Awhile back, we were fortunate to try some neat email tactics that helped double our email list growth in just one month’s time.

Then we stopped growing our list altogether.

We shifted our learnings from growing an email list into growing Buffer signups. And we’ve yet to go back.

Odd? Strange? Counterintuitive? Yep, probably all those things. Most online marketing advice today will advise you to build an email list, first and foremost. We aren’t. We’ve had the same amount of email subscribers to the Buffer blog since June 2015. There are only three places on the whole of the Internet anymore to signup for our list (buried deep within the Buffer app, at the footer of this blog, and at this URL, which we link to from nowhere that I can remember).

How come?

And will we ever go back?

I’d love to share some thoughts.

(I thought I’d try a quick audio version of this blog post, in case that might be easier at all for some folks. Would love to hear how it feels!)

Almost literally everyone builds an email list

I have a list of favorite blogs in my Feedly, and quite nearly every single one of them has an email capture form of some sort on their home page.

(The only one I couldn’t find one for was Lifehacker, which I think has its own proprietary method of gaining signups/users.)

blogs2 blogs4 blogs3

Here’s one for Zen Habits:zen habits email

For Brain Pickings:

 

brain pickings email

For Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek:

four hour work week email

Etc. Etc.

All these amazing blogs and amazing bloggers are building an email list and growing their audience, and I find it really incredible and inspiring to see all the many unique ways they go about it.

So why aren’t we? Here’re some thoughts.

What do you even do with an email list?

We reached the point where we were growing an email list bigger and bigger and bigger with no real end game in sight.

What did we plan to do with all these email addresses once we had them?

Good question.

We didn’t have an answer, so we stopped trying to add more.

We had lots of different ideas, and people have been so gracious to share their thoughts on what we could be doing (I’d love to hear from you in the comments, too, if anything comes to mind).

Here’re a few suggestions we thought over:

1. Lead nurturing

We’ve not quite made much progress into lead nurturing just yet—and to be honest, it could partly be because I don’t fully understand the term!

Here’s what I imagine the definition to be:

Lead nurturing is the process of taking a lead (another term that gives me pause – is a lead just an email?) and slowly but surely turning them into a customer by keeping in close touch and building a strong case, over time, for why they might like to use your product.

You’ve maybe heard that email is 40x more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter? Lead nurturing is a big reason why.

(More on this below.)

2. Webinar signups

One thing many marketers do with a newsletter list is occasionally send out invitations to webinars. The webinars, then, became the gateway into the product where people get to know more about what you do, ask questions, get support, and eventually become customers.

Wait a minute. This is lead nurturing!

3. Merge into a CRM tool

I’ve heard others who take their newsletter list and slip them into the pipeline with the rest of the CRM (customer relationship management) folks that come to the company from any which direction.

4. Leave them be

This has been our chosen path for the past several years. We built an email list (currently at 44,000 subscribers), we share articles with the list, and we don’t do anything else.

What this essentially amounts to is a long-term, customer-driven sales cycle: essentially a soft sell or, in some ways, a zero sell.

The three different kinds of marketing sells

  1. Hard sell
  2. Soft sell
  3. Zero sell

The hard sell is when you make a direct pitch for your product. This can take many forms, but you’ll often see it in an email or a mailer or an ad: anything where the overall goal and action for the user is to sign up, join, or start with a product.

The soft sell is a bit more of a slow play: The connection with the product or service is there, but it’s subtle, understated, and in some ways a bit behind-the-scenes. Social media can sometimes be a soft-sell channel, where you’re delivering value for the audience without necessarily seeking a direct signup.

And then there’s the zero sell, where there’s no mention of a product or service, just good vibes and positive interactions. The goal here is that people will come to trust and like your brand in such a way that future connections and sales will happen organically, with the customer reaching out. You’re building a bias for your brand, whenever (if ever) your audience is in need of your type of product.

3 different types of selling

Which one of these three resonates most strongly with email marketing? 

In our experience it’s been the case that a soft sell or hard sell makes the most sense for getting the most of an email list. Yet our approach, to date, has been zero sell.

Which is why we chose to switch things up a bit.

What we’ve done instead: Turning email lessons into Buffer signups

Our cofounders Joel and Leo had an awesome observation while we were in the midst of thinking through this email conundrum:

What if we could take what we learned from doubling an email list and apply it to getting more Buffer signups?

And so we did!

