“That might work in B2C, but we’re B2B,” said my client, as if B2B marketers are from Mars and B2C from Venus. And true, while it sometimes seems that way the good news is we’re both inhabiting planet Earth which is populated by human beings. Luckily human beings – whether they’re receiving email in a business or a consumer context – tend to think and act in remarkably predictable ways.
So now whenever I hear the all too common “but we’re B2B” refrain, I sympathetically respond that whether your company sells to other businesses or to consumers, people are on the other end of your email making decisions about if and how to engage.
Nonetheless, as a B2B marketer myself I am acutely aware of the differences between B2B and B2C. I know the challenges we face specific to email; like smaller email list sizes, longer and more complex sales cycles, business models that don’t (or can’t) support ecommerce, and difficulty in reaching the inboxes of (let alone influencing) decision-makers.
With the business-to-business marketer’s unique distinctions in mind, here are six essentials for B2B email marketing success. As we explore them in more detail, let’s also take a lesson or two from our B2C cousins who’ve paved the way to optimal performance in this powerful marketing channel.
Right Mindset: Long-term Commitment
It’s time for B2B marketers to take the channel as seriously as B2C marketers do. Consumer-facing retailers and ecommerce brands have mastered the use of email to directly drive sales revenue (and a lot of it). Even though the path to sales may be indirect vs. directfor B2B marketers, email goes a long way toward progressing prospects through the sales funnel faster, empowering the customer journey, and strengthening confidence and loyalty. “Taking it seriously” means committing toconsistentintentional messaging, a channel budget, integration with sales, human/agency resources, and strategy while avoiding an on-again, off-again approach.
Think Dialog, not Blast
The days of “batch and blast” email campaigns are long gone (or should be!).B2C email marketers learned this during the fledgling days of marketing automation when they began pioneering “sense-and-respond” emails that were deployed to recognize high-value actions or prevent conversion attrition; like welcome, onboarding, repurchase and abandonment-recovery campaigns. Programs such as these are intentionally designed and sequenced to align tightly with the customer lifecycle and natural inflection points on the customer journey. They mirror a conversation vs. simple one-way communication. It’s time for B2B email to do so as well.
Mine Data for Gold
B2C email marketers have long treated their email lists as a high-value asset, but also know data isn’t limited to merely the subscriber information they collect and campaign response metrics tracked. When married with CDP (customer data platform) and ecommerce data, email subscriber data can be mined for all sorts of nuggets that make segmentation and customization a powerful reality. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all campaigns. Now that we can identify subscriber segments based on behavior, we can dynamically and intentionally message them to reflect their actions preferences, present ultra-relevant offers and entice with timely calls to action. Today’s more advanced systems, APIs and middleware solutions mean data integration from across multiple platforms is practically seamless and far from the painful tech miasma it once was.
Content is King
Because of B2B’s longer sales cycles often necessitating prospect nurturing to foster eventual conversion, content marketingplays a more important role in B2B than B2C. Yet even with their often direct route from inbox to sales, B2C emailers know that constant promotional messaging without breaks for education, entertainment and information lead to subscriber fatigue and eventual burnout – or worse yet, complaints. So, content-oriented messages designed more to sell by way of serving are an integral part of the mix. B2B marketers are often content-rich and should leverage and extend their content assets into email. Content like case studies, success stories, white papers, webinars, worksheets, comparison grids, feature lists, and research findings make for excellent subscriber engagement and confidence builders. Plus, interaction with content can be scored to identify hot vs. warm vs. cold leads and segment them for unique and appropriate automated follow-up emails
Once upon a time, B2B marketing became synonymous with “boring” while B2C marketing was allowed to be edgy, creative and fun. I say no more! B2B email can be just as personality-driven as B2C, and is more memorable and welcomed when it is. Take Phrasee for example (a language optimization AI company). They have a distinct brand personality and tone unmistakable in every one of their weekly email newsletters, down to the emojis in subject lines. If your brand or company has a unique personality – or is known for the personality of your founder (think Steve Jobs and Apple) – your email should be letting it shine. In fact, we need more B2B email with personality and style like this one:
Measure Engagement Every Step of the Way
Finally, B2B marketers must close the loop by measuring the results of all our hard work. B2C marketers invest heavily in accountability and attribution, tracking both basic process and key success metrics like completed CTAs, Average Order Value (AOV), sales, revenue, and repeat buyers. Even if channel attribution is more difficult in B2B than B2C, you still need to know what’s working and what isn’t to generate opens, clicks, completed CTAs and more on a campaign-to-campaign or month-over-month basis. But don’t stop there!
What does engagement mean to you? Is it an open, a click, time spent with content, time on site, a call to a sales rep, or some other measure of response such as time to conversion, # of emails opened/clicked per quarter/year, content downloads? Take the time to define what types of engagement prompted by your email are meaningful measures for you, then keep track of them.
If you’re a B2B marketer, there’s no reason that second “B” needs to equate to “blast” or “boring”. With a little ingenuity and a quick study of your B2C contemporaries, B2B email can be just as relevant, timely, tech-savvy and fun as B2C email. Remember these lessons and challenge yourself the next time you’re tempted to say “… but we’re B2B”.
Karen Talavera is President of Synchronicity Marketing provider of email marketing consulting, strategy, program development and training. Follow Karen on LinkedIn, Twitter (@SyncMarketing) and Facebook for daily tips and cutting-edge digital marketing advancements, developments, research and success stories.
To hear more from Karen, check out her brand new webinars, 5 Essentials for B2B Email Success and 5 Advanced Insights for (even more) B2B Email Success, only on Marketing Velocity Learning.