Email Campaigns and Fundraising

12 Feb

By Dennis Ford, CEO, Life Science Nation

One of the most valuable and cost-effective tools for a successful fundraising campaign in the life science space is e-mail marketing. It allows you to introduce your firm to potential investors for a cost and on a scale unmatched by other forms of outbound marketing.

The ease of developing and executing an e-mail marketing cam­paign also makes it one of the most widely used—and abused—tools in the industry. The broad usage has not only created a lot of noise, but also a great deal of spam. The challenge for your firm is to create an effective e-mail campaign that stands out from the crowd and avoids the “spam” moniker.

This white paper discusses the current strategies and tools effective fundraisers use to create compelling e-mail marketing campaigns that get results, while remaining fully compliant with spam regulations.

Note, too, that when marketing your firm, you must have a clear understanding of federal and state regulations that govern dialogue with potential investors. This includes SEC/FINRA guidelines on marketing investment opportunities and making introductions as well as compliance surrounding any outbound activity. Your firm’s legal counsel should provide you with a clear interpretation of the regulations, so you will be compliant in your mailing efforts.

E-Mail Marketing as a Fundraising Strategy

E-mail marketing is an excellent way to introduce your firm to new investor prospects. “Introduction” is the operative word in the beginning of any fund raising process. An introduction means a meeting to introduce your firms executive team, products and services – not a direct solicitation for capital. The obvious benefit of an e-mail campaign is its breadth of coverage. However, to launch an introductory fund raising effort via outbound marketing requires awareness of the regulatory compliance issues, which can’t be stressed enough. The good news is it can cover a large target audience in less time than a phone canvassing effort. It is also more economical than a snail-mail cam­paign. Usually the factors that make marketers consider e-mail as a viable option are time and resources. No other form of marketing gets your message in front of larger pools of prospective investors in less time and for less money than e-mail.

E-mail marketing is typically used to deliver a direct message. For example, an e-mail blast is an ideal way to lay the groundwork for a road show. An initial e-mail can announce an upcoming trip, deliver all the key facts about your firm, and explain why a meeting might make sense. However, it also can be used as an icebreaker. Some prospects may need to hear more before they commit to an introductory meet­ing. For those, e-mail campaigns open the door, making it easier for marketers to place calls and begin conversations.

The Fundamentals

Many factors come into play when creating e-mail campaigns for maximum results, so it’s important to have a good understanding of the fundamentals. In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act is a law that spells out guidelines marketers must follow in order to avoid having their e-mail messages be legally classified as spam. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the law requires:

  • E-mail headers including the “To,” “From,” “Reply To,” and routing information, not to be false or misleading
  • Subject lines to accurately reflect the content
  • Messages to tell recipients who you are and where you’re located
  • Messages to tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future e-mails from you
  • Senders to honor opt-out requests promptly
  • Marketers to monitor what others do on your behalf

Beyond the basic legal guidelines there are also generally accepted best practices that should be followed to ensure your e-mail campaigns avoid the spam connotation. One such practice is having a general knowledge of the recipients and whether they are generally qualified to receive your e-mail.

Another way to ensure the legitimacy of your campaign is to screen for preexisting interest. An institution might seem a decent prospect just based on its size, location, and category. However, if you are able to determine its current needs, then the legitimacy of your e-mail campaign will be greatly improved.

There is a benefit to screening potential recipients: a much higher hit rate. The hit rate—or the number of calls or meetings scheduled as a percentage of total e-mails sent—for a typical mass-market e-mail is 1 to 2 percent. Targeted e-mail campaigns, on the other hand, that use screening tools to predetermine a specific interest, have yielded results as high as 5 to 15 percent.

Of course, the best way to ensure legitimacy is to use a list of prospects that have made some sort of declaration, through an interview or recorded statement, indicating that they are seeking an offering like yours. Remember, if you do not have a prior relationship, you are restricted to introducing your company, and may not directly solicit capital. This is regulated by SEC guidelines, and we will go into more detail about this further on.

