How to earn a spot in my inbox

The email started “Dear Barbara…”

And my name is Mike.

Perhaps not surprising as we all receive regular spam, emails not even closely related to our jobs, and other general nonsense. What was surprising is that this email came from a reputable company in the marketing field (who shall remain nameless to protect the somewhat innocent) that sends me quality content I enjoy and learn from.  I unsubscribe from email lists several times weekly, but due to the content provided from this group, it’s not one that I wanted to let go.

A quick archived email search reveals that they’ve been referring to me as Barbara for well over a year, and that my friendly pleas to update my name in their database have been ignored or gone unnoticed.

Of course, I’ve been called much worse than Barbara. But it got me thinking about how often even the most reputable companies get email marketing wrong, wasting the opportunity to truly engage with their customers and prospects.

I often tell clients that they’ll have to earn a spot in their audience’s inbox.  We’re all inundated with content, from traditional news sources and email newsletters to blog posts, social media updates and much more.  The availability of content may be infinite, but the attention span of your audience is certainly finite.

So how do you not only attract the attention of your audience, but also keep it over time?  Here are a few tips to make sure you are offering content that will keep your followers coming back for more.

  1. Subscribe to the “80/20 Rule”: In other words, spend much more time offering insight and commentary than you do on blatant (and annoying) sales pitches. Think about the emails that arrive in your inbox.  What are you more likely to read…an aggressive pitch to buy a product or service that you’re just learning about, or some insight and advice that is relatable and relevant to your job and can help you become a better professional?
    Of course, there is a time and a place for a more direct pitch about what you and your company offers, and that generally starts by showing your audience that you know what you’re talking about.  Earn your prospects’ respect first…it will make them much more likely to respond to your pitch later on.


  1. Know your audience: I’m still amazed by the type of email solicitations I receive.  In the past two weeks, I’ve received an invitation for a Business After Hours in Atlanta (I live in Raleigh), a solicitation for web design services (my company does that, and does it well), and information about how to secure an asset-based loan (no part of my job function is in finance, nor has it even been).
    Not every email will be completely appropriate to each and every one of your contacts.  However, taking the time to understand who you are sending to, and segmenting your lists by topic, will go a long way in increasing your engagement.


  1. Be wary of purchased email lists: I suspect that purchased email lists are the main reason for what happens in #2.  I get it, we live in an instant-gratification society and you want to have a fully built list of thousands of qualified prospects from day one.  I’m sorry to tell you that it doesn’t work that way.  Perhaps if you are selling something like light bulbs, you can rest assured that every single person on your list is a prospect.
    Most of us are selling specialized products and services, and a purchased list is simply not going to cut it. Despite claims from list vendors that they can provide you with the email addresses of thousands of executives with purchasing authority related to what you offer, I can tell you that you will waste money and end up with an unacceptably high unsubscribe rate.  Even if your content is stellar, you are most likely sending emails to people with little-to-no interest in what you have to say.
    Ask yourself: Would you rather have a list of several thousand strangers who have no interest in buying what you are selling, or would you prefer to have a smaller yet qualified group of engaged followers who you know represent a good prospect?
    Grow your list organically. It’s the only way to go.


  1. Speak to me like I’m a human being: Guess what?  I am, in fact, a human being, and I prefer to be spoken to like I am.  I am not sure at what point in the marketing industry’s history it was determined that speaking with highly technical jargon and buzzwords was the most effective approach. I will explore this further in a future blog post.
    But for now, just know that even the most high profile executives prefer to be communicated to in plain English.  Don’t try to impress your audience with a bunch of fancy (but mostly meaningless) acronyms, buzzwords and corporate drivel.  Rather, offer your insight and opinions (and eventually, your pitch) in a language that does not make their heads hurt.

If you follow the above tips, you’ve more than likely earned a spot in my inbox.  And I may even let you call me Barbara.

Author: Mike Trainor
Mike Trainor is our Vice President.

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