A winning strategy for sales emails that engage and sell

Posted by Owen Powis on 14 Jan, 2015
View comments Marketing
Find out how to create an email strategy that will not only sell your product but also enamor your audience to your brand.

Email sells. There is no other way to put it. With some of the highest conversions rates out of any digital channel you are going to struggle to beat the effectiveness of email for selling your products. Email consistently outsells search and social, I've used this image before for 10 reasons you should be email marketing - but it's definitely worth repeating.

The trouble is that trying to sell to your audience can alienate them very quickly. The key is to be selling the right thing to the right people. You need to form a strategy that creates a positive experience for your audience. Don’t be tempted to only run offers for your own products. Repeated exposure like this will only turn your audience off and shrink your list. Find some good partners and create promotions your audience will engage with. This all starts with choosing wisely.

cartoon of fridge salesman selling to confused penguins

Having the right product and promotion

Why do you want to do this promotion?

If the answer to this question is “because I want to make money” stop and think again…

Why do you want to do this promotion?

“Because this is an amazing offer that I know my audience will love”

That’s the right answer. Because you want to share something awesome with your audience. If you focus on just monetizing your email list you will find that the list will have a high churn rate with lots of people unsubscribing. It will also become harder over time to get people to open and respond to your messaging.

Striking the right balance here means finding offers that your list will genuinely enjoy, that are unique (they can’t just Google “Coupon for X” and get the same discount) and finally actually bring in enough revenue. The better the offer, the better the response and the more revenue you should make. So it’s not mutually exclusive.

The best offers tend to be achieved through partnerships with other sites and services rather than just going through affiliate schemes. Whilst some affiliates now pay up to 60% within the digital product space, there are a lot of questionable schemes out there. A large amount of these are focused on taking people’s money rather than providing quality products.

A good place to start is by looking at the products and services you use yourself. Selling something that you really actually know about is much easier. Especially as you can tie it in with tutorials and other promotion types, which I cover further on. Smaller companies are usually easier to approach and more eager for exposure.

Creating your email offer

There are a few different approaches to take here and ultimately it is a case of trial and error. Testing what works best for your list. Contrary to what people might tell you there is no definitive method that works for everyone.

One thing you will need for sure, no matter what technique you use, is great copy. That’s a pretty big topic on its own, but here’s an excellent video from Joanna Weibe (of Copyhackers.com) on how to write compelling copy without selling out. Yes it’s possible to sell nicely.

Segments of your audience will respond differently, depending on a range of factors like age, income, background and so on. These demographic skews will affect open rates, click rates and conversion. It doesn’t make sense that all of these audiences would react in the same way. So experiment and test a variety of offer types and see what works for you.

Email sequences

Autoresponder sequences have become massively popular of late and some people have certainly been getting great results with them. They are built around the concept of having a sequence of emails sent one after the other which tell a story around a product and use open loops (cliffhangers) to get people hooked so they open the next email in the sequence.

This is a also a great place to start and you can always tweak to fit your needs.

This approach can be very effective as it warms up the audience to the offer and slowly builds up the anticipation leading to a big reveal of the offer. It means that those who have read to the end of the sequence are fully tuned in and much more likely to convert.

If sequencing is used, it needs to be set up properly so that the emails are not too sales focused and actually appeal to the audience. It can be tricky to retain you subscribers attention over multiple emails. Unfortunately many emails do stray into spammy territory and focus more on trying to sell a product (whilst trying desperately to not look like they are) than actually giving you something informative and interesting to read.

The solus

A solus is a single email sent out containing a one page offer for a product separate to your own. These are commonly written and designed by, or in conjunction with, the partner running the offer.

A solus can be very effective if done properly. It needs to be clear that it is in conjunction with you and should come out from your usual email address. Otherwise people are likely to just consider it spam and report it as such. This will damage your email list and may mean your email platform gives you a warning, or suspends your account.

We run our own version of a solus around once a month at Wordtracker, although we may run another offer type in its place at times. We’ve found them to be good for a one off offer or event. They also have the advantage of being designed outside of our normal email template.