The List

Now that we understand the fundamentals of an e-mail campaign, we are ready to take the first step: creating the target list. The obvious ques­tions are: Who should be on the target list, and how big should it be?

Generally, marketers have an internal database of potential sales con­tacts—a list of current, past, and prospective buyers—which they have built up over the years. To augment such a list, you can purchase one of the hundreds of commercially available databases, or take some time to research potential investors.

There are occasions when you will send e-mail to your entire list. Frequently, however, you will want to create segmented lists for particular marketing efforts. If you are targeting a single subgroup, or you are planning a road trip in a specific geography, you should create a segment from the master list for that campaign, which brings us to the next question: How big should a list be?

Here’s a good benchmark to use: for every 100 contacts, expect to schedule a conference call or meeting with one or two prospects, assuming you are using a non-targeted list. This is a minimum level, and a decent standard. However, it reinforces the reasons that you want to have a targeted list that is based on fit and aiming for better results. Now keep that in mind and work backwards. If you’re planning a marketing trip and your target list has only 150 names, expecting to fill a weeks’ worth of meetings is not realistic. You should either expand the list, or shorten your trip. These numbers are never exact, but they are a good place to start when planning a campaign.

After you have the data for a target list, the next step is to put the data into a manageable format. Data comes in all types of formats— particularly if you purchase lists—so it is important to get it into one you can work with. Most bulk e-mail service providers, as well as internal e-mail programs, manage data in the comma-separated values, or CSV, format, which can be manipulated and managed in Microsoft Excel.

Using Excel, separate the data into columns. Use separate columns for first name, last name, e-mail address, company name, city, state, and country. Putting the first and last names in separate columns gives you the flexibility to personalize greetings using a mail-merge option. I have always found using first names in messages delivers the best response; using first and last names seems to draw attention to your message as being a processed e-mail.

In addition to the contact information, create columns for any other pertinent data that helps to screen investors moving forward. For e-mail campaigns, it is important to list the data by contacts, not com­panies, for ease of manageability.

After separating the data, sort the contacts by those with e-mail addresses and those without. Unless you plan to find the e-mail addresses for the latter group, consider deleting them, rather than hav­ing them waste space in your list.

A common mistake marketers make is using the data as-is. You must make the data uniform. Some list providers capitalize names; oth­ers use upper- and lowercase. Some include courtesy titles such as Ms. or Mr. and professional titles such as Dr.; others don’t. You should make sure the format is consistent and does not contain any random data, capitalizations, and so on. Also, make sure to put titles in a separate column, rather than as part of the name. You don’t want to find yourself sending an e-mail with the greeting: Dear Dr. Bob. Further­more, inconsistencies can cause problems later with mail-merge options and e-mail applications.

If you’ve downloaded data into your spreadsheet, make sure the data match up. All it takes is one mix-up when downloading data to misalign the contact information. Eyeball your list. Does everything line up? Look for names you know. Is their contact information cor­rect? Do the contacts’ company names match their e-mail addresses? I can’t tell you how many times I have sorted a list and been ready to upload it to my e-mail software only to realize that the names and e-mail addresses are off. Nothing kills the potential for an e-mail blast faster than calling recipients by the wrong name. It makes it clear that they are on the list of a firm that operates hastily.

Another common problem with commercial contact databases is the inclusion of general, rather than individual, e-mail addresses. A major selling point of contact databases is that they provide e-mail addresses for prospective investors. E-mail addresses are often hard to attain for the obvious reason that the owners do not want to receive unwanted solicitations. In an effort to include as many addresses as possible, many list providers include firm e-mail addresses in their list.

So if you’ve purchased a list, inspect it for e-mail addresses such as “info@” or “contact@.” I have seen whole firms—five to ten employees—all with the same general e-mail address. Some bulk e-mail sys­tems will treat e-mails to the same address as unique if you use a different name. That said, if you decide to use general e-mail addresses in your marketing campaigns, I recommend sending them to the per­son at the firm who is most involved with manager due diligence.

