Behind the scenes of our drip email course

by Steli Efti

behindthecurtain

One of our main email drip campaigns is our free Startup Sales Success Course. It's an educational email course for anyone who sells a startup or SaaS product.

Today we're pulling back the curtain to give you an insiders view of our objectives, why we've structured this drip email course the way we did, and what results we're getting. Almost 10,000 people have taken this particular course so far, and it's been a great lead nurturing and sales enablement tool for us.

We sell software, but we're not "just" a software company

It's important to understand that we've never considered ourselves just "a SaaS company". Even though we're making money with our sales CRM, what we're ultimately doing is helping entrepreneurs and sales people be more successful.

Our software is simply the most powerful part in this quest. It fuels the financial engine that allows us to grow and have a bigger impact as a company, but we also help founders succeed by sharing sales advice and supporting them to become better at closing deals through sales office hours and other means.

It goes back to the mission which started our sales consultancy: Never again should a great company fail because of a lack of sales. 

What is this drip campaign about?

The drip emails are another part through which we support founders, and they're available to everyone, not only our paying customers. If you read each of these emails and take action, after a month you'll have mastered the fundamentals of startup sales, no matter whether you have previous selling experience or not.

We created this email series after taking Patrick McKenzie's awesome Hacking Lifecycle Emails for Software Companies course. The underlying idea was to make our sales messaging itselfvaluable. That way, when prospects consume our sales materials, they get value—even if they don't buy!

If you provide enough value upfront, it's much more likely that people will want to buy from you. So we wanted to help people become more successful at sales. You've probably seen this picture from UserOnboard before:

But it's not just your product—it's also your sales and marketing material that should turn potential customers into awesome people who can do rad shit.

Aim to make your customers more successful through every interaction with your company.

customersuccess

Which is why we're trying to get get website visitors to sign up for our email drip course.

Promote your free offers just like your paid offers

We prominently feature this signup page for the course in plenty of marketing materials (including the main navigation of our website, guest posts, YouTube videos, presentations, links in the signatures of our emails, podcasts, etc.).

dripemailsignuppage

We also feature an opt-in format at the end of each blog post, which is another great source of signups:

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And another call to action on our homepage:

homepagedripcampaigncat

As you can see, I put my face on it. Apparently putting the face of the course creator next to an opt-in page helps to increase conversions, although some members of the team (not to be named and shamed here) wonder whether MY face helps or hinders conversion ;).

The important thing is to realize that you have to promote and "sell" your free drip campaign just as much as you'd sell a paid course or product.

The sequence of drip emails

So let's review them in detail:

Email 1 (Day 1): "Do you have what it takes for Startup Sales Success?"

Open rate: 62%

01---Do-you-have-what-it-takes-for-Startup-Sales-Success

This email is all about helping readers to get a solid foundation of startup sales. It answers some common questions founders often ask me, and thus I know that many people who sign up for this course are interested in learning these things.

A personal tone

More than just the content, it also sets the tone for the whole course. It's conversational, I speak directly to the reader, and I repeatedly offer to help, provide feedback and invite the reader to send me an email.

Read the P.S. It again reinforces that our Startup Sales Success course isn't meant to just be consumed. It's meant to be much more interactive. I ask you to engage and to make a commitment, because I want to make sure you actually get real value out of it. 

It's not a pitch fest

Notice something else?

I'm not pitching Close.io here. Because people who sign up for a startup sales success course don't sign up to receive a series promotional emails for our sales CRM. 

Don't worry though, this newsletter does help us move the sale along. It's a powerful lead nurturing machine, a true win-win for both the subscribers and for us.

Email 2 (Day 3): "The 7 Deadly Sales Sins that startups commit"

Open rate: 55.9%

03---The-7-Deadly-Sales-Sins-that-startups-commit

I shortly reference back to the first email, just to refresh the readers' memory. Then I share the most common mistakes people commit in startup sales, because these are often the easy wins. Simply stop making any of these can lead to dramatically better results from your sales efforts.

It's what provides the largest amount of value to the widest possible audience with the minimum amount of effort. So I begin with that. More in-depth and specific sales tactics will follow later in this email drip campaign. 

My trademark signature line

You might also notice that I end the email with "Happy Selling!" again. It's a small thing, but it sets me apart from overly formal sales gurus or corporate sales trainings and makes it more personal.

The customer support team at MindValley has experimented with cheesy subject lines and found that their Experience Managers get better ratings when they use them compared to conventional subject lines like "Sincerely" or "Kind regards".

A lot of developers recognize Patrick McKenzie by his trademark "Howdy" or "Hiya", which is how he consistently opens his communications.

We're living in times where everything gets automated, and thus we appreciate a personal touch, even if it's (ironically) delivered as part of an autoresponder series.

Email 3 (Day 5): "How to develop a predictable & scalable sales model"

Open rate: 56.1%

05---How-to-develop-a-predictable---scalable-sales-model

This email is pure, hard-hitting super-valuable information. Whereas the first two emails were more general and broad, this one is very nuts and bolts. Both complete sales newbies and seasoned sales veterans often respond to this email, praising the value of what I shared with them.

