mmay150x150Sports metaphors work for me. It’s winter and the Olympics are running so let’s use ice hockey. If you’re an ice hockey coach, your objective is to get the puck in your opponent’s net and keep it out of yours. In email terms, that’s roughly equivalent to driving transactions from click-throughs while avoiding unsubscribes and spam complaints. Focus too much on offense and you’re leaving the net unguarded. Too much defense and you’re not going to put up enough points.

But you don’t win when you score a goal. You win when the game is over and you’ve scored more goals. Or when the season is over and you’ve won more games. Or when your career is over and you can boast more winning seasons.

Here’s how winning coaches approach their profession. How much of this are you doing to give your email marketing the best chance of winning?

Line your shots up before shooting: My colleague Dave wrote about this last week – making sure you know what you want your emails to do before you write them. You don’t win just by shooting a lot – you win by putting a lot of shots on goal.

Watch the game video: Every coach studies video of his team’s performance to see what they did well and where they missed opportunities. It’s not for nostalgia; it’s for learning. The same approach to analytics is critical to email success. And we’re lucky – we’ve got much better data than game films to rely on. For each message you send, try to find something that worked really well, and something that needs improvement.

Design and practice new plays: If you’re comfortable with the basics or have hit a plateau with your results, maybe it’s time to roll out some new features. Add SWYN to your templates. Build a preferences center. Include a mobile channel in your messaging.

Study your competition: OK, that’s an unfortunate comparison, because your list isn’t really your competition. Rather, your rival is any unresponsiveness in your list. Defeat it by analyzing your list and weeding out names that haven’t opened or clicked on messages in the past few months. You may well find that you lose nothing in ROI, while boosting your overall engagement metrics.

Build a game plan for next week: How will you use everything you’ve learned since your last message? The more you can incorporate, the faster you’ll recognize some gains from the practice time you put in, and the more your skills will develop.

In most sports, 90% of success happens before the contest even starts. Email is no different. If you’re not getting the results you’d like, some dedicated practice sessions before the next game can go a long way towards putting you on a winning streak.