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B2B Versus B2C Email Marketing: Five Differentiators

  |  March 20, 2002   |  Comments

Tactics, psychology, and complexity -- why B2B email marketing is different (and why Debbie thinks it’s a whole lot more interesting) than B2C.

For all the talk about the reach of email as a cost-effective, powerful marketing tool, we sometimes forget to focus on the bigger picture. Forget the response metrics, forget the technology. Why does email marketing work?

Email cuts to the "need" of the recipient, when executed correctly. It addresses the "What’s in it for me?" (WIIFM) question and answers it squarely.

Isn’t this a different question in business-to-business (B2B) email marketing than in business-to-consumer (B2C)? Aren’t other fundamentals of B2B email marketing different as well?

You bet. Here’s my list of five ways B2B is different from B2C email marketing.

1. Distance from click to sale

This is the single biggest differentiator. Most B2B acquisition email campaigns have lead generation, not an immediate sale, as their primary objective. In B2C, that initial click takes you to a landing page, then, within seconds, to a shopping cart. Not so fast in B2B.

A successful B2B email marketer needs to nail initial logistics, click-through, and information capture on a landing page, in a similar fashion. A number of additional steps (and often many months of additional time) are often required to close a sale on a lead collected through an email campaign.

The email message must be combined with an appropriate sequence of online and offline communications: A phone call from a knowledgeable sales rep. A PDF document attached to a follow-up email from that rep. A snail-mail information packet. Perhaps a Web demo and conference call. For some high-end products and services, a face-to-face meeting. It ain’t that easy...

2. Permission

I’m often asked how much information a visitor or prospect needs to give on a landing page before he can download your white paper. Name, title, company name, address, phone, and email are standard. Questions that are obviously "qualifying" (annual revenue, purchasing authority, etc.) asked up front may result in a drop off in conversion (the number of people who complete your form).

In B2B email marketing, an unstated quid pro quo defines the level of permission. You, the target audience, offer valid information about your company. And I, the B2B email marketer, will provide access to a useful and informative guide or white paper. In B2C, it’s not just an exchange of information. If the email recipient enters name, phone, and mailing address in response to a B2C promotion, it’s usually so you can ship her the item she purchased.

In both scenarios, permission is critical. In B2B, specify you’ll keep the information private. You’re more likely to get registrants. In B2C, be up front about what you’re going to do with the information your new customer provided. Use opt-in, not opt-out, when asking if you can send future emails about "related" products or services.

3. Copywriting challenge

Defining a compelling message for your target audience and delivering it in the right voice is difficult. Which buttons should you push? The company’s "pain point"? WIIFM for the individual receiving your message? Both? In which order? The pain point means identifying the business problem your prospect has. It could be lack of sales or increasing costs. The WIIFM could be the benefit of reading a white paper and being perceived as more knowledgeable.

There’s also the challenge of crafting a subject line that captures one or both of these key message points.

4. Lists

The disparity continues in the number and quality of rental email lists available. The more targeted (and less techie) your audience, the fewer B2B lists exist in which you can get detailed information about the prospect and his company, such as annual revenue, size of company, and job function. Further complicating matters is many niche markets comprise smaller, privately held companies.

Out-of-date email addresses are a bigger problem than in B2C. Unless the VP of marketing or sales signs up with an email change of address (ECOA) service such as ReturnPath, the business email address is untraceable once that person leaves company X for company Y.

5. B2B: the more interesting option

OK, so I’m biased. In my opinion, B2B email marketing is inherently more interesting than B2C. The step-by-step dance (forward, back, forward, side to side) of coaxing a prospect down the path to close on the sale of a half-million dollar product or service is nuanced and complex.

How tough is it to be L.L.Bean and offer a nifty fleece jacket at 50 percent off through an email promotion? There’s more to it than that, of course, particularly when you’re mailing to a list of hundreds of thousands. The psychology of a retail sale, to me at least, is not that exciting.

Let me know if you disagree and if you have other thoughts on how B2B differentiates from B2C email marketing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Weil

Debbie Weil is publisher of WordBiz Report, which focuses on the business of words online. It was awarded The Newsletter on Newsletters' Gold Award for Online Subscription Newsletter. A former newspaper reporter with an MBA and corporate marketing experience, Debbie is an expert on B2B online content and marketing at both the strategic and creative levels. She was Web content marketing manager for Network Solutions (now part of Verisign) before launching WordBiz.com.

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