We replaced all of the email CTAs on the blog with signup CTAs — from top to bottom, from HelloBar to slideup, everything all of a sudden started being about Buffer and Buffer’s benefits for social media marketers.

And things have gone well — well enough that we’ve yet to change things back.

We gain 348 Buffer signups per week from the blog. 

In the last month, the blog sent 1,479 signups, which represented the lion’s share of marketing’s contribution to Buffer’s bottom line.

Things have been good.

… and still …

I wonder how things might look if we were to really double down on nurturing our email subscribers. Here’s a bit more context.

The blog currently has a 2.27% conversion rate for Buffer signups.

Our email courses convert at 2.81% — with certain courses as high as 7% or 9%!

The email dataset is quite a bit less substantial than the Social blog’s, yet the slight uptick in conversions — with a zero-sell mindset in place to boot — is definitely intriguing!

Our perfect world for email communication

Here’s what our email list contains:

  • Buffer users and non-Buffer users
  • Buffer users on free plans and those on paid plans
  • Buffer users on paid plans and Buffer users on the highest of paid plans
  • Active subscribers and inactive subscribers

That’s a lot of different folks!

What would feel great is if we could customize our messages for each different group. The Buffer users would receive a message of thanks for being cool customers, the non-Buffer users would get a message about trying Buffer for free or something showing the benefits of joining up with us.

And the customization goes on and on.

How cool would it be if an Awesome user received the occasional upgrade message, specifically about the Business plan’s features?

How neat would it be if an active subscriber saw a message saying thanks for all the opens and clicks?

Further customization and segmentation of the list feels like the next frontier for us. If we can solve all this in an easy and intuitive way, then maybe we’d go back to the way things were: growing a list with a goal in mind.

Why we haven’t built a lead nurture campaign (and why others might not have either)

A lead nurture campaign makes a ton of sense for helping us take the best care of our wonderful new subscribers.

And yet, in my two years at Buffer, I’ve not even started building one.

A lead nurture campaign, as I’ve built it up in my mind, seems like it would take a ton of time to create!

I’d love to hear in the comments from those of you who’ve built one already. Was it a big undertaking? How much time did you spend? What did you push down the priority list to make it happen?

Those are the big questions on my mind. To be quite transparent, I’ve yet to build a lead nurture campaign because I’ve simply chosen other tasks that felt equally as important.

I wrote blog posts and made email courses and tested CTAs.

In other words, I prioritized other things. 

I found it hard to place uber-importance on a lead nurture campaign when everything else on the blog was going okay. Which I guess leads to a slightly bigger question (that I definitely do not have the answer to):

How does a small marketing team know how best to use its time?

I’d love for someone to tap me on the shoulder or shoot me a text or hire a skywriter to say: “Lead nurture is the most important thing you can do for your site!” That sure would make prioritization easy. I have a hunch it’s important; I have hunches that lots of things are important.

How do you decide?

Summary (& a kind of ironic conclusion)

So we got good at growing email signups, then we stopped growing email signups. We put all our learnings into gaining new Buffer users, and the plan has worked quite well so far.

What’s next?

Well, we might start growing email signups again!

Ironically enough, I’ve added a personal goal to get a lead nurture campaign in place so that we can see exactly how well subscribers convert to Buffer users. I’m not quite sure the question of prioritization with lead nurture, but I’ll be happy to report back with what we find to be true for us!

I’d love to learn how this idea of email signups, lead nurture, and signups feels to you. Have you experienced anything similar? Any advice for how we’re doing things?

Excited to get your thoughts in the comments!

Image sources: Pablo, Unsplash

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! 🍟

  • Kelly Culver

    I noticed the change and I do think it’s better for you guys to try for Buffer signups, and the pop up takes away the friction.

    Great post guys

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement, Kelly! Awesome to hear you picked up on the change and it felt good. 🙂

  • If you keep talking like this we might see fewer pop-ups begging for our emails, fewer useless freebies to try to get me to sign, and a lot of other stuff that isn’t working.

    Well, it’s working for shady content marketing companies. They love selling useless things to people with the equally useless promise that this will solve all their problems.

    I can’t wait for them to go the way of the Dodo.

    • Hi Greg! Thanks so much for the comment. Yeah, I’d love to find a good balance there for our Buffer emails, too – we’ve yet to do too many giveaways to collect emails, just hasn’t felt quite right. 🙂

      • But I’d take an upgrade to Awesome in a red-hot-minute (and I keep pondering the possibility of forking over the measly $102).

