Email Marketing
June 21, 2008 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm a dog trainer. Almost 100% of the potential clients who telephone me sign up for lessons. Far fewer, about 40% of the people who email me, sign up for lessons. The other 60% don't respond to my email. How can I get that other 60% to sign up?

Most people who telephone me have been referred to me by a past client, a vet, or another pet professional. The people who email me find me through Google, I guess.

My stock response is something like,

"Hi! Thanks for getting in touch. (A sentence or two letting them know that I can help with the problem about which they've emailed me.) Give me a call at (555) 555-1234 if you'd like to set up a time for us to meet."

Then I either get a call back, and get the client, or never hear anything else from them.

Should I be sending follow-up emails? That feels intrusive and spammy to me, but maybe I should just go for it. Or should I tweak the wording of my initial reply email so that it's more effective?
posted by freshwater_pr0n to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They're sending you e-mails because it is a much more convenient way of communicating than the telephone. You should include your phone number in your response, but you should make it open to further communication via e-mail.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:38 PM on June 21, 2008

How do they contact you? If it is a form on your website, can you have a space for them to fill out their phone number?
posted by Pants! at 9:38 PM on June 21, 2008

Do you have a website? If I'm sending and receiving emails, making a phone call means I have to stand up, walk to the other room where the phone is, pick it up, realize I forgot to bring the phone number with me, and so on. Checking out a website is a single click of the mouse. They'll still need to make a phone call at some point, unless you are ok making an appointment by email, but if there is another way to get information at the computer before calling you, that might help.

Maybe append a standard paragraph to all these first-contact emails: give your website url, a blurb about your X years of experience with Y situations and Z credentials, and a sentence or two about whether you work one-on-one, in groups, make house calls, or whatever. Sort of a condensed version of what would go in the "about me" section of a website.
posted by Forktine at 9:46 PM on June 21, 2008

i have to partially disagree with tim. in our business in china, part of the reason email is used is because it is a lower level of commitment. seriously. in our business, most suppliers wont even respond to an email, because it is too informal. so people who are emailing possibly are only doing it out of curiousity, whereas people who call have already a real commitment in their mind, and are therefore ready to make a personal contact.
to put it another way, it probably isnt to do with a problem with your website, more jsut the actual intent of the potential client - the other 60% don't have serious intentions when they contact you
posted by edtut at 9:52 PM on June 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

You need to create a marketing system. Encourage people to sign up for your newsletter. Then send out a newsletter -- once every 1-3 months. Some people will unsubscribe. But, if you can market to a group of people who actually want to hear from you, you're more likely to convert them.

A 40% conversion rate from email is pretty good, especially if they don't know you. Congrats!

Disclaimer: I am a marketing consultant.
posted by acoutu at 10:02 PM on June 21, 2008

Some people won't sign up as a result of an email -- it's a lower commitment form of contact than phoning someone.

That said, if I sent you an email and your follow up was 'please call me', that wouldn't happen unless you had something I really needed and I couldn't get it any other way. Offer to call them at a time that's convenient to them, or continue the conversation via email. Presumably if they have your email, they also have your phone number. If they'd wanted to phone you, they would have.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:09 PM on June 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Free. Nothing gets people going like free. Discount is a close second. Maybe you could offer a free week of walks? Or, 50% off the first week of walks? The idea with the discounts is to make an offer so good that no one can say no, and then, once you've been walking Fido for a week, and have their billing info, and a copy of their house-key, and so forth, you are now the default. They will actually have to go through a non-zero amount of work to find a replacement for you, and now the customer's non-committal nature works in your favor as you are already the default.

If the free walks are a little too generous, or don't work out too well, you could go with a "free in-house consultation" or something like that where you meet the dog and share whatever dog-related expertise you might have with regard to doggie manners or training or something like that.

