September 04, 2006
Case Study

Guerrilla Software Marketing -- Email Tactics to Turn More Trials Into Customers

SUMMARY: Do you want to get more of your software trials to convert? Or would you like a way to convince your direct competitor's customers to try your service?

You'll love the practical tactics in this new MarketingSherpa Case Study. Yes, includes creative samples from automated email drip campaigns.

"My core competency is in online marketing for technology, but I'm a virtual DJ by night," admits David Lewis.

When he wanted the latest software to mix his music, Lewis downloaded trials from seven different software firms. Then, after the trial he bought his favorite.

The experience came in handy when he landed a job as SVP Marketing at Ellie Mae's Encompass, a software firm selling to mortgage brokers. "We had great traction in the large broker market, people with 50 employees and up. However, the industry is primarily a bunch of smaller firms, with one to 10 employees. These are tremendously important professionals for us."

Although there are thousands of these brokers, as with most SMB markets, it wasn't cost effective to send a field sales force to close the account.

How could Lewis convince more brokers to download a trial and then convert those trials into paying accounts without involving the sales team?

First, Lewis played actor, putting himself into the decision-maker's head. He identified three key conversion activities prospects had to pass through and then automated drip-marketing campaigns for each one of them (link to sample creative below):

Conversion #1. Install the file

"One of the main reasons why people don't install software downloads is because they lost the file," Lewis explains. Two keys to help:

- Include your brand in the download file name instead of using a cryptic code invented by the tech team.

- Include your brand in the icon so it’s instantly recognizable to prospects as well.

Lewis tied his registered trial download records together with his install records on the back end so he could see precisely which trials had clicked on the "accept" button in the installation process on their desktop. Then, he created a series of drip email campaigns to be sent automatically on a regular basis to all accounts that hadn't installed yet.

These emails were informational in tone, not salesy. Topics included step-by-step installation tips and how to turn off a firewall to install.

Plus, Lewis included a hotlink that went directly to the download link (bypassing trial registration) for prospects who had lost the install file on their desktop and couldn't find it. He also offered users the chance to request a CD-ROM of the trial via postal mail in case their firewall was stopping the install or they wanted an easier way to try the software on multiple computers.

If the account hadn't installed or replied to any of the emails in three business days, Lewis automatically escalated the name in the CRM system so his outbound telemarketing team could follow up immediately. "According to our records, you wanted to try the software, would you like some help getting it installed? We can walk you through it right now …"

If the prospect hadn't installed within 30 days, Lewis' team abandoned that lead. Better not to risk annoying people.

Conversion #2. Launch the file

Lewis' marketing automation system scanned accounts every day to see which had installed. All that did were now placed into a second drip campaign, this time aimed at getting them to actually try the software.

Emails included a “Congratulations, you successfully installed" note to a formal invitation to Encompass University, your choice of canned training or "an instructor-lead course" -- virtual naturally.

Plus, Lewis also sent out webinar invites for training that read as if a rep dashed them off personally. The invites also featured the photo of that rep to bring a personal note to the relationship.

Again, Lewis' back end scanned records to see who had taken training and who had used the software. Those who had were placed in a third pipeline for messaging. Those who hadn't continued to get training invitations for 30 days.

Conversion #3. Purchase the software

Lewis began his sales messaging with a fairly calm tone. The emails noted price, a deadline and a few benefits. Then as time passed and the prospect's trial end grew closer, the messages became a bit more dramatic (though still professional) to prompt action.

He tested two different price points in this messaging, splitting trials to learn which price would get the most profitable sales.

Next, convinced that his drip campaigns could convert leads efficiently and effectively, Lewis launched aggressive outward marketing campaigns, including:

-> Guerilla campaign to subvert the competition

Lewis asked his development team to create a small application that would be a useful plug-in for the competitor's software.

Then, he posted a microsite wholly dedicated to offering the app for free to all and any comers. Why on earth would you do that? To get your competitor's customers to register with you as potential leads. (Note: This was less underhanded than it seems -- Lewis was careful to respect trademarks and not to imply the site was operated by an officially recognized partner of the competitor. This honesty was critical -- otherwise Encompass' own reputation might have been damaged.)

According to Lewis, Encompass is in a lucky position because there is only one significant direct competitor. So, marketing his free app site was easy. He just rented the postal mail names of every broker in the industry and suppressed all his clients from it. Many of the remaining names would ipso facto be customers of the competitor.

Because the app related directly to the competitor, Lewis also threw search marketing into the mix under the competitor's brand name. Key, again he never claimed to be that competitor and was honest about the brand he worked for.

Instead of pouncing on the resulting leads immediately, Lewis' automation program waited for 90 days "until the relationship was right" to try to cross-sell the users with a trial offer for Encompass.

-> Direct postal mail campaign

If you can't get prospects to come to your site, why not send your site to them? Lewis tested an oversized mailer sent to a carefully targeted list.

The mailer featured a 22-page brochure to help establish the software's real-world credibility in a tangible way that Web sites alone just can't accomplish anymore. "It's lots of white space and beautiful pictures."

Plus, Lewis included a CD-ROM featuring a download of the trial. Important, the trial worked perfectly well whether or not the prospect's computer was connected to the Internet. "They may want to throw it in their briefcase and watch it when they're not connected."

However, as soon as that user went online while the trial was active, the program would ping Lewis' system to let his automation system know the trial had been activated.

Thanks to the marketing automation campaigns, 88% of prospects who download the file (or insert the CD), wind up installing it on their computers. "Most people install within an hour," notes Lewis.

16% request a CD-ROM to complete their install -- 56% because they had trouble with their firewall and 44% because they wanted to install on multiple computers for a group.

Of all trial installations, 68% take the next step and either take some training or simply start figuring out how to use the software for themselves.

Of these, the conversion ranged depending on the price point that Lewis was testing. When the price was $195, 10% converted to purchasing. When the price was $395, 4% converted. This means the lower price point was 23% more profitable. (Note: This is not always the case with lower price points. You have to run the test yourself and never assume lower is better.)

The guerilla site proved a definite success. Thousands of prospects registered for the free app download. Roughly 10% of the users then requested a trial when they were offered it 90 days later. These converted at a 5% purchase rate for the software -- roughly half of what other campaigns did, which makes sense considering they already owned competing software.

The postal direct mail piece with a CD-ROM just dropped two weeks ago, so only initial results are in. In the first week alone, 2% of recipients were tracked as having begun the trial process. As it's August and some prospects are on vacation, Lewis expects results from this campaign to continue trickling in for a while yet.

However, he is happy to note the cost was lower than expected. "CDs are only 23 cents apiece if you do thousands."

Final note -- if you've been able to headhunt a top sales exec from a direct competitor, consider plastering his face on as many emails as possible as Lewis has. Although prospects might not recall his name, the face may look familiar from past meetings, and hence your click rates get a bit higher.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of Ellie Mae's campaigns:

ExpressPass -- the guerilla microsite Ellie Mae set up to generate leads from the competitor's client list

Eloqua -- the automated marketing and CRM system Ellie Mae relies on to run and measure this campaign

Virtual DJ -- the music mixing software Lewis prefers

Ellie Mae

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