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Jan 03, 2008
Case Study

How to Launch a Service With No Ad Budget: 5 Steps to Grow Leads With Email & Blogs

SUMMARY: Marketing new products and services without an ad budget or a large direct sales team takes special effort, especially if your prospects are regularly bombarded with pitches.

See how a marketer used email and a blog to launch its services to a tough-to-impress audience. The lead-gen effort landed hundreds of clients in the first year without spending a dime on advertising.
Peter Martin, CEO,, was just another marketer competing for a share of car dealers’ budget when he launched a website and blog that targets women who want car-buying and car-repair advice.

To support the free service, Martin’s team offered training and marketing programs for automobile dealerships that wanted to target female car buyers. (Women purchase 65% of the cars in this country.) But car dealers are bombarded with offers from other channels promising access to certain car-buying constituencies.

“Marketing to car dealers is really an art form. Everyone wants their dollar, and they spend more money on advertising than any other industry as whole. But getting to car dealers is a very hard thing to do,” Martin says.

Martin knew he needed a marketing technique that would both introduce AskPatty to the dealers and convince them that the company’s services were worth a four- to five-figure investment. But he didn’t have the budget for a widespread advertising campaign or to pay a team of salespeople to call on prospects.

Martin and his team created a systematic email prospecting and nurturing campaign. It had two goals: introduce dealers to AskPatty and to encourage them to use the company’s website for more information or to contact Martin for a demonstration of AskPatty’s key services. Services included: “Certified Female-Friendly Dealer” training programs and comprehensive emarketing that included custom websites and email newsletters aimed at women.

Here’s how they set up a program for dealers that outlined the characteristics of a female car buyer and detailed how AskPatty’s services could help them reach those customers:

-> Step #1. Develop email content

Martin and his team wanted their prospecting emails to raise awareness about the special needs of female car buyers to generate interest in AskPatty’s services. To that end, they used AskPatty’s blog to generate publicity in major media outlets, which in turn could be used as key content for prospecting email campaigns.

“Our approach was, we have a great tool and a great database, so let’s use the press to generate reports we can put in our email campaigns to support our case -- providing the meat of the emails.”

The team found opportunities to place AskPatty in national media outlets, particularly ones reporting two trends in the industry: women as a significant car-buying audience and women confused or mistreated by car dealers. They positioned their blog as a grassroots effort to offer women a better car-buying experience. “The media was very receptive to it,” Martin says.

In six months, that PR effort generated 300 articles and segments in local and national outlets, including:
o The New York Times
o The San Francisco Chronicle
o Fox News
o National Public Radio

-> Step #2. Send general-interest emails to prospect database

Before creating AskPatty, Martin ran an emarketing firm that had assembled a proprietary database of 44,000 email addresses for car dealers. He used that database as a prospect list for AskPatty.

Once a month, the team sent a general-interest, content-driven email to those prospects. Content of the emails was selected for its timeliness and relevance, including:
o Recent media mentions of AskPatty
o News about new features and services available for dealers in the company’s network
o Industry trends or research about female car buyers

The emails were personalized with Martin’s name (a technique that would be important for future nurturing efforts) and offered several ways for dealers to contact the company or learn more about their services, including:
o An offer to call Martin directly to schedule a demo
o Hotlinks to the media reports or research hosted on AskPatty
o Hotlinks to register for online demos of certain products and services

-> Step #3: Track responses that indicate interest

From each of the prospecting emails, Martin’s team tracked all responses to the various calls-to-action. Responses could be:
o Prospects who clicked on a link
o Prospects who registered for an online demo
o Prospects who replied to Martin’s email seeking more information

-> Step #4. Enter prospects into email nurturing campaign

Prospects who responded in any way were removed from the general prospecting database, added to the company’s CRM system and placed into an automatic email nurturing program.

The nurturing program employed up to 15 follow-up email messages, sent on a regular schedule over the next 30 days. Its goal: scheduling either a telephone consultation or a Web demo. The follow-up email schedule:

- 12 hours after a response
Prospects received another personalized email from Martin. It thanked them for their interest and reiterated the offer to schedule a 15-minute phone call to learn more about the company’s services.

“The emails have to appear to be personalized. If I’m sending out generic messages, they’re not going to respond.”

- Within two days
Prospects who didn’t respond to the thank-you email received two more messages: These would either highlight additional media coverage or industry research, or describe new features available to customers.

- After one week
Prospects received a weekly update from AskPatty offering a variety of content and links to generate interest. Links were tied to:
o More print articles
o Video reports
o A podcast
o Online demos

Martin’s team supplemented the automated program with a bit of manual analysis that matched follow-up content to a prospect’s areas of interest. For example, a prospect who clicked on a link for the company’s new training portal might receive more information about the value of AskPatty’s training services.

-> Step #5. Phone consultation or Web demo follow-up

Prospects were considered leads as soon as they contacted Martin to schedule a telephone consultation or register for additional online demos.

For example, one monthly campaign offered leads online tours of the company’s custom, female-friendly websites, which required them to email Martin to receive a user name and password. “They have to respond to me, and now I have a live person I can talk to.”


With absolutely no money spent on advertising, Martin’s email marketing strategy landed more than 200 dealership clients in one year. “Put me in another industry and our results would be even better. We’re selling to the toughest customer out there.”

The team’s use of relevant industry content in emails has resonated with dealerships on their prospect list. In the past six months, they’ve seen open rates ranging from 9.8% to 17%, with read rates (prospects who keep the email open for more than 10 seconds) ranging between 4% and 6%. In turn, those messages have generated 400-600 clickthroughs per month, creating new leads for the email nurturing program.

Following up on those clicks with systematic email nurturing, featuring a consistent message from Martin, improved response rates even more. In one monthly campaign, the team saw the following response:
o Thank-you message, 56.5% open rate
o Thank-you message, 18% clickthrough rate

Martin’s team is still working through a backlog of leads who requested a demo. He hasn’t calculated, therefore, a precise conversion rate from the lead nurturing campaign to a telephone consultation or Web demo. But he’s convinced that email nurturing is delivering a more qualified set of leads, helping achieve more than a 70% closing rate on his phone consultations.

“Our goal is to build a relationship with customers. Rather than really shooting in the dark, we’re now using ongoing communication.”

Here’s a bit more evidence that ongoing communication builds strong relationships with prospects: the monthly email unsubscribe rate is consistently under 1%.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from's email nurturing program:

CactusSky Communications - helped with prospect list:

See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Jan 03, 2008 - Rachel North of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine says:
It seems a critical element to Martin's success is the very reliable, high-volume list he used at the beginning.

Jan 04, 2008 - Alison Taylor of Datamark says:
You know, like they always say, direct response is at least 50% list, then offer and creative, in order of importance. Bad list, who cares how good the offer or creative might be, since no one will see them. Good point.

Jan 04, 2008 - Steve of Linx says:
Intesting that the name of the page for potential dealers is Hooksell? Perhaps a web page title might be a more responsive name. The devil is in the details

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