Or, you could offer 15% off on an ongoing basis only if they mention referrer's name. The idea here is to trick people into thinking that they are getting a special deal that no one else is getting, and to create a sense of intimacy through this. It may help with referrals too, as this is a "professional courtesy only offered to clients of vet X."
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 10:09 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oops, I think I misread the question and mistakenly thought you were a dog walker- my apologies.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 10:12 PM on June 21, 2008

Best answer: My wife's business is a lot like yours. She gets a lot of business from the "contact us" form on her web site --- much more than she ever did over random emails. Having little boxes labelled "name" "phone" "email" makes a big difference.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:43 PM on June 21, 2008

Tim is right. If I sent you an email, I'd expect an email reply with full details about your rates, your services, and your training philosophy. It sounds like you want the phone calls because it's more convenient for you, but if you want to convert more of your emails to sales, you have to make it as convenient as possible for your future customers. Create a standard email sales pitch for your business, and customize whenever you know more about the client's needs. Playing phone tag with a (presumably) busy trainer running classes all day sounds like a huge hassle.

In fact, I chose my dog trainer out of a sea of competition because they had a great website with photos of their facility, videos showing a two minute mini-lesson, a calendar of classes, and full descriptions of prerequisites and the material covered. They send me bi-monthly emails about class offerings and what's happening at the training center. I love it.

I would not respond to an email with "call me" unless you were the only option. Now, your business might be set up completely differently -- maybe you work one-on-one in clients' homes and/or you feel like you need to asses the dog before giving an accurate quote-- but it's clear there's at least a portion of the population who are turned off by that prospect. (Regardless of the reason for it, no upfront pricing would make me feel a trainer was assessing how much they could get out of me. Particularly so if you required an in-person or in-home meeting!)

So write a great standardized email selling how fabulous your services are, what training methods you use, your business hours, and especially a cost estimate. Better yet, put all of that on a website and allow clients to sign up for classes or open appointments online. Be the easiest, most convenient, and most informative option, and you will convert more of your emails to happy customers.
posted by Gable Oak at 10:55 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

It looks as if people self-segregate:
  • Phoners: only serious customers, maybe because they already know about you through ads or word of mouth, maybe because they just took the first one out of the phone book and you are the "Alcoholics Anonymous Automotive Association of America Dog Trainers", but now they just want to talk to you and set something up right now.
  • Emailers: maybe some serious customers like the phoners, but also all of the people who want to keep you at a distance because they know nothing about you. They are emailing 20 places to gather and compare information before deciding which one to use. They might be serious about what they want, but they aren't serious about you, not until you can show them the data.
If you want to get those comparison shoppers, you have to respond with something better than "Hi. Call me." They prefer email to phone, so they probably would go for some nice web pages showing why you have the best deal for their doggies. Get your smiling face into the pictures. Show some pictures making it clear how much you love doggies and can be trusted to take care of them with one-on-one safety and understanding. (No pictures of you trying to handle 10 dogs at a time or whatever.) Checklists. Numbers. Special offers. If you have big competitors, may some Brand X comparisons, or extra blank columns in your checklists for them to fill in data from other places so they can see that you are the best. ANd offer to phone them if they'll just send you a number -- many people will go for the nice voice on the phone when the data doesn't convince them.
posted by pracowity at 12:42 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

You'll never get 100% response from email. As other people have pointed out, email is lower commitment, its free and takes almost no time to do.

However, I think you'd have a better response rate if you had a more comprehensive answer than 'call me'. Some people prefer to use email and don't like to use the phone. If I had emailed you about your service (particularly if your phone number is also on your website - or wherever your enquiries are coming from) I'd write you off if your response required me to call you to get the info I wanted.

If someone emails you, assume that it is their preferred method of communication and act accordingly. Sure, have your phone number in your sig, in case they want to call but try to keep everything in email unless they indicate otherwise.
posted by missmagenta at 4:53 AM on June 22, 2008

I agree that many people who email are averse to the phone, for whatever reason. (I'm one of those people that hates the phone and will email if at all possible.) Please meet these people on their turf and continue the conversation via email. If you seem to be closing the deal, that would be an appropriate time to ask for a phone number for confirmation, etc.
posted by bassjump at 5:25 AM on June 22, 2008

Many times I have avoided purchasing goods or services because the vendor insisted on a phone conversation for basic information. Sounds like this is what you are doing.
posted by grouse at 5:48 AM on June 22, 2008

Just chiming in for the sake of another data point: I am another phone-averse one. If I am considering hiring you for something like this I know we will probably have to talk on the phone at some point, but I want to get as much information as possible before that point. Ultimately I am hopefully gathering information from a bunch of people by email, and then narrowing it down to one or two I actually have to suck it up and call. If your reply directs me to call you, I am going to go looking elsewhere. And it's entirely possible I'll be willing to go with someone whose service is a little less appealing, a little more expensive, etc. than yours, simply because they are willing to communicate with me in a way that is convenient and pleasant for me.
posted by Stacey at 5:54 AM on June 22, 2008

Many times I have avoided purchasing goods or services because the vendor insisted on a phone conversation for basic information. Sounds like this is what you are doing.

