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Storytelling: The Secret Sauce to Making More Sales With Email Marketing

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Storytelling: The Secret Sauce to Making More Sales With Email Marketing

Do businesses email their customers too often? According to a recent article on Business Insider, the answer is yes. But not for the reason you may think.

It’s not because customers loathe getting emails from companies. Or because frequent emails are considered spam. It’s actually because most brands nowadays email like this:

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They use discounts as their main strategy to persuade customers to buy. But what happens when your customer’s whole inbox looks like the picture above? The inevitable: they stop paying attention to your emails.

Because here’s the thing.

Why would they open your emails if they can already predict the content inside? Why would they buy now when they can clearly see you’ve got discounts all the time? And, most importantly, why would they pick your brand over your competitors?

If you want to stand out in someone’s crowded inbox, you need to do the one thing that everybody else avoids doing: building strong relationships with your email subscribers. Here’s how:

Storytelling is the most effective way to communicate. That’s not me saying it. It’s the countless studies (such as this one, this one, and this one) that prove it, time and time again. Why?

Because storytelling helps you form positive emotional associations with you and your brand. The emotions you evoke with your stories go a long way in defining how people perceive you, creating a stronger connection in your audience’s mind between you and the problem you solve for them. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

The truth is, writing story-based emails makes you more than just a brand that sells a solution to their pain: it makes you an entertainer, too. And as a marketer, being able to entertain while selling is like having a superpower. People hate being sold to. But they love being entertained (ever binge-watched a Netflix show? I know I have). 

Plus, with story-based emails, you can easily add more variability to your email calendar. As a result, customers will no longer be able to predict what your next email will be about: a fun story? A new product? Maybe even a discount? Curiosity translates to increased engagement. And increased engagement translates to stronger relationships with your customers. 

So by choosing the right stories to tell in your emails (which we’ll discuss in a bit) and by writing them in an engaging way, you’re guaranteed to keep your audience hooked and excited to read your next email. As opposed to adding yet another sales email to their already crowded inbox.

1. Pick the Right Story 

The storytelling approach will give you little to no results if the stories you’re telling are flat to begin with. No matter how engaging your writing is. 

So the first thing you need to do is to make sure you select story ideas with potential. Okay, but where do you find these ideas? And what does a good story idea look like?

If you’re anything like me, your life isn’t that exciting or eventful. And yet, you may still have a funny conversation with your next-door neighbor. Or your team may geek out about wild adaptogen mushrooms at a team-building event. Or your spouse may accidentally spill coffee on your laptop (true story!). 

Any of these can be turned into fun story-based emails that tell your audience a little bit more about who you (or your team) are as a person. Most business owners assume their customers don’t want to know what goes on in their personal and business life. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

In fact, customers want to know there are real people behind brand names. According to this report from Sprout Social, 70% of consumers report feeling more connected to a brand when its CEO is active on social media. 

And depending on how much you’re willing to share about your life, you can then select the types of personal stories to write about. When in doubt, think about what you’d want to tell your friends/family at the dinner table. More often than not, that’d make a great story for your email list too.

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2. Write a Strong Hook

Let’s face it. 

Nowadays, attention spans are short. And no matter how good your story is, if how you write it isn’t engaging enough, your email subscribers aren’t going to read it. 

So the very first thing you want to do is to make sure the first three sentences of your story hook the reader into the action. Once someone reads that much into a story, it’s incredibly difficult for them to stop. 

So how do you do it? Any of these hooks have proven to work again and again whenever I write stories for myself or my clients:

  • Start in the middle of the action (and explain the context later). For example:

“RUN!”, the police officer yelled at me.

“Okay, thank you!”, I yelled back, running out of Paddington Station and trying to find a cab.

Except, it was 4 in the morning. And I had no idea where to look for one.”