  • Hello Kevan Lee,

    In my view social media marketing have began to grow rapidly in recent years and Marketing Emails have been getting a difficult time in delivered to the inbox of the clients. but there is still hope if you plan your email marketing campaign carefully you can easily attain maximum potential of your business.

    Thanks
    Brightlivingstone

    • Awesome! Thanks so much for this perspective!

  • I killed off my subscriptions to most newsletters because it caused too much clutter and I wasn’t reading them anyway.
    I follow the corresponding blogs on Feedly and go through the articles there whenever I have time to catch up with them.
    That also makes it easy to share particularly interesting posts on my social media accounts.

    • Hi Nicole – Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here. 🙂 Makes complete sense, and I’ve found myself paring down emails recently, too. Curious if you ever get much content from social media too? 🙂

  • @Kevan , your issue is not getting newsletter signups or user signups or lead nurturing dude. It’s the WHY.

    According to the Direct Marketing Association, Over 75% of email revenue is generated by triggered campaigns, rather than one-size-fits-all campaigns.

    According to eMarketer, B2C marketers who leverage automation have seen conversion rates as high as 50%.

    And McKinsey & Company states that Williams-Sonoma reported a 10x improvement in response rates by adopting personalized e-mail offerings based on individuals’ on-site and catalog shopping behavior.

    It’s all about building relationships and adding value. And because email is used by 92% of online adults, with 61% using it on an average day, it can be a very valuable tool to engage with your users and provide them enough reasons to go premium.

  • Popups can be annoying, I thing having a quiz for potential customers to get engage is a visible way to have them fill out a form to participate. Great post!
    I’ll be reading more to enrich my knowlegde.

  • I think when you’re just starting to blog for your company, it’s important to push people towards signing up for your email list. That way, you can earn trust over time and people expect your emails.

    You’ve made a great decision to switch your CTA’s to signing people up for the service, but I think it helps that you’ve got a trusted brand name in the social media space 🙂

    • Great point Jarrat. It’s not really a fair comparison and I suspect a new startup that doesn’t have the vast community and trust that Buffer has, might struggle when trying to implement this.

  • Kerstin Castle

    I used to subscribe to Buffer simply because your excellent blog posts have helped me so much at one point. Didn’t really need the app, which is great though, but love your work, so I wanted to support it. 🙂

  • Kendrick Wang

    For products that are easy to start using like Buffer, Sidekick, Mixmax, etc. I’m inclined to agree that CTA for signing up would be advantageous. You don’t let potential leads slip into the limbo of email marketing and focus on onboarding instead.

    For products that are more complex to set up (Salesforce, Hubspot, or anything that requires engineering) I’d say that lead nurturing is very important and worth spending the time on.

  • Presto! Now you have a lead nurturing campaign. It’s executed every time your e-mail goes out, you know the results, and you can continue to improve it. You might do some A/B testing on CTAs as well as on layout. If you were a high-dollar SasS product, a more traditional lead nurturing campaign might make sense, but my guess is that what you’re doing is exactly what you should be doing given lifetime customer value for a Buffer customer. And now you can check that off your 2016 to-do list.

  • I came to read this post from an email I got. So, yeah, there’s that.

    But my comment is about the audio that came with this article. It is funny, I was just thinking about doing the same on my website as well.

    The audio version of the article worked for me. I’m on my commute right now and being able to listen was a lot easier than scrolling through the article on my tiny cellphone screen. So yeah, useful.

    Keep it up!

  • Brian Hurlburt

    I use Buffer hand in Hand with a simple tool that allows me to overlay my own custom message onto any piece of content. People click through to the content and see my ad. Then those who click my ad go to our Blog/Site and get routed into our FaceBook Custom Audience. Then we promote to them where they are, on FB and other Social Media Sites. We get far more results with this, than we do with our Email List!

  • Nick Julia

    Really interesting.

    I hadn’t thought about it till now, but yeah, I don’t think I’ve EVER been pitched or had a soft sell in a buffer email.

    Even though, I think you have an awesome service, and killer blog posts, (HT Kevan) I haven’t taken the plunge to purchase.

    So it’s cool to see a different approach. And it’s obviously working for you guys.

    One thing to consider…
    Get a guy that ROCKS email to help you out.

    First person that comes to mind is Andre Chaperon.

