Behavior Is Key in B2B E-Mail Marketing

We’re well into Q3 and gearing up for a busy end of the year that promises little relief from the recessionary pressure B2B (define) marketers have seen all year. As you reevaluate your toolkit, review what you’ve learned in the last year about how responding to subscriber behavior enables effective lifecycle marketing. More than low cost, e-mail marketing can help streamline and optimize lead flow.

Marketers have begun to use e-mail to replace more expensive human touches in the sales cycle. For example, it’s pretty straightforward to trigger messages based on Web site behavior (e.g., download) or time (e.g., contract renewal date).

While it’s hard to trace business buying behavior to a specific e-mail or single touch point, these messages earn higher click-throughs than generic newsletters or product announcements. They can also help qualify leads.

E-mail can help you listen to prospects’ needs. When it’s not clear how qualified the prospects are, use disparate choices to identify their interest level.

For example, a free trial offer can be positioned with two secondary links — one to a high-level white paper on employee productivity and the other to a product comparison checklist. Take this a step further by having separate links for enterprises and SMBs (define) on the landing page. Those who click on these different calls to action are in different buying places; the free trial offer person is ready to test and may value a salesperson’s call, but the white paper reader is still early in the research phase. Those who click on the checklist may be preparing for an executive review meeting and may have specific needs or desire pricing options. Use the action and data to guide the follow-up e-mail messages and your sales team outreach.

Getting custom messaging based on click or buying behavior isn’t new and is generally welcomed by subscribers. However, there’s a benefit of not being too obvious. Depending on your brand strength and the level of engagement with the prospect, meter your follow-up message’s transparency.

It can be a little Big Brother-ish if an e-mail message says, “Thanks for spending 3.56 minutes on our workplace productivity page the other day.” However, noting that the subscriber downloaded a particular white paper and that there are other resources available may be appreciated. Keep your follow-up to the point and subscribers will keep clicking.

Let the e-mail marketing carry the prospect through the sales cycle and deploy your sales resources where they can do the most good. One great place for an inside or junior sales team is to follow up quickly with prospects that stop clicking at a particular stage. Perhaps there’s a problem with your offer or content. Perhaps this is a vulnerable stage where the competition pulls ahead.

Similarly, ask account or sales teams to reach out to customers who aren’t opening or clicking on your e-mail newsletter. Are corporate filters blocking you? Is your newsletter boring? Are they not using the product? Has your contact moved to a new job?

The good e-mail broadcast vendors can easily automate lifecycle triggers, although APIs (define) to CRM (define) data can be clunky. If you have to, test manual data uploads to see what the lift in response is and improve the message flow. Then you can make a business case for IT support based on actual subscriber response.

Similarly, all the marketing automation systems, such as Eloqua, Silverpop B2B, and Unica, and even some sales-force automation tools, can automate these messages based on business rules. From a messaging standpoint, it’s best to start simple and add complexity to the content flow as you learn how prospects and customers respond.

Also, while most of these systems promise ease of use, it can be complicated. Take baby steps until your team can handle the software and fully utilize the reporting data.

Remember, too, that the most active subscribers on your e-mail file are active across the board. Not only do they click, engage with polls and surveys, and post to forums and feedback sessions, they’re also the first to unsubscribe or even complain (clicking on the “report spam” button or failing to move your message out of quarantine).

Don’t overmail just because subscribers are active. Handle these prospects with care and watch the data to see where both positive and negative actions occur.

Are you using behavioral triggers to improve B2B e-mail? Let me know what you think, and share any ideas or comments below.

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