Business-to-business communications are fundamentally different from business-to-consumer. With B-to-B, there is usually a long sales cycle. Your goal is to engage, to establish your company as a valuable source of information. You want to get your messages opened and read often, making you the authority buyers turn to when they are deciding where to purchase. Here are 18 steps to consider when planning a B-to-B email marketing campaign:
1) Get subscribers signed up. This is, of course, step one. On your website, make your email newsletter offer so compelling that customers just have to be on your distribution list. List the white papers and topics that will be available for subscribers that others will not see.
2) Make it easy to sign up. Ask only for the name, gender, title, the company name and an email address. No more. You will have time to get more information after subscribers opt-in. No nicknames, no passwords, no company data (you can look that up from D&B later).
3) Send your welcome email within a few seconds. The welcome email is vital. It has to be good—and interesting. Here they can click on a white paper or two. You can include a question: “When are you likely to be buying X next?”
4) Personalize every email. Use the subscriber’s name in the body of the message. If you have learned the subscriber’s area of expertise (IT, engineering, product design, etc.), refer to that also in the body copy. Make it clear that this is not an impersonal newsletter, but a personal communication from a real person (see next point) to a real person (the subscriber).
5) Make each email from a real person. Ideally, that person should be at the same level as the subscriber: VP to VP, IT guy to IT guy. Provide a name, an email address and a phone number. Perhaps even a photo.
6) Create industry surveys. The people you want are often likely to respond to a short survey, particularly if you promise to send them the results of the survey. Study the industry of each potential subscriber and make the survey and the results important to them.
7) Determine the best time to send out your emails. As subscribers open your emails, keep track of when (day of week and time of day) they opened last. Your next email should be sent at that exact time. If you have no data, then send your email on a Thursday—which is the best B-to-B day. The best time for B-to-B email marketing is in middle of the day, typically from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
8) Why are you sending this email? Every email should have a specific objective. Are you trying to build a relationship? To tell readers some important news? To provide the results of a survey? To get them to sign up for a seminar? Once you have decided on the purpose, design the email around that purpose. Make it easy for readers to get the point in the first few sentences, and to sign up for the offer in an easily identified way.
9) Think through the “from” name. This name determines if a recipient will open the email. Make it something familiar to the subscriber: a brand the customer knows and trusts. Usually, a strong brand name is better than a personal name.
10) Concentrate on your subject lines. B-to-B subject lines should provide, in a few words, the benefits the subscriber will receive from reading this particular message. Avoid false urgency. Make it clear what the reader will get out of opening this email.
11) Every campaign should include a test. You want to get better and better at B-to-B marketing. You do this by testing new things: new topics, new subject lines, new surveys, etc. The most important part of any test is the study of the results. Ask yourself: What did we learn? Can we apply this knowledge to our next campaign? Keep a testing book with the test and what you have learned from it.
12) Become a source of information for your readers. Information, studies and industry news are usually more interesting than your promotion of your latest new products, new clients or press releases. If you become a trusted source of industry or market information, your company and product news can go along for the ride.
13) Include lots of links. Your newsletter should be short and easy to read. The reader thinks, “OK, I can learn something I need to know in a couple of paragraphs.” But those two paragraphs should have lots of links to permit the reader to delve deeper into each topic mentioned. Remember, “Every click is a wish” to see or learn something more. Every email should be an adventure in learning more about the subscriber’s industry—its methods, its statistics, its history, its future. Links can include glossaries of industry terms, survey results, definitions. Every email should be an invitation to learn more, to help the reader become an expert. Don’t be worried about repeating information that you presented before. People who read it before will not click this time, but others who did not can learn something.
14) Get your readers to become active. The more they click, the more engaged they are with your company. Give them lots of checklists, feedback options, surveys and downloads. Try, for example, a competition quiz with expert questions. When readers want to test their knowledge or skills, you will achieve an active readership for your newsletters, resulting in more leads and more sales.
15) Support the sales team. Email campaigns are typically sent by the marketing team. But B-to-B emails are mainly aimed at developing leads for sales. Include sales in your planning process. Where an active lead has been developed, have your email newsletter come from the identified sales exec. As already pointed out, emails should be personalized both ways: to the receiver and from the sender.
16) Study and optimize your open rate. B-to-C open rates are typically 12% or below. Good B-to-B open rates are above 40%. If your rate is 40%, that means that 60% of your emails are not read by anybody. The open rate is a vital measure of your email success. Study these numbers and constantly test ways of pushing them and keeping them up.
17) Study how you look in the reading pane. Most B-to-B subscribers use Microsoft Outlook, which typically has a reading pane to the right or below. Part of your email shows up in this pane. Whether your message is opened usually depends on what is visible in this pane. Before any email is sent out, test it with Outlook. Make sure your personal greeting is visible, and that some really interesting content is there so readers will want to read more.
18) Test how your email looks on a mobile device. Today, one-third of business executives read their emails on their mobile devices. What looks great on a PC may look terrible on an iPhone. If you know that the subscriber is using his BlackBerry, design your message for that. If you don’t know, make sure it looks good on any device.
Arthur Middleton Hughes (Arthur.firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of the Database Marketing Institute. He is the author of “Strategic Database Marketing” and co-author with Arthur Sweetser of “Successful E-mail Marketing Strategies: From Hunting to Farming.”