Notice also that the first thing I'm "selling" here is actually not our own product—it's a book by someone else.

Why do I do this?

Why don't I pitch our own product first, or my own book?

Simply because if I were talking with a friend, I'd recommend she read that book first. And when I wrote the newsletter, I imagined writing it for a valued friend.

Finally, I do pitch our sales CRM. Softly, no hardsell, simply pointing out that our software is perfectly suited to implement what I just advised you to do. 

The P.S.

Now let's talk about why I'm including a P.S. in each of these emails. It's because the P.S. is generally the second most read part of an email after the subject line and opening.

More people will read your P.S. than they read your actual email body copy! 

This goes back to the days of printed mail order. However you feel about receiving physical junk mail... these direct marketers were the true pioneers of data-driven marketing, and they measured the effectiveness of every element of their salesletters.

In one experiment, they found that 79% of all the people who opened a direct mail piece would read the P.S. first.

Use a P.S. in your emails to highlight what's important or reinforce a call to action.

Email 4 (Day 9): "Close More Deals. Make More Sales."

Open rate: 49.7%

09---Close-More-Deals.-Make-More-Sales.

I start out with a quick recap of lessons learned so far.

There's no such thing as a shy sales pitch!

Then I launch into a long sales pitch after I tell the reader that he's about to read a sales pitch.

Most marketers try to camouflage a sales pitch as something else, basically sending their prospects a series of advertorials. I do the opposite: I flat out tell them about it.

I advise the reader to not just read it as a prospective customer of our sales software, but as a student of the selling profession. He should read it from a meta perspective and see what he can learn from this pitch. Even if he's not in the market for a sales platform, he still gets value out of reading this email.

One thing you should know about this email: it's our most effective drip email in the entire campaign! No other email drives as many signups for our software as this.

(I already talked about this email in a recent post titled Short vs. long drip emails: What works best for drip marketing campaigns).

Email 5 (Day 11): "Sales scripts & how to handle customer objections"

Open rate: 55.1%

11---Sales-scripts---how-to-handle-customer-objections

After all these long emails, we keep it short and sweet. Two templates. Super useful if you're eager to start selling. (And notice the stellar click rate here! People WANT these templates!)

Also, you probably notice that we include testimonials at the end of each drip email. Testimonials are simply social proof elements, they make your statements more believable.

"Words from a customer’s mouth are much, much more trustworthy than a similar statement from a business owner or salesman." —Neil Patel, The Definite Guide to Copywriting (if you want to use testimonials, I encourage you to check out the section on leveraging testimonials, and the four different ways how you can utilize them).

These testimonials mostly re-inforce the value of this email course.

We could have included testimonials about our sales software in there (which is what we ultimately make money with), but decided against this, because at this point in the buying circle, it's more important to keep them engaged with the course, and to demonstrate the value of actually using the materials.

Think about it: how many email courses have you signed up for and never completed?

If someone has already invested their time thus far into the course, I want to make sure he keeps reading my emails and putting the advice to good use so he'll get the most out of this course. It's my job to sell him on this, to motivate him to stick with it.

Email 6 (Day 14): "How to give a demo that actually sells!"

Open rate: 49.7%

14---How-to-give-a-demo-that-actually-sells

Another long email, and one that addresses an important issue for many of our subscribers: giving product demos that sell. Too many founders and startup sales reps get this completely wrong. 

Sidenote: Little mistakes aren't the end of the world

You might also notice that we didn't have our "Happy Selling!" signature in there. I wish I could give you some great explanation why we changed it here, but the truth is: we just forgot it.

Like many startups, we operate with "done is better than perfect" mode, and many things slip through the cracks. Now when writing this post, we noticed this error and fixed it but I decided to include it in this post, simply to show you that it's ok to make mistakes.

There are a ton of things we could do better and improve upon, but as a startup, you constantly have to weigh: is it worth spending another hour fixing ______ [insert minor issue] when we could also be doing _____ [insert initiative that has potential to really move the needle].

Email 7 (Day 17): "The power of the follow up..."

Open rate: 49.5%

17---The-power-of-the-follow-up...

One of my favorite posts in this sequence, it's about the power of the follow up. It's a simple, but incredibly valuable lesson, and the whole purpose of this email is to achieve one thing: convince the reader to follow up more. Simply doing that can often lead to achieving completely different results in their lives.

Email 8 (Day 20): "The most important lesson I ever learned in sales"

Open rate: 48.7%

20---The-most-important-lesson-I-ever-learned-in-sales

In this drip email, I tell one of the most formative stories of my sales career.

We haven't talked about the power of storytelling yet, and this isn't the time and place to explore this topic in much detail. Let's just suffice to say that storytelling is an incredibly powerful engagement tool if done well.

If you haven't done so yet, I encourage you to check out Alex Turnbull's post on how storytelling helped them to get 300% more people to read their content.