The next step is to review the recipients on the list. The goal here is to remove all those prospects who, for whatever reason, should not be receiving your e-mail. For example, if the e-mail campaign is for a mar­keting road show, and you are requesting a meeting to introduce your­self and your firm, it would not be appropriate to include current Investors or firms that know you well. If you want to meet with prospects you know, those meetings should be scheduled by making direct contact, either by phone or e-mail.

In addition, if you have prospects who have asked to be removed from your list, you need to honor their request. Nothing creates more discord between you and your prospects than receiving repeated and unwanted solicitations following requests to be removed from your list.

As you review the names on your list, you also need to be cognizant of the relationship you have with the contacts and their firms. If an investment official from a smaller institution, such as a family office, requests to not be contacted, his decision may also cover the remain­der of his team, because of the high likelihood of close collaboration. Sometimes though, the person opting out is lower on the food chain. In this case, you, as a savvy marketing professional, may decide to keep this person’s boss on your list, as he or she may see your offering and decide a meeting does make sense. Coming into a firm through another channel or at a higher level sometimes is the difference between getting a meeting and getting no response.

Even if it is overkill to shoot an entire contact list if only one per­son opts out, the larger question remains: Who should you contact at a large firm with multiple analysts? If you don’t know who researches or evaluates managers, for example, should you send e-mail to all the contacts listed?

This question falls into a gray area—an area that outbound mar­keting professionals in the alternatives world often find themselves in. The goal is to reach an audience that is large enough to achieve your targeted hit rate. At the same time, you don’t want to dilute the impact of your e-mail by sending it to the wrong people.

The answer is: do your homework. Find the right person. This is imperative, because ultimately, marketing is relationship-driven and you do not want to burn your firm’s brand capital by appearing to be too cavalier with your efforts. As a life science firm marketer, you must reach out to enough people to make sure that your message reaches investors who are a fit, while always being aware of the way your message is being received by your prospects.

Now that you have the final list from which you are going to launch the e-mail campaign, it’s time to think about distribution.

E-Mail Marketing Software

After your list has been vetted, screened, and cleaned, it’s time to select an e-mail software program to deliver your messages. There are basically two ways to send e-mail. If you have a small list, you can send e-mail to single recipients. For lists of more than 20 recipients, however, it makes sense to use the functionality of e-mail software designed for this task.

The benefits of using e-mail marketing software are many, as more and more marketing professionals have discovered. As a result, the industry—and, more to the point, the number of programs to choose from—has grown significantly.

Today, companies such as Constant Contact, iContact, and Verti­calResponse offer Web-based e-mail marketing platforms that greatly reduce the time and effort it takes to produce and distribute the many e-mails associated with your marketing campaign.

The first benefit of these platforms is ease of use. Their websites provide step-by-step instructions on how to upload and manage your e-mail list, create e-mail messages, send them, and track the campaign. If you created a list in a program such as Excel, you can upload it to one of these e-mail platforms.

To create e-mail messages, many of these platforms offer tools as robust as your desktop word processor. All the applications I have sam­pled have the basics, including formatting and spell checking. Many offer advanced features that allow for embedded links and HTML design. In fact, the three providers mentioned earlier collectively offer more than 200 templates to help you get started. Or you can create your own using their “quick start” options, which allow you to keep the template simple, so you can skip directly to writing the body.

One of the great features of these e-mail marketing platforms is the “schedule delivery” tool. This allows you to create an e-mail message and choose the day and time it will be sent. I use this feature often. It lets me create an e-mail campaign during normal work hours in the U.S. and then schedule it to be sent to, say, London prospects at 4 a.m. There’s no need for me to be up at that hour to hit the Send button. This little option allows me to prepare a campaign when the creative bug hits, schedule it, and then forget about it.

