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One of the most important tactical parts of your strategy is your email marketing. With marketing automation, relevance is crucial, and is provided by timely targeted emails to your leads.

You can break down the types of emails you will need to send into five categories, which can be combined to form various courses: nurturing series, basic email marketing courses, and new lead identification programs. To understand and be successful with each email variable, you need to breakdown how each is created and executed:

1. Autoresponders

Emailed content sent directly after an action is performed – for example, submitting a form online. These help you ensure the submitted information is correct.

Use: Twofold: ensures you have the correct, working email address, and reinforces your brand with the individual.

Aim: A click through by your contact! You will be sending a URL, not a PDF. You want to make sure this email works, and start tracking their engagement.

Execution: A wide range of options are available, but stick with your company brand. This does not mean company branding, but intent. A financial management company might send a professional email created in HTML, while a tech company would probably prefer something in Rich Text format (RTF).

Keep in mind, because this email is requested by the recipient, you will most likely have extremely high engagement levels. Keep this in mind while forming your various programs.

Subject: Reference the recent action taken, make it clear this was requested, and avoid company branding.

Sender: Two options, and you decide: either it comes from your company or the marketing division, or it can come from an individual. This depends on your overall strategy; are you selling credibility? Or building a personal relationship?

Bonus: If the content requested supports the sales cycle, consider offering, in addition to the requested asset, a second link for the next step in the cycle.

2. Sales Nurturing

These emails help your sales team scale their efforts according to response, and create long-term email programs so your company stays in front of leads for long sales cycles.

Use: Helping your sales team gauge their efforts, and let them know when to reach out.

Goal: A click through on the emailed link.

Execution: This is a very specific kind of email that recreates a sales person’s normal pitch. This means they should be sent in RTF, with a signature, and kept short – about 3 sentences maximum. For each piece of content about your company, include three that are not.

Subject: Something innocuous, such as “Following up on our last conversation” or “Thought you might like this”

Sender: This should come from the sales person’s email.

Bonus: If a lead engages with a nurturing email, your sales person will automatically be alerted via the marketing automation platform. This helps create a bond between marketing and sales, and increases conversions with hardly any effort!

3. Shared Content

These help your sales team stay in front of leads, even though they are not yet sales-ready. Similar but slightly different from the sales nurturing emails.

Use: Driving brand engagement!

Goal: Click through(s) by the lead.

Execution: Very short: 3 sentences maximum! Again, should be in RTF (not HTML), which helps diffuse the lead’s annoyance at a marketing email. This makes it seem as if it is coming from an individual rather than a marketing system.

Subject: Remember that this is not a sales email; you are educating. Keep your subject in line with that goal – for example, “Found this article very helpful” or “Thought you would enjoy”

Sender: You could use company or individual, but these do better from an individual.

Bonus: Again: this is content that educates! Try to integrate third-party content as well as your own, and make sure anything you send is evergreen (continues to be relevant long past publication). Use all content to further your campaign goals.

4. Invitational

Invite leads to events, special campaigns, or webinars. These are highly effective in driving attendance to B2B events.

Use: Raise attendance at an event.

Goal: The lead registers attendance.

Execution: HTML. This is generally sent out in a group, rather than individually. To increase engagement, make sure your email list is extremely targeted. Give two options: to sign up for the live event or receive a recording after.

Subject: Bring attention to the event, and that this is an invitation. Focus on the topic and speaker.

Sender: Either corporate or individual – use your judgment, and take your brand into account. If sending two emails, make the first from corporate and the follow-up from individual.

Bonus: Track the open rate; even though actual attendance may only be 30 percent, by tracking engagement you can see who had initial interest – and can send them the slides.

5. Identifier

When you receive leads at trade shows or webinar registrations, you might not know where in the sales cycle they fall.

Use: To identify where a lead is in the buyers’ cycle.

Goal: A self-selection into a stage of the buyers’ cycle by direct click through.

Execution: Offer various messages that lead to different stages, and see when your prospect reacts. You can either use hyper-targeted email subject lines or make multiple offers in the email. Keep this email very short.

Subject: If using subject lines to be the driver, try for 3 stages:

– Stage 1: No brand or keyword mention.
“Have you read this?” or “New research from Opportunity”

– Stage 2: Use brand OR keywords.
“Case study on increasing SEO by [your keyword]” or “How [client] gained 200 percent ROI by using [your brand]”

– Stage 3: Use both!
“[Your company] is best at [your keywords]” or “Forrester ranks [your brand] at the top of [your keyword]”

Sender: Individual.