Email 9 (Day 23): "Startups: Why You Need To Call Your Customers"

Open rate: 47.3%

23---Startups--Why-You-Need-To-Call-Your-Customers

I've been advising startups for many years to pick up the phone and call their users more often.

It's one of the cornerstones of my sales philosophy, and I truly believe that startups have a lot to gain from doing this.

Yet, it's also the most commonly rejected piece of advice I share with founders—they always give me a hard time, tell me why they won't do this, and a long list of reasons why it's not the right thing for them. 99% of the time it's just an excuse, because calling users is uncomfortable and a bit scary, and it doesn't scale.

So I try to make a solid case for why they should be doing this. 

Email 10 (Day 26): "[video] A Crash Course in Sales Hacking & Deal Closing"

Open rate: 46.6%

26---video--A-Crash-Course-in-Sales-Hacking---Deal-Closing

After all those text-heavy emails, I share something to sit back and watch: a video of a talk I gave at a startup event in Europe. There's three reasons why I share the video: 

  1. It's a great addition to the lessons shared so far in this email drip campaign, not just because the content of the talk complements the content from the emails, but also because it's presented in a different medium.
  2. It establishes me further as an expert on startup sales (anyone who stands in front of hundreds of smart and talented founders for almost an hour and can keep the audience engaged must have some geniune knowledge to share)
  3. When the subscriber can watch and hear me, rather than just read my written words, it's simply more engaging and leaves a deeper impression. (I now do a lot of video posts on this blog, but when we put the newsletter together, this wasn't the case yet, so actually seeing me in a video was very rare).

Email 11 (Day 29): "The Virtual Close"

Open rate: 45.4%

29---The-Virtual-Close

In this email, I share a sales tactic I use in pretty much every sales conversation before I close a deal. I know that this is an extremely valuable lesson, because so many founders trip up over a misconception about the sales process (I myself had to learn this the hard way).

Email 12 (Day 32): "How to Respond to Discount Inquiries"

Open rate: 44.7%

32---How-to-Respond-to-Discount-Inquiries

This email actually was a very popular blog post. We posted it on HackerNews and got a ton of traffic from it. There's a reason for this: startups constantly get discount requests, and with this post we finally offered them a solid gameplan on how to respond to when someone asks for a discount.

Email 13 (Day 35): "Book: The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales (50% discount)"

Open rate: 44.8%

35---Book--The-Ultimate-Startup-Guide-To-Outbound-Sales--50--discount

This email is a straightforward pitch for my startup sales book. It's currently where our startup sales course ends, and if a subscriber has followed along thus far, there's a good chance that he will find the book valuable. 

From name

All emails are sent from "Steli from Close.io <steli@close.io>". We've experimented with naming the sender "Close.io" or "Steli Efti", but the first name + company name combination has so far shown the best open rates (by a few percent points). Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers wrote a great post on deciding what From name you should use in your emails, in particular the section titled "Whom should your webinar invitation come from?"

Open and click rates

Don't read too much into the numbers. Obviously some emails are designed to get a click, some are designed just to be read, and some are designed to get an actual reply. (Unfortunately we don't have the numbers for replies.) We've just provided them to give you a more all-encompassing insight into this drip email course.

What are your ideas to improve this drip campaign?

We'll soon expand the course and add more lessons. Let us know if you have ideas how to improve this email drip campaign.

Update April 26, 2015: Andy Baldacci from Bootstrap Breakthroughs took the time to review this and wrote up a teardown of our email course based with suggestions on how to power up our content marketing.  


Further reading:

The 17 emails baremetrics sends to engage customers, reduce churn & increase revenue (by Josh Pigford)
Baremetrics recently shared 17 lifecycle emails they send to their paying customers. These emails are not one single course, but rather for specific steps in the customer lifecycle (e.g. welcoming and onboarding, upselling, cancellations, etc). A great read!

Steal these high-converting sales email drip campaigns from 2 killer startups
Want to convert free users into paying customers with an email drip campaign? See how HubSpot and TrunkClub do it.

Short vs. long emails: What works best for drip marketing campaigns?
When you're using a drip campaign for lead nurturing and sales enablement, what's the ideal email length? Should you write short or long emails?

Sales emails: Convert more trial users with drip campaigns 
4 simple principles of an effective SaaS trial email series: Get the frequency right, be personal, send emails in response to user-activity and include a clear and strong call to action in every email.

Expert webcast recording: Drive sales engagement with triggered emails (with Colin Neederkorn, CEO of Customer.io)
The full 1-hour recording of how to automate personal, well-timed emails to close more deals.

How to write subject lines that get your sales emails opened
Want to increase your open rates? Don't blindly follow the wide-spread advice you find online. Here's what really gets sales emails opened.

Customer Success: Achieving their Desired Outcome (by @lincolnmurphy)
SaaS expert Lincoln Murphy (the one and only) deep dives into customer success and how to best help them achieve their desired outcome.