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If you ask anyone involved in selling professional services they will be quick to tell you that email “sales” simply don’t work. We all know that the decision to instruct is based primarily on emotive factors such as personality and trust. If professional services are all about relationships and client care then how can electronic approaches help at all?

Whether we like it or not, digital media has changed the way we establish and develop relationships. Whereas a few years ago we would have picked up the phone to talk, now, more often than not, people rattle off emails or chat online. It has become common practice to communicate more through the written (or typed) word and less through actually speaking. That is not to say that we no longer speak or meet… many of us just have a new stage slotted in before that. Now, first impressions are often built on our ability to write and communicate electronically. By studying the choice of words and way the document is structured we subconsciously form a view on whether this is a relationship we want to pursue, before we ever reach the first meeting. Ironically, some could argue that digital marketing has thrown us back to the “olden days” of writing letters.

The first contact by email can be of vital importance to the success or failure of a business development campaign. Indeed, it is something that we all agonise over, constantly polishing and perfecting it. How, then, can we use this form of communication to positive effect?

  1. Know what you’re selling – the first myth to dispel is that you are selling professional services in your email. You are not. It is highly unlikely that you will get any instruction directly as a result of this email. You may happen across “the right person at the right time” but that should be considered a bonus. Your primary goal from this email should be to say “we’re here… this is the sort of firm we are… and wouldn’t you like to know more…” Use this email contact to “sell” the first face-to-face contact (or telephone call).
  2. Have something worth saying – there is no point just sending out a “general services” email. You have to have something to say. This is your opportunity to position yourselves as thought leaders or the ultimate problem solvers… if this is your first chance to make an impression, do you really want to be known for providing a boring list of services that they can find out about on your website anyhow?
  3. Establish a problem – the most effective emails tap into a problem that you have identified. If you focus on the one thing that you believe that your clients/targets are worrying about it not only shows that you know your market but that you care about them. If this can be linked to a direct business (ie. cash) need then you’re laughing! At this point they are starting to feel that you are interested in helping, rather than just getting money out of them.
  4. Do you know the answer? – the power of ”the question” in sales materials is huge. By using questions in your email you establish an interaction with the reader. Questions suggest that you are interested in their opinion and understand their concerns. You invite them to read on further by creating an atmosphere of intrigue that will be hard to resist. They also make it clear that you want to enter into a longer conversation with them and pave the way for future dialogue.
  5. Just the subject – even if people use auto-preview in their emails their very first impression will be formed on the few words contained in the subject box. In the majority of cases they will read this before the “from” field. This is where you can use all of the previous points to best advantage. A question that identifies a direct business need and draws them in to wanting to know more may well make the difference between their opening the full email or not.
  6. Build the pressure – so you’ve got their interest… now build the pressure by putting two or three further questions right up front. Your aim at the end of this is to have them believing (as opposed to just thinking) that you really understand their pain and worries. This makes them believe that you know what you are talking about. From this comes a good foundation for a positive first impression.
  7. Put it in context – now you’ve made them realise that you “feel their pain” you need to back it up with some knowledge. There is no point understanding the problems without understanding the context. A short introduction to your background knowledge of the matter will contextualise things and help them to see that you really do know your stuff. This is where you position yourselves as real experts.
  8. Provide some answers – of course the real proof in the pudding comes with the answers you now give. You can’t whirl them up into a frenzy and then run away. Two or three short, simple answers to problems are what’s called for now. Keep them simple. Don’t go into too much detail but make sure they’re relevant.
  9. Bonus points – these come in those clever references to extra things… the things that the reader might not be aware of… the extra ways you can save them some money or complimentary services. Punctuate your email with some “did you knows” or “by the ways”. These help to hammer home the message that you really are the best of the best. You might want to make use of the “PS” to do this also.
  10. Don’t forget the admin – it’s important to make it clear to the reader what you want them to do with this newfound information. Close with your suggestions for next stages – the call to action. Never leave them guessing. Make sure you are clear about what you will be doing to follow up and always ensure you actually do what you say you will. This all counts towards their considering you trustworthy and professional.

Above all the most important tip for putting together good e-marketing approaches is to do it with confidence. You can over-polish your email and whilst there is no substitute for rigorous proof-reading it is often better to go with your instincts than get bogged down with endless “tweaking”. You may have to build up some courage and just “push that button”.

If you remember that this is just the first point of contact then you realise how enormous the task that follows it really is. If you can’t guarantee to follow this approach up properly and consistently (whether via phone or more regular information bulletins) then you really shouldn’t bother sending anything. Like all good marketing or business development the success lies in the planning. Establishing the email as the first step in several (with the end goal being instruction) will ensure that your clients understand that your aim is to build a relationship with them, not just flog your wares.

Above all, digital marketing offers a wealth of opportunities for businesses. If you make the initial approach through a well thought out email (and follow it up properly) then your readers will be far more receptive to communications in the future. If you can demonstrate “best practice” at this early stage then the potential for effective relationship building and revenue generation is huge.

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