The Challenge-Solution Framework


A client approached me because they were having challenges with their email outreach, specifically, they had low open rates.

What’s even worse is that of the people who did open the email and went to their website, they had zero conversions.

The client wasn’t sure what to do so they approached me and asked for my help.

Whenever approaching a new problem with fresh eyes, it’s important to challenge any assumptions that may be baked into the problem. In this case, the problem was email open rates, so a logical solution would be to ask, “How do we improve email open rates?” But this may be hacking at the branches of the problem while ignoring the root.

The first thing I did was to create a table with all the challenges, or assumptions, on one column and then have all the solutions, or potential tactics or experiments, that we could run in another column.

1. Audience Targeting

One challenge or assumption was that we were targeting the right people, maybe we weren’t?

If your offer or message isn’t going to the relevant audience, then nothing you can do or say will make them interested. It’s like trying to selling car insurance to a person who doesn’t own a car.

There are a lot of experiments we can do with the targeting:

  • We can use intent data
  • We could revisit our ICPs
  • We can better understand our audiences’ values
  • We can target different decision makers within organizations
  • W can target different organizations or verticals
  • We can create more refined segments
  • And so on…

There are many things we can test to see if we can get a different result.

2. Cold Audience

The second challenge I identified was this client was sending cold emails without first warming up their audience. I explained to them that a sales relationship is much like a romantic relationship, and asking for the sale too soon is often a repellent. It would be like asking someone on a first-date to move in. Nothing would make them run away faster.

I said, “You’re not in the sales business, you’re in the customer relationship business. You need to warm-up these audiences, build a rapport, and establish trust. Only then can you ask for the sale.

Gary V talks about this in his book, Jab-Jab-Jab, Right Hook, which is another way of saying you need to offer value, offer value, offer value and then ask for something in return. 

You need to give value before you try to extract value.

If you are interested in a more detailed breakdown of this campaign, check out the full post.

Continue reading: How Patek Philippe Could Use Storytelling Marketing

3. Emails Are Landing in Spam

A question we need to ask ourselves is, are our emails even being received? Perhaps a significant portion of the emails are being undelivered or landing in the spam or promotional folder, in which our audience is not even seeing them.

There are a lot of best practices we can do to avoid this from happening, which I won’t go into here. If you are sending emails through HubSpot and other email platforms, then you can check to see how many went undelivered.

4. Emails Are Too Generic

Another item that made the list – perhaps our emails are too generic and not personalized enough. It should go without saying that people like, and respond more to, personalized emails.

Instead of blasting out the same email to 10,000 people and having a low click-through rate, perhaps we try a more surgical approach. We could segment accounts into groups of 25 – 50 and test out different messaging, offers, personalization, etc.

One messaging may work great for one type of audience, but may underperform for another. We could try testing different messages and offers with different segments.

5. Offer is not Compelling Enough

Another point I raised was – perhaps the reason nobody is converting is because our offer is just not compelling enough. So, it’s not actually an email issue, but more of a pricing or product issue.

If the customer doesn’t have that problem or they’re not aware they have a problem, your solution is going to mean nothing to them. In other words, you’re offering them a solution to something they don’t want or need. 80% off something your customer doesn’t want is like asking them to spend 20% for no reason. Hardly anyone with a sound mind would do that.

Of course, we can revisit the offer, the product, the pricing tiers, the language, etc. Perhaps there are different offers or word choices that can inspire and influence people.

6. Unclear Call-to-Action

People need to be guided toward the next step in the buying journey. If there’s no clear next step, or urgent call to action, they reader may not know what you want them to do next.

The solution here is to revisit the emails and examine all the next steps to see if there’s a clear call to action. Again, we can test different CTAs with smaller segments.

7. Inadequate Follow-up

If you’re just sending one email, and then you drop off the planet for the next 8 months, obviously you’re dealing with an inactive email list. Email lists need to be activated with lots of value-driven, user-centric content. People need to hear from you often. They need to be reminded to take action. They need to know that your offer is about to expire or your event is happening soon.

Sending one email and hoping and praying it’ll get opened and clicked is a Hail Mary strategy.

Another way to follow up is through social media and retargeting ads. Regardless of the action they took with your email, they should be reminded wherever they are. If they have joined your email list willingly, then that’s a pretty good sign they have at least some interest in what you’re offering. Small interest can turn into strong demand with the right set of actions.

8. Landing Page is Not Optimized

Shifting gears away from the emails, we can focus on the few who do open and click through. What is waiting for them on the other side? Is it clear? Is it compelling? Is it relevant? My guess is there are some further optimizations and testing that could be done.

There are a million ways to optimize a landing page, which I won’t go into, but if that part of the funnel is broken, then we need to focus on it and make some changes.

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