B2B E-Mail: A Completely Different Ballgame

When it comes to email strategies and best practices, business-to-business (B2B) email is in a league of its own. So says Jeanniey Mullen, email marketing director at OgilvyOne Worldwide.

Close to 70 percent of Ogilvy’s current email projects are from B2B clients, including IBM. So clearly, Mullen has a global, high-level view of what’s going on in the industry.

Today, we’ll cover a number of insights Mullen shared during our recent discussion. She explained why generally accepted email best practices and research don’t apply to the B2B space.

“Take audio clips, for instance,” says Mullen. “In the B2C [business-to-consumer] arena, audio clips often work great. But when you send a B2B email to someone sitting in a cubicle, an audio clip can create a lot of noise, which can be pretty embarrassing and annoying.”

Your latest software release dancing across the screen, in other words, could go from brand genius to branding disaster in a matter of two seconds.

At Ogilvy, B2B email is often viewed from three unique perspectives:

  • Strategic, top-down approach. E-mail is part of an overall marketing plan for achieving corporate objectives.

  • Tactical, bottom-up approach. Testing is conducted on critical email messages to determine the best subject lines, use of personalization, times of day to broadcast, and so on, based on audience.
  • Technology-based approach. Focus is on the technology used to execute the campaign. Unlike in B2C, lead generation is a primary B2B marketing objective. It requires different technology uses to bring the prospect through an often-long cycle of lead qualifying and nurturing. It’s important to be familiar with the client’s back-end systems to determine how leads will be handled.

I wanted to know more about the best times of day to broadcast B2B email messages. Mullen emphasizes you first must conduct testing based on your own audiences, products, and brand. What works for her clients may not work for you.

She chuckled and added, “As soon as I tell you this, everyone will start broadcasting at the same time. And in a few months from now, this will no longer be true.” But here goes — for now:

  • IT professionals: Many IT folks work late into the night or come in early in the morning. The best time to catch them is 8-11 p.m. and 5-7 a.m. However, don’t send email in the middle of the night. That’s when messages are most likely to be caught by spam blockers.

  • C-level executives: Get past vigilant administrative assistants and gatekeepers by emailing top executives on Saturdays and Sundays, when they’re more likely to check email on their own. On weekends, you’ll have a greater chance of catching some quality time with this highly desirable audience. Mullen doesn’t recommend using this tactic for the first message to this group, though.

What about those gatekeepers? Will a campaign directly addressed to administrative assistants work? Mullen says she’s seen it work when a B2B-related email is sent to gatekeepers in a B2C industry, such as an email selling a travel-related system.

She also cites a TV sales team that sent a sweepstakes email to encourage admins to get their ad sales executive bosses to call. The campaign was a phenomenal success. She cautions gatekeeper email campaigns don’t generally work well in conventional B2B marketing.

Mullen made a generously offer to ClickZ readers: Send questions on B2B email, and she’ll answer those queries in a follow-up column. So send your questions to me, and I’ll forward them to her.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

Related reading