November 06, 2008
Case Study

How to Double Renewals with Triggered Emails and Sales Reps: 6 Steps

SUMMARY: Retaining as many customers as you can is even more imperative in a tough economy. For marketers who license content case by case, even a small boost in renewals can help you weather a slowdown in acquiring new customers.

Read how a photo licensing agency doubled renewal rates with an automatic email triggered by the contract-expiration date. Follow-up sales calls pushed renewal rates even higher.

JoAnn Ostrander, Customer Retention Marketing Manager, Corbis, was struggling to help the sales reps for the photo agency identify and prioritize accounts that were reaching the end of their license agreements. Indeed, handling the renewals of content licenses was a significant chore because their database included 4 million online images licensed for different periods of time depending on the customer’s end-use requirements.

Contract terms varied by usage, so sales representatives were responsible for flagging and contacting customers whose licenses were set to expire. Anywhere from 7,000-10,000 image licenses expired each month, making that task onerous.

“Sales people need to sell and, as a result, they wouldn’t reach out to clients …,” says Ostrander. “That leaves a lot of money on the table.”

Because not every client needs to renew images, Ostrander and her team knew a standard marketing program might not reach the right customers. Instead, they needed a program to optimize their sales team’s renewal efforts.


Ostrander’s team developed a renewal program that used automated emails reminding a client when their license was going to expire. They then shared those names with the sales reps in charge of each account, including a prioritized list of customers to contact.

Here are the six steps they took to create the renewal program:

Step #1. Analyze database to identify licenses eligible for renewal

Working with members of the sales team, Ostrander’s group analyzed their customer database to determine which types of licenses were most likely to be renewed. Their goal was to establish a set of rules to flag specific accounts for a renewal message.

First, they eliminated accounts based on image type or end use, such as:
o Royalty-free images
o Book licenses, which only require a one-time purchase
o Editorial licenses for single-story usage

Then, they identified accounts that were likely to require renewal, such as:
o Website licenses
o Corporate licenses for annual reports and brochures
o Commercial licenses for online advertising
o Educational licenses for brochures and other marketing materials

Step #2. Build automated reporting system to pull renewal accounts from database

With the requirements in place, Ostrander worked with the company’s business analytics team to develop a program that mined the customer database and pulled out a list of accounts that were eligible for renewal.

The program targeted accounts based on their usage requirements, which also were set to expire within 30-60 days. Then, the system collected all relevant data about the license, including:
o Client name
o Project name
o Order number
o Image ID number
o License expiration date
o Image dimensions
o Circulation information
o Image thumbnail

Step #3. Create template for email renewal message

To further streamline the process for sales representatives, Ostrander’s team developed a standard email template. It informed clients of their expiring licenses, and gave them all the information they needed to renew online.

The template included:
o Clear subject line, “Your Corbis License is Expiring Soon”
o Header image with the text, “Time to update your image”
o Brief text explaining that their image licenses were due to expire next month
o Three-step description of the renewal process, with hotlinks to the online purchasing form
o Thumbnails of each expiring image (up to 20 images), along with all the account details related to that license
o Link to a personalized account page showing each additional expiring image (above the 20 included in the body of the email)

Their goal was to provide all the relevant information a customer would need to renew their license online. “If they have to dig through their order information, then they’ll end up either looking for the image on our website again and potentially buying from us again, or just going to our competition.”

The team also localized that email template for 14 specific language and country codes served by Corbis’ global sales force.

Step #4. Personalize email messages from clients’ account representative

The team integrated the company’s customer database with their email management system to automatically generate monthly renewal emails for licenses that were expiring within 30-60 days.

They established a policy of sending renewal notices on the last Thursday of each month. For example, emails sent on the last Thursday of October would target licenses that were expiring at the end of November or during December.

Before the system sent out any emails, they were first matched to the sales representative in charge of that customer account:

- The sales representative’s personal telephone and email address were added to the bottom of the email.

- One week before emails were sent, each sales rep received a list of their customers scheduled to get a renewal notice. They could remove any name from the list if they determined that the account did not merit a renewal notice.

- Emails were sent from the account rep’s personal address.

Step #5. Compile report of email response metrics

After sending the renewal notices, the team tracked response rates and developed a report of customer activity and license information that could be passed along to the sales team for follow-up calls.

The report included:

- Email metrics, such as open and clickthrough rates
- Customer license opt-outs
A special link at the bottom of each email allowed customers to indicate that they did not need to renew licenses for the images included in the email. Those names were then removed from the renewal program.
- The potential value of renewals, to help sales representatives prioritize their follow-up activity.

Step #6. Follow-up calls from sales representatives

After each monthly email campaign, the tracking report was updated in the company’s CRM system. From there, sales representatives could view data on their accounts due for renewal and plan follow-up calls:

- Ostrander’s team encouraged sales reps to begin placing follow-up calls one week after the renewal notice went out.

- Representatives were free to prioritize their calls based on the earliest expiring licenses, as well as on the potential value of the renewal.

- The contents of the email, as well as the response report, were available in the CRM system for sales reps to reference on the call.

In addition, they were able to forward a second copy of the email to customers during a phone conversation, so that the customer could see precisely which images were due for renewal.
The upfront effort to design and implement the program was well worth it, says Ostrander. They’re now capturing much more renewal revenue than ever with the manual process:

- Online renewal rates jumped from about 2.5% to 4%-5% thanks to the targeted emails.

- Follow-up calls from the sales team based on those email lists have boosted renewal rates to 10% in some locations.

- Open rates for the renewal emails averaged around 60%, far higher than the 35%-40% open rates typically seen with other emails in the CRM program.

Ostrander credits the jump in open rates to the use of sales representatives’ names on the messages. “I guarantee [the high open rates] are because it’s from a person and a topic that customers know about.”

Based on their initial success, Ostrander’s team plans to further refine the automatic renewal email program in the coming year. They’re considering tests of second, reminder emails, as well as discount offers that encourage customers to renew before their original licenses expire.

“We are pleased with the results, but there is still more opportunity to reach out to clients with expiring licenses,” says Ostrander. “We’re never going to get 100% renewal because customers don’t always need to renew an image.”

Useful links related to this article

Corbis' Creative Sample:

Prolifiq Software provided the email management platform that handles the automated email program:

Corbis uses Onyx for its CRM platform:


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