Bonus: Try using the Choose Your Own Adventure technique to move leads through the process more quickly: if using subject line from stage 1, insert links to both Stage 1 and Stage 2 in the email body, and see where the lead engages.

Marketing automation: this platform holds great promise, offering the potential to create a powerful engine that drives activity through the sales funnel, and turns leads down through conversion into customers. The reality is that a large gap exists between this potential and the reality. Oftentimes companies implement marketing automation platforms only to realize they do not offer the results desired – winding up with nothing more than an expensive email provider.

To help you avoid the commonly made mistakes and make sure your approach reaches its full potential, I have listed the seven critical areas commonly responsible for the failure of marketing automation expansion:

1. Treating your B2C as faceless beings and your B2B as real persons

Obviously, going through your records manually and connecting with each and every customer like you do in B2B is thoroughly impractical. The sheer numbers of B2C make that option impossible, unlike the more personalized purchasing world of B2B.

Although you are unable to deal personally with each customer, do not treat them all the same! The ability to take your prospective customers on targeted content journeys is the great value of marketing automation. Identify the various personas that make up your customers and create various content and messaging that will resonate with them. Do the work to gather meaningful insights about your influencers, so you can connect with your customers.

2. Nurture the customer lifecycle!

This generally comes down to branched logic versus the lifecycle. Branched logic is the idea that as customers continue down their cycle with you, they should agree with you about the next steps:

– Customer does X. Send them an email to do Y.
– Time continues, customer does not do Y. Send another email to do Y.
– This pattern continues several more times, with increasingly aggressive emails to do Y.
– Eventually drop them from the lead nurturing chain (if they never did Y, they will never buy), and add them to the general email blast with a coupon.

The problem in this logic is that a customer must continue in a certain prescribed “buying cycle”, as if once X is done than Y is the only action that makes sense next. The customer experience is more nuanced than that. For example, if your customer was in the comparison phase, they might drop back to the research phase of the buying cycle, and should receive emails based on that change. To nurture this, flag certain lifecycles contacts could be in, and nurture those with relevant content.

3. Post-sale blues

We have previously discussed the folly in treating a customer as if they are only as valuable as a sale. This ruins both the user experience and the value of your marketing campaigns. It is far easier to sell to customers who have already bought from you, so do it!

Use the time between purchase and when the product is delivered to send emails linking to your blog about how to use the product and introducing them to your social media. Give them an opportunity to share their purchase excitement on their social media. Follow up post-delivery with a Net Promoter Score survey.

After they have the product for a while, use this opportunity for customized remarketing: up-sell, cross-sell, and re-sell. These are the most powerful marketing levers in increasing a customer’s lifetime value.

4. Why email?

Do not limit yourself to communication via email: your brand optimally stretches across various digital and offline channels, and you should use all of the relevant platforms to increase your customer relationships. Telephone interactions, live chat on the website, social media interactions, and visits to physical locations are all useful and pertinent to whether your customers choose to buy from you – or choose to buy from you again!

5. Products over problems

The psychographics of your customer personas are linked to the “why” of their engagement with you. Why are they purchasing something; what is it for? This reason they are buying from you – also called “the job to be done” – is equally important as the what the customer purchased.

If you can figure out the why (with behavioral analytics, or by simply asking them!), using it in your marketing automation to frame the conversation will be much more persuasive than focusing solely on the object(s) bought.

6. Big data does not solve everything!

As noted above, instead of relying on Big Data behavioral analytics, try asking your customers for additional information needed to improve your product for them. If you are up front about why you are asking and what the information is used for, oftentimes people are much more open about sharing.

Make the case for sharing by showing exactly how you can help your customers. If they recently purchased gardening equipment, send a seed guide customized to the growing patterns of that region.

7. The 4th Dimension

Do not forget about time as a variable for sending your marketing communication! The timing of messages plays an integral part in making sure they succeed. The most highly relevant messages can fall flat and fail if sent at the wrong time. For example, if you are selling breakfast, why would you send it at 4 PM?

In short: send the right message to the right people at the right time!

As a site owner, especially in ecommerce, you have already learned a lot about marketing campaigns. You probably started small, with a newsletter, worked your way through email campaigns, social campaigns, and paid search, and you finally reached the point of integrating your marketing automation system. While this system will revolutionize your marketing process, at the end of the day, there is one thing you cannot forget to ask yourself: how much are your customers engaging with your efforts?

