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    Guide to

    Better B2B Email Marketing

    Email - simultaneously one of the best performing B2B marketing channels and one of the most overused and unloved. So how do you reap the rewards that email marketing has to offer without burning your bridges?

    In this guide we bring together all the basic principles and best practices you need to achieve B2B email marketing success.

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    Introduction

    Used wisely, email can be a powerful channel and medium for growth.

    However, there is no one correct way to employ email marketing for surefire results. It exists in the context of your brand and your other marketing activities, which affect how large and engaged your audience is and what you have to communicate with them that warrants the use of email.

    Plus, email marketing has changed. The evolution of buyer behaviour, supported largely by advancing technology and the ease of access to impartial information, have dramatically lowered tolerances for unwelcome and unsolicited email.

    There are a multitude of factors that can influence the outcome of any email initiative. Here we look at some best practices that can help you maximise your chances of success.

    What does success look like?

    The details may differ from one campaign to the next but achieving a positive outcome from email marketing typically requires a number of specific steps to be achieved consecutively and, ideally, on a large enough scale for you to be able to report positive ROI.

    Deliverability

    First of all your emails need to get into the inboxes of your recipients - measured in terms of deliverability and influenced primarily by the quality of your data. Poor data quality adversely affects deliverability in several ways - old, expired email addresses will uselessly bounce and ungrateful recipients may report your message as spam. High numbers of bounces or spam reports may result in damage to your sending reputation, and that of your email service provider (ESP). Most ESPs respond to this by suspending your ability to send emails altogether until remedial action is taken.

    deliverability

    Open rate

    Once in the inbox, the from name and subject line (plus, in some email clients, the preview text) need to convince the recipient to open your email rather than delete or simply ignore it. You can control this to a certain extent, by communicating trust and value through your email's settings, but the time of day and the other emails received at a similar time to yours can also prevent your email from getting the attention you hope for.

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    Click through rate

    Once opened, the content of your email has to perform a multitude of roles in order to get the recipient to take some sort of action, normally to click through. In the time it takes for the reader to glance across the content of your email, it needs to add trust, hook their attention, pique their curiosity, and usher them toward the desired action.

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    Goal completion

    For some campaigns a click, or even an open, may be a satisfactory outcome to call it a success, but for the majority of campaigns there will be another goal or KPI that takes place somewhere beyond a click - a page view or form submission, for example.

    goal completion

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    Data sources

    No one thing affects the performance of your email marketing efforts more than the data you are sending to.

    Sending an email campaign to a low quality list with a high number of old, expired addresses, poorly targeted or un-engaged contacts, or lots of people who feel they haven't requested or consented to receive your message will result in one thing only - very poor performance. Poor performance may manifest itself as low deliverability, open rate, click through rate, goal completion rate, or all of them. Worse still, sending an email to the wrong people can result in high unsubscribes and spam reports that may affect your future deliverability or your ability to send at all.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, a high quality list of opted in, well targeted, segmented and active email recipients will result in minimal bounces, unsubscribes and spam reports (its likely you will still get a few of each with every email) and maximum deliverability - improving your chances of driving satisfactory opens, clicks and goal completions.

    House lists vs. bought data

    The single best way to obtain high quality data for your email marketing, hands down, is to build your own house list.

    A house list is a list of subscribers that you have converted yourself, for the sole use of your business. You might achieve this by getting visitors to subscribe to your blog, offering valuable content in return for contact data, or a number of other methods. However you do it, every contact on your house list is self-selected and opted in, meaning they should be willing to receive your subsequent emails and find them at least partially relevant.

    A bought list is a list of email addresses gathered by and purchased from some third-party. While bought data was once very popular and effective, the world has moved on in multiple ways; Buyers and technology have evolved in tandem to tune out unwelcome messages, and privacy laws have tightened to better police the sale of permission to process and communicate using personal data.

    House data always trumps bought data. So, unless you have a rock-solid reason, don't buy data. Looking to spend money to acquire leads? Spend it on content creation and promotion instead.

