Profitable B2B E-mail Ideas From the Nonprofit World

Let’s face it: when you’ve worked in the same industry for a long time, sometimes the creative gets a little stale. You’ve probably noticed that after awhile most B2B (define) e-mails start to all look alike.

That’s why I’m glad I work in a range of industries from nonprofit environmental fundraising, to financial services, to healthcare, and of course, B2B. The variety helps to keep a fresh infusion of new ideas coming in.

Today, you’ll get the benefit of my successful experience in the nonprofit fundraising world with some ideas for freshening up your e-mails and improving your response rates.

Shorten up Your Subject Lines

In past columns, I’ve talked about how political e-mails use short subject lines and how results from a recent MailerMailer study showed that these truncated inbox teasers outperform their longer counterparts.

Well, I tested this myself for my environmental nonprofit client — and in several tests, the shorter subject lines won conclusively. Not only were the open rates higher, but so were the clickthroughs. Because the clickthrough action led to a donation page, the end result was significantly higher revenue.

So I’d say that in the B2B field, this is definitely worth a test.

However, a word of caution. It’s harder to write a short, pithy two-word subject line than it is to write a longer one, so you might want to get a professional copywriter to help you.

Also, if you do a test, the first few words of the subject lines should be identical to make it a true test — and the rest of the longer subject line shouldn’t really introduce any radically new messaging that would skew the results. You’re only testing the subject line length here, not new content.

Let Your Audience Vote

When you’re creating a new brochure or ad, instead of just sending around the initial concepts for internal approvals, ask your prospects and clients what they think.

One of my nonprofit clients recently did this for an ad they were thinking of running, and their audience voted for one ad over the other by a wide margin. When you consider the high cost of media placement, it’s a real vote of confidence when your prospects and clients “pre-approve” the ad you’re planning to run.

Another note of caution: it may seem like a good idea to show a running tally as the votes come in, but if you’re really trying to test creative, this can throw off your results. When people see that one ad is preferred by other voters, they may be swayed to respond differently.

Once the voting is over, you can send a second e-mail announcing the winning ad and where it will appear. These announcement e-mails get very high open rates since people are curious to find out who won. So be sure to put some sort of offer or call-to-action in the announcement to keep the positive momentum going.

Paint a Compelling Word Picture in the First Sentence

We all know that we have to hook readers in first few seconds they open an e-mail, but not many B2B e-mail marketers put in the time investment to make that happen.

In fundraising, you have to pull at the reader’s heartstrings in the first sentence — or you’ve lost them. This means painting a compelling word picture that makes the problem that others are experiencing hit home with the reader.

The same goes for B2B. Except that in this case, you need to create a word picture that really hits home with the reader personally. Ask yourself “what is keeping my prospects and clients up at night?” By describing that fear in a personal way and offering an immediate, actionable solution, you’ll be well on your way to closing the sale.

Lower Your “Ask”

Fundraisers personalize e-mail fundraising requests using information such as how much the donor has previously given. So if you’ve given $35 before, they’ll ask you to donate somewhere in the range of $35 again.

However, recently a nonprofit client was trying to raise money for a particular campaign. We were on our third e-mail in a series of appeals. I realized that if the reader hadn’t given already, maybe it would help to ask the reader to chip in only $10.

That worked like a charm and brought in over $50,000 in unanticipated revenue.

How would this work in the B2B space? If you’re selling a seminar for $2,000 and no one is biting, you can, of course, lower the price. You can also offer an audiocast or a report with a portion of the seminar content at a significantly reduced cost. The beauty of e-mail is that you get results in 24 hours so you can bob and weave with the market as needed.

Add Variety to Your Own Inbox

If you work full-time for a B2B company, you’re probably on the e-mail lists of all your competitors so you can monitor the industry. However, if you broaden your exposure to other sectors — by signing up for B2C (define), political, nonprofit, and other industry e-mails, you’re sure to get some innovative new ideas to try. And of course, reading publications like ClickZ or other marketing e-zines for case studies — and keeping a “swipe” file of creative ad and e-mails you want to try — can keep things fresh and interesting.

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