[IMGCAP(1)]E-mail marketing is an extremely powerful medium that can be a major lead generation source for any accountancy firm, from small-town sole practitioners to multinational corporations. When applied properly, these five innovative approaches can significantly boost your prospect response rates.

Get Personal
Although commentary on the latest IRS rulings is the heart of most accountant e-mail marketing, your clients would love to find out something about the people behind the visors and rolled-up sleeves. Either anecdotes or sidebars about an interesting client story, or some unlikely coincidence with a happy ending, can capture your readers' attention. How about sharing a tale of an unexpected surprise at the New York Flagg Management Accounting Expo?

Don't just bury your prospects under a flurry of CFE, EA, CMA, CFM, CIA, CGFM and more alphabet soup. Explain what these certifications mean to them and how they equate to providing specialized services best suited to their needs.

Your firm should be involved in the community, so including a photo of your staff volunteering at a food drive or a junior league game can be a powerful incentive to reply, especially if you include an invitation to join you at the next event.

Very few facets of e-mail marketing create the impact of a committed customer testimonial, so if you've received praise lately, why not share it with your prospects?

Empathize with Your Clients
Although every accountant wants to land the well-moneyed clientele, smaller fish can also provide profits. Some prospects may be experiencing rough times in the recession and its aftermath, and thus may be responsive to special offers that can save them money. Offering services keyed to the income of the client, or special offers that make your services more affordable to lower-income groups, can drive strong responses in your e-mail marketing.

Coupons are a mainstay of e-mail marketing, and the more unexpected and surprising the offer, the greater the response. Although a coupon for 10 percent off services can be appealing, why not offer half off for one week only? Or run a contest for free tax return filings?

Many prospective clients would be more likely to commit to your services if they could spend some time and discuss their issues and concerns, so a free half-hour or even a full hour introductory session could work wonders in stocking your client list.

Become More Social
The Internet revolution of the last few years is most definitely social networking and associated media such as Twitter and Facebook. When your e-mail messages contain links to encourage participation by your prospects in these social sites, business relationships are invariably launched.

At first glance it may seem unlikely that many people would want to interact in an online setting such as this with an accountant (after all, Ashton Kutcher you're not), but the demographic that encompasses social media is vast and most certainly includes your clientele.

Consider a Facebook business page, known as a Fan Page, as a syndication network that you have created yourself. You attract an audience of clients, colleagues, friends and family through your steady, positive presence and encouragement. As you build that audience, you can stream in the variety of content you are presenting to other online audiences, such as blogs and news updates.

There are countless advantages to having a successful Facebook presence. The Fan Pages are indexed in Google and generally rank very well, so you can draw on the vast amount of traffic that is looking for accountant services in your area on what has become the universal search engine. Furthermore, Facebook boasts hundreds of millions of active users. While some are too young or "eclectic" to require accounting services, many others are right in your cross-hairs.

Keep It Fun
Eighty-nine percent of all American Internet users share content with their contacts via e-mail, and the most popular form of content is humor. A goal that most e-mail marketers from any industry share, but rarely achieve, is to create the completely viral e-mail. That one-in-a-million message which is so attractive, entertaining, and surprising, that it gets forwarded on and on in an endless chain for years on end.

Don't be afraid to poke fun at yourself and your field. One of the most famous viral marketing e-mails of all time showed Donald Duck flat on his back in front of Cinderella's Castle with the caption "Bird Flu Has Hit Disneyland." The theme park's radical strategy worked, and years later that e-mail is still making the rounds worldwide.

The general public has a mental stereotype of the buttoned-down accountant who exists only in shades of gray. What better way to interest your prospects by demonstrating that there is a fun side to crunching numbers?

There have to be thousands of accountant jokes. Why not incorporate one or more of them into your next e-mail marketing campaign? If it goes viral, you may have more new business than you would ever be able to handle.

The Tortoise and the Hare
E-mail marketing has never suited immediate gratification. Panic marketers who expect their response rates to quadruple overnight are invariably disappointed. If you structure your e-mail marketing campaign to interest the prospects who are involved enough to familiarize themselves with your message but are not quite ready to sign up for your services, the longer-term results will be overwhelmingly positive.

Your perseverance in providing content that is attractive and targeted to fulfilling their needs creates a trust that evolves over time. E-mail marketing is not at all like a television commercial where you can preach a message to a captive audience waiting for the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to start. It is a conversational medium in which success is measured not only by open or click rates, but by how involved you can manage to get your prospects.

When you show that you are real people and not spreadsheet automatons, you begin to sow the seeds of a mutually satisfactory business relationship with your prospects. If your call to action is an invitation to a friendly chat with someone who can help, you'll find that positive response is a given.

Hal Licino is the author of two books and an e-mail marketing advocate for Benchmark E-mail, an e-mail marketing service.

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