Email marketing strategies and best practices for business to business companies.
Last Updated:December 4, 2018
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Business to business companies have been using email marketing as a successful digital marketing tactic since the first email marketing campaign was launched in 1978.
In fact, Gary Thuerk, while working for Digital Equipment Corp, sent an email to 400 government contractors promoting some of DEC's machines.
This being the first time that people had received a form of marketing to their personal inboxes, Gary was later dubbed the "Father of Spam". However, since this email led to $13 million worth of sales for DEC a new industry - email marketing - was created.
Fast forward to today, and more than 269 billion emails (personal and professional) are sent every day. Each one of those marketing emails might not net your company $13 million, but the industry still has an incredible return on investment where for every $1 you spend on email marketing you can expect an average return of $38 (Constant Contact).
Does email marketing annoy consumers? Not as much as you think. 61% of consumers say they look forward to receiving promotions weekly and 38% say they would like to receive communications more often.
It's important to distinguish here that email marketing isn't spamSpam email is anonymous, unsolicited mass-mailing.. Rather, it's direct and honest communication sent to customers or potential customers who have opted in to receive the communication. More on this concept later.
How do B2B companies typically fare using email marketing?
According to imagination,Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind only colleague recommendations and industry-specific thought leaders.
On top of that, clickthrough ratesClickthrough rates (CTR) are the ratio of emails sent to the number of times links contained in the email are clicked on by the recipients. are 47% higher for B2B email campaigns than B2C campaigns and 59% of B2B marketers say that email is their most effective channel in terms of revenue generation.
Is your company in the 30% of companies not using email marketing?
Maybe you don't know how to get started, or maybe you think email is past it's prime and no longer worth your energy or your company's budget.
Well, in addition to the stats listed above, here are some ways that you can use email marketing to your benefit:
Unfortunately, email marketing isn't as easy as just typing up and email like you would to send to a friend. Like all marketing, to get past the noise and prove worthy of attention by your audience you need to understand your audience and have a plan that provides value to them - value that they are looking for.
After all, according to DMR, the average person receives 121 emails per day. Even though we're a business to business company here, our emails are still being sent to employees - people who likely don't use their business email just to receive business emails.
So, what does an effective email marketing strategy for a business to business company look like? Below, you'll see some specific and practical elements that you'll need to figure out before launching your next (or first) campaign.
Like we discussed in chapter 1 of the digital marketing plan on the B2B customer journey, you need to define your audience and that starts with developing a buyer personaA buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. (HubSpot).
To review, here are some questions you'd want to answer about who your target market is:
And some business-to-business specific questions include:
Each of these questions may not be necessary, but chances are that most of them will help you to understand your target audience better.
Here's a good example by Single Grain where they've developed the persona for a president of a company:
It may seem strange going into that much detail (e.g. hobbies, married or not) and you may feel sort of uncomfortable stereotyping a person (ficticious or not), but just keep in mind that this information is confidential, only for you and your marketing team.
Coming into the process with a specific vision of who will be receiving your email - not only their goals but the goals of their company as well, their pain-points, etc. - will help you in keeping the message more personal as you envision sitting down and speaking with this person face-to-face.
For example, if you've determined that your emails will be targeted to assistants or secretaries then pain-points for employees like these might be time and other production-related stresses. It might be best then if your email content stressed how your product or service would help them save time or streamline their daily tasks.
If, instead, your emails will be read by upper-management or executives who may not be stressed for time but rather the long term sustainability of their business, it might be a good idea to focus on your product's quality and how it could assist the customer for many years to come.
Can you imagine not doing this exercise? You might sell your product or service to 5 different people 5 different ways - you need to know who you're talking to!
Going in with clear and established goals will help you to determine the performance of your email marketing activities and whether you should invest more time and money into the marketing tacticMarketing tactics are the tools you'll use to achieve the objectives stated in your marketing plan, such as digital advertising, email marketing and social media. going forward based on success.
Our ultimate goal is our company's profit - increasing revenue and decreasing costs - and we don't want to lose that. However, for our email campaign it would be helpful to know how to compare and what we're aiming for in terms of basic email metrics.
