If you’re a solopreneur or service professional with a website, you know you need to build an email subscriber list to grow a stable, long-term business.
We have clients who are just starting their lists, and others who have lists numbering in the thousands. It doesn’t matter where you’re at on the list-building continuum: I’m going to give you three steps to growing a strong, stable, and responsive list.
Faithful TransformNation readers know that the best emails are content-rich and build a relationship with readers.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of people out there who haven’t discovered this.
I don’t want any of you to have to repeat what one of my heroes did recently: he destroyed his list in three short weeks.
The Three-Week Plan to Killing a List
I used to like Joe Vitale.
And in the space of three weeks, he single-handedly destroyed much of the good will he had built with me over the years – and he did this without ever even meeting me.
Let me explain.
If you don’t know Joe, he’s one of the good guys. I’ve always thought of him as an ethical super-marketer. Joe started me on the path to becoming a copywriter, I still have the very first book I ever ordered from him, a slim little volume from Joe’s copywriting course I ordered through the mail probably twenty years ago.
Since then, he’s become a direct marketing whirlwind. I’ve liked a few of his later books; The Attractor Factor wasn’t half bad.
I like to watch what good marketers are doing – and if they offer a solid product, I’ll buy it. It was in this spirit I joined one of those lists that offer stuff from ten different people in exchange for my email address – and Joe was one of those ten. He was pushing a “Law of Attraction” product.
I have mixed feelings about the Law of Attraction crowd, but thought it would be cool to see what kind of auto-responder emails Joe would write, and to see if I could pick up any tips. The guy’s one of the kings of direct marketing copywriting.
Week one on Joe’s list
Once I joined his list, I received an email every day from Joe, the first few trying to push an expensive “Law of Attraction” coaching program, and the others each pushing some program or product from some person I don’t know, most of them conveniently Wal-Mart priced at $19.97.
In each daily email, I had one of two choices from Joe: Drop a few grand on “law of attraction” coaching, or drop twenty bucks on an eBook.
Week two on Joe’s list
As the emails kept coming, there were zero attempts to build a relationship with me, to get to know my needs. None of the emails offered any new information, none offered to teach me anything new or helpful – each email was simply a hard-core sales pitch for a string of loosely related products.
This was getting old, fast. I’m trying to figure out what’s happened to one of my early marketing heroes, a copywriting legend.
Maybe he’s having a bad month?
Week three on Joe’s list
Now, Joe can safely assume I’m interested in “Law of Attraction,” because that’s what brought me to that list. For the first few weeks, the products he pitched were kind of related.
Then, I receive an email with this subject line:
1,800 Money-Making Ideas Secret Manual
He then launches into an embarrassing over-the-top pitch for a program that leads me to guess it’s a marketing product.
Joe can be safe in assuming I’m interested in his first topic, what makes him think I’m at all interested in the second topic?
Say it ain’t so, Joe! What’ll it be next? Kitchen gadgets?
Now, to be fair, Joe himself probably isn’t even writing these emails. He probably has dozens of lists, many of them managed by partners.
These emails could have been written by some guy on the staff at the coaching company who doesn’t have a clue about how email marketing should work. But this string of ugly emails has Joe’s name all over them.
Here’s my point: Sending emails like this isn’t necessarily “wrong.” Sending them to the wrong audience segment is.
Why do good, smart people try to sell this way?
Every time I see an otherwise professional marketer taking this shotgun, all-or-nothing, throw-stuff-against-the-wall approach, I have to ask why.
Here are a few of my guesses:
Arrogance: Someone joins their list and the gooroo automatically assumes this person is a sponge just waiting with baited breath for every email. There are a few people I love reading, and I look forward to their emails – and it took them a long time and a lot of great content to earn that kind of attention from me.
Desperation: They’ve got bills to pay. They’ve got someone’s attention, and they’ve found from past experience that people on their lists drift after a few weeks. So they’d better go in for the kill, as fast as possible.
Ignorance: Maybe they just don’t realize that they have an opportunity here to actually develop a long-term relationship with their reader, and sell a lot more product down the road.
They Forget We’re People: It can be too easy for a marketer to begin thinking of “the list” in terms of numbers: email opens, conversions, opt-ins. I encourage my clients to refer to their subscribers as readers, each with their own unique and very personal needs. A list owner’s primary job is to find out what his or her readers want to read. And then write it.