    I’m on a couple of his Lists. And through really well told and smartly crafted stories he’s convinced me to buy more than my fair share from him.
    And I’ve been happy with every single product from him.

    Have you guys considered hiring a consultant / someone to do it for you?

  • Julia Bramble

    Oh my goodness I so love your honesty and your approach makes you sooooo different from all the ‘internet marketing gurus’ out there!
    However, the fact that you have such a large email database sitting there at the moment not helping you grow your business much is a bit bonkers!!
    Do you know how many of those on your current list are Buffer users? And at what level? If you can easily segment them it’s going to help you in so many ways!
    Many email systems (Infusionsoft being one) will allow you to send an email out that asks recipients to click on an option that best describes/ interests them – and then drops them into the appropriate list.
    That might be the simplest option for you.
    Also, get your list uploaded into Facebook as you then have a custom audience you can target with ads (not everyone opens their emails after all!) You can use these ads in a similar way to email to share value (blogs etc.), offers and reminders that upgrades are available. You can even set up the equivalent of a marketing funnel- all based on what people click on!
    Not only that, but once you have ‘seeded’ Facebook with your custom audience, you can then create a lookalike audience of people with similar demographics etc. – ie a whole new bunch of people that are similar to your current leads/ customers. Bingo! You can target them with ads too (starting off with great content and then nurturing) – best results are usually obtained when you add in another filter such as an interest.
    Wow – you’ve got huge potential sat there 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you do with it!

  • Sylvia

    Kevan, I’m right there with you! It’s crazy how you guys release articles or posts that DIRECTLY relate to what I’m learning or trying out at the moment. If I didn’t know better I’d say you guys have little spies everywhere 😀

    Back to your question, though, our team was in a very similar place. We had a sizeable email list but weren’t fully realizing the potential of it. We knew that segmentation would help us provide the most relevant and useful types of communications to our followers, but we never had the time to prioritize it until recently. I was tasked with finding a CRM that would help us build out these lists and work towards some of those goals. Most recently we made a decision to sign on with Hubspot, and we’re still in the early stages but I’m super excited to learn (they’ve got a great 90 day on-boarding period) from them and through my own trial and error.

    Haven’t Buffer and Hubspot been friends for awhile? I wonder if they might be able to help counsel or guide you towards the right solution.

  • Carissa Waterson

    Hi Kevan, I do love your blogs! I myself am a marketer for my own brand and I have been faced with the same question. As a consumer I get undated with the amount of emails I get in a day. I also had to kill a few subscriptions to try to stay on top of the mounting emails I get everyday. I thought to myself, if I am getting rid of subscriptions because of the lack of time to read all the newsletters that come through then if I start to do an email newsletter I will be just be adding to someone elses problem of having to one day make that decision to start unsubscribing due to too much email. I don’t want to be part of the problem yet I do want to market my brand. So I truely understand the delima. I do however think you have go the right idea that if you had a CRM that would group each level of activity or interest and send more personalized emails then this would be the answer to not being one of those on the “I need to unsubscribe” list for the consumer. I think, not absolutely sure, that Infusion Soft CRM does just that for you and sets up the campaigns and is very customizable. I did work freelance under contract for a company that used it and was fortunate to attend some training classes on it. I believe I remember that it did do just what you were wanting to one day test out in regards to the strategic email postings. The company that I did work for was Southwestern Consulting, Rory Vaden. They are a great company and I am sure would be willing to share their experience with the product. In the mean time definitely keep up the great work and I just love the culture you guys have in not simply assuming things just because it has always been done a certian way. Question everything and find the way that works best for your company. Awesome stuff!

  • Ryan Easttum

    Definitely loved the audio version. Per everything else, it’s always good to ask if the juice is worth the squeeze. Many might/will/can disagree, but email – for better or worse – is fading. Like snail mail, it’s become inundated with marketing messages we’ve learned to tune out or sift through. That said, I love the humanity the Buffer team brings, in that your content seems to genuinely desire to inform, engage, or even invoke thought or question. I doubt email goes anywhere as a messaging system (say what you will about Slack), but as a medium to sell something? It’s time we turn our attention to new or different modalities, perhaps…

  • Eric Thomas

    Loved the audio. this post was very thought provoking. TK

  • Interesting! Hope you inspire other product blogs for trying this.
    Kevan, one question though, why do you guys not have a segmentation and some sort of targeting to separate CTA’s for people who’ve already signed up. I am signed up tons of time ago and all these CTA’s seem meaningless and stale for me.
    Why don’t you guys use me (and million other buffer users) for something else?
    -Swadhin

  • Linzé

    I am an AWESOME subscriber and never regretted forking out the money (to me it is a lot due to my country’s exchange rate) to save time in managing 9 social media accounts. I am busy cleaning up my email subscription lists too, but the Buffer emails I usually read (and save) because of the honest feedback that I can apply in my own small business.
    I think Buffer get a lot of subscribers via word of mouth from someone like myself and people like to know that something is working from someone they know.
    Good post, Kevan and thank you for the useful and informative content.