We'll get into explaining some key metrics later in this chapter, but when we want to see how we're performing in general you can see based on this data provided by Mailchimp that it's helpful to see the breakdown of data by industry:
What separates email marketing from email spam is that email marketing has been opted intoOpt-in email is email that recipients have previously requested by signing up at a website or special ad banner. (TechTarget).
When you can get interested and relevant individuals to sign up for your email list, you have permission to send them relevant content.
Why would someone just give you their email and permission? Well, that's where lead magnetsA lead magnet is an incentive that marketers offer to potential buyers in exchange for their email address, or other contact information. (optinmonster) come in to play.
In order to be able to even pursue email marketing as a viable tactic in our digital marketing plan, we need emails of high-quality prospects and to get them we need to create something of value and offer it to our prospects for free. Well, free as in they won't be paying for it with money but rather by providing us with their name and email address.
Here are some things that your company could create and offer as lead magnets:
It's not enough to just create a multiple page PDF and call it an ebook. There are some other things you should keep in mind that will help with getting both opt-ins and interested leads from those who have consumed your lead magnet content.
The promised content of your lead magnet may be enough to get a potential customer to sign up. However, you may benefit by upping your sales game to increase your conversion rateThe conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a desired action. The archetypical example of conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors who buy something on the site. (Nielsen) even more.
Here are some characteristics of an enticing opt-in:
Lead magnets are a tremendous opportunity to both grow your business immediately and increase the size of your email lists for future nurturing and conversion opportunities.
Whatever you do, do not purchase emails or email lists - ever.
I get it - you're anxious to send out emails to prospective clients. The only thing that you need is a list and hey, there's a website selling email addresses that are supposedly in your target market for 15 cents a piece. How can you say no?
I'm not with you in that moment of temptation, but here's why you should never even consider putting yourself in a position to be tempted to purchase a list:
Did my disdain for purchased email lists flow through the words you read above? Sorry about that - but it's just not something that you should waste your time with. Forget about it and move on with building your list the right way.
There's nothing wrong with starting small.
10 high-quality, relevant email addresses is better than 100,000 anonymous, purchased email addresses.
In addition to establishing your goals, defining your audience and getting people to sign up for your email list, you need to determine what type of emails your company is going to send.
With email marketing we have the opportunity to approach our customer base with different forms of content.
Here are some different types of emails that you might want to consider:
Perhaps, the most common name of an email marketing type is a newsletter. However, I think that this is usually misunderstood.
For example, a client of mine once referred to an email newsletter as -information and news about changes happening with the company
While this may sound like an accurate description for the newsletter that you receive from the nonprofit organization that you're an active member in, or that cousin's family that sends out an annual newsletter updating everyone about their kids current activities, this isn't an appropriate way to handle your company's newsletter sent to current or prospective customers.
The reason why this doesn't work for your email marketing is that we've determined, by taking the time to build our buyer personas and understanding the customer journey, that our marketing needs to be about our customer. How does a potential customer benefit from learning more about your business unless it offers a solution to their problem?
Just like any other marketing tactic, with email marketing the focus needs to be on the customer.
So, what makes for a good email newsletter?
A well-optimized email newsletter for your company should be a collection of content centered around a particular topic or question.
Let's say that you're a marketing manager for a logistics company and part of your digital marketing strategy is to provide industry information to your audience in a way to increase credibility. You might have a regular newsletter that features logistics news like this one:
This would also be a great way to incorporate your own content if you have an active content marketing strategy. You can learn more about starting a content marketing strategy for your B2B company in chapter 2.
Here's a great B2C example of the same newsletter/round-up concept. In this email, the content is focused on a specific topic (which is actually spelled-out in full in a blog post). The reason why I like this is because it comes across as more personal having a few paragraphs of text with links cleverly placed in the content. It's still a round-up email, however, because it links to other sources that support the main message.
Another type of email is a welcome email. This is perhaps the first email communication that your customer will ever receive from you.
Regardless of how you attained their email address - newsletter signup, ebook download, event registration - your introductory email to them should, of course, provide the value that was promised during signup, as well as achieve the following:
Confirmation emails present a tremendous way to not only communicate a confirmation to your customers but also communicate your company's credibility and professionalism.