You should always be looking to improve – and customer engagement is no different. Marketing automation can be a key tool in the process of targeting buyers in more meaningful ways, as well as boosting your visibility, and it can also help you measure the current levels of engagement. Let us take a look at some of the ways you can use your automation system to increase interactions:

1. Lead nurture

This advice is central to marketing automation: send the right message at the right time! Your customers do not want their inbox inundated with random email blasts, especially about promotions or products in which they have no interest. Instead, send a slow but steady stream – or “drip” – messages to specific groups over time, to make sure they get the information they need. The more relevant, the more likely your customers are to engage, increasing open rates.

2. Target, target, target!

You cannot lead nurture without personalization! Using the data you know about your customers (location, product interest, profession, and more), marketing automation lets you build and segment lists. These lists can be used to send targeted emails that are even more relevant to the buyer – increasing engagement rates. This is one of the most powerful tools offered by marketing automation!

3. Get busy on social media

It is increasingly likely that customers will purchase a product after seeing it featured in a peer’s post. It is also more likely that if there is any issue with a product or order, your customers will take to social media to ask you for help – or to complain. In all of these cases, the best thing you can do is set your automation system to actively monitor your social media channels. Respond to comments, both positive and negative, as soon as possible, even if it is after business hours. You have to be online when your buyers are online!

Marketing automation will assist with keeping your company first in customer’s minds. Use it to schedule post uploads to social media channels, and to monitor engagement levels for various types of posts. If certain times or themes gather additional engagement, replicate for success.

4. Keep web and email content dynamic

Customers are more likely to enjoy and interact with a website that contains content specific to them and their preferences than one that presents the same information no matter who is on the site. Dynamic content personalizes your website and emails to the viewer, so your customers are always seeing relevant information.

5. Make data gathering more painless

If you are eagerly pushing form after form at a customer upon checkout, oftentimes you will find they do not make it down the conversion funnel. Why? Because no one wants to spend all that time filling out information – or giving it away to make a quick purchase.

Make it easier on your customer by feeding them the forms more slowly. Upon the first purchase, have them fill out the minimum of information necessary, usually around 3-4 essential form fields – and upon subsequent visits and purchases, present your visitor with different form fields. This is called “progressive profiling”, and allows you to collect a varied amount of information over time without presenting an obstacle of fields at the outset.

6. What are people clicking on?

The simplest way to ensure increased engagement is to focus on what is already doing well, and keep doing it. Using custom redirects, you can see which links are getting clicked on, and which are ignored by your audience. Look at what is resonating with your buyers, and use this data to enhance future campaigns, reached out with similar targeted information, and stay up to date on your buyers’ preferences.

In the end…

All in all, marketing automation is a powerful tool to have in your ecommerce arsenal. From day one, you should be strategizing how to use it to its fullest potential. By using digital strategy to provide an outstanding experience for your customers – be it through a user friendly, value added website; targeted and personalized email campaigns; or through your digital presence on social media – you can leave a lasting (and awesome) impression. When your customers are happy, they will in turn share their experiences with others – sending potential customers straight to your online door!

As your company grows, your lead management system requirements grow. Without a system in place, your ability to target leads within the buying cycle will fall apart – as will your ability to understand and respond appropriately to customer’s interest manually. Using a marketing automation system takes out the stress, and ensures you are responding to customers with the right email, at the right time.

The setting up process of this technology is the most important factor in determining success, because it is your first and only chance to get everything right. If this type of technology is uncharted territory for you, fear not. I have put together a list of tips to ensure that your marketing automation journey starts off without a hitch:

1. Clean up your CRM

Make sure you clean up your CRM, or customer relationship management database. This is key, as your new software will integrate and use the emails provided for inbound marketing. If you have duplicates when you import, the new list will be a mess.

Make sure to convert all leads to contacts as appropriate, delete duplicates, associate contacts with accounts, and clean up all account names. Combine, delete, convert – whatever you need to have a clean list.

2. Validate/verify email addresses

Before you upload your email list, run it through a verification program. That way, you can weed out wrong/gone emails before you even start. This leads to lower bounce rates in your first email campaign, which helps in the future. If you have a higher than 10 percent bounce rate, you risk deliverability in further campaigns. Healthy emails could start to bounce, and the reputation of your IP address will suffer – possibly leading to blacklisting.

3. Reflect on your lead management process

Even with the finely detailed benefits to marketing automation technology, many businesses are not using the processes to their maximum usefulness – which means they are not reaping the profits. To rectify this, you need to analyze and implement a lead management process. Use a whiteboard to discuss with the company as you develop your unique procedure.

Consider the following:

– Identify your leads: Create your buyer personalities and their questions.
– Create a scoring structure: What makes a five star client?
– Map out supportive campaigns for each personality.
– Recognize when marketing will pass a lead to sales. For example, when they reach a certain grade or score.

