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Email List Marketing: A $1,000,000 Lesson on Letting Lists Go Stale

email list marketingIf you had a $1,000,000 sitting on a shelf, and every day its value dwindled down, how long would you let it sit?

Not very long, I hope!

Did you know that the same concept applies to your email lists? A company’s email list is one of its most valuable assets when used effectively, but it’s often treated like an afterthought. It is a proven maxim that it typically costs a company more to acquire a new client, or customer, than it does to market to an existing one. So if this is the case, why is your email list languishing unused? Why aren’t you optimizing your email list marketing?

Of course, good business means continuing to seek new clients; the point of the maxim is that they must also make a priority of marketing to those who are already leads and customers. But what does having an active existing email list really mean?

A solid, pre-existing email list has several benefits:

  1. You can market sale pricing on slow moving inventory or services;
  2. You are easily able to obtain referrals and letters of endorsement from satisfied customers;
  3. You are able to offer “upsells” for those have made purchases;
  4. You are able to continue to provide relevant offers to prospective and previous customers

Each of these factors can contribute to additional profits for companies willing to invest the time in maintaining their email lists. In good times, this maintenance is an added boost to growing profits. In difficult times it can sustain a company when new business is hard to come by. Proper email list marketing can help.

How email Lists are Built Today?

In the “traditional” past, a company’s email lists existed in its capacity to send ‘snail’-mail, or call list members on the phone. However, with the advent and rapid growth of the web, list building has changed and most customer contact shifted to email communication during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Companies started capturing the email addresses of customers and prospects at the point of sale or during a website visit. Skilled companies would go one step further to make sure that the contact information was segmented, so that targeted email communications could be sent to the subscribers based on product interest, or previous purchases.

Although email, when used properly, remains a convenient and viable means for companies to communicate with their clients, other forms of contact collection have emerged in recent years. Aside from blogging, which has been a leader in contact list building in recent years, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube all have unique mass contacting features. Whether they are called followers or subscribers, a company has the ability to reach them at will. Although this power of contact can be easily taken advantage of and wasted through spam, when it’s used correctly, it can differentiate a company’s message in a big way. All forms of contact have tremendous strengths as well as limitations. Companies are slowly growing into the role of successfully building email lists on various platforms, to tailor messages in the most targeted way possible.

Being Lazy with your List = Being Lazy with your Customers

It’s to your benefit to grow your list of subscribers regardless of the platform; however, to do that, you have to work on it. Although companies do attain subscribers and followers by accident sometimes, that’s no way to grow a serious list. This is most evident in what surveyed subscribers say about why they choose to “unfollow” or “unsubscribe” from a brand.
Regardless of platform, a significant number of subscribers leave a brand for the same reasons:

  1. The content they received became repetitive or boring over time;
  2. The content wasn’t relevant from the start, and
  3. The subscriber only signed up for a one time offer.

Although these statistics look ominous for those who choose to maintain contact with their customers, it doesn’t have to be. Companies that are serious about engagement routinely survey their email lists, and their social media followers, to find out what they want to see and what they find interesting. Finding out what your subscribers want to know, and then using your company’s expertise to help them, will keep them engaged to your content and updates. Most of the time, companies aren’t losing the interest of their lists because they aren’t contacting them – they’re just not providing the relevance that the audience needs.

It is also clear that companies should work to reward followers and existing email contacts. You should definitely not tailor your business model to discount and freebie seekers, however, making an effort to reward loyal customers is a best practice for those who are successful at maintaining a responsive contact list. Practicing this may be enough of an incentive to keep those that were only seeking special information and special offers to join your email list.

Your Existing Lists are Loyal, Treat It That Way

Business to Business based companies should always reward their loyal clients with relevant research, problem solving and sometimes even collaboration. Ultimately, the understanding that a client’s goals are to generate more profit without spending additional capital should motivate managers and business owners to continuously pose problems and present solutions. Discussion with a company’s email list can lead to refreshing non-incestuous views of potential solutions and product designs.

You can also leverage these discussions with customers and prospects to move them into segmented sales funnels. As you outline your insights and concerns about your client base, each individual explanation presents an opportunity for you to use marketing automation to move:

  1. Existing customers into new sales funnels based on their interest in solving specific problems or having definitive questions answered, and
  2. Prospective customers into segmented marketing funnels based on their interests.

