Why is it that the most talked-about B2C email marketing tactics don’t apply in a B2B setting?

B2B email marketing needs to consider the person who, while they’re reading your emails, is in a business context, and as such is making decisions based on that context. This is quite different from the persuasion tactics that many people talk about as being effective for B2C marketing.

What makes for a B2B email marketing campaign that drives results?

Why no one buys after reading one email

Consider the scenario of a person from a cruise line subscribing to your list. People don’t invest in a new cruise ship on an impulse or because of a single email. You need to deal with long buying cycles, and as such a series of emails spread over a long period of time that are well planned and based on event triggers geared toward lead nurturing would be a better option. In other words, marketing automation would form the core of this process.

Why content sells better

An analysis conducted by Admitter a Dutch email marketing agency found that in 90% of cases the call to action link more info converted better than calls to action like “try me now” or “buy now.” This would indicate that content or informing your audience before selling works better in most cases, especially if the information is aligned with the interests of the recipient.

What content to provide

In other words, in most instances people want to be informed, and read relevant and engaging content. Most people aren’t going to convert because of engaging content, but they do want to know more about your expertise. Also, at each stage of the buying cycle people want different kinds of information, as the table below from Brainrider shows.

If your customer is asking: What’s my problem? How do I fix my problem? Are you right for me?
They want: Education and thought leadership Solutions and product suitability Credentials and decision support
What to share with them:
  • Trends
  • Benchmarks
  • Analyst coverage
  • 101 Education
  • How-to guides
  • How are other people solving this?
  • What is the solution and how does it work?
  • Solution comparisons
  • Pitfall analysis
  • Readiness and suitability assessments
  • How do I choose a vendor?
  • Pricing
  • Bench strength demonstration
  • Case Studies
  • ROI/TCO
  • How to buy
  • Working with us

How to target your content: aim for the DMU

For your B2B email marketing to work, you would need to get the right audience on to your email list. It is, on the face of it, natural to think that you would need to go after likely decision makers, such as the directors of a company or its CEO. However, titles often mean very little today. For example, if you do a search on LinkedIn and use “CEO” as a filter, how do you distinguish between the owner of a restaurant, a CEO of a startup, and a CEO of a cruise line?

To get the right audience on to your list, you will need to use other criteria as well. Company size on its own is likely to be a better criterion of finding the right kind of audience. Also, it isn’t often that decisions are made by a single individual, so you may need to target multiple people in an organization. This group of people are at times referred to as the Decision Making Unit (DMU) in an organization.

A DMU will often consist of people with varying responsibilities who will each look at your emails from their own perspective. In order to effectively engage each of these individuals, list segmentation becomes vital. Your email messages can then be crafted to speak to each of these individuals and the challenges they face.

Best practices to build an email marketing strategy that works in 2018

Resonate with your tone

The tone of your email sets expectations, as the first impression you make significantly impacts your email recipient. B2C emails often display a tone that’s designed to grab a recipient’s attention, with calls to action like “buy now,” “sign up now,” and so forth. This cone can also be entertaining and visually appealing.

By comparison, B2B emails are more about fostering relationships and providing a trusted solution in a way that the recipient will value.

Personalize the message

In a study conducted by Experian Marketing Services, personalized subject lines boosted open rates by 29.3% across industries.

Personalization of emails has come a long way since the days when “Hi [first name]” was a common practice. In fact, today marketers have access to a wide range of tools and data to personalize messages based on where a person is at in their buying decision.

Guessing who your target audience is and what they’re looking for will not yield results. Your existing clients can provide information and data that you need to be able to identify clear yet common characteristics about your ideal customers.

This “clear yet common characteristics of your ideal customers” is often referred to as a buyer persona. This persona can include details such as a person’s title, industry, demographic, psychographic and geographic information, along with other data points. Depending on your business, you may have one or more buyer personas.

What do these buyer personas allow you to do?

They allow for better B2B email marketing campaigns, as your emails can be:

  • Highly personalized and targeted
  • Sent at an appropriate time for your audience
  • Allow you to use other relevant channels to get the message to your desired audience

Here are a few ways to use that data to help develop your B2B email marketing best practices:

  • Use contextual subject lines that set the right expectations about the content of your email.
  • Ask relevant questions so your audience has relevant options to act on.
  • Segment your list based on time zones, so customers receive messages at the right time.
  • Categorize your list based on your different personas.
  • Set up trigger emails based on lead behavior.
  • Use timely but limited follow-ups.

Craft subject lines that peek interest

Research shows that 64% of people open an email based on the subject line alone.  Obviously, then, subject lines play a critical role in any campaign.

Check out a few email subject lines from a few publications that I came across recently:

b2b email marketing best practices - subject line examples

While the interests and nature of your audience determine to a large extent what will or won’t work for your audience, here are some principles by which B2B email subject lines can be crafted better:

  • Ditch spam words and symbols.
  • Aim for 17-to-24 characters.
  • Keep it short, ideally 3-to-5 words.
  • Include at least 1 emoji.
  • Include a number.
  • Write it in title case.
  • Include 3 or more emotional words and/or symbols.

A/B testing subject lines will provide the data you need to make informed decisions in the future, but this email subject line tester will also be of help.

Validate your emails

There isn’t much point to your email marketing strategy if your emails don’t reach the intended recipients inbox, right? Invalid emails and email bounces affect the overall effectiveness of your campaigns. They also endanger your email-sending reputation.

