B2B Discovers Email Marketing

Have you noticed the recent surge in emails promoting business “solutions,” products and publications? I sure have. Of course, I subscribe to just about every opt-in prospecting list out there. Plus, I’ve ordered plenty of business-related products and services online, so I’m also a member of a dozen or so business-oriented email databases.

Over the last year or so, as word has spread of email’s cost-effectiveness and outstanding response rates, B2B marketers have stepped up and exclaimed, “I want IN!” And that’s not to say that email promotions targeting the businessperson didn’t exist prior to a year ago; they were simply dwarfed by consumer-targeted offers. At least they seemed to be, as far as promoting to new customers went.

But things have been changing rapidly. My inbox is now full of solicitations for office products, trade magazines, seminars, long distance services, business software and more. And I don’t mind. More often than not, if the offer fits my needs, I’ll go for it. (Of course, I AM the world’s biggest impulse buyer… not to mention a perpetual spendthrift.)

That aside, how can YOU, the B2B marketer, capitalize on email’s strengths and set your future efforts up for success? I think there’s a lot to be learned from the consumer side; however, the business email arena certainly has a few tips and tricks of its own.

What follows are some “best practices” for business-to-business email marketing quick bullet points garnered from a variety of sources who regularly work with clients in this environment… including email list brokerage firm MetaResponse, email solutions providers FloNetwork and MessageMedia, and opt-in list vendor PostmasterDirect. Note that most of these lessons apply to new customer and client acquisition campaigns…

  • Stick to brief text messages. Although HTML can be lovely, some of the more successful B2B promos have been sent in straight text. Why? The assumption is that a business decision maker’s time at work is limited, so messages should be quick to download and quick to read. With no fanfare whatsoever.

  • Do careful list research. Admittedly, this is a tougher nut to crack than it is for consumer marketers because solid, responsive, and highly targeted B2B email lists are typically more difficult to find. At least they HAVE been. Luckily, that’s changing as more and more business email lists are introduced. Lists such as those offered by Thomas Register to reach a variety of industries; Internet.com to reach IT and IT-related professionals, Internet marketers and developers; and DoctorDirectory.com to reach… well, doctors. And the good news is that more and more quality lists such as these become available every day.

  • Create a worthy offer. Lead generation promos typically work best especially for prospecting. In other words, offer something of value for free or at a deep discount and watch the leads pour in. Granted, they won’t be full-fledged clients or customers until you’ve converted them; however, once they respond and register, they become a part of your email database for future marketing efforts. Successful lead gen campaigns have included offers for free whitepapers and research studies, CD-ROMs (which have intrinsic value but also do a bit of promoting on their own), and free seminars, both on- and offline. Not to mention, of course, the proverbial “trial” offer.

  • Keep the copy focused. To go along with your value-based offer, make sure that the copy is tight and to the point… but also make sure that it’s salesworthy without being too “sales-y.” And the “Know Thy Audience” mandate rings true. Speak to your readers in their own unique language. Use their industry’s buzzwords. Show them that you know them and also know what they need. And, of course, make sure the benefits of your offer are both clear and numerous.

  • Aim for midweek deployment. That means Tuesday through Thursday, if possible the reason being that Mondays are typically hectic for a businessperson and Fridays are too late in the week (and too close to the weekend) to be taken seriously.

  • Manage your inbound responses and house lists with fine-tuned precision. Meaning that you’d better make sure you have the proper staff and tools to address every email inquiry and/or new lead as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Future campaigns can also be enhanced with the use of surveys and database segmentation to better understand the relationship and market on more of a one-to-one level, which is quickly becoming as important for business offers as it has been for those targeting consumers.

  • Follow up. Due, in part, to the longer sales cycle (and decision-making process) of businesses, it’s imperative that an email promotion is followed up within one to two weeks, if possible with a phone call, letter, or another email.

And those are just a few core points. Next week, we’ll go a little crazy and shed some more light on this rapidly developing discipline more details… maybe even a case study or two. By the way, if any of you B2B email marketers out there would care to share some of your own “lessons learned,” please write to me. Email marketers of ALL kinds are hungry for this level of knowledge and you’d become a hero!

Anyway, till next time, everyone… stay tuned for B2B, Part Deux.

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