October 15, 2013
Case Study

Email Marketing: Business voice system provider increases lead response rate by 100%

SUMMARY: Many email marketers feel plagued by the feeling that they're leaving business on the table, but struggle with how exactly to reach those customers. So when business voice system ShoreTel switched email service providers, it decided it was the perfect opportunity to insert humor into its email series.

See how ShoreTel inserted tongue firmly in cheek with its third and final email by using alligators in its email content, and saw its response rate swamped with an increase of 100%.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter


The goal for Michael Freeman, Senior Manager of Search & Analytics, ShoreTel, revolves around leads captured on the website, and as many high quality leads as possible.

The challenge faced by his team however, is bringing in those high quality leads, especially when emails become buried or forgotten in a busy inbox.

ShoreTel creates business voice systems for on-premises installations, as well as cloud hosted voice systems. On-premises voice is a traditional system that connects an office to the outside world, but Freeman has focused more on the hosted side, which offers a cloud solution for company phones.

"The same way that companies have started moving to the cloud for email, moving from Exchange to Gmail, for example … the phone actually can be hosted in the cloud, as well," Freeman said.

Phones being literally their business, the sales team mostly relies on the telephone to establish a qualifying connection, with email acting as a secondary, but vital, support.

"The challenge is that sometimes, we have a hard time reaching these people. So, they filled out a form, but for whatever reason, we just aren't able to connect with them," he said.


Along with phone calls, ShoreTel sent out a series of three emails to prospects that remained unresponsive, all in a very similar friendly, but professional, voice.

In spite of their efforts, Freeman and his team still felt like they were leaving leads on the table. So, they decided to bet on their last chance email to bring in previously unresponsive leads.

Continuing to let the first two emails carry a friendly but professional tone, the third email would change, and rely on a humorous voice to elicit a response.

In dramatically changing the tone of their third and final email, ShoreTel had a goal of increasing the response rate of leads that had gone more than 10 days after the initial lead creation without any further contact. Whether by clicks or callbacks, the important thing to Freeman was to control the pipeline as much as possible.

By receiving a higher response rate, he said, "We can either choose to close the lead or turn it into an opportunity."

Step #1. Utilize email in the lead cultivation process

"Any time a new lead is created, we have what we call a 'nurture flow' to ensure that there's some email communication while we're establishing a relationship with that lead," Freeman said.

The way ShoreTel gets most of its new leads is by someone filling out one of two forms on the website. The first form is to contact Sales, and the other is to view product demos. White papers and case studies, he said, aren’t gated in any way.

"We want to give as much information to the visitors as possible, let them get to know us, and we believe that we have compelling enough story that the more they learn about us, the more they'll want to speak with us," he said.

When a new lead fills out a form, ShoreTel's automated system is set up to send out the first email 15 minutes after they complete it. At that point, a ShoreTel qualifying representative will call that person within one day, although usually within two hours, Freeman explained.

First email

The first email is essentially "an introduction email sent from whoever the assigned qualifying rep is, giving some links and information on who we are, and seeing if we can schedule a time to talk," he said.

The first email states in a business professional tone:
Hi [Lead Name],

Thank you for your interest in ShoreTel Sky. My name is Michael Stewart and I will be contacting you shortly regarding your request for a call about the ShoreTel Sky cloud based phone system.

My role is to simply learn more about your initiative, answer any questions and help determine if ShoreTel would be a good fit. Of course if you have immediate questions you can contact me directly at the email or phone number below.

In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, I'd suggest 3 things to get you a little more familiar with ShoreTel Sky:
  • Check out our quick tour video

  • Watch our demo videos

  • Download white papers, datasheets and analyst reports from our collateral resource center

Thank you and I look forward to talking to you.

Second email

If their status in ShoreTel's CRM is that qualifying agents are still trying to contact them five days after a lead is created, the email service provider will then automatically send out a second email, Freeman said.

The second email is similar to the first in tone, but mentions the first email and attempt to reach the lead via telephone. It states:
Hi [Lead Name],

As a follow up to my previous email and voicemail message, I'm hoping to get 5 minutes of your time to discuss your interest in ShoreTel cloud-based phone solutions.

Our customers don't look at their phone system as an expense, but as an important revenue generating component of their business. We specialize in providing a premium managed cloud-based phone service that focuses on call quality, system reliability and customer service, rather than what's cheapest.

I will follow-up again in the next couple of business days, but please feel free to contact me directly to let me know when may be a good time to reach you.

In the meantime I'll let some of our customers do the talking … below I've included 5 reasons why customers love ShoreTel Sky solutions.

Thank you and I look forward to talking to you.

These first two emails are fairly standard B2B lead emailing practice, and have worked well enough for ShoreTel, Freeman said.

"The tone of those first two emails is friendly, but formal, or fairly formal. The problem is that there are still good leads that for whatever reason kind of slip through the cracks," Freeman said.

Step #2. Turn problems into opportunities

It became obvious in spite of its best efforts, ShoreTel wasn't capitalizing on all of the qualified leads it could be, according to Freeman.

"We felt that we were probably leaving good leads on the table and that we weren't doing enough to really break through," he said.

The third and final email, which goes out five days after the second email and ten days after the first, is ShoreTel's final chance to make an impression and cultivate the lead.

"It's our last resort email where if someone doesn't respond after that — and during this time, our rep is also calling every [few] days — and if we're still not able to reach them, then we just go ahead and close out the lead as a bad lead," he said.

So, when ShoreTel switched email service providers, it decided to use the transition as an opportunity.

"We took advantage of the fact that we had to change anyway, and we figured while we have the hood open, let's go ahead and make some improvements," he said.

Freeman and his team began talking about what they could do to boost lead responses reduce the possibility of good leads going bad.

