Make Your Emails STAND OUT

My email inbox is full of pitches. I own a small brick&mortar plus e-com CPG business (it’s a bagel shop!) and from both fronts I get hit with hundreds of marketing emails a day.

Sometimes… SOMETIMES… the subject line will get me to open. Usually, I open by mistake (have you seen the “re: Your order” subject line… it’ll get you the first few times). Sometimes, rarely, I’ll open an email out of pure curiosity.

But that’s where it always ends. 

I don’t want to meet with these people. I don’t care about their outrageous growth promises. I don’t care about their ‘proven track records’ or their ‘love of my website’ or any of the crap they try to pitch me. Why should I care? Why should I trust? Who even the hell ARE YOU??! 

DELETE.

Your prospects are just like me. If they own or manage an e-com business, they are getting pitched from every Eva, Samir and Dick out there, all day, every day.

Yet email marketing works… Forbes still reports a 3800% ROI from email marketing. That’s $38 for every $1 you spend. But to get these rewards, you must get your prospects to open and READ your email.

That is why, as a SaaS focused email marketing copywriter, I start my emails with something people actually like reading, emails they feel good about spending time on, and copy that keeps them from hitting delete or unsubscribe. Instead of getting lost in the inbox of pitches, promises and tricky snags, my email copywriting strategy leaves prospects wanting to learn more…

My not-so-secret, secret for SaaS email marketing is starting every email with a good ‘ol story. I use stories to start cold outreach emails, automated emails, and nurture emails because people relate to stories immediately and they trust the voice telling the story instinctively. It’s the best way I know to hook a reader, deliver your message intuitively, and get them ready and excited to hear your full pitch.

Need proof? Have you ever tuned into news radio in the middle of a story? You listen long enough to see if the story interests you, right? If it does, you probably will stay on the station and listen to the end. You might even stick around to hear the next story. What you don’t do is say, “Who the hell is this person telling me this story?” because you don’t care if you’ve never heard of the storyteller before. You don’t need to know if you can trust them first, which is the first thought when you’re being outright sold to, you just want to hear how the story ends.

It’s the same with email. Tell a story that relates to your prospect, that speaks to the problem they are dealing with in their business, and they will be hooked.

But what if there’s lots of problems? 

You know what else hooks people almost more than stories? 

A QUIZ! 

“Hooray!” They say, “A respite from my work! A little quiz I can spend 3 fun minutes on!”

Send out a quiz and figure out what issues your target market is dealing with, and not only have you segmented your list with a well constructed quiz, you’ve given yourself valuable information on exactly which stories to tell to these people.  

You can also just send a really, really short email. Make the subject line about the prospect with something like “Question for you” and then just add one line of copy, no logo, no fancy signature just an open ended question that they are going to respond to. “What issues are you having with your XXXXXX (thing your company offers)?” Brilliant marketer Dean Jackson invented this little marketing trick, and he calls it the 9-word email. I’ve adapted it to SaaS, but the idea is the same.

Here’s some examples from SaaS companies I’ve worked with (note, this only works for an already warm list):

  • What struggles do you face with influencer marketing? 
  • What troubles you the most about pricing? 
  • What issues are you having with your video production? 
  • What problems are you having with design?

Hit send. That’s it. Send those little email babies out into the world and see what responses you get.

BOOM. More segmentation. Better Targeting. Goldmine of story ideas.

How to convince them you are the solution 

Here’s what most people try.

  1. Offer the prospect a demo

Maybe… That’s asking for time they may not have. Especially if they don’t know the pay-off yet. Demos are great, but you can’t lead with that.

  1. Offer a free trial

People love that you’re giving something away… it takes away almost all the barriers to entry. But, if you’re a SaaS company, there’s got to be a learning curve to your software. Will they invest the time necessary to utilize the free trial? By the end of the trial will they see benefits? Are you just hoping they forget to cancel their membership? Whatever happens, chances are your free trial may get them in the door, but you may not be building customer loyalty.