4. Team skills

In order to grow a team of automation marketing specialists, you need to find the right type of person: someone who understands the technical terms but can still speak the marketing language. I suggest looking for persons with the following skills or qualifications while forming your team (or if you are a small business, finding the employee to run your automation system):

– Sales: understands customers; understands the buying cycle; help with grading leads.
– Analytics: deep comprehension of analytics process; understands and translates results; evaluates practices and makes recommendations.
– Marketing: knows and understands audience; manages campaigns and messages.
– Managerial: pulls it all together; in the case of larger companies, manages staff of specialists (i.e., works with design team to create website, landing pages, inbound emails, etc.)

5. What is your content strategy?

What are you going to send your leads? You will not have a successful campaign unless you develop relevant content for each step of the buying process. Quality content shows your customers that you are professional and knowledgeable, that they can trust you, and, preferably, start them down the buying funnel.

My advice? Start with what you know. Begin small, and then grow your content as you get more confident and find out what works with your audience.

6. Plot your goals

Marketing is a revenue driver, and should be treated as such. Before you purchase or activate your automation system, be clear as to what you hope to get out of it. List and prioritize your marketing goals and objectives from a revenue perspective, and use automation accordingly.

Once you implement, record and track benchmarks and metrics to be sure you are staying on track.

7. Everything at once!

As you consider buying an automation system, keep all of the above in mind. A marketing automation program is only as good as the people, processes, and content behind it – so make sure that everything is aligned before install, or you will be paying for a service you are not using to the fullest potential.

Marketing automation is more than just a buzzword – it is a proven way to increase revenue and conversions. By automating your marketing, you can better find and target qualified leads, while decreasing time and effort overall.

If you are ready to add automation software to your company arsenal, I have you covered. There are many tools out there to help, but I have put together a list of the top 20 options (sorted by category) to get you started:

Landing Pages and Lead Capture Forms

If code is not your strong point, this is the program for you. Unbounce helps you build landing pages on your site without a background as a developer. Along with building and publishing landing pages, you can also use Unbounce to handle A/B testing.

Ion Interactive
An alternative to Unbounce. Ion Interactive helps you create beautiful landing pages that are also very effective – with some converting at over 50 percent. This program features testing and analytics tools.

The final option, Wishpond offers a variety of pre-built templates for your landing page needs. This program also features a form builder to easily add lead capture forms to your new landing pages.

Blog/Content Management

A personal favorite, WordPress has an active user community of bloggers and business owners and large amount of plug-ins available. You can use WordPress to turn your website into a full-scale publishing platform, and be sure of technical support the whole way.

Drupal is an open-source CMS which can be used to create anything from blogs to enterprise applications. With an active and supportive user base, Drupal is used for the back end by some of the most popular sites.

This is an extremely powerful and flexible management system. Joomla also offers a wide variety of modifications to help turn your site into anything you desire, as well as an active and supportive community base to help answer any questions you might have.

Contact Management and Lead Nurturing

SalesForce, the biggest name in contact management, could be yours for as little as $5 a month, per user. This platform is ideal for tracking sales opportunities, monitoring the social media content of contacts, and innumerable other extensions that automate common tasks.

Eloqua allows you to rank the leads generated by your sales team and website according to buying interest, improving conversion rates by allowing you to follow up on the most promising possibilities.

The best tool for tracking interactions with current customers. Nimble provides a view of all your interactions with a contact, past and present. All you need is a name and email address to complete a contact record automatically. It also integrates with a variety of other apps.

Zoho CRM
Zoho CRM is a wonderful choice for the small business owner or freelancer, as it free version (for up to three users) comes stocked with a variety of tools. Similar to SalesForce in organization, it is an excellent low-cost choice for contact storage.

Social Media Updates and Supervising

If you use more than one social media platform, HootSuite is the perfect tool. You can easily view feeds from all your social media sources, schedule future posts, and even manage multiple accounts on the same social media platform.

Best for keeping an eye on social media for mentions of your company, what your competitors are up to, and what is happening in your field in general. is a curation platform that helps put together content for your social media posts. You can use it to find content, customize for your business needs, and publish to multiple social media platforms with one click.

Sprout Social
Sprout Social helps you manage multiple accounts and respond to public interactions from a single source. It provides analytics, collaboration tools, and helps keep your whole team on the same page.

Email Blasts

Aweber makes it easy to send targeted email blasts and automated messages to your business leads. Easily import existing contacts, and sign new ones up with built-in form builder.

