How to Generate Sales Through Email Marketing

(Episode 1 of 2 with Ryan Phelan)

How to Generate Sales Through Email Marketing

Email marketing is a powerful tool for B2B and B2C businesses that can help generate more leads and sales. 59% of B2B marketers name email as their top channel for revenue generation and 80% of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention (

Ryan Phelan is an email marketing expert who has created and led innovative marketing strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies for the past two decades. Some of those companies include Canadian Tire, Capital One, Skype, Sprint, and FedEx. His experience in marketing has shaped his approach in creating innovative orchestrations of data technology and customer activations for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, and more. Ryan has also been named one of the top 30 digital strategists in the United States and has built a library of leadership through blogs, white papers, and presentations.

In today’s episode, we’ll discuss how to use email marketing to generate sales. 

The Road to Email Marketing

Ryan worked as a DJ in a nightclub for six years before starting his career in email marketing. As he worked with vendors, agencies, clients, and customers, he found that his years of playing music for a crowd of people taught him lessons he could apply to his marketing career. 

As a DJ, Ryan had to entertain 600 people in the club for four and a half hours. He had to constantly be creative and read his audience in order to keep his customers, just as an email marketer needs to with their leads. “Most people don’t know this, but there’s a science behind [being a DJ]. We had a formula that we actually perfected in a nightclub that worked like a charm,” Ryan said. 

4 Key Principles of Email Marketing

From his experience as a DJ, Ryan learned four key principles of email marketing we should use to generate sales. 

1. Know Your Audience 

To market effectively, we have to know our audience. 

As a DJ, Ryan had to focus on the tempo and genre of a song, but more importantly, he had to pay attention to his audience. He had to determine who his audience was, what type of music they liked, and what mood they were in. By gauging his audience’s preferences, he could successfully choose the right songs that would lead people to the dance floor or the bar. 

He would watch his audience to determine their favorite songs so that he would know what songs to play when he wanted to bring people to the dance floor. He also learned what songs people didn’t like so he could drive them to the bar. He used his knowledge of his customers to drive more sales. By knowing his customers, he could keep constant traffic to the bar to generate more income, while also attracting customers to the dance floor to increase their satisfaction.

Our goal in email marketing and e-commerce is to recognize a consumer or cohort of consumers and get them to do what we want by providing them with the right information or product. In email marketing, this is called segmentation. 

Ryan believes marketing is all about segmentation. The reason he was able to play the right song set was that he knew who his customers were. He knew who was in his crowd. He could look out and read people very well. “[I knew] who was wanting to date somebody else, who was wanting to hit on somebody else, who was just there to have a good time with their friends, [and] who was really wanting to dance,” Ryan said. It was all about knowing his audience. 

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The same goes for email marketing. We need to know our audience if we want to have any success in directing them towards our products or services. If we want to do email marketing right, we should look at the audience and recognize the different cohort groups. These are groups of people that are similar in type and characteristic. When we know what group a customer falls into, it is easier to send them a tailored message. Our customers will be more likely to resonate with our message and we will be more likely to make a sale. 

2. Determine the Right Channels

In order for our marketing strategies to be successful, we need to make sure we are sending information on the right channels. 

Skype was one of the biggest projects Ryan worked with. Skype had 6 billion leads. Until Zoom, everybody used Skype, especially in Europe and Australia. Skype was how people communicated. Ryan worked with them on reactivating a large number of their audience of billions. It was extensive. They had data science. They looked at propensity and put people in cohort groups. And they developed different touchpoints based upon channel propensity which was the biggest thing out of that project. 

Each cohort group had a primary, secondary, and tertiary channel they reacted to. For some core groups, it was mobile push notifications. For others, it was direct mail, television advertising, print, banner, or email. Ryan had to develop a media plan based upon a channel’s propensity for that cohort group and put together extensive media plans on the best way to communicate with each customer. “It was a big success,” Ryan said. It opened his eyes to the power of data and what it can do.

If we want to do email marketing, we need to make sure our customers can actually be reached by email. We have to make sure it is the right channel for communication for our audience. 

3. Use Data

The biggest mistake Ryan made in email marketing was trusting his gut. Even though marketers have asserted for years how important testing is, every once in a while, marketers, including Ryan, go with their gut without looking at the data.  

Ryan once had a client with whom he ran a win-back campaign. When customers are inactive and aren’t opening their emails, a win-back campaign tries to reactivate people’s interest. Ryan created a progression of four emails over 30 days, trying to get the customers back with offers or content. Ryan put them in the order that he thought they should go based on his gut instinct and then launched the campaign. While his client doubted if it was the right order, he assured her that it was. 

About three weeks later, the client told Ryan she wanted to reshuffle the email series just to test it. She was the marketing site manager and she knew her brand inside out. She tested her strategy and Ryan tested his strategy thinking he would win. Surprisingly enough, the client’s test worked better than Ryan’s.

Ryan learned that his gut is not always right. Instead of just going off our gut feelings, we should look at what the numbers, science, and data are telling us.

4. Recognize Changes in the Market

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Part of our email marketing strategy should include watching for business tectonic shifts. 

Ryan believes COVID-19 has been the biggest tectonic shift currently facing businesses. Because of the pandemic, marketing professionals have had to learn to be more agile. Things can change overnight. In 2020, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a worldwide pandemic and everything shifted because of it. Marketers found themselves in two camps; they either pivoted quickly with everything they had, or they froze and pulled out of the marketplace. 

Being tone-deaf to the changes taking place in the world will only lead us to fail and lose our jobs. The companies that succeeded during the pandemic were the ones that knew their brand voice and knew how to pivot within their brand appropriately. Some retailers had to start curbside pickup to limit store hours. They learned quickly and weren’t afraid to pivot.

Ryan believes surviving 2020 should be put as a badge on our LinkedIn profiles. The greatest badge of honor are those marketers that pivoted fast enough and took advantage of tectonic shifts so they thrived and grew; they didn’t just survive.   

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Ryan for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. As email marketers, we need to be creative and read people well.

2. Our goal in email marketing is to recognize a cohort of consumers and provide them with the right information.

3. In order for our marketing strategies to be successful, we need to make sure we are sending information on the right channels. 

4. In email marketing, we can’t just trust our gut feeling. We always have to test and look at the data.

5. When everything changes in our world, we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done. We have to pivot to survive in the market.  

Connect with Ryan

If you enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about Ryan or connect with him, you can find him on LinkedIn. You can also visit his company’s website at  

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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