Instead, give your prospect something that takes relatively little of their time, engages them, and convinces them to take the next step (like engage in that demo, actually utilize their free trial) and ultimately is going to convert this prospect into a customer. 

Give them a story that speaks to their struggles, the problems they face, the issues they are concerned about, and show how you turned it around for others. When you share a story of other companies who are using your solution, you make your prospect a little jealous that this company over here solved their problem. No amount of words describing your features and benefits can have that powerful an effect. 

Kinds of stories that work in email

There are unlimited stories you can tell. There are short stories of a simple before and after. There are series stories with a cliffhanger at the end. There are special interest stories with seemingly nothing to do with your product, but they give a feel for your brand and your attitude, they are relatable. There are stories about a day in the life of a client, these just show how good things can be for your prospect if they make a change (this is called future pacing). There are stories meant to convey an emotion, an emotion that your prospect is having, and it makes them feel that emotion while reading your email, priming them for your solution. There are case study stories that get really granular, for the analytical mind to comb through. 

And they don’t have to be dry, they can be funny. Think about how you are in an interview, the kind of work culture you promote, that’s how you should be in your emails. If you’re all business, and that’s what you want your clients to know about you, fine, do it very buttoned up. But if you’re a fast paced company, you’ve got new talent coming in and you’re an innovative place to work, a place that promotes creativity… then you can show that to your prospects in the way you write your emails, by telling stories with some personality. Your prospects are going to like you more. 

This is a digital media world. People are used to being entertained and that’s where the heat is. So there’s no reason you can’t give that heat in a business pitch. The key is, when you use a story to make your case, it won’t sound or look like a pitch. 

Examples

Short stories

As a SaaS company you may be tempted to feature the benefits of your software solution as quickly and position your pitch right away in an email. The trend in SaaS is to keep everything short and get straight to the point. The problem with this is it blends into the ocean of email pitches… it’s not interesting at ALL to a cold audience, and won’t build trust in your company.

You want to take the message you are trying to convey and show it with a story. You deliver the same message, “our software solves problem A with benefits X, Y and Z” but instead of telling them, you show them that once upon a time, this person encountered problem A and these are all the things that happened as a result of that problem… until one day…” Get the idea?

Instead of this:

Influencer marketing drives significant results for your direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand, but it can also deliver program management headaches and reporting anxiety. 

Show 👆it:

She only slept two hours…

Alicia was combing through Instagram and checking her DMs every three minutes. She found a compatible-ish creator… but their followers were obviously faked. Another charged 5K up front…

Her influencer marketing program was imploding.

——

This is just a moment in the life of a user of this particular SaaS company, specifically a moment in time BEFORE she adopted my client’s SaaS solution. But it gives you a picture of how bad it can get and it makes you see what the stakes are. 

A story like this can work for a completely cold audience (as long as you’ve done your research and figured out what they are struggling with). A story like this can definitely work to nurture a warm audience, to re-engage, or for customer retention (make them remember how bad it was before they found you).

Cliff hanger stories

This is a great way to build excitement in your email readership and give people the sense that your emails are not to be missed. It’s also a great way to tell a longer client success story to an audience with a short attention span. 

The story telling works the same as in the example above. Show the problem you are describing with a story, only don’t give the payoff in the same email. Instead, end the email at a turning point in the story. Make sure to leave the reader wanting more and tell them they need to catch your next email, where you’ll reveal how the story ends. If your story is juicy enough, you could even expand this over more than two emails, depending on how many cliffhanger moments/lessons you can build into it.

Showcase a client case study

Most SaaS companies already have a few case studies written up on their website, or built into the sales process. If a client’s success story is good enough for a case study, then it will do even more for you in an email. The great thing about case studies is that it activates FOMO in the reader. They see how their competitors are succeeding, making it look like they have insider knowledge and they are getting ahead because of your SaaS solution. You’ve also given them a feeling of excitement, intrigue, and satisfaction. You’ve drawn attention to a need, now your reader will feel they too need to have this problem solved. Best of all, now your reader sees that it’s possible. 