The advantage of using email lists in this way is that customers and prospects get the information from your company that they are truly interested in, and you will have the opportunity to create marketing messages that are specific to their interests.

So, What Do You Do To Make Your List Profitable?

  1. Survey your lists using email and social media channels. Find out what problems they are looking to solve, what they wish they knew more about.
  2. Take the results that you get from the survey and prioritize them according to those that are solvable from your existing products, services and knowledge base.
  3. Create a customized sales funnel based on answering each of the questions you identified. In other words, if you are proposing an answer based on a product you offer, then factor ways to remind your audience of it into the messages you send them.
  4. Once you have determined a sales funnel for each question that you are going to answer, make a decision about the best method to inform your list and deliver it to them. Will you use an email, direct mail, webinar, live demonstration, demo video, podcast or some combination?
  5. Make sure that there is an easy, incentive driven and sensible re-opt-in process for existing customers to new email lists. Additionally, make sure that you have tracking mechanisms at each stage of the process.
  6. Execute the plan with a segment of your email lists. Analyze the results of your tracking, make adjustments and then administer the plan to the rest of your contact lists.
  7. Repeat the process for other questions, problems and concerns that your subscribers have. Schedule and prioritize future surveys to adjust the process and gather new information at regular intervals when necessary. Watch industry news carefully in the niches you serve and look to preempt the process by answering questions that are on the cutting edge (even if you don’t always have a product or service to sell).

Closing Thoughts

As you look at your interactions with your customers and prospects you must continually ask yourself if they are benefiting by being on your list. You should be in frequent contact with your list (even if it’s a small list) to keep abreast of what your subscribers need and want from you. As feedback rolls in, you have to be willing to take action to address these changing priorities.

What kind of conversations are you having with your customers and prospects? Do these conversations benefit them?

About Jared Fabac

Jared Fabac (@JRFabac) is the Director of Client Strategy at the industrial marketing agency, Idea Bright Marketing. Jared is an active speaker and strategist for industrial companies, professional organizations and universities along the East Coast. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, The Industrial (Marketing) Revolution, and columnist of numerous online journals focusing in industrial marketing and global marketing strategy.


  1. Terence Verma says:

    This article has laid claim to be the ‘Go To’ for email list marketing. Very authoritative, Jared.

    A small clarification please. Does a business have just the one sales funnel, or as I takeaway from the article, a funnel for every segment? my understanding has been that the marketing funnel allows for all phases of prospect/ customer engagement?

    1. Jared Fabac says:

      Thanks, Terence.

      I really appreciate the comment. There will always be a multitude of sales funnels based on segments. That’s just my perspective as I feel it allows content to be more carefully crafted around where a customer comes from. Even if it’s for one one product.

      The main reason being that the interactions and relationships with customers will be varying reasons and be generated from various engagements. Overall, one may view an all encompassing funnel, but I find it much more impactful when you’re segmenting profile funnels over a general method.

      So you’re takeaway is correct, as is the fact that the sales funnel will continuously evolve and improve as more engagements occur. As buyers continue to gain leverage in the sales cycle, various funnels will continue to evolve.

  2. Denise Loughlin says:

    Great post – relationships the most integral part of any business. Love how your emphasis is on how my services provide benefits to my customers. Really reinforces what Danny Ivy teaches – truly the secret to success in any ventures involving humans!

    1. Jared Fabac says:

      Thanks so much, Denise. Danny is a leader at providing great insights and I’m glad to contribute to his community. I look forward to interacting more with you in the future. Feel free to reach out anytime.


  3. Hey Jared,

    I was referring more to the conversation that continued in the comments,

    – and as I said, it’s just a small thing to be wary of depending upon your style, your list etc. When people see themselves as ‘marks’ the relationship can abruptly end (at least in a marketing sense) – which some marketers are actually happy with

    I really liked your article and didn’t mean to worry you at all with my comment,

    take care & best wishes,

    1. Jared Fabac says:

      Hey Alan –

      Lol. No worries!! I, in return, didn’t mean to give a worried response, by any means. I think your comments added significant value to the article. I just hoped that most readers were not getting a dollar sign philosophy behind the reading.

      Nonetheless, I agree completely with your comment and love the value it brings! Thanks again, bud!


