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Oct 16, 2001
Case Study

Franklin Covey Gets Fortune 500 Sales Leads With Viral-Only Personalized Email Newsletter

SUMMARY: Email newsletters have proven incredibly effective both for gathering solid B-to-B sales leads and for keeping them "warm" until you can convert them into actual sales. Which is why most marketers are either publishing a newsletter or planning to start one soon.

We've published lots of how-to advice on basic email newsletters. But there's a whole world beyond newsletters 101. Some advanced tactics - such as personalized newsletters - can improve your results markedly. Want to know more? Check out the new Case Study below …

Franklin Covey offers sales performance classes starting at $8000 and up (and up) to the corporate marketplace. Marketers there had bounced around the idea of starting an email newsletter … but it certainly wasn't a top priority. They were busy enough with their regular marketing campaigns.

Then one client demanded it!

In August 2000, Microsoft asked Franklin Covey to do an in-house training course for 90 of its sales staff. However Microsoft wanted to maximize this training investment -- they knew that it's easy for people to get all revved up by a course, and then afterwards forget to implement newly learned ideas as their regular duties swallow them up again. So, Microsoft required that Franklin Covey send attendees a series of follow-up emails to reinforce the messages from the class.

Microsoft didn’t want just any newsletter either. They wanted something that would speak to each attendee's individual needs. The newsletter would not only have to be well written, and attractively designed in HTML, it also had to be customized by attendee. They suggested that Franklin Covey work with newsletter technology firm Questiva to create this wonderful thing.

Since Microsoft also offered to pay for development, plus 90 days of newsletter service in advance, Franklin Covey thought, "Well why not?"

By the end of the initial period the original 90 Microsoft subscribers had swollen to 250 as friends told friends about the newsletter. Plus, there were even a few subscribers from large companies outside of Microsoft, such as Accenture. The Franklin Covey team realized they had a hit viral campaign on their hands. So, they began to wonder, "How can we extend this project into a profitable viral marketing program for our courses?"


The success of a viral campaign is based in one simple thing -- you have to create an email that recipients like so much that they not only open and read it, but they're also impressed enough to also forward it to their colleagues and tell them to sign up as well.

As everyone's work email boxes get fuller and fuller these days that isn't easy. Plus, personality-wise Franklin Covey's target audience of sales executives are not normally big readers. In order to work, Franklin Covey's newsletter had to be appealing in four ways:

1. Brevity
Each article (called 'tips') takes just a minute or two to read. Newsletters rarely include more than 2-3 articles. Crickett Willardsen who is in charge of the newsletter project at Franklin Covey says, "We try to keep the tips as short as possible because we'd rather get a quick point across instead of trying to get 4-5 points across. It makes tips usable from a learning point of view."

2. Personalization
By 'personalization' we don’t just mean including the recipient's name in the newsletter. Subscribers who opt-in to receive a Franklin Covey newsletter get to pick their choice of a wide variety of article types, including:
o Tips from a specific Franklin Covey instructor
o Sales training tools such as exercizes
o Success stories from other subscribers
o News from around the Web
o News on Franklin Covey's training programs

They can also ask for news by keyword, chose text vs HTML, and decide between weekly delivery and "as soon as information is available."

Willardsen says, "Tailor-ability from the user's point of view is critical in my opinion. I'm not sure I would support anything like this if it were something very generic. My key concern is getting the users what they need -- and they determine what they need." She also notes that she's not a big fan of most other companies' email newsletters, "I've subscribed to a few and just found them very banal and too generic."

3. Audio
Since sales executives are generally not big readers, the newsletters include an audio option. Recipients can simply click on any tip to hear it read to them. Audio usually takes longer than reading, but tips are short enough that each tip audio is under two and a half minutes long.

4. Benefit-oriented title
Instead of being called, 'Franklin Covey Newsletter', the letter is called, 'Helping Clients to Succeed Tip of the Week', which is a far more compelling name that explains exactly what benefit you'll get from subscribing. Plus the word 'tip' implies both brevity and usefulness.

5. Timing
The weekly version of the newsletter is sent every Friday afternoon which Willardsen feels is the time when, "sales people are much more likely to be sitting at their computer and might feel more relaxed." (Note: although this timing appears to work well for this audience, most other B-to-B audiences respond better to newsletters sent Tuesday-Thursday.)

Franklin Covey has not invested in any outbound marketing to promote the newsletter. However they did build a special Web site section to collect opt-ins (see link below.) This section includes an online registration form, a 'forward to a friend' form, and bulleted marketing copy explaining the benefits of subscribing. Because people like to feel connected to other people, the site also features a prominent photograph of Franklin Covey's most famous trainer, Mahan Kahlsa, sporting his trademark big, fuzzy beard.

To encourage viral spread, each individual newsletter includes a "forward to a friend" button. When subscribers click on that button, the newsletter's database sends their friend a completely fresh version of the newsletter featuring a salutation saying 'You've been forwarded this by so and so and if you would to subscribe yourself for free, click here.'


Over the past year, the newsletter has generated approximately 70 highly qualified sales leads for high ticket accounts in the tens of thousands. Willardsen says, "We got one just a few days ago for potentially 400 people to train, and that's a significant amount of money."

Due to viral word-of-mouth, the initial 90 Microsoft-only subscribers have grown to almost 2,000 subscribers at a variety of mainly Fortune 500 companies. Approximately 150 new subscribers join each month.

Plus, now some Franklin Covey clients and potential clients are asking for their own special versions of the newsletter as a paid-add on to the classes they purchase!

As you can see from the numbers below, subscribers really do tend to want very different content in their personal newsletters:

86% want content for sales managers
98% want content for sales people
72% want Ask a Consultant Archive
49% want Business articles from around the Web
7% want general news from around the Web
45% want to hear success stories from other readers
52% want sales training exercizes
28% want news on Classes in your local area
36% want news on new features on Franklin Covey's Web site
39% want to hear about Webcasts coming up from Franklin Covey

Of the nine different instructors' tips offered, 80% want to get tips from Mahan Kahlsa, while the remaining instructors run from 14-19% (proving a famous name makes a difference!)

One last note -- the newsletters currently get a 80-85% open rate which is incredibly high. In comparison, the average, successful, B-to-B newsletter tends to get around a 60% open rate.

Useful links related to this article

Franklin Covey

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