"Our performance as an organization is not measured off of website visits or even leads created. We measure everything based on qualified sales opportunities that are accepted by the sales organization," he said.

Making sure highly qualified leads become opportunities for the sales staff is the only way to meet team goals. Seeing slippage or shrinkage means there is an area of focus that Freeman and his team needed to address. In this case, it was how to get more efficiency out of the email series.

The tactic of changing the tone of the third email was chosen because the team knew it was an area where they could see the largest return.

"It's people who have already shown interest, and you've done most of the hard work. You don't want to leave the ball on the two-yard line," he said.

Freeman and his team decided humor could be provocative enough to keep good leads from going away.

"People get busy, they get tied up with things, emails get lost, whatever. So, we wanted to go ahead and try a different tactic on that last email. We figured if we used humor and used something unexpected, we're going to be more likely to elicit a response," he said.

A response is good no matter which way it goes, he added. His team decided their goal was to receive responses, even if it didn’t go any farther than that.

"Even if it's just to close out the lead, we close out the lead with no ifs, ands, or with no doubts about it. But more likely, we think we're going to be able to rescue some leads that have gone cold. And that's exactly what's happened," he said.

Step #3. Write an attention-grabbing, humorous email

ShoreTel decided to change its third email from the typical friendly but formal approach, according to Freeman, to one where "we assume that the person has been eaten by an alligator."

For them, the change was a "pretty unorthodox approach. Not something you typically see in B2B," he said.

The third and final email reads:
Hi [Lead Name],

I've attempted to reach you to chat about whether or not our cloud-based phone system may be a fit, but unfortunately I haven't had any success.

With that said it has become fairly obvious that either you've been eaten by alligators or you’re just plain swamped.

If you have been eaten by alligators, my deepest sympathy goes out to you and your family. If you’re in fact still alive, I can only assume one of the following has happened:

Please pick one response and let me know what our next step should be.

_____ Yes, I've been eaten by alligators. Please send flowers.
_____ No, I haven't been eaten by alligators, but you may wish I had been, because I have no interest in your service. (Thanks for your frank honesty. I can handle it.)
_____ Yes, we have some interest in learning more about your phone system, but here are my challenges:
_____ Yes, you've beaten me down and I'd like to learn more about ShoreTel Sky. A good time to contact me is:
_____ I'm not the right person, please contact ____________.
_____ Other:

Freeman said they didn’t feel the need to conduct a split test in order to judge this change in the email series because they already had historical data, and by the third email, the sample size is relatively small.

"There wasn't a whole lot else that was changing at that part of the funnel luckily, this isn't a huge problem for us because usually, by the phone calls or the first or second email, we're able to establish contact. We didn't want to dilute it even further by splitting up the sample size," he said.

The email was sent as a rich text, and the response was manual — none of the elements are actually interactive. Freeman decided against adding those features believing they would have diluted the intention of the email or otherwise impeded it.

"We wanted to maximize deliverability and viewability, and any time you start thinking about buttons or HTML elements or images, then you're kind of playing with the whims of whatever clients are using to view the email, what the security settings are," he said.

Freeman said they don't really expect recipients to fill out the X-mark, just hit the "Reply" button.

"We'd rather just let the words kind of do the talking … it's more just to get their attention and get a response, because 99% of the time, they're going to just hit reply anyway," he said.

Lead responses

Hit "Reply" they did, and not only was ShoreTel receiving responses, but they were extremely interactive and excited about the content they had just received, as well as the ShoreTel system by extension.

Some responses to the third email ShoreTel have seen include:

"I love this letter — hilarious! No, I have not been eaten by alligators, but I have been trying to wrap up things with my full-time job before leaving on vacation this Saturday, so I haven't been very focused on this."


"That is the funniest email I've read in a month. We are still evaluating our needs for a ShoreTel system. Please rest assured that you have gone to the top of my list of people to call, but I am truly swamped. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to working with you."

Previously, Freeman said, responses were as formal as the email content.

"We're just a random corporate entity at that point. But now, by doing things like this, it shows some personality, shows some authenticity, and people are like, 'Oh, those guys are funny. I'm going to work with them,'" he said.


Bearing in mind this is a third attempt email, Freeman said, the team had to approach it from the perspective of being a pretty low base.

"You're dealing with folks who haven't been responsive … it does have a high rate of deliverability, but it's going to people who are really poor openers and poor responders for whatever reason, whether it's alligators or they're just busy or they just don't look at their email," he said.

That being said, however, "as soon as we changed our approach, we've essentially doubled the response rate," he said.
  • Open rate of 35% to 40%

  • Response rate increase of 100%

A result that is unquantifiable, but means perhaps the most to Freeman is the team improved the experience.

"The conversations and the comments that are made to our reps that is not necessarily captured in a system, but we know that it's improved the experience, and that can only be a benefit for us over the long term," he said.

The marketing team recently made the decision to change the subject line, to make it clear from the outset that the third email is different from the previous two.

The new subject line is, "Was it alligators? Follow up regarding your ShoreTel request."

The open rate, "compared to a standard mass-market email, that's probably high, but considering that these are people that came to your site and filled out a form showing interest, I consider that to be low," he said.

That is one of the reasons why they recently changed the subject line because it was still generic enough that people didn't realize what was waiting for them inside.

"So now that we have the subject line where they can see 'alligators' clearly in the subject line with a question mark, we think that that little bit of curiosity is going to help increase our open rate,” Freeman predicted.

In the same spirit of implementing fun elements, around the same time was a change ShoreTel's hold music to "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds.

"When we add fun to the mix, it helps show our prospects that there are real people behind our company," he concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. First ShoreTel email

  2. Second ShoreTel email

  3. Third ShoreTel email




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