  • Kelly Kuhn-Wallace

    Another metric that you might look at is conversion to _paid_ account by acquisition channel. This one can be quite revealing for SaaS.

    If you’re going to put resources into emailing your list (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t), basic segmentation is easy to do: customers (by plan when you’re ready) & future customers. Advanced segmentation validation takes a little more work, but anything is possible.

    And that’s just for newsletters! Email opens an entirely new way to help customers succeed with Buffer. There is nothing wrong with sending a customer using your free plan an email about social media analytics that relies on the analytics in your paid plan. What about Pablo? Does every Awesome plan user know they can upload any image and customize it?

    I doubt the language of complex sales processes, of leads and lead nurturing, of up-sells and cross-sells, will ever resonate with Buffer’s culture. And thank goodness for that!

    As new products are added to the Buffer ecosystem and your original user base ages, teaching/selling about the product will become more critical than ever. Finding the Buffer way to “sell” — to remain authentic in voice while moving forward in a more purposeful way — is probably the biggest challenge here. Marketing automation and nurturing and pipelines will easy after that.

    Kevan, you’ve got this. And you’re not alone on the journey, not for a single step.

  • You essentially skipped a step in the “lead nurturing” process. The entire reason why anyone (or most people) have an e-mail list and a newsletter is because they’re looking to get those people to convert to be their customers. If you can convert them into customers directly without making them jump the loop to be an e-mail subscriber, then of course you should. And the fact of the matter is, that even after they do sign-up with you for Buffer, you have their e-mail address. You can use those for custom audiences on social to ensure that you’re able to generate website traffic / social engagement from the right target audience.

  • Matthew Parker

    Kevan, great and thought provoking post as always. My big issue with your strategy is that if people don’t sign up to the e-mail list they may miss your content. All your content lands in my inbox – I would miss most of it if I relied on seeing it on social media.
    Maybe it’s a question of calls to action e.g.
    – if I read your post on social media you encourage me to sign up to the e-mail list
    – if I’m on the list you encourage me to sign up to Buffer
    – if I’m signed up to Buffer you encourage me to move to Awesome (or show me content that will encourage me to do so)
    – if I’m on awesome you encourage me to go to content that show me why I’m on Business
    – If I’m on business you leave me be 🙂
    Same content, different call to action. It makes the lead nurturing very simple with only 4 segments on your list. It’s what I use.
    What do you think?

    • I arrive at nearly every one of these posts from email. Not even sure I see any social posts..

  • Perfect, Kevan! I agree and think email list is the main important think for bloggers. For companies, the main objective it to build awareness about your product. Emails will be there too, but it’s consequence.

  • Great post Kevan (Side note: Love the audio post. Would love to see/ hear that more!).

    It’ll be interesting to see how you approach a lead nurture campaign. Have you any plans to use more in your lead nurture campaigns than just email.

    Your leads exist in multiple places and it’s super important to marry up your email campaign with social interactions, blog engagements, webinar attendances, even offline events.

    Every touch point can all be tracked and monitored, using decision rules to segment contacts into more focused campaigns, and get the most out of nurture.

    Have you or the team thought about using Respond to track interactions and feed data into nurture campaigns? That could super-charge your lead nurture, and save you having to go down the big data ‘SalesForce/ Oracle’ route.

  • drew leahy

    “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.” Or as Buffer might say, “Be a no-ego doer with a bias towards action.” Start small. Iterate your lead nurturing campaign from there. It doesn’t need to be sophisticated to be effective in my experience. But yes, it can be overwhelming to think about perfecting all the nuances of a lead nurturing campaign… I feel your pain!