There are several other advantages to using bulk e-mail software. It is anti-spam compliant, and thus usually has much higher delivery rates than other programs. It has the capability to handle the delivery of e-mail to 500 or 1,000 recipients. And after the e-mail is sent, this software can monitor the campaign. Using tracking dashboards, you can see the percentage of recipients who opened the e-mail, clicked on the links, or requested to be removed from the list. Going a step fur­ther, e-mail marketing platforms also can list the e-mail addresses of the recipients that carried out any of these actions. Beyond this, there are often analytical tools to graph and compare recipient opens or clicks by location.

Of great value is the ability of these platforms to manage the opt-out requests of your recipients. Although the e-mails are sent through the systems’ own e-mail servers, all messages appear to be coming directly from you, and all responses from the recipients are sent directly back to you. However, these systems include opt-out links and manage the responses.

The opt-out link is usually located in the footer of the e-mail. Not only is this a necessary requirement to avoid being considered spam, but it is efficient for the folks receiving your e-mail. When recipients opt out, usually these platforms let them specify the types of messages they don’t want to receive. Then the platform implements their request to make sure that they are not unwittingly included in an e-mail cam­paign. In fact, many platforms never allow that contact back on your list, thus saving you from accidentally uploading a list with that recip­ient in the future.

E-Mail Campaigns

Savvy fundraisers generally use e-mail campaigns for three main purposes:

  • To set up road shows and introductory fundraising trips
  • To send out company announcements
  • To provide prospective investors with marketing materials, including progress & performance reports

All of these have one thing in common: they are all a way of trying to start or continue a conversation with the recipients.

E-mail campaigns to set up a road show or introductory marketing trip generally are looking to begin a conversation with potential investors, and therefore offer an introductory meeting. Not only should the messages be short and to the point, but attach­ments should be as well. A compelling short summary of your offering is all you need.

After you schedule a meeting with a prospect, and prior to your arrival, it is advisable to send a direct e-mail with some introductory information. Avoid the common mistake of overwhelming the recipi­ent with data at this point.

After a call or meeting, follow up with the investor, sending addi­tional information as needed or requested. Keep in mind the requisite “cooling off” periods following an introduction and the necessary rules to abide by. This is just one of the many rules and regulations set up by the SEC; make sure you are abiding by all of them. Have your marketing campaigns vetted by your law firm or compliance officer.

Announcement campaigns are a good way to stay current in prospects’ minds. Some announcements are operationally focused, such as a company move to larger or more prestigious offices. More than just letting your prospects know how to reach you, such e-mails can have unintended benefits, such as an institution realizing you are now in its backyard and it makes sense to get together. Other announce­ments may be about employees or company milestones.

The tone of announcement e-mails should be one of a discussion continued. The purpose of the e-mail is to move your relationship along; the wording and your message should convey a feeling of expec­tation—that you are looking forward to reconnecting.

Another common e-mail campaign is one built around marketing materials or monthly or quarterly reports. Your prospects’ inboxes are likely packed with this all manner of correspondence, so it is important to infuse your monthly and quarterly updates with a sense of personality. Keep the e-mail body brief but engaging. Report on the most recent sales figures, and perhaps allude to recent partnerships or other positive news. However, avoid bolding or capitalizing text. These are the tools of the desperate marketer.

Whatever the purpose of your campaign, remember that yours is one of likely hundreds of e-mails that your prospects are receiving every day. If you don’t allow them to pick out the key points quickly, your mes­sage may never be read.

The E-Mail

Now that we have discussed the uses of e-mail marketing, let’s tackle the creation of the e-mail and its two key components: the subject and the message.

The Subject

The subject is the first thing your recipients see, and it often dictates whether your message is opened and read. In fact, some studies report that 90 percent of the time the subject alone determines whether a recipient will read your message. The importance of how you phrase the subject cannot be overestimated.

In general, it is best to make the subject long enough to explain the purpose of the e-mail, but also short enough for the reader to grasp the purpose quickly—as long as it is stated in a simple and straightfor­ward manner. Also remember that different investors have different degrees of scientific sophistication. You cannot approach a Private Equity Investor specialized in oncology therapeutics from the same angle as one would approach a philanthropically-minded family office. The subject and message must be thoughtfully tailored.