When running a solus the offer and the email need to be really, really good. If it doesn’t stand up it’s simply not going to sell. Something you can do is run some warm up content ahead of  the offer. This can be placed on your site or pushed out through email. This is not an offer but a piece of content in the same subject area as the offer. For example if you were going to partner with us and run a Wordtracker solus, you could create an article for your audience on what Keyword research is and why it is important. This is content, not an ad, so you don’t need to push the offer within it.

Content driven approach

This will depend greatly on what type of content you usually use within your email marketing. If you run a newsletter with articles and other types of email content rather than just advertising offers. Or if you have an information and education focused site, which is the approach we go for at Wordtracker, your email strategy may well reflect this. For example we run 4 newsletters or informational emails for every 1 offer to our list.

If you are creating a series of articles around a subject look for an offer to place after that sequence which complements it. It’s important to note this isn’t the other way around, the content must come first. However, if you’ve just spent a few weeks talking about conversion rate testing, it makes sense to run an offer for a conversion rate testing product after this.

In this way content and offers flow into each other making sure your audience is going to be interested in the offer and more likely to engage. The hardest sell is a cold sell, so look for partnerships instead which tie in to what you are already talking about.

It’s important to note that by law in the UK and US adverts need to be marked clearly as such, so it’s not about creating ‘stealth advertising’ whereby an endorsement for a particular product is hidden within content. In the UK a number of vloggers have had their content banned by the advertising standards authority for falling foul of this. If you’re being paid to promote something you have to make it clear that’s the case.

Sending to the right people

Not all things are for all people, you may find that some offers just don’t appeal to some segments of your audience. By the same token you may also find that some offers are very appealing to other parts. The thing is, how do you tell?

If you are taking the autoresponder approach these should be set up in a sequence which narrows down the list as people drop out by not opening or responding to emails. This means that the initial audience is naturally narrowed down to the people most likely to convert by the end of the sequence.

A similar approach can be taken if you are using content to warm up your audience. Those who engage with that content are those who will most likely be interested in an offer on the same subject. You can then focus the offer just at this segment of your list. This also means you can run offers concurrently, sending each to different segments with different interests.

Test and learn

This is probably the single most important part of any email campaign. Through proper testing you’ll be able to analyse which elements of your design, segmentation, offers, pricing and everything else, can be improved.

Not everything has to be perfect first time around, that’s the great thing. A proper testing strategy is the safety net which will allow you to catch mistakes, understand and correct them. Testing is laid out in greater detail in a previous article here. The fundamentals lie in creating a controlled test where the only variables which change are those you want to test.

Through this process you can also learn what offers do and don’t work as well as the best format for your promotions. Proper recording of your offers is absolutely key, so create a spreadsheet and start recording the different responses, sign up rates, refunds, etc for each offer as you run them.

You can also record results from testing in the same way. Having this all accessible in one place makes reporting easier over the long term as well being able to gain a quick overview when making decisions.


A vast topic on it’s own I’ll touch on this within ‘testing’ as it’s through reporting and analysis that your design will really begin to evolve to meet your subscribers needs. Testing all elements of your design is key to having a consistently successful campaign. It’s easily argued that this is even more important that the design you pick in the first place.

While the type of design you go for is going to vary depending on the type of strategy you decide to use. Often it is best to start with a simple layout.

It’s tempting to go for something showy and invest heavily in design up front. What you may well find is that it becomes a poor investment as testing leads you to change a lot of those aspects. The best way around this is to start with something very clean and simple. This will also have the advantage of needing less work for cross platform and device compatibility. It’s a lot easier to make a simple email design mobile friendly.

There are lots of places where you can buy email templates, many email platforms have them built in, as well as thousands of web designers who will gladly create a bespoke one for you through sites such as Fiverr and Peopleperhour. I would start with an off the shelf template and customize to fit. This is going to be the path of least resistance and probably the most cash friendly approach as well.

Once you have that simple design you can start testing, dividing your audience into equal segments and sending them different versions (making one change at a time). Any changes you make to the template need to be tested in this way. Over time the template will organically change and grow and become increasingly unique, but tested every step of the way.

Time to get started

So that’s it, hopefully you will have picked up some valuable tips for improving your existing campaign or inspired you to get started. Email can be a really effective tool, when used well,  and establishes greater links to your audience, separate from the whims of search engines, cost of display and ppc advertising.

I’d love to know about your experiences with email sales campaigns as a business or subscriber.

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