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The Simple, Powerful Nine-Word Email That Converts Leads to Customers

Dean Jackson’s consistent, measurable system of using a 9-word email that could give you a windfall

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

Real estate entrepreneur Dean Jackson’s video described multiple examples of how a 9-word email question could give you (and me!) a windfall of cash. He repeated some data from a large study (sorry, he did not cite the primary source) and then showed how he had seen it work in real life to convert leads to customers.

In that video, I learned Dean Jackson’s 9-word formula, snagged 9 tips, and discovered some lessons learned in applying those tips to my own business.

1. Hang in there! Most of the leads will buy within 18 months

According to Jackson, 52% of interested people buy the product within 18 months. They won’t necessarily buy from you, but they’ll buy. So let’s say half. His description of the statistics is confusing, but I believe he’s saying that nearly half the of people will buy, but it may take them up to 18 months to do so.

Among that half who buy, only 15% will buy within the first 90 days. Otherwise stated, 85% of your eventual customers will buy after 90 days.

Many businesses stop marketing to their leads after 90 days! They even have a “dead leads” file after 90 days because they assume the person won’t buy. That’s just not the case.

Remember, those who eventually buy won’t necessarily buy from you. People will buy when they’re ready, so you and I need to be top-of-mind when they’re ready to buy.

I had to learn some practical lessons before I could make progress to apply this advice.

First, despite my skepticism, I found that Jackson is right. We did a quick study of customers’ behavior in the past year. Even though we hadn’t been using Jackson’s exact formula, we found that many of our customers bought nearly 12 months after our initial contact, or sometimes longer.

Jackson doesn’t highlight actions I’d consider critical:

  • Create a cadence for measuring the time when people buy. The exact time you measure might not matter as much as just picking an interval and sticking to it. We decided to measure at 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months.
  • Don’t expect that just “having” the leads in your funnel will result in the sale. If you want to convert your leads to customers, it’s critical to nurture them on a regular basis. There’s no hard and fast rule about the frequency of your interaction with them or the method you use (e.g., emails, a free webinar, phone calls, etc.). That depends on your industry and your audience.

2. 15% of your leads will buy within 90 days

Although we took Jackson’s 15% number seriously, we found we had to repair some chinks in our armor before we could move forward.

We don’t have our data collection techniques solidly nailed down yet, but it certainly looks like we’re on track to see 15% of our leads buying within those 90 days.

Our biggest snag was that we didn’t clearly define “leads.” Here’s the classic definition of a lead: “A person who shows interest in a company’s products or services, which makes the person a potential customer.”

However, to me, that means anyone who has never put money into my corporate coffers, including people who are already “hooked,” i.e., in my marketing funnel. But I’m more interested in new leads. That’s because getting new leads costs more of my advertising dollars than chasing the leads that are already in our funnel. Some use the word “prospects” to refer to those who have never seen the brand; prospects then turn into leads, who turn into customers. Some differentiate between a “cold lead” (people who are part of your target audience but who have had no interaction with you so far) versus a “warm lead”, (those who are already in your funnel). If you prefer those terms, that’s fine, as long as you’re clear about what you mean.

Whatever terms you use, and whichever type of lead you focus on, make sure that you and your team agree on the definition of a “lead” and make sure that you’re consistently looking at their behavior. We ended up making a short glossary of terms to help us become consistent in what we were measuring.

For these percentages, my biggest lessons learned include:

  • You must determine exactly what you want to know. I want to know if most of my advertising dollars are spent in the top of my funnel or the middle.
  • Everyone on the team needs to agree on the meaning of the term(s) being used. Otherwise, data retrieval and analysis — not to mention communication with others on the team — is a problem.
  • Consistency is key.

3. Create a 9-word question

Here’s Jackson’s 9-word formula: “Did you buy…” and finish the question with six words that describe the product in a way personalized to the recipient.

Jackson says to avoid asking “would you like to buy.” Instead, just ask “did you buy…” He also strongly urges us not to use the word “our.” Just use the “category” in the formula: “Did you buy…”

Categories might be:

  • Flooring
  • House
  • Car
  • Course
  • Refrigerator
  • Vacation

4. Make the message sound “personalized”

Seems like, in a small business with few products that nicely fit into clear categories, this might be easy. A flooring company might ask, “Did you buy new laminate flooring for your kitchen?” (Notice, this is exactly 9 words.)

Chances are, the flooring company offers laminate, hard wood, and so forth, so seems like this would sound personalized to the customer, even though it isn’t really. But if you’re Ikea, it might be much more difficult to create that personalized feeling.

We noticed that this “personalization” depends on knowing what product the customer was hunting for. That means we need to collect the information on the first interaction. So, if the lead articulates the need for “flooring”, the salesperson should make a note that by the end of the visit, the person was most drawn to the laminate flooring. Otherwise, the email can’t be “personalized.”

