B2B Email How-To’s: From Planning to Creative, Part 1

Now that “Save the Date” email has replaced those old stodgy printed conference marketing letters (with long lead times, expensive printing, letter shopping, and postage), you’re on easy street, right? You can probably prep it over your morning latte and blast it out in the afternoon!

Well, not really. Because email can be turned around faster than traditional media can, it’s tempting for management to tell you to “just shoot out an email.” Like any marketing effort, the real key to your success is careful planning and project management. Here are a few tips to help any business-to-business (B2B) direct marketer stay organized.

Manage Expectations

Work with your management to determine criteria for success at the beginning of each project. Do you want to generate a specific net response rate? Drive x number of people to your Web site? Increase this year’s revenues over last year’s? Lower the cost to acquire each new customer? Build brand awareness? Attract a specific category of customer?

By quantifying goals early, you can better plan an appropriate campaign and measure success. Avoid agreeing to goals you know are unrealistic. It’s better to fight your battles early than to look like a failure at the end.

Review Past Efforts

Spend some time looking back. When you track and measure lists, creative, and offers with every effort, you take away the guesswork. Repeat what works, drop what doesn’t, and test new ideas every time.

For firms that don’t track response, your job is harder. You’ll need to ask advice from people with a profound understanding of the target market. We were recently stumped about whom to target for some highly technical professional education courses. We rounded up several engineers, lured them into a conference room (with the promise of doughnuts), and asked them who should attend an upcoming event. They provided very specific titles and job functions (ones we’d never heard of!). They made our job a lot easier. Funny thing — they were very happy to help. No one had ever asked them before.

Note: Krispy Kreme doughnuts are a particularly effective tool in getting people’s attention and rewarding them for their efforts. They work best when hot.

Select Lists

Though rarely attracting the same scrutiny from management as creative development, list selection is the most important and challenging element of any B2B email campaign. Not only do you need lists that work, your real goal is to segment lists so you can personalize like crazy. A recent study by Yesmail that appeared in Direct magazine demonstrated the more highly personalized the message, the better the response. In fact, five or six data points doubled response rates. They tripled at seven or more points. Wow! That means you have to really understand who’s on those lists. Here are a few avenues to pursue.

In-House Lists

In-house names are your best performers. Typically, you’ll have existing customers, former customers, and prospects. The more segmented each of these are, the better you can target your message. When promoting conferences, you could have:

  • Paid attendees from last year

  • Unpaid attendees from last year
  • Paid attendees from the year before
  • People who paid but canceled
  • Attendees from your firm’s other conferences
  • Other customers of the firm
  • People who requested information or expressed interest but never paid

The most effective emails acknowledge these people already have some type of relationship with your firm. Because the relationship varies, each email requires a slightly different message to capture attention. You can remind paid attendees from last year of their great experience and tell them what’s new this year. It may only be the intro paragraph, but versioning these efforts will reap huge rewards.

Other List Sources

Look inside your own firm for some great lists. Possible sources are address books of your senior executives, the sales force, and people who speak at your conferences. For these lists, you need to ask permission, prepare the actual email (more like a personal note), then facilitate sending it to each list separately. Time consuming but worth it. We’ve seen amazing results when our clients’ very senior executives reach out to their peers in the industry.

You can also form partnerships with noncompeting but complementary businesses and swap lists for free. In-house lists of your media partners, sponsors, and industry associations may also work well.

List Rentals

When you’ve exhausted all your in-house lists and worked every relationship, it’s time to consider renting lists of cold prospects. This offers a lower response rate, but it is still a great way to test new markets and broaden your efforts. Don’t just target attendees and end users. For each potential customer, there could be:

  • Attendees/end users (“I want to do this.”)

  • Decision makers (“Yes, go ahead. I’ll approve that.”)
  • Authorizers (“Yes, I’ll sign off on that.)
  • Influencers (“I thought you’d find this interesting.”)
  • Gatekeepers (“Manager, you should take a look at this.”)

Next, we’ll continue on the importance of planning. We’ll discuss how to define your message for each segment of your target audience, determine offers, and brief your creative team.


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