    Read our Introduction to B2B Inbound Marketing here and learn how to build a  high quality house list for your email marketing.

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    Choosing your Email Service Provider (ESP)

    After data, the next most important component of an email marketing program is an Email Service Provider (ESP).

    For a number of good reasons, you can't (or at least shouldn't) send marketing emails from your gmail or Office 365 inbox, you need an email service provider.

    The role of the ESP is supply the software and infrastructure that enables you to send large volumes of email simultaneously and to track each individual's behaviour and engagement.

    There are a plethora of ESPs on the market, and just as many 'best of' posts to help you identify the one with the right set of features for you. For B2B email marketing, however, there are several features that are of higher importance than others.

    CRM integration vs. export/import

    One of the key points to consider when selecting your ESP is how you will get contact data into it.

    For a small business with basic requirements, a sign-up form provided by the ESP might be sufficient, but for a larger business or one with plans to grow, data will quite likely live in one or more separate systems, such as a CRM.

    If you're in the latter situation, I recommend you seek out a solution that eliminates the need to export data from one system and import it into your ESP in order to send emails. Exporting and importing data, in any setting, prevents the creation of a single view of the customer, invariably worsening the customer experience through internal confusion and data inconsistencies.

    The tighter the integration between your system of record and your ESP, the better. If they are part of one, natively connected platform your single view of the customer is ensured.

    customer experience

    Segmentation

    The ability to segment your data for email marketing is a key factor in your success.

    Effective segmentation enables you to maximise the relevance of your email marketing by only sending it to the most appropriate contacts in your database. Sending everything to everyone is rarely the right approach in B2B marketing.

    Natively connected or well integrated systems optimise  your ability to segment and re-segment your data in the run up to any send, and ensures that data about behaviour and engagement flows back to the system of record seamlessly.

    The ability to create granular, meaningful segments requires you to have rich contact records containing useful information in the first place of course - just one more way in which the success of your email marketing is dependant on your other marketing activities.

    Automation

    What works better do you think? An identical mass email sent to every contact at the same time regardless of what they are doing or where they are in the buying cycle, or a triggered email that is only  sent to specific contacts when they meet carefully selected criteria? You guessed it, the latter, by far.

    More and more ESP systems and platforms include automation tools that let you set up scheduled and triggered emails sends based on specific timings or contact criteria. Automated emails, when used to increase the relevance and timeliness of the content for the recipient, generate higher metrics across the board, from deliverability right through to goal completions.

    For many B2Bs, where products are more complex and sales cycles are longer, selecting an ESP with automation capabilities is a good move.

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    Email templates

    With your ESP chosen and your data in place, you may think you are ready to start sending email campaigns. Not so fast! First you need to build the email templates that you will use.

    Marketing emails typically take the form of HTML, as opposed to just plain text, as this format allows for more sophisticated campaigns that include automatic personalisation, open and click tracking, plus the advanced design and styling that brands usually desire.

    However, HTML email is a very challenging medium to work in and subject to many, often frustrating, constraints for designers, developers and marketers.

    Email is far behind web development and browser technology in terms of what clients (the end-users email software) can render. It is firmly stuck in table-age of HTML, limiting layouts to rigid columns and rows - whereas web developers can make use of divs and many more modern techniques to bring creative compositions to life. There are also file size limitations, image blocking, and no support for javascript, video, audio, external CSS style sheets, web fonts, and more, to contend with.

    Furthermore, email clients across devices present a plethora of screen sizes and wide ranging differences in HTML rendering, making complete cross-device compatibility almost impossible to achieve economically.

    All this means that a very specific approach is required when designing and developing templates for  and the contents of marketing emails.

    Despite the temptation that image-laden, multi-column, responsive emails hold for us all, they are not necessarily the best choice.

    In B2B marketing, HTML emails that approximate the look of plain text emails have been shown to perform better in many situations. There are various reasons for this including them looking personal, working reliably across more devices, triggering fewer spam and quarantine systems, etc. So, any effort taken to create more complex HTML emails may actually be working against your results.

