Effectively communicating with your online customers via e-mail is extremely important. But winning the battle of the inbox is no easy task. Even if you are fortunate enough to get your message opened, you better have something worth reading. People don’t flag spam and they don’t reply to “blah, blah, blah.”

The DNA of an awesome e-mail is a mixture of personalization, relevancy and congruency. It should be personalized for the simple reason that there is a living, breathing person on the other end. It should be relevant because, well, it is relevant. It should also be congruent in that it makes sense as a component of an ongoing conversation.

Take a few minutes and browse through 10 e-mails in your CRM that have gone out to customers. It’s best you do this while sitting down, because you may not be too happy with what you find. The good news is you can make it better by following these 10 steps.

Step 1: Burn Your Templates
I took part in a template burning event back in 2006, and it was pretty cool. We printed out all of our templates, put them in a trash can, took it outside and set them on fire. Why? They didn’t work. That’s because the only thing templates are good at is creating spam. 

A template is used so that the format does not have to be recreated each time it’s used. Think of a template as a piece of stationery, not as a message. So your canned e-mails that go out on whatever day to whatever recipient are a waste of cyberspace and your customers’ time. Please stop.

Step 2: Use Personalized Subject Lines
Your customer is going to skim his or her inbox, looking through the clutter for something that catches his or her attention. It could be the sender or the subject line, but nothing will catch it like their name. 

In fact, one of the most effective subject lines I’ve seen is: “Hi, John, it’s Ashley at BDC Motors.” We tested it and that subject line generated a 62 percent open rate, which is phenomenal. Not bad for something so simple, right? By the way, the subject line with the No. 1 open rate in the study we conducted was: “Happy Birthday!” How’s that for personal!

Step 3: Type Like You Talk
David Kain, Internet sales guru, has a saying. He says you should type like you talk and talk like a fifth grader. That’s good advice. So, before you put your fingers to the keyboard, think for a second about what you would say to the individual you’re going to e-mail if you could say it in person. 

Although this is a templated e-mail, notice how there is no mention of price. It’s important to talk about something other than price. If you don’t, the cheapest dealer will win the sale.

Although this is a templated e-mail, notice how there is no mention
of price. It’s important to talk about something other than
price. If you don’t, the cheapest dealer will win the sale.

So, if you had the customer in front of you, would you say: “We have an exceptional selection of quality pre-owned vehicles”? Or would you say: “We have a lot of nice used cars?” Look, avoid the $10 words at all cost. You’ll find customers are more likely to respond when you are having a conversation than when you are using “ad speak.”

Step 4: Be Relevant
For heaven’s sake, think about what you are saying. Relevancy starts with reading their comments, identifying whether or not they are already your customer and whether or not they’re local. Inviting someone to stop by for a test drive when they live 90 miles away isn’t going to work. In fact, it probably has the opposite effect. And never ever converse with a past customer as if you were speaking to them for the first time. 

One BDC manager I know sends a price quote on Day 1, asks for a trade-in on Day 2 and offers finance options with a down payment/payment matrix on Day 3. It’s very congruent and it works, which is in congruence with selling more cars. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Step 5: Be Congruent
I told you not to use 10-dollar words, yet here I am using words like “congruency.” Sorry about that. What I mean is your e-mails should have a pattern. Each message should fall in a logical sequence with the last e-mail you sent. For example, if the last message contained valuable information your customer requested, the next e-mail shouldn’t be about the big sale, checking out your specials, browsing your inventory or liking you on Facebook. A better message would be: “Did you have a chance to review the information?” or “Did I send you everything you needed?” 

Step 6: Be Brief
Many people are reading your e-mails on their smart phones or mobile devices. So be sure to use short paragraphs in your e-mails. In other words, be Twitter-like. Just be sure to leave some wiggle room around your calls to action and your phone number so they can easily click on them if they are on a mobile device. If you type like you talk, this should be easy.

Step 7: Test Your Formats
Test your stationery and see how it looks on a mobile device. One good idea is to format your e-mails in a table. This will usually center the e-mail on any type of screen and makes it look crisp, uniform and professional. Remember that e-mails can be both personal and professional. 

Step 8: Ask Questions
If you don’t ask a question, they can’t respond! Questions evoke responses. Questions motivate customers to reply. A question begs to be answered; it’s human nature. Try one of these: “Should I be looking for a different car?” or “Was the information I sent yesterday helpful?”

Step 9: Describe Your Process
Let customers know your process. Tell them what the next step is and show them how easy you are to do business with. Since you want to be brief, consider a link to a landing page with more information about your process. How about a link to a video explaining your process, your priority appointment, your pre-approval process or trade-in evaluation process? Talk about something other than price. If not, the cheapest dealer will win the sale.

Step 10: Create Chemistry, Not Conflict
The tone of your e-mails is just as important as any other element in its DNA. If you are truly trying to be helpful, it will come through. Be the dealer that can, not the one that can’t. Your customers should feel like they are being served, not sold. The paradox is that they are being sold — on your great service. 

My last tip for you is to use a metal trash can when you’re burning all of those e-mail templates. No, I didn’t make the mistake of using a plastic can, but you never know. And when you’re done, use the 10 steps I provided to help you win the battle of the inbox. Let me know how you do.

About the author
Greg Wells

Greg Wells

Senior Partner

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