Jackson didn’t mention this, but I think it comes down to who-what-where-why-which-how. Any of the following examples could be personalized.

Let’s say you’re running a senior living facility that offers independent living, assisted living, and memory care. You might say:

Did you sign on for [independent living, assisted living, memory care] for your [self, mother, father, spouse]?

Maybe you’re a coach who offers one-to-one coaching, small group coaching, and all-day workshops. You might say:

Notice that these don’t look all that “personal” when you read them here on a blog. But they are likely to feel more personal for someone reading your email, and they will be more likely to convert those leads into customers.

5. Send a “morning after” email message

Of the 15% who buy within 90 days, about half will buy right away. That means that 7.5% of your leads will give you some instant gratification.

Jackson says he gets a 40% response rate to his question of “Did you buy…” during that 24-hour period because the customer recognizes him and his product. And those who open the email within 24 hours are more likely to white-list future emails.

If you want to convert your leads to customers, the “rules” are:

  • Speed: Send your target audience a follow-up email while you, your pitch, and your name/brand are fresh in their minds.
  • Engagement: Give them a call to action that they can respond to. Focus on recognition and engagement. Response is a huge predictor of an eventual sale.
  • Patience: Understand and accept that some leads take a little longer to convert.

Although these three points seem easy to understand, we looked carefully at our own existing practices, and realized we had to make some shifts to implement Jackson’s methods.

  • We had underestimated the time it would take to send that email message, and in practice, our “morning after” email was delayed until several days after the event. That’s because our standard “morning after” email message was a video of the free webinar that the person had attended. Oops.
  • None of our existing emails invited any engagement.
  • We had completely missed the mark with our lack of personalization. We sounded like we had concocted a message that was to everyone. In essence, we didn’t remind them that we had the solution for them.
  • We didn’t have an air-tight way to measure any of this.
  • Since Jackson didn’t specify the method for the first interaction (e.g., webinar, phone call, in-store visit, etc.) we don’t know if we can replicate his good numbers, or whether or not we should be worried about the specific method.

6. Re-think your “open” rate and collect metrics

Don’t get too wrapped up in the typical metric of open rate, i.e., how many people opened your email. Yes, it’s very reassuring if they open it. But not everyone will. Don’t assume this means they don’t like you, or don’t like your product. Maybe they didn’t open your email because:

  • it landed in their spam folder.
  • they already bought from someone else.
  • your subject line was not persuasive, intriguing, or compelling.
  • they’re just not ready.

You can influence some of these factors, but not others.

In addition to the open rate, Jackson identifies other metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of your 9-word email, including

  • Response rate
  • Conversion rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Feedback and sentiment analysis
  • A/B testing results

7. Repeat the 9-word question every 90 days

In a Medium post, Jackson says that “reconnecting with your prospects” is the key to driving more conversation.

Still having trouble believing that 18 months thing?

How about you? Have you been shopping for something lately? Maybe a big-ticket item? Maybe a small-ticket item? How long did it take before you bought?

In the recent past, here’s what I realized about my own behavior in buying products or services.

  • Over the past weekend, I decided I was fed up with storing my coffee in a lidded glass jar my aunt gave to my mother decades ago. By Tuesday evening, I bought a nice coffee canister.
  • Last April, I started shopping for flooring. In August, I had to replace my refrigerator, so I decided to buy the flooring before installing the new refrigerator.
  • Last summer, I started shopping for a vintage made-in-Scotland cashmere cardigan sweater. I haven’t bought one yet, and spring is here now.

Remember, too, that using the 9-word question every 90 days is necessary, but not sufficient. Jackson’s formula and system presumes you have clearly-written emails, winning subject lines, and more. Having the best product is not the determining factor for whether you make the sale. Converting your leads to customers depends on persistence with high-quality messages.

Consider, too, that there’s a big subconscious factor that plays into decisions that drive consumer behavior. Jackson and others talk about the “buying reflex” that we need to create in our customers.

8. Embrace Jackson’s take-home messages

He swears this stuff works like magic. Jackson’s take-home message for his 9-word email technique seems 3-fold:

  • Send a morning-after message. About half of that initial 15% will buy within buy within the first few days
  • Continue talking to your leads for 18 months; give a question they can respond to (i.e., engage with you). Be top of mind when they are ready to buy.
  • Measure your success and adapt as needed.

9. Give it a try

I ran a free live Q&A session on Monday. Come Tuesday, guess what? About 7.5% of my leads bought my flagship product. Hmm. That’s exactly what Jackson predicts. Cause, consequence, or coincidence? I don’t know.

Being a business owner often means trying something. It may not work for you the way it worked for someone else. But if it worked for someone else, it could work for you.

Have you tried any of this? How did it work for you? What were your lessons learned in turning your leads into customers?

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

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