What is email marketing? 5 Steps for Success

When people ask me, “what is email marketing?” I’m careful to let them know what it is and what it isn’t. It often comes down to the difference between marketing and sales. Marketing is about knowing your audience and bringing in leads. The sales process is about turning those leads into revenue. 

When sending emails to people in your target audience, some of those emails will be marketing emails, and some will be sales emails. Both of them are about nurturing your audience through the funnel, but the two aren’t the same.

Jabs and Hooks

Gary Vee famously wrote an entire book about the ratio of these two activities called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, where he likened the process to boxing. In the case of boxing, you give your opponent a few jabs (marketing) before clocking them with a surprise right hook. (sales pitch)

I don’t think three marketing emails for every sales pitch is a one-size-fits-all ratio, but I 100% agree that you can’t ask for something (e.g. money) every time you talk to a customer. On top of that, you DO need to be able to ask your audience to buy quite often, which means you need to talk to your audience far more often.

It’s like trying to establish a relationship with someone you find attractive. The goal is to establish a relationship. The activities you use to reach your destination do not necessarily involve asking the person to be in a relationship with you. Your actions may eventually include asking them to be in a relationship with you, but social norms dictate that you need some additional interactions before this happens.

The same is true for marketing. I’ve defined the process into 5 Steps for Success:

Five Steps for Marketing Success

Step 1: You have to find a person or persons you are attracted to. In marketing, this is the process of defining your target audience.

Step 2: You have to introduce yourself to that person. We call this “creating brand messaging,” and it’s part of the Whole Team Marketing process. You put in the time to learn what your audience wants to hear and create some persuasive language.

Step 3: You begin to establish your interest in taking the person on a date. If you want the relationship to work, you’ll want to be authentic during this process, but you also want to put your best foot forward. You will likely try to highlight your most attractive qualities. In marketing, this is the point that you send those emails, share those social media posts, write those blogs and launch other marketing tactics that show off why you are the best in your field. You work to build your credibility, so the person already feels comfortable when it’s time to ask for the sale.

Step 4: If steps 1, 2, and 3 go well, you’ll probably ask the person on a date. You do NOT jump right into “Do you want to be in a monogamous committed relationship with me?” If you did that, you would likely scare the other person off or even anger them because you were presumptuous. It’s the same for running your business. If all your emails are sales-focused, your audience feels like you only talk to them when you want something. Instead, you want to indicate your interest after taking the time to nurture the relationship. If you sell services, this usually looks like it’s time to ask for permission to sell.

Step 5: The pitch. You now know the person you’re speaking to very well. They have no reason to be shocked or dismayed when you ask them for a commitment. Use everything you’ve learned about them in Steps 1-4 and plead your case. This applies to both the dating analogy and the marketing analogy.

Back to Email Marketing

There is a distinction here that I think is important is to recognize. The point of marketing emails is not to close the sale. Marketing emails aim to make your audience interested in you and what you do. They appreciate the knowledge you hold and understand that you share that knowledge with them. They know what you offer, so when you get to step 4 and begin to warm them up for the pitch, you needn’t wholly educate them from scratch.

What Email Marketing Will and Won’t Do

Here’s the point of the marketing email:

-To get to know your customers

-To educate your audience about what you do so the sales pitch can be more high-level

-To establish you as the expert in your field.

-To increase top-of-mind-awareness (TOMA)

-To make them trust you, so when you do pitch them, they say yes

Here’s what email marketing will not get you:

  • Replies and feedback from your audience about the emails. If you get it, great! But it’s not an indicator of how your email marketing campaign is going.
  • Increased phone calls from your audience. Your phone will not start ringing in response to individual emails; it will start ringing more because more people know what you offer.
  • Increase in social media followers. See above.
  • Sales. That’s not to say you can’t sell with email, but it requires a different kind of copywriting and an intentional campaign designed to get sales. Furthermore, it will not likely be successful until you first establish a consistent marketing campaign. The relationship you develop in the marketing phase is a precursor to the trust you need to get the sale.

An essential factor to remember is that you probably don’t even want your email to elicit a ton of immediate responses. Typically, a rush of inquiries leads to a much smaller number of conversions. Unfortunately, you need to deal with the influx of responses to filter out the sales.

This is the problem with clickbait-type campaigns. You waste a lot of your time responding to the influx of calls, so you don’t have time to discern who is a valuable lead and who is a tire-kicker.


The average B2B campaign will take at least 4-6 months to gain a foothold with the audience. You can’t accurately gauge its success until at least the end of this period. If you make changes during this time (changing your email list or your target audience or offer, for example), the clock starts over when you make the change. You can expect results 4-6 months into a consistent email campaign.

While you wait, gather as much intel as you can from precisely who is opening your emails, clicking, and what types of content and subject lines do best. You’ll get there! Just stay the course.

Picture of author, Bridget Brown