    I’m a one man show (with very little budget), so I use a combination of LeadPages lead box and autoresponder feature and Mailchimp’s automation feature to automate a lot of our lead nurturing campaigns for new subscribers. So based on the type of content download (whether it’s a buyer’s guide download for a particular service, or a content upgrade for example), I have a pretty good idea of what service they’re looking for, and where they are in the buyer’s journey. From there, I can send them a unique lead nurturing campaign.

    Like I said, it’s not a sophisticated approach to lead nurturing like you might get with HubSpot, but with a little hustle, you can make it work- and I know you got the chops to figure it out better than I have.

    With a small team, I think the key is to start small… focus. Then adjust and evolve from there.

    Also, in response to converting email subscribers into users: You can create valuable content with tons of utility, yet still fail to generate demand for your particular service(s). The trick to generating demand is to help your visitors identify problems they never knew existed (real problems), and to set them on a path towards investigating a solution (your solution.) So while Buffer is full of great content on social media and culture, maybe it needs a little more content dedicated to exposing real problems that your tool solves. Perhaps your visitors aren’t aware of the severity of their problems, or that their problems at all.

    Then, for all new subscribers to your email list, you can hold their hand and walk them into your content ecosystem with an intro email or drip campaign that highlights those articles (the one’s that generate demand for your service) first.

    One more idea, Kevan: I think Buffer would be the PERFECT resource center for aspiring “influencers” in the *early stages* of their personal branding journey (i.e. the “how to” for launching your personal brand). Buffer has a ton of utility for businesses and social media managers, but I think it’s even more valuable for the guy/gal who’s trying to find time to eat dinner much less post on social media to promote his/her personal brand (that’s me right now). This feels like an underserved persona in Buffer’s content strategy. The goal with reaching this audience isn’t to increase market share, but to actually increase the size of the market for your service (i.e. to generate demand for your service). By creating content that helps marketers/leaders/celebrities/businesspeople/teachers/anyone launch their personal brand on social media, you’ll make their journey feel less daunting and more attainable. And because of that, more people will have the confidence to launch their personal brand and more people who have already launched their personal brands will have the confidence to continue. The result? You’ll *increase the size of the market* for a service like Buffer… the bigger the market, the bigger the earnings.

    Thanks for the honesty. As always.

    -D

  • Mihai Costache

    I hope this could help you with the question about time and maybe give you a different perspective

  • @kevanlee:disqus Hi Kevan, great audio post! You have such a nice soothing voice! I’ve asked myself the same thing. I have an email list and find that I don’t get a whole lot of sales through my email marketing, maybe 1-2%. That being said, I don’t think I’ll stop using email marketing but I’m amping up my social media marketing.

  • Hi Kevan Lee…..thank you very much for share really I like your post keep in touch from INDONESIA.

  • Michael Jenkins

    Great article Kevan. I love the fact that you put an audio file in it. Something I wish more people would do.

    There are many different opinions on what would be the best method and reason for creating an email list. It all comes down to your belief of what works best for you and your goal. I personally do not get persuaded by the different tactics used to sign up.

    Buffer is one of the few I am signed up for and that is because of the blogs and articles that are written are refreshing, a new way of looking at things. Keep up the great work there and I look forward to reading so much more.

  • Man, really enjoyed this article – a very honest perspective. Bottom line, no point in building a super massive email list if you have no clue how to manage the subscribers.

  • Michelle Amethyst Mahoney

    While this works for Buffer, it’s quite different for those of us selling programs, products, and services where people can’t jump right in and “try out” a system to see how it works for them.

    What is similar in our World is community. I have been growing my Facebook community for quite some time. I get tons of clients from there, even people who are not signed up for my email list. You still have to ask for the sale somewhere. Or at the very least, your follow-up email has to somewhere.

  • John Thurlbeck

    Hi Kevan ~ in a marketing world plagued with hype, over-selling, under-performing, over-persistence and under-valuing people … and just plain chasing a buck, at last I found some down-to-earth honesty! How absolutely refreshing!

    I thought it was a wonderful post, the first Buffer one I’ve read by the way and simply because I was intrigued by your headline. Yes, all they say about headlines is clearly true!

    I have read more stuff about chasing an email list than I care to imagine and here’s a company going, “Hey, we don’t do that … here’s why!” Thank you for that and for the thought-provoking ideas you’ve left with me. As a current, though infrequent user of Buffer, you’ve just gained my respect and perhaps better still my paid for subscription! 🙂

  • Grow

    Have looked at tools that allow customization and segmentation? Or is that low priority for your at the moment?