The natural tendency for many customers, after making an order or signing up for a service call, is to experience fear and doubt - at least to some extent.
A few thoughts we might have are:I hope my order arrives
Did they say Thursday at 12pm or Thursday or 2pm?
Was the repair going to cost my department $1,300 or $1,600?
Confirmation emails can be used to put the customers mind at ease.
They should be simple and quickly to the point. Any additional information about your company or additional offerings could be included after the important confirmation message.
Certain industries like airlines and online stores do a good job at this, but I think that service industries with appointments could and should do a much better job of leveraging this important customer touchpoint.
Internal update or "company update" emails are probably what you were thinking of when we discussed newsletters above. This type of email allows you to talk about what's happening at your company, but ...
Only when what's happening at your company is going to benefit your customers.
Below is a good example of how a company rebranded itself while mentioning specific ways of how their audience will benefit.
Keep in mind that these emails shouldn't be sent too often. Talking about your company too much will cause your audience to sour and decide to unsubscribe from your email list.
Use internal update emails to make your customers aware of what you have going on that will provide continued and increased value to them going forward.
The last main type of email that your company might send could be an invitation or information regarding an event or tradeshow. This might be an opportunity to leverage the list you've built to boost attendance or create additional touchpoints with your potential customers by meeting them face-to-face.
Of course, to get registrations to your event, the registrants need to believe that the value they're going to be receiving (and time spent at the event) will be worth it. That's why your email should be more than simply the details of the event but also include the benefits of attending the event.
Deciding how often you plan to contact your list ahead of time will help you to be sure you're not smothering your customers with emails while not allowing too much time to pass which could cause them to forget about you.
When I talk with clients, the main concern I hear is about sending too many emails which could "annoy" their potential customers. Because of this, not enough time is spent on the pitfalls of sending emails too infrequently. Here are a few:
There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to how often you should send your emails, but I'd recommend, based on experience, that you might want to consider sending yours every 2-3 weeks.
A study performed by MarketingSherpa found that the top responses for how often people would like to hear from companies they subscribe to fell between "at least monthly" and "at least weekly", so we'll shoot for the middle of that and say about every 2-3 weeks.
Normally, I would recommend determining a frequency and getting it on the calendar every month for consistency. However, if you have an upcoming tradeshow or other time-based event, I would send out additional emails 2 weeks in advance to announce the event and 1 week in advance as a reminder for the event.
If you've read the previous chapters in this digital marketing guide for business to business companies including content marketing and digital advertising for B2B, you'll see that I place measurement and return on investment above pretty much everything else when it comes to marketing for your business.
After all, if the marketing tactic isn't growing your business then why waste your time or money, right?
Of course, to know for sure if your marketing is affecting your bottom line, you need to understand some key email metrics and learn how to measure their effectiveness.
Because emails aren't located on your website or a static platform that we can use to perform in-depth analytics, we pretty much have just 4 metrics we're concerned with - deliverability, open rate, clickthrough rate, and unsubscribes.
Now that we understand the 4 key metrics that we'll use to measure our email marketing performance, how can we go about improving the results?
There are specific elements of every email that can be optimized and improved to make a real difference to the return on investment of your email marketing campaigns.
We all know what a subject line is - you know, that single line of text that can tell you a lot about the email you're about to open (or delete).
How would receiving emails with the following subject lines make you feel?
Numbers 1 and 3 should have made you feel pretty good even before you opened the email! Numbers 2 and 4 should have been questionable enough to you that you ignored them as the scams they were - or at least left you scratching your head.
Regardless, we don't want our subject lines to come across as scam or even too salesman-like - because we, as consumers, tend to avoid salesmen. Instead, we want them to stir up interest and anticipation.
Here are some tips you can follow to achieve this:
There are a lot of different things that you can do. Be creative. Don't be afraid to be a little casual. And don't be too salesy.
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Your email copy - the text that makes up your email - should fit your brand's personality and stick to the specific topic.