MailChimp is a favorite among small businesses, and similar to Aweber. Includes automation features, manual email blasts, and basic analyst program.


For the truly serious marketing automators. With several plans available depending on price point, Marketo offers everything.

An excellent program offering all-around marketing automation tool, with integrated management systems to help you run everything you need from a single source. Includes a strong analytics system.

If you need additional guidance, this program is for you. A single-platform system that lets you run all your marketing efforts and website, ThriveHive also offers additional subscription levels that include marketing coaching and outsourcing of paid campaigns.

Another robust marketing platform that helps simplify your marketing day. Includes all the tools needed for a variety of capabilities, from managing and building automated email campaigns to managing an online storefront.

You have probably heard about marketing automation before, by a marketer talking about marketing automation and email marketing interchangeably. The fact is, email marketing is a component of marketing automation, but the two are not the same. Marketing automation is a greater category overall, combining customer acquisition and retention channels to shuttle consumers down your company’s unique conversion funnel.

By definition, marketing automation works to automate your marketing communications program. It is a category of technology that allows companies to streamline, automate, and measure marketing tasks and workflows, to increase operational efficiency and grow revenue faster. It is used in all sorts of business capacities, including B2B and B2C companies.

So, how does it work?

Marketing automation is focused on the long-term path with the customer. To aid in this goal, it connects with your audience on multiple touch points and marketing channels, including social media, content marketing, and email marketing.

Although automation has a cold, impersonal sound to it, in reality these programs allow for greater personalization of marketing efforts. With these targeted emails and campaigns in your arsenal, you can focus more energy on the overall quality and messaging, without worrying about strengthening your communication with each individual. With the data you collect, the automation process makes it even easier to add personalized touches and custom-tailor offers to each customer.

I am intrigued. But I can do this stuff on my own…right?

When your email list gets bigger than five people, trying to cater your marketing efforts to each customer gets far more labor intensive. As you scale up, so does your technology needs – along with the increasing number of channels you are required to manage. All of the processes involved in marketing (lead generation, segmentation, lead nurturing, cross-sell and up-sell, etc.) require support like:

A central marketing database: A location to collect all your marketing data, including detailed prospective and customer interactions or behaviors, so you can segment and target the correct message to each customer. Basically, a large record of your audience.

An engagement marketing engine: An environment for the founding, managing, and automating of marketing messages across all platforms on- and offline. This is the conductor of all your marketing efforts.

An analytics engine: The system that helps you track, test, measure, and optimize marketing impacts on your ROI and total revenue. This is the science lab that helps you discover what works, what does not, and why.

Can you show me a real world example?

Sure. Here is what an automated email workflow could look like:

Step 1: Send out an email invitation to download your latest ebook to a targeted list of contacts.

Step 2: Thank all the folks that downloaded your book.

Step 3: After a few days, you send a follow up email to the people that downloaded your book, offering them a case study related to that topic.

Step 4: When someone downloads that case study, your sales team gets a notification to follow up with them (this person is now a much more qualified lead and more likely to continue down the process).

With an exchange like above, the persons on the receiving end of the emails are much happier with the targeted quality of messages. Instead of random email blasts from the company, they are receiving messages based on interactions, which makes it feel much more personalized.

The Dos and Do Nots of Marketing Automation

Now that you know the basics of marketing automation, here are a few key tips to keep in mind. While automating everything seems like the logical step, take a moment to revisit your goals before getting started.

DO Integrate marketing automation with your inbound marketing strategy.
Inbound marketing is about providing valuable content for your customers, that aligns with their interests. Adding automation should only enhance this communication, allowing you to share the content customers want, when they need it.

DO NOT send out general email blasts.
These are unnecessary. At best, these emails will be marked as spam; at worst, your audience will unsubscribe.

DO send targeted, specific content to a segmented audience.
Put yourself in their shoes. Make sure the content you are delivering is congruent with past information they have received and shown interest in. Provide content they want!

DO NOT overlook current customers.
Do not get so wrapped up in generating new revenue that you disregard your current customers. They already love what you are doing – help them keep loving it.

DO create campaigns designed to keep current customers engaged.
As I have said before, it is easier and more profitable to keep a current customer than to try and acquire someone new. Nurture these relationships with customer-only content that enlightens them about the company and leadership, and keeps them coming back.

Data is a little word that carries a big concept – and a lot of uses. It does so much for so many companies, but today I am going to focus on eCommerce.

Customers respond, and are requesting, more and more personalisation in their shopping experiences. The exchanges between retailers and online shoppers provide web stores with tons of data, that stores can use to their advantage. Analysing this data and using it to make informed decisions will lead to optimised customer experience, keeping your consumers closer and your competitors at a loss.

