One of the most important questions you can ask yourself as a B2B email marketer is "What am I trying to accomplish?"
To create effective emails, you have to be able to answer that question for your entire email program as well as each message you send out to your distribution list.
This question becomes important when companies go into hardcore budgeting mode, where every dollar, pound, euro, or yen allotted to marketing gets scrutinized.
If you don't know exactly what you're trying to accomplish with email when budgets are tight, neither will your boss.
Conveying Your Email Purpose
This is another area where B2C marketers have it a little easier. Basically, "generate revenue" is the purpose, although email messages can work toward it in different ways, from direct selling to triggered reminders and relationship-building.
In contrast, B2B email newsletters usually avoid the direct sell. As I observed in an earlier ClickZ column, many messages have multiple elements, each structured to support a business goal such as lead generation and nurturing, company positioning in the marketplace, and a little CRM here and there.
Lead nurture or "indirect selling" is a reasonable purpose for an email program. After all, few prospects are ready to put a million-dollar contract on a credit card the way they might buy that pinpoint collar shirt online.
But you need to offer more than just digital chitchat. Being unfocused about your email purpose leads to sending unfocused messages that make readers work too hard to find content that pertains or appeals to them. Subscribers have a low tolerance for irrelevant content and they will unsubscribe or delete your message without reading.
Your email purpose will be as unique as your company. A software vendor might use email differently from a printing-equipment manufacturer. However, both should set clear goals for their email programs, and those goals will drive the purpose for sending specific kinds of emails.
Having a clear idea of what you're using email for pays many benefits. Here are three:
Assessing Your Success
Email campaigns generate rivers of data. Your challenge is to pick the right tools to measure, analyze, and report on them.
The metrics you choose should reflect what you want your email to accomplish. Not all email statistics carry equal weight, however. Many are misinterpreted or used incorrectly.
Email basically uses two sets of metrics: "process" and "output" metrics. They aren't interchangeable, although many marketers use them that way.
Process metrics are benchmarks that measure your email's performance and should be tracked over time for the most meaning: delivery, bounces, unsubscribes, spam complaints, click-throughs, open rate, etc.
Output metrics measure the conversions you wanted your email to produce. In the B2C world, these would include total sales, total revenue, ROI per campaign, and average order size per email.
The numbers are different in B2B emails where direct revenue generation isn't the goal. Instead, the metrics you choose are tied directly to the email's purpose.
Here are a few examples:
The Last Word
You don't necessarily have to set up the mother of all spreadsheets to tell whether your email messages are conveying your email program purpose. Just look at your last few general-distribution messages, such as your company newsletter.
Can you tell in one glance what the newsletter is about or what it wants subscribers to do? Ask someone who isn't in on the content creation, like a coworker in another department or your spouse.
In a future column, I'll tackle the challenge of creating individual messages that clearly convey your meanings and help subscribers take the actions you want. In the meantime, I welcome your comments on this column and your questions about B2B email.
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Mike Hotz is a senior strategic consultant for Responsys, working with clients to design, develop, and execute cross-channel digital marketing strategies that contribute to their cross-channel digital marketing success. As an industry veteran, Mike has worked in e-mail marketing since 1998, designing, building, and executing e-mail and multichannel direct marketing strategies focusing on increasing customer engagement, nurturing leads, supporting sales organizations, and driving revenue for companies such as CDW, OfficeMax, Grant Thornton, and Digitalwork.com.