When you re-work a case study into an email, you are allowed to highlight your company’s brilliance, and yet it doesn’t feel sales-y. It feels scientific and obvious. 

A day in the life story

A day in the life story is probably not going to be part of your email automations, although you could turn one of these into an evergreen email if you find one that resonates particularly well with your audience. More often, these are emails inspired by something that happens either with a client, or inside your company. Think of this like turning on the camera for an impromptu LIVE FEED. The nice thing about email is… your camera doesn’t have to be rolling when something cool happens… you can capture the story with your words, and share it later. 

Practice telling stories to your co-workers, or around the dinner table after work. Then take those same stories and write them in an email, just the same way you would tell a friend. 

As video embeds into email become more popular, this day-in-the life kind of storytelling is going to be essential if you want to get your videos viewed. Every piece of content that you share can be made more relatable and interesting if you start off with a story to hook your audience. 

Special interest story

Sometimes you have an objective for an email that is more abstract, more about shifting a belief in your prospect and less about selling them on your specific SaaS solution. For example, your research may be showing you that people believe your specific niche is too expensive and not worth the investment. This means you need to shift your audience’s beliefs about the value of your product before you ever sell to them.

Using a story will soften your audience and make them more compliant to your message. But, since you don’t want to sell to them yet, you aren’t going to want to use a story about your company. Instead, you want to tell a story that seemingly has nothing to do with your company, and then when you’ve gotten them through the story, you can turn the email back towards your agenda and make your case to a much more receptive audience.

Here’s how this works. Figure out the emotion your prospect is feeling related to this wrong belief. In our example above, the prospect knows they need to fix their problem somehow, but they believe they can’t afford a third party solution. They are probably feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Next you think about a story, extra credit if it’s from your own life, when you (or someone) felt overwhelmed and anxious. Tell that story. Just go for it, these are called special “interest” stories because they are interesting. When you get the the end of the story you can easily jump to your soft pitch with simply, “That’s exactly how many of our clients feel when they first come to us…” or “Just like Annie, knees scuffed and convinced she would never learn to ride a bike, you may be feeling like you can’t…” and you turn this into your soft pitch about the problem you solve.

I know… most SaaS companies are not going to go for this one. I’ll admit, I borrowed this framework from a copywriter and teacher, Marisa Corcoran, who mostly teaches coaches and personal guru brands how to market themselves… but it’s such a great way to hook your reader and shift their beliefs, I believe it can work wonderfully for SaaS brands willing to stand out.

Where to begin

If you already have automated emails running, it makes sense to make changes in your welcome sequence emails first. You don’t have re-write the entire email, rather look at the message you are trying to convey and find a story to deliver the same message. Remember, show the prospect how you solve their problems instead of telling them.

Begin with short stories like the example above, just to hook the reader and give them a feel for your new personality driven approach. After you’ve made these updates, you can begin to experiment with nurture emails and longer, more in-depth stories. Throw in some day-in-the-life stories to a weekly email broadcast and maybe even ask for some feedback with questions like, “Has this ever happened to you?” or “Where would you like to see results with your xxxxx (solution your company offers)?” When people reply to your emails it will improve your deliverability, and make your company feel even more relatable, because real relationships are built on a back and forth dialogue.

If you are starting from scratch, or looking to overhaul your entire email strategy, then beginning with a survey, quiz, or 9-word-email (although don’t use this one for cold emails) is a great place to start. Once you start getting feedback on the issues your prospects are having related to your software, you can decide which stories will be the most compelling for your audience. But don’t stop there! Conduct in depth interviews with your existing customers to figure out what pain points brought them to you and how they became convinced you are the best solution to their problems. The more you can learn from your existing customers, the better you’ll be able to find stories that will reach new customers suffering from the same issues. When prospects read email stories of your client’s success and transformations… they will be desperate to learn more.

Stories are fun to write, fun to read, and they create trust and peak interest in your prospects. Not only will your emails stand out… more importantly, so will your brand.


Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b email marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion email copy and strategy that’s tailored for e-com apps and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at annie@aaroewriting.com.

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