Can you "be lucky" in email marketing? There is no best practice that I've seen that says, "Best Practice #4: Be Lucky," although it's hard to deny chance, randomness, and luck in life and therefore in Marketing.
"Be Lucky" is a form of wishing someone "farewell" in good, old London. You’re likely to get it from your friendly London black cab driver. It's a little more interesting and original than, farewell or goodbye, and it has an optimistic ring to it. Luck is an interesting idea. We all wish each other luck, want luck ourselves, but we never admit to "being lucky," while we'll admit to being "unlucky." Notions of luck, chance, randomness, etc. are wildly unpopular these days. Admitting to any of those takes the shine out of our brilliance (superficial attempts at humility aside). And that brings us to email. One of the great examples of luck and numbers' games in BtoB sales and marketing (but don't tell anyone). What do I mean by luck and email? Let's find out…
Most of us (you) hate sending emails. We use them either as part of our marketing programs (if you're a marketer) or territory prospecting activities (if you're in sales). We spend ages composing subject lines, and constructing flows, and being meaningful and attracting attention and linking through to thoughtful content, building bridges and showing empathy and keeping it simple. We mind screw ourselves up hill and down dale asking advice, while swimming in best practices, knowing that maybe 10 out of 100 emails will get opened (some even deliberately), and even less will get read. As an insightful colleague once described it to me, "we might be overcome by passive disinterest." As a recovering VP of Marketing, I wanted to stop email programs every time I even thought about them (our Go To Market was not heavy on email). I was convinced that if we could not produce the perfect email, then we shouldn't do them at all. So why didn't I? Because I could always find a few deals every year that started with a response to an email (Damn It). We were understaffed, under-resourced and couldn't spend the time even getting close to what the hordes of "best practitioners" were telling us to do. But we remained thoughtful and disciplined and did the best practices we could with the resources we had, and we still got into opportunities.
BtoB Marketing and The Idea of Luck
Most will argue that success in BtoB sales and marketing is about building a relationship, moving people from obscurity to intimacy. Attracting our prospects' attention and embarking on a journey where we can convince them of our credibility through unique insights, valuable thoughts communicated in regular, imaginative ways – right? Of course, I am not disputing this. But it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes luck rears its disturbing head.
The literal definition of luck is "Luck, or good luck, is success or good things that happen to you, that does not come from your abilities or efforts." - Collins English Dictionary. More imaginative descriptions include "Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity." This quote, attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, tends to be preferred in most professional circles. It allows for us to acknowledge the existence of luck combined with our ability to still influence the outcome. Richard Wiseman; professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire conducted a ten-year study into luck. Wiseman encourages people to "maximize opportunities," in other words show up (as in "90% of life is simply showing up"). If you don't show up nothing will happen (good or bad). In our email conversation, the equivalent would be that you at least must send some emails!
Wiseman also says "Lucky people just try stuff. Unlucky people suffer from paralysis by analysis. They wouldn't do anything until they walked through every single angle and by then the world had moved on. They don't gain the benefits of learning through doing. I'm a big fan of starting small, trying lots of projects, seeing what works and what doesn't, and iterating based on feedback." I include this because as well as being useful advice it sounds like the paralysis brought on by an addiction to best practices as well as a description of Agile. So, is there an element of luck in using an Agile methodology? Hmmmm…that doesn't sound very scientific, does it?
Preparation Meets Opportunity
A pal of mine (Nigel) who is in sales, has a great story that illustrates the "Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity" definition. He got to share an 8-minute cab ride with one of his top prospects at a conference. They happened to be leaving the conference venue at the same time, heading back to the same hotel. Nigel had done his homework on the prospect as he intended to "meet" him at the event but had failed so far, but at least Nigel had shown up and not sneaked off to the golf course. Nigel was heading back to the bar at his hotel to blow the froth off a couple, and due to a transport snafu ends up sharing a cab. A quick conversation ensued where Nigel demonstrated his knowledge of the prospect, their business challenges, statements they had made in media releases and how Nigel's firm might help them. Nigel was prepared. A great example of opportunity colliding head-on with preparation, but there's also some luck in here – they happened to leave at the same time, be staying at the same hotel, and be put in the same cab. Lots of opportunities, lots of preparation and yes, some luck. Let's get back to emails…
We send our emails; someone sees one or more from us. It speaks to them; they happen to be looking for something we have. Maybe they see another email from us and guess what – they respond. While we're abiding by the laws of best practice someone will notice an email and say "hey, weren't we just talking about that?". Next thing we know we have started a meaningful dialogue. Is that luck, timing, chance, randomness? If we'd have waited to compose the perfect email, with the greatest content and the most compelling subject line we'd still be in paralysis by analysis and as the Prof Wiseman said; "the world would have moved on."
These days everyone is preoccupied with "creating" demand as opposed to "finding" demand. It appears that the dollars accruing from a deal where you "created" demand are better than those from a deal where you "found" demand. "Finding" demand is unfashionable. Guess why? It implies that concept of luck once more. You didn't spend all that time in business school and hours of program planning and mastering the latest marketing jargon to admit that you got lucky. Humans will deploy what psychologists refer to as the "Self-Serving Bias." We are good, righteous, skilled and deserving. Therefore, good things will happen to us, and they are a result of us, NOT circumstances. Final thought on "finding demand" - Sales doesn't like deals that have been "found." They don't want to have to respond to an RFP they haven't written. Influencing RFPs is one of the biggest fallacies of BtoB sales in the last 30 years and is a testament to both the influence of the sales training business and the unreliability of our memories. BtoB salespeople are convinced that they have "written" tens or hundreds of RFPs. Note I said RFPs NOT responses to RFPs. We overestimate the influence we have had in all those deals where we "wrote" the RFP. Therefore "finding demand" through a less than perfect email is OK.
The Verto Verdict
Don't over analyze it and that's NOT an excuse to NOT analyze it at all. Email is part of the modern marketing mix, being deployed in generating awareness, building the reputation and in creating and finding demand. The purveyors of best practice have got everyone convinced that email is essential, but that everyone (especially you) suck at it. The internal purveyors of the "best practice du jour" also surround you. The CEO or VP of Sales show up at the meeting having visited the internet and printed a page on Email best practices, ready to roll it up and professionally beat you over the head with it. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Yes, you are short on resources, but there are two things you can do. Be thoughtful and disciplined with your emails. Be prepared for when people do open your emails (remember Nigel). And remember what some people say about luck…" the harder I work, the luckier I get."
OK, see you around and "Be Lucky, Guv."