I agree. I avoid vendors who do this, too.

By e-mailing you, the people have already given you a clue that they are averse to calling you. So for you to follow up with "call me!" is not a good idea. If they wanted to speak to you on the phone, they would have called you in the first place (well, I am assuming they can see your number in your Google listing).
posted by jayder at 6:02 AM on June 22, 2008

Offer a free first lesson, so that people will come in with their dog and get to know you. Nothing works like getting them to show up. Then sign them up once they are there! Also you could have a calling campaign for the 60%; talking to people via voice really helps.
posted by zia at 8:43 AM on June 22, 2008

Yes, definitely provide more information. I understand dog training is going to be specific to the problem, but I would be happy to receive a response like:
Hi, thanks for getting in touch. I can certainly help train your man-eating dog. If you're still interested, here are the next steps:

1. We have a brief phone consultation to discuss your case and set up an in-person evaluation.
2. I meet your drugged and muzzled escaped lab specimen for 1 hour (free)
3. If we decide to go ahead, we set up a schedule where I show up at your house with a chair and a bullwhip for 1 hour sessions 2-3 times per week.
4. My rate will vary between $250-500 an hour plus combat pay.
This way, like Stacey said, as a client I can know what I'm getting into while still evaluating multiple trainers. It's fine to use ranges or be vague, but let me know the gist of your approach.
posted by nev at 8:44 AM on June 22, 2008

Most people who telephone me have been referred to me by a past client, a vet, or another pet professional. The people who email me find me through Google, I guess.

People who call you already have a referral from a trusted source, so they're more likely to commit quickly.

People who email you apparently have little or no information about you. You must have some sort of web presence, or they wouldn't be able to find your email address, but it sounds like your site needs work. Testimonials would be a great idea, as would more details about how you work and, if possible, what you charge.

In addition to beefing up your web site, I'd recommend that you make your email response more detailed. Write some boilerplate copy that talks about your experience and services, includes any awards, and says that references are available. Copy & paste that copy into each email and include a custom sentence or two about how you could help them with their problem.

Also, you could make your call to action sound like less work. You currently suggest that they call to set up a time to meet. That's a big commitment if they're not already pretty sure about you. Instead, you could say that you'd be happy to talk with them to answer any questions. Then, during that call, suggest you meet.

If someone emails you out of the blue, you respond with a detailed email and suggestion that they call to talk, and they don't act, you might follow up with one more email about a week later. Sort of "I'm checking to see if you still need help with [their problem]. Please give me a call if you'd like to find out how I can help" and include a link to your website.

You might also consider setting up a small blog or email newsletter that you can make available to the people who have emailed you. It doesn't have to be fancy--just a few training tips for dog owners sent out monthly or so. That will keep you fresh in people's minds.
posted by PatoPata at 8:48 AM on June 22, 2008

To improve your online trust factor, you can also use testimonials, photos, news clips, past newsletters, etc. You won't replace the credibility of a friend/vet who referred your phone callers, but you can improve from where you are now. Referrals usually result in a much higher conversion rate.
posted by acoutu at 9:00 AM on June 22, 2008

"Give me a call at (555) 555-1234 if you'd like to set up a time for us to meet."

Stop doing that. Really. Really, really, really. Stop that. Now.

You got an email lead specifically because that person did not want to speak on the telephone with you for initial contact. Any conversation you can have on the telephone you can reasonably carry on via email, and referring email users to the telephone is a great way to kill the lead. (I myself fall into the category of not doing business with those whose idea of an email conversation is "call this number" for the simplest of questions, and having previously done email customer service in a past life, experience has shown there are plenty of others like me.)

Follow something closer along the lines of nev's response above, although I'd suggest that if possible you should try to commit to initial greetings via email. The ideal response to an email lead is something like:
Hello Ms. Petowner, and thanks for your message.

I can assist you with Problem X and Concern Y in the following manner: blah blah business talk blah. Explanation and any questions you have for the customer. Stuff here. Lorem ipsum.