  4. Hey Jared,

    you’re right – at the end of the day, relationships are the most important thing, always have been and always will be – plus these days it’s easier than ever to test whether what you have for the market is what the market actually wants – just ask them!

    I love my email list.

    Love em.

    Because these are the people who have given me permission to contact them on a regular basis and appreciate the help I give them. whether that’s through free content or paid products and services, that’s something I really truly appreciate – and would do so whether my list was 10 people or 10 million.

    One small thing – I know it’s a business but start talking too much about ‘leveraging your list to the maximum’ and I think you’re in danger of crossing a fine line – before long each person in your list starts to look like a dollar sign.

    I look at each person in my list as a person, first and foremost – perhaps that’s naiive of me but that’s the way it is for me – perhaps I give away far too much for free and perhaps I got it wrong but for me it absolutely has to be about unquestionable value to each and every person on that list.

    We’re not teasing people’s trust out of them just so that we can ‘leverage’ them to the maximum.

    1. Jared Fabac says:

      Thanks, Alan. You make one of the best points someone can make on this subject. Once your e-mail list becomes dollar based, you lost much of the relationship status that was the reason the list was built anyway. So I completely agree. Not only will I keep your comments fresh in my mind when writing and dealing with this subject in the future, but I’ll ensure to keep the community updated on specific projects that are covering this.

      I certainly hope the article wasn’t interpreted in a way that showed the dollar mightier than the relationship. My goal was actually to give some insight on recent projects that took this route. I hope that the main value would be seen as actually showing more concern for the members of your list than most other companies they may belong to by actually seeking customer insight on their experiences with your company, other companies, and other variables that may benefit the user. I never recommend leveraging a list, however, I do recommend ensuring that you list receives the attention they deserve.

      I think you should commended for looking at each member of your list. Of course, when your list reaches higher numbers, it becomes more important to segment them and address each segment individually. At that point, I feel you gain the ability to further your relationship by offering the customer the opportunity to interact in a way that offers opinion. But I also agree, once that’s done for monetary value only, the list is wasted.

      Great stuff! Thanks for commenting. Keep in touch.

  5. Thank you, Jared! I am inspired to use my email list in this ‘enlightened’ way! So much to do so little time! I think I have ‘visibility’ issues and so I avoid sending email… it’s a process of iniiitating communicating regularly, for me. But I totally see the value.

    When you say: 1) Survey your lists using email and social media channels. Find out what problems they are looking to solve, what they wish they knew more about.- do you mean look up each person on the list and see what they are talking about on Twitter and FB?

    That’s serious research! I never thought about that!

    1. Jared Fabac says:

      Hi Michelle –

      Thanks for reading and I’m glad the post could article could add some value to your work! That’s gets me stoked.

      When I was discussing surveying e-mail lists, I don’t mean data mining your list and uncovering more information, I was referring to actually directly asking your lists what their concerns are. Technically speaking, it will accomplish two different goals here: a.) reinvents your relationship with the list and b.) directly receives problem based information on the list to further your marketing efforts.

      Of course, incorporating trending conversations is a HUGE advantage to furthering the list relationship and can only add to the value of your lists, however, that may be a separate post in its own! 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to hearing more in the future.

  6. Jarom Adair says:

    Thanks Jared. I’ve been there (letting my list go stale).

    One simple thing to do to “survey” your list (kind of a watered-down version of what you’ve detailed for busy folks looking for quick alternatives) is to write a simple post asking your list to comment on the emails you’ve sent them.

    Enable comments on that post, and send out an email to your list asking them to visit and comment. You’ll get a good idea of what it is that people appreciate about you. Here’s my simple comment page (if you want to see how simple I’m talking about) and I send people there all the time:

    I just peruse this every now and then make sure I stay in line with what people are saying they like most about my services.

  7. Great article Jared! Many online marketers with lists don’t realize that they are sitting on a goldmine. It can help them take their business to the next level. It’s that powerful.

    It’s important to understand that building an email list is never enough. You need to go ahead and build a strong relationship with your subscribers/prospects. Because when you create an ongoing relationship with them, they’ll like you, respect you and will not hesitate in doing what you want them to do.

    Only when your list trusts you will you be able to leverage it to the maximum. But if your subscribers doesn’t trust you, trust me you’re gonna have a hard time making the most out of it.

    Your email list is an asset, and it should be treated that way. Period.

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