  • DonChipriani

    @kevanlee:disqus I would not give up on the email list. Reading your article made me question if either 1. your email marketing system is lacking in features or 2. it has the feature but are too difficult to implement. 3. you do not have someone dedicated to this task. However, I’d suggest to take a look at Active Campaign email marketing system ( http://goo.gl/FB6yLu ). It’s an affordable solutions that has great “high-end” features that are not available in other systems. It’s more comparable to HubSpot in features with the difference that it’s much more affordable. A big plus for me was that it also integrates with many other services that I’m using. I’ve recently signed up after I did my research. Cheers!

  • great post

  • Hi Kevan,

    I love your blog and posts. I think you are missing a big opportunity not growing and using your email list. I think it’s great that you have switched your CTA to signup for Buffer and I think you should keep doing that as long as it works. Sell those accounts 🙂

    But signing up for email list or signing up for Buffer account doesn’t have to be an either / or case. It can be both – and should drive more results. You can think of your email list as a pre-signup for Buffer list. Or a great distribution list for your articles – a few people in these comments mention they only arrive to your blog from the emails. It also doesn’t have to be email or social media for distribution – it can be both. The 44,000 people on your email list have asked to interact with you – by not sending anything you are not interacting with them via their medium of choice.

    Your desire to deliver a custom message to different groups is easily possible with Campaign Monitor using their Segments feature. You can have Clients, Non-clients, Blog readers, Males, Females etc and send each a customized message automatically without having to duplicate your work.

    I put a big vote Yes on email.

    • Whole heartedly agree with you in that it’s not an either/or case. Doing both means you can cross-market your services to the blog subscribers and the services to the Buffer system sign-ups. Thereby growing your customer base using as many different touch points as possible.

  • Scott Garcia

    Hey Kevan,

    I think a few people here have touched on it, but I think one huge distinction between Buffer and most small companies (that I learned when I was applying for a role with Buffer) is that you are not (or were not) very focused on the “attraction” part of your funnel… because already had ample traffic. An admirable position to be in 🙂 but for many others, they have to maximize the value from every potential lead/subscriber/community member. I can tell you from experience that email can be one of the absolutely best ways to achieve that goal.

    So, I think it’s more or less up to your & Buffer’s internal goals; if you’re hitting the growth numbers that you’re looking for and doing so without email, there’s probably no justifiable reason why you “should” build an email list and marketing plan. Are you leaving conversions on the table; missing out on adding members to your community? Probably. But that might not be your highest priority and that’s probably ok.

    Regardless, it sounds like it’s something you’re going to start experimenting with again so, if it’s any value, I’d recommend checking out Customer.io and some of the tools they have available. I’ve been involved in building something similar as an internal tool at a previous company and it was a ton of work! I’ve hear Customer.io is great for this kind of thing and I definitely plan to experiment with their service in the future. I realize this sounds like a plug but I promise that I don’t have any skin in the game to benefit from this; just hope you & the Buffer team can get some value from this!

  • Great article, thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Each service and each company would definitely be different. You have the benefit of having people sign up and coming back regularly to use your service. There are many touch points you have to try to up-sell to a paid plan. Most organizations don’t have those touch points every day with customers. I’ve been looking at the “upgrade to the awesome plan” for years (just did it yesterday) so it’s always a bug in the back of my head. I wouldn’t have that many touch points because people aren’t seeing my product except in the rare chance they’re browsing my site. Because of that I need a way to have more touch points with potential customers. An email list is the perfect way to have those touch points and build my brand. Buffer is a unique service and I’d argue your experience on this one could not be applied to most companies.

  • Thanks for sharing, Kevan. Definitely an interesting idea, and something a lot of businesses struggle with when they don’t have a plan in place for what to do with that email list.

    You could do so much more than just nurture leads, though; with some contact scoring and tagging, Buffer could actually create those segments of subscribers you wished for very easily. And you could identify the brand champions within those segments. It’s easier than you think.

    This is what I do for a living so if you’d like to have a chat, feel free to reach out on Twitter @stephanhov or via my site, http://www.shovi.com. But I also agree with another commenter’s recommendation to talk to the people at Customer.io, they’re blog is incredible (and tailored toward SaaS) so I’m sure they would have really cool ideas for you guys.

  • Question! You said you stopped growing your list, but you’re sending them to your posts which have sign up CTAs. Are the people utilizing those CTAs from your email list who were driven to the blog by email? Or is it cold traffic from SEO’ed articles?

