics, you can learn how to make changes that get more people reading and acting on your emails. 

Here are the three most critical metrics to track:

  • Click to open rate: The percentage of people who open your emails can give you good insight into how compelling your subject lines are—and how interested people are in your messages. You can calculate it using this formula: (Unique clicks / Unique opens) x 100
  • Clickthrough rate: The percentage of people who clicked on a link in your email essentially tells you how many people are engaging with the messages you send. You can calculate it using this formula: (Total clicks / Number of delivered emails) x 100 
  • Conversion rate: This is the percentage of people who clicked on a link then completed an action, like filling out a survey or scheduling an appointment. Knowing this rate gives you a better idea of how effective your emails are at getting people to take action. Here’s how you calculate it: (Number of people who completed the action in question / Number of total emails delivered) x 100
  • Overall ROI: Your email ROI shows you how much money you’re investing in email relative to how much you’re generating. You can calculate it using this formula: (Amount of money in additional sales – Amount of money spent on the campaign) / Amount of money spent on the campaign x 100

Email marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon—so it’s a good idea to invest in improving your email tactics. If rolling out a lot of changes at once feels overwhelming, just pick one or two areas to focus on first, then make small tweaks from there. 
Need some extra capital to invest in your email marketing? Consider a small business term loan or business line of credit from Funding Circle. Our affordable rates and flexible terms make financing simpler—so you can focus on making more revenue and keeping your customers happy.


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