Make Your B2B E-mails the Best, Not the Worst, of 2011

Have B2B e-mail campaigns matured since 2006? Forrester doesn’t think so. In fact, the noted research company says many B2B e-mailers aren’t even doing the fundamentals in their campaigns.

In Shar VanBoskirk’s report, “The Best And Worst of Email Marketing, 2010” published earlier this month, Forrester found that the average score for B2B campaigns actually dropped since its last review in 2006.

For 2010, Forrester graded 70 e-mail programs across multiple industry verticals on 15 criteria, focusing on subscription, value, presentation, and trust. Only two programs passed; most scored very low, with two the average score.

In the next couple of columns, I’ll look at the fundamentals and advanced marketing e-mail practices that Forrester reviews in its reports. I’ll also offer some advice for how you can improve your campaigns and help you mature before the next Forrester review.

1. Collect Quality Opt-In Subscriptions

List growth is the lifeblood of an e-mail program. Research has found time and time again that subscribers who have recently signed up for your e-mail program are much more engaged than those who have been on your list for six months or more. However, it is always surprising to me how difficult it is to subscribe to many brands’ e-mail programs.

These tips will help you evaluate your own e-mail subscriptions’ practices and optimize collection to increase the acquisition of quality e-mail subscribers:

  • Don’t hide your e-mail sign-up: Take a close look at your subscription practices through the eyes of a prospect or new customer:
    • Do you have a call to action on your home page for e-mail sign-up?
    • Is it easy to find the sign-up form on the page?
    • Do you require complete site registration just to sign up for e-mail?
    • Are your sales representatives and call center associates trained to collect opt-in e-mail permission?

    One of the best methods to sign up new subscribers for e-mail is to include a quick sign-up form on your home page and any page that receives heavy traffic via paid search.

    In addition, give sales representatives and call center associates a form and training to collect opt-in e-mail subscriptions for marketing purposes in their sales and customer management tool set.

  • Make it easy to subscribe: As marketers, we want to know as much as possible about our prospects and customers. However, potential subscribers will bail out of the process if you make it too difficult to sign up for your e-mail program
    • Do you require your subscribers to complete a full-page form before they can receive your e-mail?
    • Does the information you request seem relevant to the subscriber and make sense to provide it to you?
    • Do you offer the subscriber control over the type of content they will receive?

    Keep your subscription form to a manageable length and ask only the basic information you need to offer the subscriber relevant e-mail content. Additional information can be collected over time as part of a lead nurture program.

  • Offer benefits to the subscriber for signing up: We know why a subscriber should sign up for our programs, but do you communicate this on your home page?
    • Promote the benefits for signing up for your e-mail program by answering the subscriber’s question: “What’s in it for me?”
    • Include links to sample e-mails and list frequency expectations.

2. Provide Maximum Value

B2B e-mail marketers often measure the value of their e-mail programs by how many leads the program generates. They focus on new product launches, company news, and other marketer-centric content, often forgetting about the subscribers’ needs.

However, subscribers expect you to provide valuable content in your e-mails. If you don’t, they will unsubscribe, complain, or tune out.

Consider these points when measuring the value subscribers receive from your e-mail programs:

  • Provide essential content: We work hard to develop an editorial calendar for our e-mail program and plan content for each message, but is it the content our subscribers expect?
    • Are we providing essential content?
    • Is the e-mail content engaging?
    • Does it meet the expectations we set for the content during the original registration?
    • Is it easy for the subscriber to take a desired action?
    • Can the subscriber easily share the content?

    While collecting quality subscribers, you set some expectations for the type of content you will provide via e-mail during the initial subscription registration. Now, your goal for each message should be to provide your subscribers with content beyond the expectations you have set:

    • Offer customized industry insights that go beyond the essentials to help your subscribers solve their business problems.
    • Make your content engaging through interactive polls, user-generated content, and rich media.
    • Ensure that the primary call to action is clear and above the fold to make it easy for the subscriber to act.
    • Ask your subscribers to share valuable content with their networks through social media.

The Next Word

Auditing your own e-mail program and implementing these tips will help your e-mail program mature and generate even more leads and revenue.

Next time, we will focus on presentation and trust criteria to help ensure that your e-mail program will pass a Forrester review with flying colors.

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