EPISODE
12

The Engagement-Driven Email Marketing Strategy That Grew BombTech Golf to $7M (with Tyler “Sully” Sullivan)

with
Tyler "Sully" Sullivan

In the last episode of the Minds of Ecommerce Podcast, you heard from Adam Trouncer of Athletic Greens, who shared how they doubled the 8-figure business through a product experience strategy based on customer insights.

In episode #12, Tyler “Sully” Sullivan, founder of BombTech Golf and Ecom Growers, shares how he built BombTech Golf to over $7M mostly through email marketing by building relationships with customers, and validates new products, and achieves super successful product launches.

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Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

All right, Sully, welcome to the show.

Tyler Sullivan:

Thanks. Glad to be here. Beautiful day.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Yeah, well as you know, this podcast, Minds of Ecommerce, is all about going deep and dissecting one key growth strategy that you've applied to your business so listeners can get the most value right away. And you've definitely done some really interesting things with Bombtech Golf. So just to get context, how old is the company right now?

Tyler Sullivan:

I started in 2012, so seven going on eight years.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Got it. And now, you told me before the call that you're averaging $5 to $7 million a year in sales with only two employees and lots of profit, which is pretty amazing, so congrats on that.

Tyler Sullivan:

Thank you.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Obviously, reaching that level of growth with only two employees requires some pretty neat marketing strategies. And I know you're definitely super smart when it comes to email marketing and ads and really engaging with your customers. And you mentioned that your email marketing strategy was one of the key reasons why the business has grown so much. So can you give us a little overview of what that strategy is and what you've been doing with email that's been growing the company so much?

Tyler Sullivan:

Totally, yeah. So my overall strategy, and this has taken me a long time to figure out, is I first have to learn whatever I'm doing, whether it's ads, email, social, fulfillment, and do it so I know enough to be dangerous to then hire or fire an expert that's smarter than myself. That's really my biggest skill set. And with email, I bring this up because my first employee ever at Bombtech was with me for like six years. He now is my partner and does all my email. We have an agency, but that's not the point. So he actually does all the executing of the day-to-day task of sending campaigns, setting up automations and flows, and I'm more high level in terms of overall strategy of Bombtech.

But email is the same as, I look at it as the same as social media. We have multiple Facebook groups. We've got a pretty large following on Facebook. I think we've got 60 million video views. That's not necessarily important, but the conversations that we get to have, I look at it, it's just ... Number one, it's amazing, the world we live in now. But I asked a ton of questions on Facebook and email, Instagram and we actually, number one, we want to know what people want, right? So why wouldn't you ask these questions? And number two, with email specifically, when we have a new product coming out or ... Like we've got this American flag polo that I think is cool, right? But I don't necessarily know what the customers truly want. I think I do. But what we do is, we'll just ... The other day we just did this. We sent out a very simple plain text email with one image, and that's a lot for us, one image, because plain text typically gets more replies. We just said, "Hey, what do you guys think of this?" And just say reply back if you love it or hate it. And then we get thousands of replies. What that does, it not only puts people from the promotion stab in the inbox, but we now go into the inbox for promotion so we get seen more.

But now our customer service guys, Colby and Mike, they're having ongoing conversations with our customers all year. So not only that, in their replies they then say, "Oh, I'm so glad you love the new polo. Thanks so much for your feedback. We're super pumped to launch it. It comes out in January. Also, what size do you ..." so now they're just continuing this conversation. So it's almost natural when the product launches. It's not like anything new. It's like we're banging them with this email, like when it launches and it doesn't do well. It's our open rates engagement's so high and click rates, because we're talking to them on all platforms. But most revenue comes from email all throughout the year, all the time, every day. And that's really from a high level concept. I see so many brands ... I shouldn't say so many, but a lot of people look at email and they try to make things more complicated and they want to do beautiful HTML, multi call-to-action newsletters. And we'll come into an account, like even my own, and Chris will be like, "Hey, I'm going to do plain text with one call to action." And as a brand owner you'd be like, "Oh my God, that doesn't look beautiful," but it will 10X the open rate, click rates, and revenue. It's like, we do what works. I don't fight the market, I don't fight for results. And that's just how we use overall Klaviyo as a concept.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

I love it. It really sounds like you're using email almost like you're using social media, not just as a marketing tool and not just as a tool to send promotions or random newsletters, but really as an engagement tool that is almost personal, right? So plain text emails. And by the way, I love the idea of plain text emails because here at SplitBase, my conversion optimization agency, when we send surveys to get feedback from the companies who work with their customers, plain text emails always out performs everything, because people feel like, hey, it's genuine, like they actually want to hear from me. It's not just a bunch of fancy marketing materials. So I love that you mentioned that. Now, how are you mixing promotions into the mix? Obviously, you're doing product launches and gathering feedback from your customers through email. How does that all integrate with your regular promotion and sales cycle emails?

