Intro to Email Marketing: How to Hard & Soft Sell

Two women in a library helping each other on a laptop.

I actually look forward to getting advertisement emails every day.

Not many, mind you… I might get 20-30 advertisement emails every day (even more, if you count my spam folder!), but I open about 2-3 of them. In particular, I like emails from Toronado (a local pub near in San Diego), promotional offers from The Gap, and the Men’s Health daily newsletter.

Consider this: out of all the advertisements that I get, most of them are from the giant corporations trying to get me to go to the mall. I buy from other companies; all of these other companies are missing their opportunity to get me to buy more.

This tells me that (a) not enough businesses take advantage of email marketing. Or, (b) maybe they do email marketing, but their email lists are too small.

One of the first things you need to do in email marketing is to choose a goal. I would say that there are two kinds of email campaign goals: the hard sell and the soft sell. Today, I’m going to describe the various kinds of email marketing you can do.

A HARD SELL gives a specific call to action

One of the fantastic things about email marketing is the ability to make a direct sale. When you do something like social media marketing, or content marketing (ex. Publish content through a blog), you can’t make a hard sell; sales pitches are taboo.

However, email is different because you don’t depend on them “liking” you.

Let’s say you have a list of customers’ emails—customers who have paid you money—you know they like you enough to order from you. This means that you’ve earned their trust, that they need something from you, and they might buy from you in the future.

Here’s another kind of email list that you could build. Build a list of emails from potential customers who have made sales inquiries. I’m talking about customers who have not yet purchased from you, but you know are interested in your services.

If you advertise both of these groups, you’re much less likely to be dismissed.

What do you say in a HARD SELL email?

You want something that gets them into your “sales pipeline”. Here are a couple of ideas on what you want them to do:

  • Show up to your store
  • Visit your website
  • Call for an initial sales “consultation” (this sounds better than a sales meeting)
  • A request for a quote
  • Come to an event that you’re hosting.

All of these items eventually lead them to shopping for your services and eventually leading to a sale. If this is the case, you keep your message simple and short: make an announcement, and convince them to do your call to action.

A SOFT SELL is a newsletter or a greeting that keeps people engaged

If you’re working on a soft sell, you’re essentially sending out emails that won’t directly lead to sales. What you’re essentially trying to accomplish is to keep your business in people’s minds throughout the year.

One of the oldest types of soft sell email marketing techniques is to publish a newsletter. You can post advice/education emails, news, entertainment, etc. Just write about something relevant to potential customers and it enriches their lives.

The other major type of soft sell is to send greetings, as in a holiday greeting. You can take the time to wish them a happy holiday, and to say how much you appreciate them as a customer.

By the way, if you want to build a newsletter and you’re wondering where to get the emails from: compile the list from existing customers, personal contacts, sales leads, and people who “sign up for the newsletter” on your website.

Again: the point here is to keep the customer engaged and familiar to your company.

Why should I care about the difference between a hard and soft sell?

Today, I discussed an important way of looking at email marketing: you’re either doing a campaign around a series of hard sell emails, or doing a campaign around soft sell emails.

I think it’s better to pick one and (mostly) stick with that type, because your email recipients come to depend on a consistency of your style. I have come to depend on Toronado, a local San Diego pub with a  fondness for microbrews, to send me regular emails with events with special food/drinks (events where I buy food is a hard sell) that they have. Let’s say they hypothetically started mixing in switched “local San Diego food news” (news is a soft sell), I might unsubscribe. I’m interested in events, and I don’t want the clutter of “news” in my inbox.

The opposite may be true. Let’s say, for another example, a wedding planner who has built a recipient list who stays subscribed for a weekly list of planning tips (a soft sell). If the planner started sending emails explaining why recipients should pay for her services (a hard sell), she would lose readership.