E-mail campaigns conducted to set up meetings for a road trip receive the highest open and response rates when they tell the potential investor exactly what they need. An e-mail that quickly explains the purpose of your communica­tion and cuts through the “noise” often results in a higher open rate. So the first thing to do is begin the subject with the purpose of your message: “Meeting Request.”

Next, give the prospect you are contacting a little context—tell him or her who you are. One option is to use the name of the firm: “Meet­ing Request—Manager of XYZ inc.” Another option is to use a manager’s name to make the e-mail have more of a personal touch: “Meeting Request—John Smith, Manager of XYZ Inc.” You can adjust the style and format to your liking, but always be experiment­ing to find a subject that gets the highest response rate.

Note the use of dashes in the subject lines above. Spacing charac­ters such as these can help potential investors quickly scan the e-mail header and decide if they want to read it. A subject heading that is easy to scan means that your e-mail will get considered. If your sub­ject heading contains a lot of info without allowing for prospects to easily digest its meaning, they usually hit the delete button. So after stating the purpose of your e-mail, use a spacing character for ease of reading.

The next step is to complete the heading with the final details of the marketing trip, which is the location and date. An option is to keep it broad: “Meeting Request—Manager of XYZ Inc., California Trip, July 7-12.” Or you could mention the cities: “Meeting Request—Manager of XYZ Inc., Trip to LA and SF Bay area, July 7–12.”

In some cases, you may want to keep the location purposely broad—even if you don’t have the flexibility to visit other cities. The reason is simple: the wider the area, the higher the response rate. The point is, you want to establish relationships with as many prospects as possible, so target as broad an area as is reasonably possible.

E-mail campaigns for marketing trips usually benefit from multiple attempts to reach prospects. It is important that subsequent attempts be reflected in the subject heading. In many cases, your original e-mail message never reached its target, was deleted before it was reviewed, or simply got lost in cyberspace. With the large amount of e-mail communication received by prospects, you can assume that about half of the recipients never saw your original e-mail or didn’t recognize who it was from. So it is usually best practice to attempt a second e-mail cam­paign to your target audience after removing those who responded to your original e-mail.

In many cases, a second e-mail attempt can have a higher response rate than the original e-mail. The primary reason for this rests in the wording of the subject. At the very start of the subject line, include the words “2nd Attempt.” Follow this with the original e-mail heading. For example, “2nd Attempt—Meeting Request—Manager of XYZ Inc., California Trip, July 7-12.” By making recipients aware that you have tried to reach them previously, they are more likely to review your e-mail.

Finally, as you approach the date of your marketing trip, you may have meeting slots open and prospective investors you have not heard from. A different e-mail technique can be applied here. The format of this type of e-mail usually is shorter than your original one. The pur­pose of the truncated format is to express a sense of informality: on the eve of the trip, you are dashing off an invitation for a last-minute meet­ing. The informality of the e-mail, along with the quickly approaching date, usually results in higher response rates from prospects who are moved to respond, since you are going to be in their area soon.

The subject is key to using this technique effectively. Instead of the more formal “Meeting Request,” it should take the form of a short note to a colleague asking for the meeting. For example, “Possible Meeting Next Week in LA?” Note that you want to be more specific with the location in this type of e-mail. You can also use this type of e-mail during the trip as well to fill in any remaining slots. Simply change “Next Week” to “This Week.” The informal style and short time frame usually results in shaking a few leads free.

The Message

After constructing a compelling subject that gets prospects’ attention, you need to write a message that holds their interest and results in action. The trick is to adequately explain your purpose for contacting them without making the message too long. For our purposes here we are going to deal with general e-mail mar­keting campaigns and not touch on specific correspondence to prospects with whom you are already communicating.

