How SMBs Can Harness Email to Drive Revenue

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By Katherine Ogburn, Director of Strategy, Ready State

Snapchat, Facebook and other social channels get all the attention. But people still don’t use them as anywhere near much as email, which they check for more than 6 hours a day. That’s one of the reasons many experienced marketers still consider email the workhorse of the marketing world.

As a channel, email delivers visibility, reach and relevance. About 90% of U.S. internet users have email, and it’s a central feature on smartphones, the growing device of choice. It’s a high-attention channel, serving as a primary communications channel for personal and work contacts. And it offers something that many of the hot new social channels don’t: a flexible timeline for consumption. If users aren’t online when you send your message, they’ll find it the next time they are.

Large companies—especially those that rely on their existing customer base for ongoing purchases—rely on complex CRM and email automation platforms to deliver timely and relevant messages. They effectively create one-to-one conversations at scale, delivering the right messages at the right time to the right people, driving engagement and with it, purchases.

But now, inexpensive and easy to use tools make it possible for SMBs to unlock this value, as well. Anyone who supports SMB marketing needs to be able to help these businesses build effective email programs.  

Why SMBs shouldn’t resist email marketing

SMBs are loathe to spend time or money on projects that don’t have obvious and immediate benefits. They tend to prioritize serving existing customers and strong leads over marketing to prospects who might not be interested in making a purchase anytime soon, and prefer investments with short-term payoffs—both arguments against email marketing.

A lot of SMBs think it’s too difficult to develop or maintain a customer list, or to create and send emails. They might worry about spamming their customers, and they can probably all recall some awful emails they’ve received.

It’s true that businesses need to have some level of technical skills in order to manage an email marketing program. But the actual level of skill required has dropped tremendously as new, simple to use systems keep coming out.

Email delivery tools in particular are much more powerful and widely available than they were just a few years ago. They have intuitive interfaces and pre-made templates that make it easy to create emails, send them and track engagement.

Many of these new systems are accessed over the internet, meaning SMBs won’t have to install or manage any software, and are priced with a subscription model, so SMBs can pay as they go. It's also easier than ever to buy lists of leads relevant for different industries.

As systems get more powerful and easier to use, SMBs are getting more skilled at using systems across many aspects of their businesses. From word processing to search marketing to financial programs, systems that once felt too specialized are now seen as a way to access enterprise-level resources without needing enterprise-level skills.

We’re just getting started

There are still a few challenges facing SMBs looking to do email marketing. For one, it still takes time to collect and manage data. SMBs will need to determine which customers to exclude because of personal relationships, which ones offer the highest potential value, and which ones should be removed from the lists, among other issues. Some CRM systems can solve some of these challenges, but most SMBs aren’t convinced that these are worthy investments.  

Each email sent also needs to deliver a positive customer experience. Traditionally, this means getting a clear message across, with the right brand voice, relevant for the reader, with a valued message, leading to an offer or useful information. Large brands do this by tapping into data for personalization, list segmentation, and bringing in professional communicators and designers. SMBs working at a smaller scale, will likely have less data and more limited segments, increasing the risk that the messages won’t be specific enough to spur the recipients to action.  

But the new tools give SMBs design templates, and they can get away with writing their own copy instead of hiring professionals. Given the current preference for authenticity and aversion to advertising, this could not only be cheaper, but also more effective at, getting readers’ attention.

Now, consider that 90% of all businesses in the U.S. are SMBs. What if just half of them started this real-voice email marketing? How would large companies need to respond to parry the power of these emerging brands?

The pieces are falling into place for SMBs to start doing email marketing. And it will get even easier as SMBs get more technologically savvy and tools become easier.

As businesses adopt it in greater and greater numbers, they might possibly transform email marketing into something new, something real, and something that all marketers need pay attention to.