Using your "why" to write a great welcome email

There's a bit of an epidemic on social networks like Linkedin. For years now, people have been posting this insufferable Simon Sinek video, with a comment to the effect of "wow so true."

In case you haven't seen the video, Sinek’s thesis is that people "don't buy the things we sell, they buy the reason we built them." Sinek uses Apple as an example, saying that they never talk about their products' features and benefits, but rather just talk about how much the Apple team love challenging the status quo and whatnot - they just happen to sell computers. When he finishes his spiel, he looks smugly at the crowd, pauses and says, as if he's an Apple salesperson - "wanna buy one?"

All sounds very inspirational, until you look at how Apple actually talks about itsproducts.

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Hmm. Looks like, in fact, Applesays quite a bit about their products’ features and benefits. And why wouldn’t they? If I’m shopping for an iPhone, I’m not looking for a story about why Apple make iPhones. I want to know which features it has, and the benefits those features provide me.

But, like most charlatans, Sinek has a glimmer of a point. There is a place for your “why” in marketing. One of those places is in your welcome emails.

Welcome to what?

Your welcome email is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the first email someone gets when they give you their contact details. It’s usually the first in a series of emails, which, together, create a sequence that pushes people from lead to paying customer.

You'll recognise email sequences from every trial software you've ever signed up for. Basically all of these providers use some kind of sequence or the other to try and push you along from a trial user to a fully-paid up evangelist.

The welcome email is generally one of your first interactions with a potential customer. There will be many more interactions. So it’s useful to take this opportunity to talk less about what you sell, and more about the story behind why you sell it. Here’s why:

It qualifies your leads

This is something that a lot of marketing managers struggle with: not all prospects were created equal. A significant portion of people who have signed up to hear from you, are not actually suited to whatever it is you're selling. No amount of marketing will make them suited for it; they're just not a good fit. It is in your interests to have these people disengage sooner rather than later, because the longer they wait to disengage, the more they cost you in good money after bad.

Imagine for a second that you're running a paint store in New Plymouth. Your "why" is going to be something to the effect of "we built this store to serve the local community with high quality paint and great interior design advice." There will be more to it than that, but a key part of it will be that it is a local business.

If your paint store somehow gets its hands on a lead who is based in Australia, there is no amount of nurturing or marketing that is going to make them buy paint from your store. So if you send them a nice welcome email that clarifies exactly who you are, what you do and why you do it, then your new Australian friend will do both of you a favour, and unsubscribe.

It shows you understand your customers

People sign up to hear from organisations because they want to accomplish something - usually, solving a problem. In the early stages of your relationship with a potential customer, a welcome email based on your "why" can show that you understand that problem, and want to help them solve it. This goes a long way towards affirming your credibility, expertise and empathy for your customers' needs.

This is where a lot of email sequences go wrong. Just this morning, I got a welcome email from WeVideo. Here's what it looked like:

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Yikes. They've gone straight into the product. No messing around, nothing. Just right into it. They would have been much better served sending me a nice email that tells me why they built WeVideo. If that "why" matches my "why" for signing up for a trial, then I'm going to be much more tuned in to future emails - because I now know that we both want to achieve the same thing.

This is doubly irritating because WeVideo have a pretty compelling "why" on their website. Take a look:

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This is a pretty good reason for existing! They should have just copied and pasted that into their first email to me, rather than drown me with technical instructions that I wasn't ready for.

So now that we’ve figured out why this is worth doing, let’s get into the practicalities of how to do it.

Focus on the user’s needs

I've seen a lot of very aspirational "why" statements. One tech darling, who I politely won't name, insists that it's doing business in order to build better schools and hospitals for all of New Zealand. That's very sweet, and it might be true, but it really doesn't do much for me if I'm kicking the tyres on their product.

It's also kind of disingenuous. While I'm sure lots of organisations truly believe their aspirational, wide-ranging goals and values, it's their practical goals that pay the bills: solving problems for their users. If you're not providing value to your users, they're not going to give you their money, so most companies have a pretty good idea of what this value is. So lead with it, for goodness sakes! Tell your leads why you built your business, and articulate that in terms of the users you’re serving every day in that business.

Go deep

It's very tempting to say "we built this to solve X and Y problems, and we do so through killer features 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 6 and 7." That's too much. If you do that, you’re going down the same path WeVideo set in the above example.

There is plenty of time further in the sequence to talk about specific features ,and how they solve specific problems. Today, you're talking about the deeper problem you solve.

For example, at a superficial level, I help organisations with their content strategy. I help them figure out what to produce, and for whom, and I get my hands dirty actually producing the finished copy. Great. But also, boring.

At a deeper level, I help make businesses better by helping them to produce content that connects with people. That could be connecting with existing customers to reduce churn. It could be connecting with staff members to increase engagement. It could be connecting with leads to help them turn into paying customers. That’s the underlying promise that I’m selling, and it’s a much deeper problem than “we need some copy for our website.”

Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself

I know this sounds contradictory to my point around focusing on the user, but remember that this is where you're introducing yourself to your contacts. It's perfectly reasonable to tell a story about who you are and why you created the product or service you're selling.

For example, if your accounting firm has been around for ten years, go ahead and tell people that! But don't just tell them and leave them hanging - rather, tell them why you started the firm in the first place, the gap you were looking to fill, and what you thought you offered that other firms didn't offer. Then, you can talk about how you delivered on that for your customers. Now, you're showing new contacts who you are and the value you provide, all wrapped in a compelling story about why you exist. That forms a really strong base for you to build the rest of your email sequence on top of.

Wrapping up: spend some time on it

Your welcome email isn’t a trivial matter. Not only is it one of the first interactions that people will have with you, it should also reflect your underlying values and goals as an organisation. So don’t just bash something out and forget about it - get people in a room, kick ideas around, and get some consensus around who you are as a company and why you exist. The messaging that shakes out will be useful far beyond your welcome email.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash