When Automated E-mails Attack

Demand generation has unleashed a whole new sector within the digital sales and marketing landscape. The industry is hot with market leader Eloqua primed for an IPO and big names Aprimo and Unica acquired by bigger names (Teradata and IBM respectively).

Demand generation is defined as “the focus of targeted marketing programs to drive awareness and interest in a company’s products and/or services. Commonly used in business to business, business to government, or longer sales cycle business to consumer sales cycles, demand generation involves multiple areas of marketing and is really the marriage of marketing programs coupled with a structured sales process.”

To ensure a successful sales cycle, many marketers in this space have turned to e-mail, and why not? E-mail helps to deliver the interactions the sales team needs and the information the recipients want. It serves as a key component of many demand generation/automated lead generation programs. And, it should be. However, it’s not easy to develop a top-notch automated e-mail program. Many of these are using the bullets in their gun the wrong way to their detriment. Some demand gen marketers are accidentally shooting themselves in the foot. Here’s a primer on what to avoid and how to optimize and better leverage the automated e-mail piece to get more out of your demand generation programs.

Avoid the Following:

Bad “from lines”: There are different schools of thought, but I know I don’t open (or notice) e-mails from people I don’t know. Meaning an e-mail from Richard Tyler doesn’t get noticed by many busy B2B marketers. What if this poor, imaginary Richard guy is actually a smart and thoughtful sales rep from a brand you know and may want to do business with? Well, go with the brand in the from line without further consideration – it can go a long way toward getting Richard’s foot in the door.

From lines are crucial in getting e-mails read and responded to, but I find from a survey of my own inbox that most B2B lead gen marketers use their name in the from line. Sorry, I don’t know you and it may be spam rather than an opt in and/or relevant e-mail with some valuable content that could move me further along the sales cycle.

Harvesting and shady acquisition tactics: Let’s face it – B2B marketers play by different rules than B2C. Many business to business marketers, including those in the demand gen/marketing automation space take some liberties in how they build their prospecting lists. In an ideal world (not to mention a CAN-SPAM compliant one), e-mail addresses would be all opt-in and no grey areas would exist related to permission. Some use social networks to grab contact info of contacts and prospects that have not opted in for their e-mails but may have a relationship with your company, while some go deeper and harvest names off websites and enter those in their funnel, which many would say is illegal and immoral.

Play it safe and smart: use search, social, and your sales and marketing touchpoints to get permission – yes, it means creating some landing pages and being patient, but it is very well worth it in the end.

Misleading copy, long-form like letters, and shoddy creative: Somewhere, there must have been a misleading webinar. Many marketers are trying to fake you out or underestimate your intelligence with some e-mails (again, many may say simply spam) that either infer a relationship or conversation (“I am sorry we keep missing each other”). This is plain shady and can’t possibly deliver meaningful results, whatever you are selling. Start off on the right foot and be transparent, no matter what your marketing message or channel may be.

At the same time, keep it brief. Marketing automation doesn’t give you a free pass to overcommunicate just because it isn’t a time-intensive “campaign.” Too many automated e-mails suffer from brutally wordy copy that won’t get read and creative only someone in IT could love. Your automated e-mails need to have the same look, feel, and branding dynamics that your promotional e-mail campaigns (heck, any marketing that you do) offer.

Lack of value and overly aggressive: Content is usually the star of these e-mails, much like the offer is in the B2C e-mail world. If you have a great white paper, event, or something that will get past mobile triage, ensure it is clear above the fold, in the subject line, and in just a glance of the e-mail. Remember, your audience isn’t waiting for your e-mails – you are likely interrupting them so you need to offer a compelling reason for them to give you 10 seconds or so.

Don’t go for the sale on the first (or second e-mail) – this is a nurturing and relationship game here. Introduce yourself, why they should be interested, and what the value is for them with your company and these e-mails. Use the same rules as dating – start slow and build interest. Aggressiveness out of the gate often comes across sleazy and will get you removed quickly, in both dating and in e-mail.

Just because it is automated, sales-focused, or whatever other buzzwords that demand gen ninjas want to throw out, doesn’t mean you should fail to bring your best e-mail learnings and practices to the table.

Who wants to share what bombs and what works from their own e-mail experience within this demand gen world?