Monday, March 17, 2008

How to deliver on B2B email campaigns

The goal of most business-to-business emails is to acquire leads, but most miss the mark and do more damage than good. Follow these best practices for better results.

Business-to-business email campaigns, as a generalization, look and feel the same to me. Many show up looking like long-winded, copy heavy, direct mail solicitations. Some have one giant image with marketing department-focused jargon. Most seem to miss the mark in understanding what may attract the right buyer and how to deliver real value and relevancy to the inbox.

Goals of B2B emails
Let's examine the right approach to ensuring your B2B email campaigns help close the gap on your sales cycle, rather than damaging your new business opportunities.

The goal of most B2B email campaigns is to acquire leads, often accomplished by a white paper, webinar or case study, which require registration to obtain or attend. Make the path to the registration page easy for customers to transition to from the email.

For some high level, business-focused email campaigns, the goal is not to get an immediate click/lead but to get the email read and forwarded to the right person. Think about selling high cost software or IT equipment. Very few people will buy a $200,000 piece of equipment based on one email message. But if done correctly, your campaigns can get noticed by the right decision makers and the real one-to-one dialogue can begin.

Getting the email noticed and read can be a matter of feeding the ego, particularly on C-level messaging efforts. Make sure you acknowledge the importance (real or perceived) of your audience members and their time. Throwing them a bone can help get you noticed.

How to achieve your goals
Here are some best practices in B2B email marketing:

  • Know your audience: If you are mailing to IT network administrators, an image-heavy newsletter probably will not be well received. Instead, send a text-only message. Follow the cues of what your audience is like and don't take a one-size-fits-all approach.

  • Mobile email triage is real: Escape the mobile email gauntlet. An increasing number of business executives use their mobile devices/PDAs to perform email triage. This means that if you have a weak message or lack something compelling or of immediate value to your email, you may have the busy exec delete your email while in a meeting. On the flip side, a unique email with a relevant purpose may get saved for the executive to read in the office.

  • Make it easy for the mobile audience: Click here to read on your mobile phone is becoming more commonplace on B2B emails and may help you escape mobile email rendering snafus.

  • From & Subject lines: Emails from a CEO to a fellow executive tend to resonate. Ensure your From line is from someone who matters. Combine this with a short Subject line that can break through the clutter while demonstrating a reason for the user to read this email.

  • Short and sweet: Whether read on an iPhone or laptop, make your message count. That means make sure it gets read. Long emails without clear calls to action will get skimmed and deleted. Make your value proposition above the fold and obvious to the people that will browse over your email looking for a reason to read (or delete).

  • Don't oversell: Too many promises, customer raves or pricing information may overwhelm your audience and diminish your opportunity to have people click on a link where they can find the details of the service or product being offered.

  • Respect the audience's time: Frequency is a significant issue for all mailings, but if a business subscriber doesn't respond to the first two messages, it doesn't mean you should send to him even more frequently.

  • Test: I received seven different emails from a lead generation company in the span of five minutes this morning. The emails actually contained decent messaging and links to at least one relevant case study. They had me until hello occurred seven times. Someone was asleep at the wheel when the campaigns were segmented and set. Do your due diligence before an email is sent as these campaigns did more damage than good.

  • Offer something unique: A white paper can often work, but they are everywhere, aren't they? Provide access and perks that are gold to the C-suite audience. For example, one client attempting to register business executives for an annual event tested pricing breaks versus admission to a VIP event. Remember, the B2B audience usually isn't spending its own money so you can guess which offer performed better.

  • Remarket: We had major success with one client recently by creating follow-up campaigns based on how each user responded (or didn't) to the initial campaign. Using your metrics can guide you to a better and more relevant strategy. (You can find the case study of how this client generated $120,000 from remarketing here.)

The final touches
A B2B email campaign is a different animal from a consumer campaign. Let's look at the three major differences:

  • Tone
  • Message
  • Measurement

Don't spend countless hours writing flowery prose. Instead, spend time testing the right mix of design, messaging and calls to action.

Your tone should be much like it would be in a face-to-face meeting with your prospects: direct, professional and in a manner that makes your audience want to do business with you. Don't waste your time building up to the pitch -- state why you are sending this message and what's in it for the recipient.

The message should clearly articulate the purpose and value to the subscribers while making it easy for them to identify and act on any call to action. Don't bog them down with too many cross promotional messages or secondary marketing messages. Allow them to scan the email and find out what's in it for them.

Your main measurement analysis should not be based on opens and clicks but on how many leads are generated. Careful attention should be paid to forwards and any additional email subscriptions generated from the campaign. A high open and clickthrough rate but lack of leads could mean you put up too many barriers to capture the lead. Ensure your landing page and relevant gateway pages (for example, the white paper sign-up page) are easy to find and utilize. This may take some coordination that goes outside the realm of a typical email manager.

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