To prevent emails from negatively affecting your sender reputation, it’s important to use an email-cleaning tool. Such a tool will help to verify email addresses and ensure that your emails have a greater chance of reaching their intended inboxes.

A tool like VoilaNorbert can help in that department.

Include a call to action

87% of B2B marketers use email marketing to nurture and generate leads. Your emails are a key part to building an ongoing conversation with your audience. That said, they need to do more than just remind customers that you exist.

How do you do that, then? For one, you can include a call to action or give customers a few options to continue the dialogue with you. Calls to action can take the form of a question, the sharing of relevant resources, choosing an option based on where the customer is in the buying decision, etc.

Having a call to action isn’t going to be enough, though. The context in which it’s presented also matters. In other words, the copy before the call to action plays a critical role in whether customers will follow through on the action you’re encouraging.

For example, Thinkific sent out the email below with the following subject line: “Are you a business coach?”

Notice the specific nature of the call to action, which displays as a button:

include a call to action example

How to create call to action:

  • Your CTA has 3 key elements to consider: the action you want readers to take, the words used, and the design of the CTA.
  • Express the CTA clearly so it answers the question: “What’s in it for me?”
  • The location of your CTA matters, to ensure that it’s visible so that the customer doesn’t have to scroll too far in order to find it.
  • Your email content matters and should lead to a natural call to action.
  • Provide clear directions so that the CTA answers the following questions: “What they should do?”, “Where will they go?”, and “Why they should follow through?”
  • If using images for CTAs, ensure that alt-tags and other ways of expressing the CTA are obvious even when email clients use image blocking.
  • Readers tend to click on logos and pictures, so make sure that these images are linkable, or readers are liable to think that your email is broken.

Segment your list around interest levels

If you need to keep your email content on point, then it’s only natural that you also need to segment your list based on your audience’s interest levels in your brand. This is quite true given the world we live in and how discerning we’ve become in allowing people access to our inbox.

By segmenting your list based on interest and communication preferences, you have the opportunity to deliver an email experience that’s personally relevant and increases the likelihood that the recipient will actually do something with it.

So, how do you gather the information you need?

Ask them a few questions upon signing up that will gauge their interests, priorities, and preferences.

Time it right

Timing can play a critical role in your B2B email marketing best practices in 2018. While the best times differ for each audience and business, the data from your analytics and email service provider can help you to acquire the information you need.

Another aspect of timing is understanding wherein the buying journey the recipient is at. This can subsequently determine the kinds of follow-up emails that need to be sent. For example, if a person watches a video or webinar, it’s likely that they’re interested in that particular topic. So, it provides the opportunity and makes sense to follow up with a phone call or email to continue the conversation.

Keep messaging on point

When people subscribe to your email list, they’re probably eager to hear from you, but that doesn’t mean you can send them whatever you want. To build a relationship with the subscriber, you need to keep your messages on point and relevant to the context that propelled people to sign up to your list. In other words, it boils down to creating great email content that’s centered around your audience’s interests.

For example, the marketoonist by Tom Fishburne sends out regular cartoons around topics that marketers can identify with. Check out the “Watching the Numbers” cartoon email below:

keep messaging on point - b2b email marketing best practices

Here are a few tips to help keep your email content on point:

  • Send emails only when you have something of value to share.
  • Keep your messages clear, simple, and concise.
  • Write great copy (if you need help, hire a professional writer to do it).
  • Go easy on sales-oriented messages.
  • Allow subscribers to customize the types and frequency of the messages they receive.
  • Invest in a great design that will grab your readers’ attention from the get-go.

Cross channel coordination and automation

For B2B marketers, marketing automation has emerged as a key trend that can help your business. With customers using multiple channels and sources to get information utilizing omni-channel marketing for your messages makes sense. Experiences that people have outside of the email channel affect whether they will stay subscribed to your list or not.

Jill LeMaire Redo, VP of Digital Strategy and Insights at Epsilon, says:

 “It is the coordination and integration of all marketing communication tools, avenues, and functions into a seamless program that maximizes the impact on consumers while minimizing costs.”

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Content & Marketing at MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, says:

“Every interaction your customer has with your brand—through email, but also through any other customer touchpoint—will impact the success of your email marketing program because it will impact customer satisfaction and brand perception.

For example, half (50%) of satisfied customers often or always subscribe to a company’s email list, but less than a quarter (23%) of unsatisfied customers subscribe to a company’s email.”

A strong value proposition will help ensure that your automation and coordination efforts are geared around the customer’s needs. In other words, offer a seamless customer experience.

Automation in B2B email marketing can be a great way to acknowledge the action that customers or prospects have taken and reduce the chances of them feeling confused, uncertain, or frustrated after the fact. In other words, with the use of automation, you can build customer relationships.

Putting it together

Assuming that you’re targeting your audience correctly, gather metrics from your campaigns and then consider the areas that show sub-optimal performance. You can work on improving those areas via A/B tests.

In other words, you need to develop B2B email marketing best practices that suit your specific audience and business needs, as opposed to applying what works well for other businesses. The best practices covered above will provide a basis for getting you started or improving on your campaigns.

The EngageBay Resources Center is chock-full of helpful guides, like this one all about email marketing automation guide.

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