Three Ways to Grow a Happy, Thriving List
1. Decide what your email goal is, and be upfront and direct about it in every email
It appears Joe really wants to sell his pricey coaching program, and if I would have responded to any one of his $19 early offers, I would have most likely received sales calls from one of those “coaching boiler rooms” pitching a $5,000 coaching program.
But Joe pretends he really just wants me to sell me a $19 eBook.
I know he could care less about that $19 sale.
Today’s sophisticated web consumer can sniff this stuff out a mile away.
Your Email Strategy #1
Know what your readers what to read, and then focus 80% of your emails on content that’s valuable, relevant, and useful to your audience. Occasionally, send highly relevant content emails that also offer a highly relevant and useful product. This should be your ratio: 80/20. On some of our sites, we favor a 90/10 ratio.
We’ve found that the higher our content to sales email ratio is, the higher our open rates and sales conversion rates are.
2. Sell at a price point at which your list is ready to buy
Joe’s expensive program requires some relationship building, first. Few people spend thousands of dollars after a few emails.
He can bet that at least 80% or more of any new list isn’t ready to buy until they at least get to know and trust him.
In the meantime, why burn out and kill off 80% of your list? Why not nurture a relationship with those people by sending them great, relevant content, first?
I consider Perry Marshall to be a role model and master marketer at the top of his game for this very reason.
I joined his list and he had a conversation with me in each email for years. He’d occasionally offer me the first product in his product funnel.
Only if I responded to that first product would he add me to the next level of his email series.
In one of his events I attended, he asked the room how many of them had been on his email list for years before purchasing a single product from him. I raised my hand, along with half the room. Perry had the patience to nurture a relationship with all of us – wholly by consistently sending us relevant and valuable content – and several years in, my first purchase was worth several thousand dollars to him.
And I was happy to pay it.
Your Email Strategy #2
Design a tiered “product ladder.” If you really want to sell your list an expensive tofu-diet weekend retreat with the stars in Hollywood, you’ve got to first offer your list lower-priced products and allow them to build a buying relationship of trust with you, over time.
We build a tiered product plan into every new site we build. You don’t have to have all the products ready, just the first product in your funnel. And of course, your products will change as you develop them. You just have to know where you’re going.
Remember this: Around 2-5% of your list is your hyper-responsive “true fans.” These folks will buy anything and everything you offer. A lot of the big lists I’ve worked with are only selling to their top 2-5%, and think they’re doing well! In every case, the sad statistics reveal the truth: these online marketers are annoying, driving away, and burning out 80% of their list on a regular basis. And they have to work harder than they should to constantly replace those subscribers.
That is not the way leverage is supposed to work.
Finally, the sad truth about big lists like Joe’s is the marketers behind these emails are aware of this hyper-responsive rule, and they just don’t care if they kill off the rest of the list. Their plan is classic “mass marketing:” sell to the 2%, churn and burn through the rest. Move on to another list, rinse, repeat.
Fortunately, this marketing model is dying, faster than Joe’s list.
Long live readers and relationships!
3. Segment early, Segment often
I’ve had a lot of clients over the past few years that had big, messy email lists with high turnover and low sales. They hired me to fix their email list.
In nearly every case, I can quickly point to their core problem: They never segmented their lists. They have very little idea who their list is, or what those people want.
The gooroo in question attempts to sell whatever shiny object catches their eye in the moment to anyone and everyone who joins their list.
And this approach just does not work. For anyone. It’s the surest path to killing a promising email list, fast.
Your Email Strategy #3
Anyone, with any sized list, can and should segment their list. Here’s an easy way to approach segmenting:
Make sure you’re using an email provider that enables you to easily segment your lists as you build them. This is one of the reasons we use AWeber. Most competent providers feature some sort of segmenting, although some providers will label this feature differently.
Segment your list when a subscriber takes a specific action that identifies a clear next step on your “product ladder.” A lot of Internet Marketers who’ve brought their messy email lists to me have created a new list segment every time they roll out a new product, or even every time they sell someone else’s product.
They’ll have a hundred segments, most of them completely worthless: that purchase doesn’t really tell them what the buyer is interested in, what that buyer will need next, or what they need at all.
This is why the second strategy – your tiered product ladder – is so important to implementing the third strategy. Know what your readers need, and plan in advance the many ways you can help them get what they need, one step at a time.
Happy emailing! Let us know how it’s going for you in the comments.