If you'd like me to perform an initial evaluation so you can sign up for lessons, my availability is pretty good on Monday, August 32nd, and Fridays are generally open. Just let me know when you'd like to stop in with Mister Poochulz and I'll set aside some time for us. I try to reply to email within two hours, but inquiries made after 5PM will be answered the next day as in the interest of keeping your pet healthy and happy, evenings are set aside for hosing down the dogfight pits. Or if you'd prefer to call to make arrangements I'm available at 1-900-MIX-ALOT until 7:30PM every weekday.

Thank you,

Choo Choo McGroo's Animal Tamer Service
posted by majick at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yeah I'm agreeing with everyone who says that 40% sale rate on emails is really good.

Although it might seem like sending an email and making a phone call would demonstrate equivalent interest in the product, I don't think that's the case at all.

People are much more likely to send off an email asking for information just on a lark, than they are to make a phone call and speak to a human being when they have little actual interest. There's probably some aspect of psychology in here (email is impersonal, telephone conversation isn't) as well as the time/effort required.

Obviously you can tweak your email replies a little, but I wouldn't worry too much about sending out additional followups. I wouldn't say it's necessarily 'spammy' if you just send out a single followup/reminder (maybe after a couple of weeks), just asking if someone is still interested, but I'm not sure it'll dramatically improve your sale rate either. Most of the people who don't respond to your emails probably aren't going to buy.

What you might want to consider are ways to reduce your time spent replying to each email, that way you don't feel like you're wasting so much effort replying to people who never get back to you. If each email only takes 15 seconds, the 40% conversion rate isn't going to feel like nearly as much of a loss as if each one takes 10 minutes. Things to consider might be as simple as keeping a file of stock responses to questions that you can cut/paste into your replies, or setting up rules/filtering based on keywords ... there's a lot you can do there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2008

Dittoing that 40% is really good.
Which means, what you should be doing is trying to increase the number of email inquiries you get, rather than trying to up the conversion rate (except to provide more info in your email responses, as suggested).
If you could get a 50% increase in email inquiries, and you kept the 40% conversion rate, that would be the equivalent of getting the conversion rate on your current email inquiries up to 60%.
You may be able to do that by doing more email marketing, making sure your search engine optimization is good, buying some Google ads, etc.
posted by beagle at 1:25 PM on June 22, 2008

Dittoing not asking people to call you. If they wanted to call you, they would have. I hate calling people, and I will avoid if at all possible doing business with anyone who seems to require a phone call. Let them make appointments by email, and make it clear in your initial response that you welcome appointments made by email.
posted by decathecting at 5:28 PM on June 22, 2008

This is all so groovy, and when you reply by email, it would be nice to include a photo of a happy, successful dog. Not anything with ribbons or an agility field, just something that says that dog enjoys beingn good at whatever he's doing.

Also, where are you? People are always asking me for dog trainers so if you want to email me your website, use the profile mail.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:40 PM on June 22, 2008

Response by poster: There are some good answers here. One thing I'm taking away from a lot of them is that some people are reading my inclusion of the phone number to mean, "I'm done with emailing you. If you want any other info, you'll have to call."

My schedule is usually pretty full, and most of my clients are busy working people, so I really do need to talk to them on the phone if they want to make an appointment with me. A web-based scheduling program works great for my hairdresser, who has long-term clients who can be held accountable if they no-show, but in my business, I sometimes only need to see people once. Frankly, I'd rather get fewer clients than deal with no-shows on a regular basis.

If anyone checking back has any ideas on how to word an email that states as much without scaring away the phone-haters, I'd welcome the input.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:25 PM on June 23, 2008

I understand if a business wants me to make appointments on the phone. What really gets me is when they refuse to provide basic information first. Things like pricing.

it would be nice to include a photo of a happy, successful dog

posted by grouse at 2:34 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nev has some good tips on wording the email. Describe your rates, your process, etc (put some effort into making this templated copy really, really good) and also describe the next steps in the process, ie, 'I will call you to set up an appointment for an evaluation session. At that session we'll determine what kind of schedule Fido needs for his training. Would you prefer that I call you during the day or in the evening to book the appointment? And what number can I reach you at?'
posted by jacquilynne at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2008

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