June 25, 2002
Case Study

How to Use Autoresponder Emails to Turn Sales Leads Into Profitable Accounts

SUMMARY: Autoresponder email series are a tactic smaller and entrepreneurial companies have been using with big sales impact for years, and only now the rest of corporate America is catching on. This Case Study includes tips on how to get more sales leads to sign up for your autoresponder series, and how to avoid the biggest mistake most marketers make when creating a series. Plus, we are enchanted by the fact that company profiled gets their best sales affiliates with a clever telemarketing campaign. Classic offline tactic makes online success possible. Gotta love it!

Tom Kulzer, CEO and Founder of AWeber Systems an ASP
in the intensely competitive field of autoresponder services, has
one thing in common with the president of “the hair system for
men.” Not only did he start the company, he is also a client.

To be successful, Kulzer needed to…

1. Establish a solid pipeline of constant sales leads

2. Convert sales leads into paying customers, and to upsell
customers to paying for more accounts

3. Deal with the problems all email marketer face these days,
including HTML non-delivery and standing out from the ocean of
spam in people's inboxes

4. Handle, often lower priced, competitors who sometimes rip
off AWeber's best marketing copy for their own campaigns

First Kutzer made sure AWeber's home page would gather
as many sales leads from visitors as possible by focusing on two
offers: A free Test Drive for visitors who want to experience
how the service works, and a risk free 30 Day Trial for visitors
who are ready to start using the service immediately.

The free Test Drive offer uses six tactics to be more compelling:

1. Instead of just mentioning it once, the home page features
"Free Test Drive" offers in two different prominent spots.
The first offer is at the page's upper left corner where
visitors' eyes naturally land when they first enter the site.
The second, repeated offer is at the very bottom of the home
page where visitors' eyes end up after finishing a lengthy
sales copy section.

2. Both offers feature nearby pictures of professional-looking
young women to catch the eye. (Note: this tactic is
definitely not a good idea for all companies, but it seems to
appeal to Kulzer's marketplace.)

3. Instead of requiring that visitors click through to a form
to get the Test Drive, the only two required fields, your
name and your email, are right there on the home page.

4. Instead of saying something dull like "submit" or "go," the
submission button reiterates the offer "Free Test Drive."

5. The bottom-of-page offer also includes a strong privacy
policy statement to encourage more sign-ups: "Privacy Policy,
Your name or email will never be given or sold to anyone
outside of AWeber Communications."

6. Originally visitors who accepted the offer saw a standard
confirmation page thanking them. However, recently Kulzer
added a link to "buy now" to that page, just in case visitors
were ready to act even before they got their Test Drive

In both cases, visitors who sign up for either the Test Drive or
30 Day Trial then enter an autoresponder series of automated

The Test Drive sign-ups are sent carefully conceived series of
seven text-only email messages. Kulzer says, "Seven is the magic
number. After seven, the responses really drop off." Each
message describes an aspect of the service, it's benefits, and
includes a link to a sales offer.

Kulzer says the biggest mistake most marketers make when using
autoresponder emails is to time all seven messages to go out
seven days in a row. In fact, he says, “We don’t recommend
sending four messages within the first week.” His seven
messages are sent over the period of about 30 days. The first
message is sent immediately, the second a day or two later, the
third four days later, and the remaining four stretch out over
the remainder of the month.

Test Drive sign-ups who become regular customers at any time
during the process are automatically removed from the Test Drive
series, and begin the new customer autoresponder series (see

Test Drive Sign-ups who do not convert, are added to AWeber's
house file of prospects. Kulzer sends broadcast emails to this
entire file to garner additional sales no more than once a month
(he does not want to annoy people and risk losing their business
forever by emailing them more frequently). While his standard
autoresponder series are text-only to fit with their image as
"useful information" versus advertising (many recipients think
anything HTML is advertising these days), he does sometimes use
HTML for these broadcast offers.

Kulzer notes, "HTML messages pull better from a sales
perspective, but if you want people to read the content always
send that in plain text." In order to get the highest possible
response rate, Kulzer also always personalizes the subject line
with the recipient's name.

These broadcast messages are only sent during mid-week (Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday) to increase the response rate. Also, just
as with all other email the company sends, they include complete
contact information such hotlinks, email, phone number, street
address and hours of operation.