Competitor data is useful for predictive analysis – how else will you know how to change prices or order inventory? – but it is not enough to run a business. Here are the best ways to take the data you collect from visitors and use it to improve the customer experience:

A. Personalised Offerings

Customer data can pave the way for personalized experience. As you compete against other online retailers, and even brick and mortar shops, being able to provide a customized interface is key to keeping your customers loyal. As you cannot interact with the customer face to face, use their data to create the ultimate shopping experience – starting with using their historical data to remember and greet them when they click to your site.

Read their current page or cart to make recommendations, or send them an email based on previous purchases. Product recommendations amount to 10-30 percent of ecommerce revenue, so do not miss out. Offer personalized discounts and other offers based on loyalty, average cart value, or abandoned carts.

Roughly a third of customers aged 25-34 want discounts, so promote site-wide specials on running banners or on the cart page. Limited-time free shipping can sweeten the deal for older customers aged 55-65.

B. Keep Them Shopping

While it is easier than ever to create an online store, it is also easier than ever to lose your customers to another site! Using data makes sure that your store stands out, and keeps them from moving on. Around 50% of online shoppers visit more than four sites before making a purchase, mostly for price shopping. Do their work for them, and place a “compare to” price beneath your listings using competitor pricing data. Prove that your price is the lowest!

Additionally, offering live chat can help create customer loyalty while also helping to move stuck customers to the checkout screen. Sometimes customers need additional data for a product before deciding to purchase, which customer service will assist. Make sure this tactic is working by tracking their data, and seeing if they make it through to a conversion.

On average, live chat gets about a 73 percent satisfaction level, so make sure your employees are all empowered to answer all questions. If a customer does not convert, set up retargeting ads to bring them back to their abandoned cart. These ads have as much as 26 percent effectiveness, so remind customers what they are forgetting!

C. Emails

When a customer reaches the checkout page, always leave an option to checkout as guest; registering can be a turn off and prevent conversions. Even though you may be missing parts of information, such as demographics, you will have their email. Use that email to send information about flash sales – click to open rates are 56 percent higher when regarding flash sales than any other campaign. These create a sense of urgency and keep the customer intrigued and coming back to shop with you. Exclusive discount codes relevant to prior purchases are also handy, as 64 percent of shoppers just want more discounts, period!

Make sure you are taking care of your customer’s needs with data, as well. Almost half of customer experiences end with customer remorse; keep that number down by offering a credit for a price difference to keep them from feeling like they got a bad deal. Approximately 84 percent of customers cite price as the largest influence on a purchase, so if the price changes after they purchase a product, alert them by email.

D. Saved Carts or Wishlists

Instead of letting customers abandon carts if they are not ready to purchase, let them save these items on a wishlist or in cart form for later. You can require registration – giving you greater demographics for your data collection – while also allowing them to browse at their leisure. Customers who save items are easier to turn into conversions than those that fully leave your site, so sweeten the pot with discount codes or special deals via email after they create their first wishlist.

As you can see, data is a beautiful thing, and can be used many ways to increase and optimize customer experience. Experiment and see what works for your site – a little data is a beautiful thing!

Email marketing is a powerful tool when utilized correctly, and is a skill all business owners should prioritize. It is an interesting aspect of online marketing that, especially in the ecommerce/retail sector, can be handled creatively. If you want your store to take off, you have to commit to learning about and maximizing your email database potential.

Your Email Database

The first step is learning more about the persons in your email database. Often when businesses collect email addresses, they know little about how they are going to use them in the future, and so forgo collecting any additional information beyond the address itself. If you are marketing a small amount of products, or a very niche market, that usually is not a problem. The issue rises when you have a larger product selection, or an audience with wider interests.

Segmentation, Segmentation!

If you have an online bookstore, the people represented by your email database represent a huge potential audience, as well as hugely differing tastes. Blanket mass marketing to this audience is inefficient, and will only have a negative effect. For example, a fan of J.K. Rowling is unlikely to feel similarly to Ayn Rand, and vice-versa. In this case, and most others, segmentation is the solution.

Segmentation ensures the correct marketing push is aimed at the correct person, someone who has expressed interest in a certain product, sector, or notifications. Using segmentation greatly improves the efficiency and effectiveness of email marketing, as well as increasing sell-up and cross-sell results. It is easiest to collect supporting data when you collect the addresses, as otherwise you end up unable to effectively target your email list.