  • wmabee

    Could not agree more with this post. If you’re concerned that your product sign-up is too cumbersome, and email sign-up is easier (and more popular), revamp your sign-up process.

  • It’s a very interesting point, Kevan and I’m now curious myself to see how you guys are taking over from here.
    I like to hear different opinions and I also shared this post on my blog today. I wonder how people will react.

  • Great post and great way to deliver info. Thanks. Want more!!!

  • Also, when I think of how effed up most people’s inboxes are I wonder why newsletter signups are perceived as being so important…

  • Piotr Zaniewicz

    Hi Kevan, let me clear up some things that you mentioned above.

    What’s a lead? The moment someone becomes a lead is when you get their contact data – quite simply because that allows you to chase the lead. Inbound, this means someone opts-in to receive information from you, outbound you could say it’s all the contacts you reach out to – but it works better to think of outbound leads as people that respond to your outreach.

    As for lead nurturing, I wrote about it a while ago 🙂 http://righthello.com/lead-nurturing-basics-in-b2b-sales/

    We’re at a similar point, on a much smaller scale though, with our nurturing. Our first step will be to just create separate lists of articles from the RightHello blog organised in themes – for customers, for subscribers, etc. We’re gonna send an article a week, with different CTAs for each theme and different goals in mind.

    We’ll see how it works, there’s definitely a lot to be gained from email nurturing and while it may not be a priority task for us (small list, some fundamental things we have yet to improve), I think in your case I would start asking subscribers a lot about what they see as valuable content, and what they would like to receive from you. Couple that with segmentation and it should give you good ideas for how to nurture specific groups of leads.

    Hope that makes sense, it’s an interesting subject, drop me a line piotr.zaniewicz@righthello.com if you want to talk shop and exchange ideas. 🙂

    Cheers!

  • Mark Deeb

    Kevan, this article was on point! Everything from being unsure of where to spend your time to continually wondering what the possibilities could be if you chose to utilize email for lead nurturing hit home for me. I’m in no position to advise but, I think it comes back to time and resources in light of your end goal. If your over-arching goal is to on-ramp users to the platform–and that process has been working well–then I think keeping that the primary focus is a good approach. But at the same time, devoting 20-30% of time to exploring the possibilities of lead nurturing enables you to have a plan B if you find that the users feel that you’re pushing the platform too much.

  • Reading all these comments about how bad it is to *not* build an e-mail list and *not* e-mail the people from your list all the time…

    Am I really the only one who never subscribes to these? Worse, when I do (which is so very rarely, because most newsletters are spammy and clickbaity), I almost never read them. They sit in my inbox until I just delete them.

    Getting your content out is important, yes. But newsletters are not the best way to do that. By sending out newsletters you are entering your recipient’s time and trying to pull them away from what they are doing and into your page.

    People hate that. They prefer to look at your content at their own time. When *they* decide they feel like it. When they decide they want to.

    Content marketing is a huge thing, but e-mail lists are not the number one reason to get your content out there.

    Make great content. People will come to it, people will share it, people will share it again and again. We should all be putting more effort into creating useful, engaging content rather than building e-mail lists.

    If you want to build an e-mail list, at least don’t do it aggressively. Don’t throw a pop-up at me as soon as I enter your page in hopes of me signing up for your newsletter. Don’t add 5 CTA buttons that want me to sign up for that same newsletter. And don’t throw two more pop-ups at me when I’m about to leave your page. This will only annoy me so much, next time I won’t even bother reading your content. If I want your newsletter, I’ll find a way to receive it.

    I think Buffer did a great thing when they replaced their newsletter signup buttons with their service signup buttons. This way, the people who truly want to receive their newsletter will sign up for it *out of their own free will*. And the others will not be annoyed after being bombarded with pop-ups the moment they step onto the page.

    Kudos! I hope more websites follows your lead. 🙂

  • Kayla at Oasis Workflow

    A bit late to the game here, but really enjoyed reading this post! A lot of interesting insight here. And I agree, if you don’t have a plan with what to do with your email list there isn’t really any point in growing your email list. I think though that it really depends on the company or organisation and how they want to do their marketing. But if a company is struggling to get traffic or signups through social, an email list is a really valuable tool. It’s also a great way to offer a freebie (in exchange for an email) to your customers without doing any hard selling, and let them see the value of your work before you ask for anything more.

    Interesting perspective!

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