To construct an e-mail message that results in a dialogue with a prospect, it is best to divide the message into short, concise paragraphs. Ideally, you want the body of the e-mail to display directly on the screen when your recipient opens it. At most, the recipient should have to scroll down once if he or she is using a compressed reading pane. Aim for two to four paragraphs, each comprising two to four sentences that explain who, what, when, where, and how. Remember that these points should be tailored differently depending on the investor category, as scientific literacy is variable among different investor categories.

The first paragraph is your introduction. It should explain why you are reaching out and offer your prospect a reason to continue reading. If you want to schedule a meeting, you may want to introduce your firm, and say what you do and why you are reaching out: “I hope this e-mail finds you well. I am a partner at XYZ Inc. I will be traveling to London next week and I wanted to see if a meeting makes sense.” If you have never met before, sometimes it helps to say that you don’t believe the recipient has been introduced to your firm or has worked with your firm in the past.

If the e-mail is an announcement, in addition to explaining why you are reaching out also summarize the (hopefully positive) news. Again, should the recipient have a small reading pane that only displays a few sentences, you want to make sure that you are clear, concise, and com­pelling so he or she can get the gist and be intrigued to read further.

The few short paragraphs following the introduction should explain your purpose in a bit more detail. The ultimate goal is to get your prospect to act, so the body of the e-mail is simply a tool used to create communication. Many fundraisers fail in this respect. They think they need to put all their cards on the table and include a lot of details. Or they believe that prospective Investors only want laboratory research or trial data. As a result, their communiqués are long and wordy, or read like an annual audit statement, which only encourages the prospect to click the “delete” button.

Remember, your prospects are human and thus the common met­rics of marketing apply: You have only a few seconds, assuming that your prospects have decided to read your e-mail, to capture their interest, convey your purpose, and get them to act. You need to be concise.

Overall, if you get to the point, state it clearly, and back it up with key data points, your e-mail will have a better chance of cutting through the clutter and noise, grabbing the prospects’ attention, and getting them to act.

You may wonder how to craft a message to prospects you have spo­ken with in the past, but are not actively communicating with. If it has been six months or more since you last spoke, it is probably a good idea to refresh their memory on your firm’s product. Never assume that a prospect knows or remembers exactly what you do. Every day since your last meeting, your prospects have been speaking with countless other firms. When in doubt, always err on the side of re-explaining and re-introducing your firm and putting a potential investor in context with what you are doing today.

The tone of these e-mails should also be more conversational than an e-mail blast. The point is to engage your contact in a more informal manner, as if to pick up on your last conversation. To use the road-show example, you could first begin by stating the topic of the e-mail and why you are reaching out: “I am going to be back in San Francisco next week. When we last met nine months ago, you stated your firm was not yet ready for an offering like ours. I wanted to circle back to meet and give you an update on my firm.”

Before distributing an e-mail to prospects, many mar­keters often feel compelled to include an attachment—sometimes many. There is the common misunderstanding that more is better. However, for an introductory e-mail, it is usually best to limit the number of attachments—perhaps a one- or two-page firm overview, or the most recent commentary on your firm. Remember your goal and avoid the temptation to overwhelm them with data. E-mail campaigns are meant to whet a prospect’s appetite, not answer every possible ques­tion they might have.

Summary

When done correctly, e-mail marketing can be one of your most effec­tive sales tools. No other form of outbound communication can get your firm’s message in front of such a large number of qualified leads in such a short time and for such a reasonable cost.

The ultimate value of e-mail marketing, though, is highly dependent on the quality of its craftsmanship and execution. By ensuring that recipients are the right targets and qualified to receive your message, the subject is crisp and easy to grasp, and the e-mail message concisely explains your purpose and asks for action, you are creating a quality campaign.

A well-designed e-mail campaign will achieve a higher hit rate, result in more successful and efficient fundraising, and gain you respect in the life science community. Your prospects will recognize that you value their time and interest, and have gone to great lengths to make sure your message arrives in a timely fashion and professional manner.

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