Data Enrichment

If you have an email database with minimal information, or one that is updated infrequently, there are several tactics you can use to try and enrich the data on hand:

Direct Enrichment

Ask the people on the list directly for additional information about themselves. You might send an email asking them to update their preferences. This update means they will only receive news they are interested in, and you are better targeting your marketing emails. Services such as MailChimp make it easy to add a link in your emails that will take people directly to a preference form they can update (and you can customize). As an added bonus, you can offer a “reward” for completing this action, such as free shipping for a limited time or a small discount.

The success rate for this tactic varies widely. It depends on a number of factors, including how many people on the list signed up via the form, how interested they are in your brand or products, how often your emails are sent, the type of audience you are targeting, and how enticing the value exchange is. Requesting customer’s time and information is a big ask, but the pay-off is equally large, and even the non-responders can tell you a lot about the health of your list. You might also find that once a responder receives several emails targeted to his or her interests, they are more open to additional communication.

If possible, integrate email preference updates directly into your sites’s customer account information pages. This works well if the people on your list are also registered customers, and gives them control while encouraging regular use. Always have an update preference link visible in the footer of your emails, as well.

Indirect Enrichment

This involves collecting information about your database without requiring their direct participation. You can use specialist data enrichment tools (such as Rapportive) to collect publicly accessible data for some of the email addresses in your list. This is best suited to long-term information that is unlikely to change – for example, gender, name, location, life-events, etc. These tools also access social media data, which can give more detailed information – like the subscriber’s job, company information, social media followers, influence measures, etc.

This is not a free option, but you only pay what you match, which is typically 20 – 60 percent depending on if it is b2b or b2c. This is useful for cleaning up a database, but not for long-term segmentation options. However, it can help in creating more personalized call-to-action emails for direct enrichment, which should increase list participation.

If you have an email marketing program and have already been sending out emails to this list, you have a deal of historical data to be mined. You can establish how active the list is, how many emails each account opened, and what they clicked. You can also see what previous items have been purchased, if your list is registered customers. Though you are not asking direct questions, you are drawing conclusions based on previous behavior. This is not nearly as accurate as direct enrichment, but again, can help develop more personalized emails.

Analytics, A/B Testing: if you run an ecommerce company, you have spent time looking at and analyzing the data available. But are you looking for the right results? Or are you making some major analyzing mistakes? Below is a list of the most frequently made mistakes – so you can watch out for these common pitfalls:

1. Making Conclusions Before Finishing Tests

When you set a test to run, the longest part is always going to be waiting for results. As humans, we are impatient for progress and results, which means most people will likely check the tests daily – and as soon as they see a statistically significant result, they stop the test and declare a result!

The problem with this method is that every time you check and make a conclusion, your chances of drawing a bad conclusion double. This means that after 5 times, your chances of a wrong conclusion have jumped from 5% to 23%!

This means as soon as you start your test, leave it alone. Wait until the testing is completed, and only then come back and analyze the results. Fight the urge to look at results while the test runs.

2. Misinterpreting Influence on Data Variations

One of the great things about having an ecommerce site is being able to try a variety of methods to increase revenue. However, just as you are likely to quickly switch to a new Facebook ad campaign, you are equally likely to interpret a change in statistics as something you did. In ecommerce, changes are common and random; often one day will be busier for no particular reason, and if the difference is low, it could easily be a coincidence.

Do not jump the gun and assume that every wave in data was caused by you. Only if there is crystal clear evidence that your peak was caused by something other than random forces – meaning, a statistically significant difference between group A and group B – should you study the data. Otherwise, wait and see if your changes actually make an impact.

3. A/B Errors

With A/B testing, you can make two errors: you can conclude A is a winner, when in reality it does not perform better than B (or even performs worse). You can call this a false positive. The second error is concluding A is no different from option B, when in fact it was. That is a false negative.

If you do not run the test for long enough, also called an under-powered test, you run the risk of drawing the wrong conclusion. That means you have just wasted precious time and money. The answer is to know the power of the test, and make sure it is about 70-80% – and run your test to the end.

4. Not Deciding with Data

There is an unbelievable amount of information you can draw out of data – and with great information, comes great power. The more you are able to make decisions based on solid data, the better served your company will be.

Of course, this is contingent upon having someone who can read and correctly interpret the data provided. Oftentimes companies do not have a Data Scientist, and while the analytical systems available are making it easier to break down the results, there may be some overlooked points that only qualified personnel could interpret. Improperly analyzing data and making decisions based on those results could lead to harmful outcomes for the company.