  • Start with ‘x time ago’. Recalling a past event hooks people instantly into your story. For example:

“A few months ago, Joanna Wiebe (the original conversion copywriter) slid into my DMs on Slack completely out of nowhere…”

3. Segue to Your Sales Pitch Seamlessly

By the time you get to this part, your readers are entertained and primed to purchase your solution to their problems. Your brand is no longer just another brand in their busy inbox. It’s someone they now know, trust, and like. And so, buying from you feels just right.

But you can’t just end your story abruptly so you can sell your products/services. That’d feel intrusive. In the same way that, when you’re engaged in a YouTube video, an annoying ad interrupts your stream.

So you must find a way to tie your story to your product or service so seamlessly that your readers won’t even notice they’re now reading a sales pitch. Sounds difficult. But you’ll see how easy it actually is. In fact, what most people get wrong about this part is that they try to find the moral of the story and tie that to their sales pitch. 

For example, let’s say your story is about how your team went to a team-building event and someone accidentally broke a bunch of glasses. And if you’re selling a service, you might be able to spin that incident into saying something like: when you hire our software developers, your app stops breaking.

But that’s a predictable way to transition from your story to your sales pitch. Plus, not all stories will end with a moral. Most stories will be fragments of conversations you have with someone or something ridiculous that happened throughout the day (like forgetting your keys at the office). There’s no moral in that and there’s no need for one.

What you can do instead is to look back at your entire story and find one or a few phrases/words that could help you build that segway. Here’s an example of a full story-based email. Pay special attention to the part where the story ends and the sale begins.

“SUBJ: Hacker threatens to destroy my reputation in 72 hours straight

This morning, I was at my laptop reading my emails when suddenly, I came across an unread email from… 

Me.

What in the world…?

Out of confusion, I open it without reading the subject line. 

And once I go past the first sentence, it becomes pretty clear:

I’m being hacked.

“You may have noticed we are using your company’s servers to send you this email: we have hacked into your website, kaleidocopy[dot]com.”

Oh.

Okay… They did send this email from my email address. 

Still, I can’t help but wonder… could this be a hoax?

“This is not a hoax.”

Ah! Well, that settles it then.

“We are willing to forget about destroying the reputation of your site and company for a small fee. The current fee is at $2500 in bitcoin.”

I mean… at least they are nice about it, you know? Their willingness to forgive and forget says a lot about a person’s character.

In the following lines, they take me through exactly what they’re going to do to ruin my company and reputation, step by step.

Then they teach me how to buy Bitcoin (I already know how, but I appreciate their thoughtfulness!).

And finally, they assure me that my Bitcoin payment will be anonymous and that no one will know that I complied with their master plan.

Mmmmkay. 

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Now that is a bit suspicious, Mr. Hackerman (or Ms. Hackerwoman — it’s 2022, what the heck.)

I’m willing to bet the $2500 on the fact that I’m not the only person they sent this to.

So if the payment is anonymous, how will they know it was ME who sent it? It just doesn’t make sense, y’know? 

Jokes aside, I’ve got to admit: seeing that the email came from my address made me panic a bit. 

But then I checked my Sent folder and the email wasn’t there.

I also checked to see if there were any alerts or logins from different devices on my Google account. There were none.

I also checked with my hosting provider, who reassured me no one has broken into anything. 

Soooo… hoax? Hopefully, lol. 

But if it isn’t, it means you’ve got 72 hours left to get Email Story Alchemy, my mini-course on turning boring day-to-day events from your life into story-based emails that build your fandom and help you stand out. 

After that, my business will supposedly disappear from the face of the Earth. And you’ll no longer be able to buy it. Everrr.”

Story is a structure, not a tale. Which means that you can apply it to anything, including email. And when you do it right, amazing things happen. 

Like building strong relationships with your customers. And turning a casual customer into a die-hard fan who wants to buy from you because they just can’t get enough of your brand.

Sure, discounts work too. But they work when used strategically and in moderation. So if you’re ever unsure about what to email your customers next, consider story-based emails. They’ll make your brand shine bright in anyone’s crowded inbox.


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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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