Additional your copy should:
Your email isn't a press release and it's common that business to business companies come across as too stiff in their email marketing. However, that's not how email marketing works. The email was written by a person and should sound like it too!
With emails, images tend to take more of a back seat to copy. For example, aside from the footer of my emails, I don't usually include any images in my emails but that's because I prioritize simplicity above all else.
That doesn't mean that you should avoid using images in your email marketing. In fact, images carry the same value in emails that they do in blog posts - a way to support the content in an interesting way.
As we discussed previously, a call to action is an attempt to get the reader to perform a specific act - like "download the ebook" or "sign up for the event". In email marketing, the entire email should be focused on and lead up to the eventual call to action.
In the example below, the email starts off with interesting data and captivating visuals. Then, there's a clear and focused call for the recipient to view the infographic online.
Often, it will be okay to have multiple calls in a single email as long as they're focused on the same topic and ultimately lead to the same destination. For example, if you're trying to get someone to sign up for your services you could point the recipient to a supporting blog post and a video where they could learn more about your service. Then, your blog post and video should guide the lead to where they can sign up for your services.
Keep in mind that multiple calls to action might make sense for your audience as individuals prefer to receive your content differently, however, the more calls there are the greater the competition and less likely the recipient will see a clear path to what they should do next.
When is the best time to send your email? The goal is to send your email at a time when your recipient isn't receiving a ton of other emails and when they might have time to consume the content from the email properly. This is, of course, a difficult task because everyone's schedule is different - both at work and at home - so the best way that you can learn this information about your email list is through trial and error.
To get you started, though, here's an infographic containing data gathered by CoSchedule that shows the typical best days and times to send emails to your recipients:
Your email should look great both on desktop computers and mobile phones. This is obvious with something like the font size not being too small to read on mobile.
Making emails mobile-friendly is pretty standardized these days with most current email platforms taking care of this for you, but it's something to be aware of when you're trying out a test email.
Another B2B email marketing best practice that you should consider during your list-building and list-management stages is segmentation of your list.
Like we do in marketing with the customer journey, our goal is to meeting the customer where they are - recognizing their pain-points, emotions, and goals. By segmenting our email lists we can further understand our audience and better speak to them personally. After all, we're sending these emails to humans.
This is perhaps even more important for B2B companies where it's easy to fall into the trap of addressing the company itself and not the manager or decision maker who is a human and the one who will be receiving the email personally.
A few different ways that we can segment our list include:
If there are other ways that you can think to segment your list that may help you to write more effective copy - then do it.
Successful marketing is marketing built on systems. When I work with clients we transform their marketing activities into sets of easy-to-accomplish systems that provide expected and quantifiable results - the more automatic the better.
Email marketing is perhaps the digital marketing tactic that is the easiest to automate.
Once we set up the lead magnet and opt in form, we can automate the email processes by setting up an autoresponder to email the prospect as soon (or shortly after) they opt in to the lead magnet. Then we can set up a workflow to touch base with the prospect and help them through the customer journey to the point of them becoming a customer.
Let's dive into autoresponders and workflows real quick.
Autoresponders (also called drip campaigns) are emails that are sent out automatically when triggered by a specific event.
Events can be anything that you determine them to be, but some common ones are when someone downloads an ebook, signs up for your newsletter, or asks for a free trial.
Autoresponders provide a tremendous way to automate follow-up with your potential customer.
Workflows continue the work that autoresponders start for us. Think of workflows like an automated way to guide our customer through the customer journey using email marketing.
For example, let's say that someone downloaded our ebook and our autoresponder sent them a confirmation email with a link to download their ebook. What then?
Well, now we want to set up a workflow to continue and build the relationship with that individual. So, we'll create an email that will be used to automatically touch base with the individual a week later. Our message will build upon our previous email and what they presumably learned from our ebook. Maybe it will include another call-to-action to sign up for a webinar or try a free trial - depending on where we've determined they are in the customer journey at this point.
Spending the time to create a quality workflow could simplify and completely automate the entire sales process for your company. That's huge!
Here's another example of a workflow involving "tags" that could be set if the recipient clicks on certain links on an email message:
Let's wrap up our email best practices section by discussing a topic that is less "best practice" and more requirement - complying with email regulations.
