How to Use Email to Turn Customers into Advocates [+Template]

Written by Guest | Mar 2, 2017 5:00:00 PM

This is a guest post by Sujan Patel. Sujan Patel is the co-founder of Web Profits, a growth marketing agency helping companies leverage the latest and greatest marketing strategy to fuel their businesses. In addition to running his marketing agency Sujan is also a partner at a handful of SaaS businesses such as & Mailshake. His SaaS companies help 10,000+ marketers scale their social media marketing campaigns, mobile marketing and content marketing efforts.

Email marketing is well known as one of the digital marketing strategies with the highest rates of return. Yet, while nearly all companies understand the importance of building an email list, too many send nothing but transactional messages to this group.

Although 82% of B2B and B2C companies are using email marketing strategies, 28% of consumers actually wish they’d receive promotional emails more frequently (61% are happy receiving weekly messages).

If you only send a post-sale thank you message, you’re missing out on powerful opportunities to leverage follow-up communications to turn customers into advocates.

Someone who’s just purchased from you is primed and ready to take further action. It’s up to you to sort out which buyers are most likely to become brand advocates. Only then can you use email marketing messages to prompt them to leave positive product reviews or drive the referrals that can help your business grow virally.

Why Turn Customers Into Advocates?

But first, why is it so important that you make the effort to turn customers into advocates for your brand? Consider the following from the Web Profits Customer Advocacy Playbook:

Together, these statistics tell the story of consumers who have grown disenchanted with traditional forms of advertising. They’re becoming more and more accustomed to seeking out personal reviews; and when they hear from your happy customers, they’re more likely to respond.

Both positive product reviews and personal referrals are critical parts of this process. While the statistics above make the case for soliciting referrals, the data below from Pixelter demonstrates why you need product reviews as well:

  • 50 or more reviews per product can increase conversion rates by 4.6%.
  • Product reviews produce an 18% average lift in sales.
  • 63% of customers are more likely to shop from a site that has online reviews.

Even better, increasing the number of reviews and referrals you receive from past customers is simple to do. Setting up automated workflows targeting happy customers helps you transform buyers into customer advocates – and score reviews and referrals without much manual effort on your part.

An Email Workflow for Building Customer Advocacy

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you already have an email marketing system in place using a system like Mailchimp or Infusionsoft. We’ll also assume you’ve already established a referral incentive program; if not, take both of these steps before attempting the workflow shown below.

Step #1 - Send an automated thank you message immediately after purchase

Chances are, if you’re doing any type of email marketing, you have a thank you message set up to be triggered following a purchase.

But in addition to order summaries and tracking information, one thing we’d like you to add to this message is a note that you’ll be following up at a specified interval to see if buyers are happy with their purchase. This does two things:

  1. It lets buyers know you care about their input (and let’s face it, we all want to feel our thoughts are valued).
  2. It also primes them to expect your follow-up message, making them more likely to engage. Messages we’re expecting are greeted warmly; those that appear out of the blue are often taken as spam.

While Zapier’s example below doesn’t come from e-commerce, it does a great job of welcoming new newsletter subscribers and letting them know what they can expect in the future:

Step #2 - Three days after delivery, send a simple poll asking about overall satisfaction

Three days after your items are delivered (often, five days after purchase, allowing for two-day delivery), add a second message to your automated sequence that contains a simple poll. Don’t get fancy or ask multiple questions. All that should be in the message is a poll requesting the following information: “On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you with our company?”

Why three days? According to John Komarek, writing for Pixelter:

“The general rule of thumb, a post-purchase email sent out to your customers three days after they received their items is enough time for them to have tested your products and have great recollection of what it has been like to use them.”

Here’s how a poll asking this question looks in Aweber:

And here’s an example from Mailchimp:

Creating this type of poll is as simple as pasting in the necessary poll rating merge fields:

Instructions on setting up email polls in different email services can be found in the links below:

Step #3 - Create email list segments of those who have rated their satisfaction as a 9 or 10

Out of those who complete your survey, create a segment that’s automatically populated with those who have given high satisfaction ratings. These are the people who are most likely to become your brand advocates.

Within Aweber, the process of segmenting by survey results involves searching subscribers for links that indicate poll responses, then saving them to a separate segment.

Searching for survey respondents by link

Saving a segment with specific respondents

Aweber’s sample segmentation is based on a survey with only two possible responses (“Satisfactory” and “Unsatisfactory”); choosing from 10 would simply involve finding the links corresponding to those who responded with a “9” or “10.” Other email providers offer similar segmentation opportunities (described in the links at the end of Step #2).

Step #4 - Build an automated workflow for these customers to convert them into advocates

With your most likely brand advocates identified and segmented, build a workflow of automated email messages that’s comprised of both helpful “VIP” content and prompts asking them to leave website feedback and refer new customers (include incentives, if you’re offering them).

The specific ratio of helpful messages to appeals for action that’s right for your campaign will vary by industry – some audiences are simply more receptive to “sales” messages than others. You’ll want to test the frequency of the call-to-action (CTA) messages you send, but you should plan to include all of the following email types in your nurturing sequence:

Messages that build relationships

A relationship-building message is inherently helpful. It doesn’t sell anything or request an action from a user. All it does is share useful information that supports the reader and demonstrates the value the company has to offer.