5. Answering Trivial Questions

Do not make the mistake of answering small questions with the data. You might want to answer “what” questions, but the correct usage is about “why” questions. Big data is about joining data sets that have not been joined, asking questions that have not been previously asked. It is about finding out why customers and employees do the things they do.

Be careful not to veer too far to one side, and overcomplicate things. To answer “why” questions, you do not need a huge team of analysts, or overly expensive big data tools. Make sure you have a foundation in place to utilize learnings based on strategic questions and goals. Start with basic tools and grow from there.

6. Too Much Data

Do not think too big. Big data deserves the buzz, but start small in leveraging the data results. These projects can be very expensive and create recurring costs. Start by solving real problems and expand on the solutions and you build out.

Also, make sure you are data-informed and not data-driven. Giving your data too much decision-making power can lead to ignoring impactful opportunities that are not in the center of the data tools. Use the data as an influence on your journey, not as the final voice in your roadmap.

An ecommerce store owner needs a solid foundation of data to better understand and manage his or her business. However, while data is important, most vital is getting the right data. With so much information available via analytics systems, it is easy to get buried under an avalanche of reports without gleaning much insight. But there is an easier way to pick the insights that are most useful to you – also known as KPIs.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are measurements that reflect the performance and progress of a business. A benefit to running an online store is the ability to effectively measure KPIs and use them to optimize your business. Only a few key insights are needed to truly measure your business performance. So how does one pick the KPIs that fit your store needs?

Define Your Business Objectives First

Before you can improve your business, you have to define what success looks like for your business, and then pick KPIs based on those initiatives. In other words, you do not want too many KPIs at first; less will be more useful in the long run, usually around four to ten. Here are some examples of goals businesses might set, and the associated KPIs:

GOAL 1: Boost sales in the next quarter.
KPIs include daily sales, conversion rate, and site traffic.

GOAL 2: Increase conversion rate 3% in the next year.
KPIs include conversion rate, competitive price trends, shopping cart abandonment rate, and associated shipping rate trends.

GOAL 3: Grow site traffic 20% in the next year.
KPIs include bounce rates, site traffic, promotional click-through rates, social shares, and traffic sources.

GOAL 4: Reduce customer service calls by half in the next 6 months.
KPIs include service call satisfaction, event that led to the call, and identify the page visited immediately before the call.

As discussed above, all the KPIs involved circle back to the original business goal: the goal came first, and what you needed to meet that goal (KPIs) came second.

A few additional points:

KPIs Differ Between Industries and Business Models

Your KPIs will be seriously influenced by the industry you are in, as well as the business model. For example, the metrics needed for a B2B software company to work on customer acquisition are different than an ecommerce clothing store working on conversion rates.

Always Be Segmenting

The best thing you can do is segment your data as much as possible; for example, you can segment conversion rates by PPC, email, blog content, etc. Never focus on averages; the results will be skewed.

Focus on a Few

The beauty of inbound marketing means you can potentially measure just about everything on your site; stop! When it comes to KPIs, less is more. In general, your business will probably be served best working with 4 to 10 metrics.

The Bad KPIs for Ecommerce

Some readily available metrics are bad key performance indicators. A few examples: number of visits, page views, emails sent, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, time on site, bounce rate, and revenue.

You should monitor these data points, but do not use them to measure your success. For one, there is very little that can be learned from these that impact the bottom line; second, more does not always mean success; and third, anyone that takes these actions comes from the top of the funnel, and they are not your end goal. Always choose your KPIs with the end goal in mind.

Good KPIs for an Ecommerce Site

This is not a catch all list, but some helpful ideas to get you started.

1.Site Traffic:
Measure your traffic for daily, weekly, and monthly visits, so you can analyze when there is a dip or spike. Set a goal for average weekly visitors, and frame marketing efforts accordingly.

2. Product Page Views:
Understanding which product pages get the most and least attention from your customers is instrumental in figuring out their preferences and how they interact with your site.

3. Exit Pages:
When are your customers leaving your site? Optimize those pages to keep customers shopping – whether that means adjusting shipping costs or not requiring an account to purchase.

4. Referral Sources:
How did your customers get on your site? Invest more in the sources of traffic working for you; remember to include bounce rates when deciding on those metrics.

5. Average Page Views and Time on Site:
This tells you if your site is engaging and if traffic is targeted. If low, you might reconsider campaigns and keywords. Also, check your loading speed.

6. Return Rate:
Analyze new versus returning visitors. Are you keeping customers coming back? Evaluate customer service efforts and maintaining relationships with customers.

And a few additional “good” KPIs include:

  • Conversion Rate
  • Cart Abandonment
  • Average Order Value
  • Net Profit