Tyler Sullivan:

Totally. We're definitely aggressive with offers and promos, but that's only because we can be. If we didn't have an engaged list that literally actually cared about when we send emails and actually replied, then a lot of the strategy wouldn't be as effective. The things I personally work on that are what I would call big levers are offers, and it's not only the product, but how do we bundle it, what's the launch deal going to be, the video, the content, the copy, the overall packaging of that whole thing. Because you can have a product that's a fantastic product, but if it's not an enticing offer, it's not going to do well.

So a lot of people, I shouldn't assume all these people are doing this, but I should say I used to do this, where I would focus so much on things that were micro and didn't move the needle, but really, focusing on what the offer could be that's going to do some crazy volume and getting people just to communicate on email so they're ready for that. So our promotion strategy is really pretty aggressive and we do a lot of micro launches, is where I was going with this concept.

So what we'll do is we've got our three core sellers do the majority of the sales, but then this year in particular I've been using the questions and social media just to design products I personally thought are cool, like golf clubs I just really wanted that are not normal in the industry. And as I do that, I literally am like, "Hey, I'm designing this club. What do you think?" "Hey, this color, do you think this is cool, black or volcano torch?" And then it's like, "Okay, it's coming on January 20th. Will you be there?"

I would say we're doing probably 60% are hype, engagement, question style emails, and then the other 40 would be promos and offers. But the other thing too, is Chris, who's the actual expert in Klaviyo, he's doing just a tremendous job using the segmentation and followup in Klaviyo. That was one of the many home runs we had. Realizing that, oh my God, a lot of people, no matter how engaged, are not going to open. So you have to have a strategy to follow up. So he uses, if they didn't open this, try a different subject line. So every time we send a promo, before we'd just blast the whole list and be like, "Hey, here it is," and we'd do okay.

But then we went from there to, okay, asking all these questions to lead up so people are excited, we have a special deal they get before the deal if they replied back. Then we do have multiple follow ups, and we're taking one email and turning it into 14, right? So revenue-wise, because of all this, this is kind of a cool stat that may be helpful. Last year it wasn't even a new product. It was a product that came back in stock, and it was kind of a bad time of year for golf. But because our email strategy was dialed-in and people were hyped, we did $102,000 in a day with only 5K on ads.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

That's awesome.

Tyler Sullivan:

We did end up doing like 280K in three days, I think. We do run a lot of ads and traffic, but man, if traffic dies or something and you don't have an engaged email list, you have nothing. I'm not trying to ramble here, but email at the end of the day is the only thing I own. So if Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Google became too expensive, I still could drive revenue and have a business. That's how I look at it.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Totally agree. I think it's so important, because a lot of businesses are over relying on certain channels. And then as soon as something changes, then they realize their acquisition costs go way up and nothing makes sense anymore, they freak out. And if you don't have your email list, you don't own much because you don't really own Facebook's traffic either. So that's super key. When we're thinking about how you're validating products and engaging with your customers, you talked a lot about sending them emails, asking them about the colours, what they thought of the new product. Are there any other ways that you engage with them that's unrelated to the products?

Tyler Sullivan:

Oh, social. We ask a lot of questions on social. We do have free Facebook groups for different people. The Facebook groups in the heyday of groups when they first came out, I think that's one thing I did okay during this process, is I was just quick and early adopting on all things. I was early on Facebook video, I was early on Facebook live, I was early on Facebook groups. So hitting those early, I remember our group only had 7,000 people in it and I just had one post. This was like when groups were brand new, and that one post we did like 70 grand.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Huh. Wow.

Tyler Sullivan:

It was crazy. With no email, nothing. But now our groups are not new, so I'm always looking to engage and figure out what's new as as it comes out and be cool with adapting and going where people want to engage. We're kind of seeing personally a shift to Instagram a little more now. I think we've got a slightly older demographic and now they're jumping on there. So we still do our core things that do well where we can have conversations, but I'm always trying to keep my eyes and ears open for where they're having conversations, just being there. It used to be forums. This is probably dating me now, but 2012 I was in golf forums and I was talking to people.

