By Brian Brown, COO, Dave Cantin Group

How many times a month does your store send out an e-mail blast to customers? Once? Three times? Eight times? What’s the difference between creating opportunities and annoying the daylights out of your customers? There’s a magic number in there somewhere, but it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, whom you are sending e-blasts to and what stage the recipient is in the buying cycle.

Agree on a Strategy

To begin, take the time to come up with a strategy and a policy that everyone can agree on. The general manager, head of marketing, general sales manager and service manager should come to an agreement. If you decide that one sales e-blast and one service e-blast is the maximum you want to send out monthly, then everyone should agree and stick to the rules, which can help prevent poorly considered “panic” e-blasts going out near the end of the month to drive traffic.

The second step is to determine early in the month what the specific strategy is going to be for that month. (Your strategy may change depending on the time of year.) You might, for example, want to send a sales e-blast early in the month and another late in the month, and a service e-blast mid-month depending on the volume of traffic in the service drive. Each store will have a different set of circumstances, so the strategy should be based on the store’s needs. The plan should be crafted in advance, however, so no one is tempted to send three emails in the same week towards the end of the month.

The Danger of Over-Communicating

The general rule of thumb is that a single customer should not receive more than two communications from you per month, regardless of the content. Think about how you feel about the marketing emails in your own inbox. You might purchase something from a web site for the first time and become automatically included in the company’s marketing campaigns. When you receive the first email, you’ll probably look at it, because it’s novel, and you’re curious. After a short while, however, the emails become like wallpaper to be ignored and deleted. If they arrive too frequently, you’ll become annoyed and unsubscribe from the list.

The trick for us as car dealers is to find the right balance between getting our message to our database without spiking unsubscribes or diminishing open rates.

How do you do that?

Step 1: Ensure You’re Sending the Right Message to the Right Person.

If customers continually receive emails from you that have no relevance to them, it increases the likelihood of the customer deleting the email without opening it or even unsubscribing altogether. As an example, imagine sending an email blast full of lease specials to someone who bought a car only 60 days ago. The message doesn’t apply to them, so it will probably get labeled spam, which will affect all your future emails to that customer. Save that type of email for unsold prospects or customers with a lease or loan expiring soon.

Step 2: Build the Right List

Who are you sending your email blasts to? Think about it: Before you can decide what message you want to convey, you need to know and understand your audience. Perhaps you’re trying to reach out to unsold prospects in your customer relationship management database (CRM), or previously sold customers with a lease or loan expiring soon. Perhaps you’d like to reach out to service customers whose warranties are expiring. Your lists need to be stratified so you can reach different types of customers with the right messages.

  • If you’re hoping to reach out to unsold prospects in your database, go out a maximum of 90 days. Send them a well-crafted message helping them understand why making a purchase would be a smart move and include some reasons they should consider buying from you again.
  • If you’re looking to reach customers with a lease or loan expiring soon, make sure you don’t go too far out: you want to be able to help the customers that inquire. Crying wolf (“We can get you out of your lease now no matter what”) drastically reduces the integrity of your sales pitches in the future.
  • If you’re reaching out to service customers, make sure your CRM is correctly receiving information from your dealer management system so your service data is up-to-date. This is especially important if you’ve recently changed CRM or DMS services.

Step 3: Remove Duplicates

At this point, you’ve planned your strategy and updated and segmented your lists. You have now decided to send an “unsold prospect” email blast on the third of the month, an “off-lease” e-blast on the 12th and an “oil change special” e-blast on the 23rd.  First, you need to ensure that the same customers aren’t receiving all three messages. This requires a little planning, and some assistance from your CRM. Most solutions allow you to set a filter that will, for example, prevent customers who received an email 15 days ago from receiving another one. If your CRM doesn’t do that and you send your e-blasts through a third-party program like Mailchimp, you can use Excel’s “Remove Duplicates” setting and sort the lists against each other.

Also, consider how your information is collected. If a person is categorized as an unsold prospect in your CRM, you might assume that they DIDN’T buy last week – but maybe they did. It makes sense to remove anyone who has purchased in the last 90 days in case (for some reason) they are showing as both an unsold prospect in your CRM as well as a sold customer. You don’t want to accidentally send a $249-a-month lease special message to a customer who just leased a vehicle for $350 a month. The same goes for service: if you’re sending out a $19.95 oil change special, you don’t want it sent to a customer who just paid $39.95 for their oil change.

The bottom line is that it’s important to pay attention to whom you’re sending your emails and think about what message you’re sending them.

Step 4:  Measure Results

Measuring results is a great way to quality-check your email blasts so you can improve them in the future. Look at the open rates, click-through rates and unsubscribe rates. Talk about these results with your team and brainstorm ideas about how to improve them.

For instance, if your open rate was low, it might signify that you’re sending out emails too frequently, or that your message’s headline wasn’t well crafted. If you’re getting a lot of unsubscribes, you might be targeting the wrong people with the wrong messages. Examining your success (or lack of it) can help you improve the quality of your email marketing campaigns in the future.