These types of messages may feature company blog posts, share exclusive insights, or provide other resources intended to build relationships and brand affinity, as demonstrated in the Help Scout example below:

Messages that educate customers

To increase your likelihood of developing brand advocates, make sure customers are fully educated about how to use your product’s best features.

Take the example below from online retailer Harry’s:

This type of message can be especially effective when sent on the heels of your thank you message – before you issue your simple rating poll. If possible, time it to arrive close to the time of delivery so that your buyers will be able to hit the ground running with their purchases.

Messages that request reviews

Review request messages are fairly straightforward: you send a message and you ask for reviews, as in the DSW example below.

One opportunity you do have to consider here are services that allow customers to place their reviews directly in the email they receive. While the DSW example requires buyers to login to their accounts to review past purchases, messages sent with services like YotPo make submitting reviews frictionless.

On a related note, though messages going to this list segment will be targeting happy customers who are more likely to leave positive reviews, you don’t need to fear the impact of negative reviews.

A recent study by PowerReviews and Northwestern University found that many consumers are suspicious of perfect 5-star reviews. In fact, “Consumers displayed more trust and were more likely to purchase a product when its rating was between 4.2 to 4.5 stars.” Send your automated review request messages with confidence, knowing that a few 3- or 4-star reviews won’t lose your consumers’ trust.

Messages that share referral programs

Email messages promoting your referral program can be simple (as in the case of text-only messages) or well-designed, like the example from Harry’s below:

When building referral request templates, focus on two things:

  1. Making the benefits to the referrer and referee as clear as possible
  2. Clearly defining what actions should be taken next

Your referral benefit can be a monetary incentive, or it can be something as simple as access to a private Facebook group, which you can set up without needing a developer. Split test different copy, design and CTA elements to secure as many of these valuable customer actions as you can.

Bringing It All Together

At this point, you should have a general idea about the types of messages that belong in your brand advocacy automation workflow. Now, let’s look at how to string them all together.

Mapping Your Workflow

When you take all of these different message types together, a possible automated email nurturing workflow could look like the following:

  • Day 1: All customers receive a thank you message upon purchase
  • Day 3: Customers receive targeted education messages to help them use their purchases successfully
  • Day 5: Customers receive a simple poll asking about their overall satisfaction

At this point, customers who rate the product highly would be automatically sorted into a separate segment, at which point they would be added to a second workflow specifically designed for nurturing brand advocates:

  • Day 7: Helpful, relationship-building message
  • Day 10: Request for review (either within the message or on the retailer’s website)
  • Day 12: Helpful, relationship-building message
  • Day 16: Introduction of referral program and request for referral (or, potentially, an invitation to become an official brand advocate, if such programs exist)

The frequency of different message types and the schedule according to which messages are sent, again, must be determined on a case-by-case basis taking industry considerations and testing results into account.

It’s also worthwhile to note that the second workflow above is only one possible workflow that customers should be sorted into following their polls. Those who rate their satisfaction as low should be flagged for manual follow-up, while those who indicate medium satisfaction may be funneled into a general nurturing workflow intended to build relationships while less aggressively soliciting reviews and referrals.

Even within this workflow, you may want to define actions taken in response to the following triggers:

  • Messages are not delivered
  • Customers do not open your messages
  • Customers open your messages, but don’t take action on your CTAs
  • Customers open your messages and take your requested actions

As you build your workflow, summarize it using a flow-chart like the one below from Smart Insights:

Removing Inactive Members from the Workflow

As customers are added to your review and referral workflow, it’s wise to include triggers that scrub your list of inactive members. Leaving those who never open messages on your list risks spam complaints, while also costing you money for every unanswered email you send.

Possible triggers for removal from the list could include:

  • The customer doesn’t open any messages from you over a two-month period
  • The customer doesn’t respond to any “last chance” re-engagement messages you send
  • The customer doesn’t respond to three requests for reviews

It’s up to you whether to drop inactive customers to a workflow that’s less focused on reviews and referrals, or whether to drop them completely.

Ranking Members with Lead Scoring Calculations

Finally, if your company operates an official brand advocate program, you may not be content to let an automated workflow do the work of encouraging advocacy for you. You may, instead, wish to implement a lead scoring calculation into your workflow that’ll reveal your most engaged high-satisfaction customers.

Lead scoring programs work by assigning value to individual subscribers for taking certain actions, based on a formula that you define (or one that’s suggested by your email marketing provider).

Here’s an example of manual lead scoring setup in Hubspot:

In this instance, a customer’s score is increased by 10 points once they’ve filled out a page form and made more than five email clicks.

Different email marketing providers offer different lead scoring capabilities, so you may or may not be able to take advantage of this step. If you can, however, you could base advocate scoring on any of the following factors, among others:

  • Number of emails opened
  • Number of interactions on your company’s social profiles (this could be especially helpful in identifying potential brand advocates who are already active online)
  • Number of purchases with your company
  • Total value of purchases with your company
  • Number of referrals generated (if your email provider offers this tracking capability)

Ultimately, you’ll have to work within the features of your chosen email marketing program to select the positive and negative attributes that are most likely to help you profile likely candidates for official brand advocate programs. Test and tweak your scoring over time as you take on official advocates and determine who is most effective.

Also, check out our guide on how to increase your email collection rate to boost lead generation.

Is your company currently nurturing brand advocates with automated email marketing workflows? If you have any additional tips, tricks or recommendations to share, leave your notes in the comments below.

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