So I'm cool with the fact that things are always changing. If this business just stopped tomorrow, I'd be okay with that. Sounds crazy, but it's been so great, and just as long as I continue the conversation, wherever people are having conversations and being relevant and actually caring about the customer, we'll be okay. You know what I mean? But we really truly care, because I'm nothing without the customers.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Totally. I think that's one of the main takeaways that I'm hearing here, is that it's really not about the medium. It's really about how can you engage, right? How can you engage and and really create a relationship? Whereas a lot of companies are afraid to reveal any parts of their products before it's released, maybe trying to mimic Apple's secrecy, or whatever reason it may be.

You're actually taking a completely opposite approach, and you're making sure that your customers are involved in the product creation process, which also ensures that the product is going to be validated and that people are actually going to buy it, saving you tons of money in the meantime and making sure that whenever you release it, you're literally guaranteeing sales. So that's pretty awesome. Now we look at how you're engaging with your email list. Now, how about building that email list? What are your strategies? Obviously, you've got your existing customers and you email them after, but what about attracting new leads and interested people in the industry to your email list?

Tyler Sullivan:

Yeah, so we've tested this extensively, with giveaways, different promos and things. And you know what,? This is why I'm not working 80 hours a week like I used to, because we've already tested so many things and it's the simple things that work have been tough to beat after doing this for seven, eight years. So we use Privy on the website, and it's just a 15% off pop up and you can check it out on the website and it says, "Hey, 15% off today only. Enter email to unlock." And instead of submit, it just says unlock, and then it's a personal note after because we want it to be personal. It says, "Thanks so much. I hope you join our team. Look forward to it. Sully, Bombtech owner and founder since 2012." So it's tying in all these high level course strategies and some micro manners, but it's simple, right? Everything at the end of the day is simple. So we use a coupon instead of a giveaway, because at the end of the day I want their email but I want them to buy as soon as possible.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Totally.

Tyler Sullivan:

And we've found a coupon, and I feel like early days I'd be like, "Well, I can't coupon. That's going to cheapen the brand." It's like, no, people need an incentive. They need that push. I don't care if they're doing well in life and they can afford to pay full retail or this is nothing to them. They still like using a coupon or some type of incentive. So for us, 15% off is not that significant and it gets them to move towards where we want them to, which is checkout. So that simple pop up, and the customer list. We used to have complex free driver fittings, and it never really crushed it, and we tried all these things. So right now we've been running with the same one for, I think it's like two or three years now. We have not been able to beat it.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Amazing. Isn't it crazy how a lot of companies start to overcomplicate email acquisition?

Tyler Sullivan:

If you talked to me in 2017 I was the most confused, over-complicated person you've ever talked to. I got so into the hype, and there's so many shiny balls and tactics and tricks and hacks. You can get down this crazy bad black hole of things that do nothing, whereas if you focused on having a personal brand, a person attached to the brand, then you work on your offers, and then you work on engaging, that alone is where you should spend your time.

And then having a list that cares enough so when you do a product launch, they're going to buy your new stuff because they love it. That's the next spot where we're at. It's like I can launch stuff and I know it's going to do well,I enjoy the business more. And not only that, with email doing so much in the background, our return ad spend is so high. A lot of people, I keep saying a lot of people, but return ad spend is a hard thing to have a certain number, right?

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

For sure.

Tyler Sullivan:

I've had a lot of ad experts look at our account. They're like, "Why is your return ad spend so high?" I go, "Well, it's a little inflated because of how much email is helping." There are certain days, like that day we did 100K, it was like 20X return ad spend. It's like, no, we didn't do a 20X return ad spend. It's because we hammered email and we crushed it and Facebook took that attribution.

So that's one thing, too, is like email's not as sexy as talking about apps and Facebook ads and other stuff. But for us, that's the core of it. And I'll say with engaging on social, is I can engage on social and that's what we use it for. But if I go to post, not an ad, but just posts like, "Hey, the new product is here," it's going to flop. It's going to get like two likes, I swear to God. Whereas email is still the one avenue where you can send a promotion or an offer and it will work. You know what I mean? It's still the number one driver of revenue in that capacity. You know what I mean?

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Totally, and especially if you do it like you're doing, where you're really building a relationship. Actually, so Sully, when you send emails on behalf of Bombtech, is it from sully@bombtech and is it signed Sully at the end of the email?