    Increasingly, we recommend that you favour simple emails over complex, using a plain text-style template where you can. If you must have a more designed HTML for a campaign, keep it to a single column and as simple as you can - anything more is potentially an unnecessary waste of your resources. Sticking to the use of simple templates also makes it far easier to have them prepared in advance, and reduce the time it takes you to get each new email into the inboxes of your audience.

    email templates email-templates-mobile

    A simple email template is more effective than a complex template.

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    Sending emails

    With good data, an ESP and templates in place, it's time to send those emails. But what should you send?

    As previously mentioned, there is no one right way to do email marketing. But by looking at your buyer-personas' likely attitudes towards email and their decision making process, you should be able to get a pretty sound idea of what might work and what might not.

    Lets think again about the factors that affect the success of an email marketing campaign:

    • Trust - how trusted you are by the recipient
    • Relevance - how relevant your emails are to the recipient's current interests or needs
    • Timeliness - how timely you email is relative to related events and actions
    • Personalisation - how human and personal to the sender your email feels
    • Value - how valuable the recipient finds the content of your email to be.

    Using the systems and resources at your disposal to ensure that you maximise  all of these aspects each time you send an email increases the chances that email will work hard for you.

    Your email marketing program can combine one-time, batch send emails, when you have new information/content to share, and triggered, automated emails that distribute the best of your available content in the timeliest way possible.

    Here are some of the specific types of email you can include in your email marketing plan:

    Closing the loop and saying thank you

    Any time a lead takes an important action, like converting for the first time, close the loop with an automated email. This could range from welcoming a new blog subscriber, following up a content download with a thank you email, confirming registration for an event, etc.

    Nurturing leads with care

    New leads can be nurtured with content that is relevant to their previous actions or information they have supplied about themselves. Automated nurturing workflows can range from simple to complex, but more complexity doesn’t usually improve performance. Furthermore, in B2B marketing, don't expect lead nurturing to turn leads in to customers at huge rates, it doesn't. Use it to add value more than anything else.

    Digest your blog content

    Your blog content should be fairly welcome in the inboxes of contacts on your house list and can perform effectively as a long term lead nurturing strategy. Unless your publishing frequency is extremely high, digesting out posts individually will most likely create the greatest level of engagement and therefore ROI. In emails that contain multiple posts, the drop off in engagement after the first post is large, meaning posts in position 2 and beyond don't get the opportunity to perform to their best.

    71% of B2B buyers read blog content before purchasing. Learn how to harness  blogging in our handy guide.

    Promotions, offers and events

    New content, in-person and online events, product promotions, etc - all make good email content for the right audience. Relevance is key as you are probably more excited about these than your recipients are but, with careful segmentation, all are worthy email candidates with clear completion goals to aid measurement.

    Newsletters

    If you have an active blog, then we would typically advise against spinning up a new newsletter campaign - the effort being better spent creating online content that can also help your SEO - but if you have one and people are actually interested in receiving it by all means carry on.

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    Measurement

    Each email you send can be measured in terms of a number of concrete metrics, including:

    • Delivery rate
    • Bounce rate
    • Open rate
    • Click through rate
    • Unsubscribes
    • Conversions or goal completions

    But, given the vast differences between emails, and the huge array of factors that can affect the performance of any one, these stats only tell you a part of the story. Your marketing intellect is required to determine if a particular result or stat provides actionable insight or not, and too look at the big picture of your email marketing as a whole, not just individual emails, to determine what is working and what is not.

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    Inbound email

    There was a time when email marketing was a strategy itself. You could buy a list, send a message, measure the response, and repeat.

    But times have changed and now email is really no more than a channel for your message - the success of which is rooted in other parts of your marketing.

    An excellent way to orchestrate successful email marketing is to make it part of an inbound marketing strategy. Inbound marketing, which describes a customer-centric, content-led methodology, ensures that you always have valuable content to share using good quality data that you can easily segment. An inbound posture goes a long way to ensuring that your email marketing is always relevant, timely, personalised and of value to your recipients, helping you to maximise your results.

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