(It is also worth noting that during those hours of operation a
human being answers the phone, usually in less than five rings.
Sales prospects and customers do not have to fight their way
through a lengthy voicemail system or cross their fingers hoping
for a call back.)

Once prospects convert to customers, AWeber sends a series of
post-purchase reassurance emails that incorporate answers to
common customer questions. The messages also help solidify
customer retention. “If you can get them in and set up right
away, they will stay,” Kulzer says.

Some examples of follow-up messages include: how to use HTML in
your messages, how to write follow-up tips, and how to design
FAQs. Messages also include discount offers for customers
opening additional accounts. In all cases, subject lines are
concise, non-hypey and relevant to the content, and they include
the customer's name.

In addition, emails to customers also include a link to more
information about AWeber's affiliate program, which rewards them
with sales commissions for anyone they refer to the site who
buys. Kulzer says, "I've come across people who say affiliate
programs don't work, but that's the lifeblood of our business…
that’s how I eat every night."

In fact, affiliate-driven traffic is so important to AWeber that
the site features offers to join the affiliate program on its
home page. Also, when prospects and customers phone AWeber, the
company's reps always ask how they heard about the service. If
the answer is, 'Through a friend,' then the rep's very next step
is to phone that friend with a quick thanks to say that a
temporary affiliate account has been opened for them so they can
get their reward.

"Why lose that opportunity to have more customers," asks Kulzer,
"when a quick phone call can get you a top referrer? We say, 'we
wanted to get your info so we can send you a check.' We're very
proactive about rewarding people, so we have a lot of happy
customers referring their friends. It works."

Again, AWeber kicks in an autoresponder series, this time to get
new affiliates started with the program. Messages include tips
on how to set up links and how to use text-ads to promote AWeber
in email newsletters. Affiliates also receive a monthly
newsletter detailing new service features and giving tips on
using the service.

Kulzer notes that since this newsletter can get fairly long (certainly more than a screen of text), he places a message
summary and hotlinks at the top, allowing affiliates to choose
whether to scroll for more information. Past issues of
affiliate newsletters are also posted on the site where they
attract the attention of both human visitors and search engine
spiders, which helps improve AWeber's rankings.

AWeber's site sales copy and various autoresponder programs (for
test drivers, new customers and new affiliates) are so successful
that competitors frequently poach them.

Kulzer says, "We have a lot of problems with copyright issues,
from complete knock-offs of our site to everything else."
Kulzer takes the following steps to protect AWeber's intellectual

1. His team monitors the competition’s sites and autoresponder
marketing messages at least twice monthly for any hint of

2. When they find a copycat site or message, an AWeber rep
immediately contacts the other company to explain the problem.

3. If the competitor claims they wrote the copy first and
AWeber is the thief (which happens more frequently than you
might imagine), the rep refers that competitor to the Internet
Wayback machine where old versions of millions of Web sites,
including AWeber's, are posted. (See link below.)

4. A boilerplate “cease-and-desist” letter is sent to the
offender from AWeber's lawyer.

Kulzer estimates that about 70% of AWeber's thousands of business customers first started by signing up for the Test
Drive. Interestingly, he says it is very hard to correlate more
than about 30% of accounts specifically to the test drive because
the vast majority of prospects who sign up for the test use a
different email address when they become actual customers.

"A lot of people will use throwaway email addresses like Hotmail
addresses or an address on another domain for sales materials,"
explains Kulzer. However, the majority of these Test Drive
emails are good addresses, even though they are not primary
addresses. "We get a 3-4% undeliverable rate."

7-15% of Test Drive sign-ups respond during the 30-day
autoresponder series. Others sign up weeks or months later when
they are ready finally to use an account. Some sign up right
away using the link on the confirmation page to order now.

Despite heavy competition and a slowing economy, AWeber has been
profitable since 1998. Kulzer attributes much of this
profitability to the highly successful affiliate program ("Our
number one seller is referrals") and to his new customer
autoresponder series, which has converted some customers from a
single account to 10-15 accounts.

However, the copyright wars continue, although no litigation has
been needed yet. Warning: Kulzer says his attorney is itching to
make an example out of someone.

AWeber http://www.aweber.com
Internet Wayback Machine http://www.archive.org

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