Tyler Sullivan:

Exactly, yeah. So every email comes from me. And we tested it before, like just from Bombtech versus Sully, and coming from me crushed it. I'm so fortunate and lucky to have the customers I have and feel like I've got so many people that I've got a relationship with. It's an internet relationship, but people DM me all the time. I posted a video. I have memes about me. It gets weird, but that's okay. I'm okay with it. And it was all by accident. It wasn't like I said, "Hey, I'm going to launch a golf business and we'll sell 200,000 golf clubs, and I'm going to make videos of myself."

I never did that. I just did, as I was working a day job, I was really obsessed with golf. I love golf, and I just started to make a website, sold some stuff, sold some more stuff, didn't like the products that much. Wanted to make my own. And as Sully, I use Facebook just to talk to people. I really, at the core, I see some people trying to sell things that are hot or trending and it's like I could never personally do that because it would feel like work to me. Golf and just talking about it and going to the course and designing stuff, that's what I love anyway. So I've never technically worked in this business. You know what I mean?

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Love it.

Tyler Sullivan:

It's like I get the opportunity to work in it because we built this, but it's just so much different than just trying to sell a widget or something just because you think it's hot. You know what I mean?

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Totally.

Tyler Sullivan:

So that just comes easy, and I've always just wanted to talk to customers because I was always in sales and I liked having those relationships, and it just had a bigger scale on video. It's funny, I posted a video the other day of me wearing our new polo shirt, which I don't know how it's going to do, but people are getting hyped on it, which is cool. And they're like, "How much weight did you lose?" So it's like I'm either too fat or too skinny. I'm like, "This is cool that they notice but it's also ... It's the internet."

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

That's great.

Tyler Sullivan:

I've been out there enough for seven years that I have enough relationships where people are like, "Dude, you lost weight," which is kind of crazy to think about. I would have never thought.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

I love it. And it comes with building relationships, right? It's like people feel so close to you that they will say that. Super cool. So question, before going back to the emails, there's one thing I'm really curious about because obviously you're still using paid ads to drive traffic to your website. I'm really interested in hearing about your approach because it seems like you've been able to simplify everything, make it more personal. So what about your ad strategy? What does it look like? Where do you send people? What are your ads about?

Tyler Sullivan:

Yeah, so I have an ads guy who does all the Facebook, Instagram, and Google. Really, it's pretty simple. Most of the stuff we're just sending to the product page, and he pretty much pulls all the videos that he needs and makes all the ads. All I focus on is getting him content. So he's the one that I'll write the original copy for the product page, give him the framework of the offer of why this product does what it does, and we throw a video on the product page and we send most of the traffic there.

We did a lot of testing on landing pages before the product page and Facebook in 2016, before videos would go on top of the next page, we used to have to use landing pages before. Now, product pages have seemed to do best. But we really haven't done anything crazy with that. We do well on cold traffic just because our offers are really enticing and we have a lot of good reviews and people then go and search for us and they say, you'll see there are pages and pages on Google of reviews, YouTube, tons of reviews. I think that comes with time, like being a brand for X amount of years.

But I've run the ads myself last year just so I knew enough so I could hire or fire someone. Probably not the best at it, but it really came down to just keeping it simple with the right offer and a video that is enticing and gets them engaged. A lot of our people were asking questions in the ad, and that was the first video that ever killed it. This is dating me, but 2013, I'm derailing a little bit, but I posted a video saying, "What does your driver sound like?" And it was me hitting it into a net and it sounded like a gun goes off, or a bomb would be a better one. Kidding. I boosted it for like 300 bucks and it got 10,000 comments, 300,000 views.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Amazing. I love it. That's such a great example.

Tyler Sullivan:

Yeah, so again, we keep videos light, noncommercial, most of them are iPhone based. Simple, dude. I go to the course, I talk to my ads guy, say, "Hey, what do you need? What products are lagging? What content do you need?" This is literally what I do. I go to the golf course with my iPhone, that's it. I used to go with a full camera crew. I just go with the iPhone, and I'll just talk on camera for like 45 seconds, hit a couple of balls, call it a day.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Amazing. I love it. So simple, yet so effective and so real. Awesome. Wow. So much value in this interview. It's like I'm almost trying to do a quick summary for our listeners, but there's so much in there, it's like I can't do a three-point summary. This would be like a 10-point or a 12-point summary. But before I let you go, I have two questions that I always ask and I really want to know the answer, and that is if we look at your email marketing strategy or even your ads, but I think we could focus on email here, what is the biggest mistake that you see other ecommerce executives and founders and entrepreneurs do when it comes to their email strategy? Or when they try to do a strategy similar to yours, what are the mistakes that you're seeing?