The reason why we need to go through the work to create high-quality lead magnets and high-converting opt in forms is because consumers are very protective of their information.
As a consumer to some degree myself, I can sympathize and I'm sure you could too.
Once we've proven to the potential customer that they can trust us with their email address and that the value we have to offer is worth any potential risk, it's our job to follow through on that trust.
There are 2 main compliance categories that you should be aware of for your email marketing campaigns:
CAN-SPAM, or 'Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing', is a law that was passed in 2003 and is governed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Because of the relationships with our customers and because of the potentially hefty fines that could come with not abiding by CAN-SPAM law, it would be a good idea for you to keep a few things in mind:
Most of the above is very easy - and you'd have to try to be incompliant with most of the above. But it's still good for you to be aware of CAN-SPAM and what is expected of you as a company sending out email marketing.
Since I'm a marketer and not a lawyer, please refer to the FTC website to learn more about CAN-SPAM.
GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is a newly-implemented regulation (May 2018) that applies to businesses that both operate in the European Union and market to European Union citizens.
Like CAN-SPAM, not complying with the GDPR can bring about very large fines - $10 to $20 million dollars or 2% of a company's entire global turnover, whichever is higher. Yikes!
GDPR refers to itself as:the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 yearsand is focused on giving customers the right to choose. It aligns nicely with the trend towards inbound marketingInbound marketing is a strategy that utilizes many forms of pull marketing – content marketing, blogs, events, SEO, social media and more – to create brand awareness and attract new business. In contrast to outbound marketing, where marketers attempt to find customers, inbound marketing earns the attention of customers and makes the company easy to be found. (Marketo) during the past 10 years.
Here's how you can comply:
To be sure we have a practical understanding of what email marketing is and how we can apply it as a useful tactic for our business and marketing, let's summarize what we've learned in this chapter by applying the Think, Do, MeasureThe Think, Do, Measure method is a practical tool that I use with clients to develop a simple strategy, decide exactly what we're going to do to accomplish the strategy, and identify how we're going to measure our success. method of learning to this important marketing concept.
Email marketing has been around for a long time, but don't let that make you think it's not a good digital marketing strategy for your business.
Email marketing gives you direct contact with your customers which gives you better access to guide them through their customer journey and eventually become a paying customer of yours.
Like any digital marketing strategy, successful marketing requires planning, strategy, lead magnets and opt ins, and an understanding of your customer.
The best way to get started is by going back and reviewing the B2B customer journey discussed in chapter 1 and determining at least one set of emails that you're going to use to guide the customer. Then, you need to determine a form of lead magnet that your company could create to get individuals to opt in to your email list.
Finally, you're going to need some sort of email software. I've been using MailChimp for years and would recommend looking into their platform. They provide helpful information on how to best use their platform and you can get started for free!
As discussed, we'll ultimately measure our email marketing in terms of the effect it has on our bottom line and the return on investment it generates.
A few other metrics we'll keep a close eye on for comparison purposes include deliverability, open rate, clickthrough rate, and unsubscribes.
Email marketing is a very important - yet often ignored - digital marketing tactic that could give you access to your customers that you can't get elsewhere.
To realize a successful ROI in your email marketing campaigns, you need to create high-quality content that will both lead to sign ups for your email list and continue to build your credibility and follow a pre-determined plan of delivering consistent value on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
And no email marketing activities should be undertaken without recognizing customer data privacy regulations and what your company is doing to protect your customer's data.
Email marketing is another excellent digital marketing tactic for your B2B company, but your strategy doesn't stop here. In the next chapter we'll discuss the topic of search engine optimization and the extremely valuable and relevant leads that good SEO can bring to your website.
Hey, I'm Tyler
I help businesses use digital marketing to generate leads & sales.
Former Operations Manager at Pepsico, I understand the difficulty and hard work that goes into changing the culture of management teams and business systems that are content with the status quo. Why is that important? Because I'm passionate about empowering individuals and companies to build and consistently manage marketing systems unique to their brands even if it means making radical changes.
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