Tyler Sullivan:

I'll give you three quick points to summarize. Email, first one. If you have more than one call to action, that's a mistake. So we always have one call to action. We will have it multiple times through the email, but there's only one thing on every email we want someone to do. Whether it's reply or go to a certain page, there's only one action. So that's the first thing.

Second would be over-designed. I would test, again, this is all for anyone out there that wants to test. Don't overcomplicate what is simple. Think about when you get an email from your friend. Does he send you a brochure or display ad telling you, "Hey, let's go to dinner"?

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Right.

Tyler Sullivan:

No, it's a text email. So let's be native to the platform we're in. So it's like don't over-design it. Send how you would normally get an email from a friend. That's why we use plain text. And the last one is, it's an overall concept, that I don't know if people will really understand, but the first step would be to start asking questions that you truly just want to know the answer to and getting out of your, "Well, I'm the boss, owner, I know everything. I have to tell them what they want," mindset and to go into the mindset of like, "All right, well, they are the audience. They're my customers. They're the most important thing. I am not the most important thing. What do you guys want?" And just having that concept and start asking questions.

If you did those three things, regardless of the technical aspects of sending, which is definitely really important to driving maximum revenue. There are a lot more things that we can talk about. But if you did those three core things ... And now I have one bonus one. And if you've got a person attached to the brand on every email, those four things are what we do. So we have an agency where we only do email marketing and my partner, Chris, runs that - Ecom Growers. The first thing we do is we audit accounts and we always see these things. And you see how the revenue driven by email's typically very low, and it's because it's almost like you're using email like display ads on Google. It's like you're blasting images and with multiple calls to action and no one gives a shit. They're going to delete and unsubscribe. So it's just that overall concept that is simple in theory, but if you start with bite-size things you can do, you'll start to really see it, but your customers will need to take time to get used to the new you. You know what I mean? If you haven't been doing it, it's going to take a little warm up period.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Yep.

Tyler Sullivan:

But yeah, that's all I'd really recommend, just keep it real. And remember, this is the internet, but this is people buying from people.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

I love it. In one sentence, if you were to backtrack to around three years ago, what would you do differently?

Tyler Sullivan:

Oh, man. How much time have we got? That'd be like a five hour long interview. I should have had my kid earlier. No, I don't think I could've done anything differently because I was not in that mindset. I think I needed to take the natural struggling steps in the business and have the life events I had, because I got fired from my day job in 2013, and that was the kick in the ass I needed to go for it and work way too much. I was assembling clubs, building clubs.

I was working 20 hours a day, seven days a week with a kid and it took all that effort doing a lot of the wrong things and some of the right things to figure out, okay, this is working, let's do this. Then figure out you need to hire someone. I think that's probably the biggest problem, is once you figure out what you actually need to focus on, let's call it, to break it down real quick, traffic, email, and offer. Let's say those are just three things you focused on and you became proficient in traffic, building offers, and doing email. You became good enough, I got the business on my own with no one, to like 1.4 million with no employees. And then I started to hire agencies in different areas, and this is how I would bucket them now, at least traffic and email. And it took me so long, and I had to hire and fire so many people before I found someone.

I want to leave one more nugget. With Facebook ads and email, what I'd recommend you do, because this really saved me, I don't even know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars and time now, because last year I hired and fired 12 agencies. Maybe that wasn't that one year, but 12 overall, because I didn't know enough to hire and fire properly. But now what I do - someone wants to come on for Facebook ads or email, I say, "Cool. I will do a sit down with you for an hour on a screen share. We'll build a campaign together," this is on ads, "and if you can beat me, you're hired."

"If not, you're fired." I did that last year with five to 10 guys, and the guy who beat me is running my ads now and has been since January and we're at a 5X.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

I love it. That is such a great story and strategy. I've never heard anyone do that before, so kudos. That's awesome.

Tyler Sullivan:

Thank you.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle:

Awesome. Well, Sully, that was, wow, what a fantastic interview. I'm sure listeners are going to find it crazy valuable. I really can't wait to put it live and have people listen to it. Thank you so much for your time, for all this value. I really appreciate it, and have an awesome day.

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