Sender Line More Important Than Subject Line

This week, we talked to business-to-business (B2B) marketing expert Ruth Stevens to find out what email trends she’s seeing in her work with clients — and what tips she can pass on.

Stevens, who was named “one of the 100 most influential people in B-to-B marketing” by Crain’s BtoB magazine, generously offered three key observations: the sender line gets email opened; use referral marketing; and email is a personal medium.

The Sender Line Gets E-Mail Opened

Although most of us have been working on crafting brilliant subject lines that both create impact and elude spam filters, the unsung hero of the day is the humble sender line. Stevens told us, “This is counterintuitive for most of us in direct marketing” who have relied on compelling teasers to get envelopes opened. But she cites research showing the sender line drives 65 percent of open rates. Subject lines drive just 35 percent.

According to Stevens, the latest in sender-line theory shows the most effective sender fields are (in descending order):

  1. The sender’s name, if it’s known to the recipient. This can range from the well-known CEO of a company to a day-to-day contact, such as an account rep.

  2. Company name, if it’s known and respected.
  3. An unknown sender’s name, as long as it’s legitimate. People are more likely to click on the name of a real person than something that says “” or “your” (We usually open an email with a real name on it, on the off chance it’s from a prospective client or a colleague whose name escapes us.)

Don’t Overlook Referral Marketing

You’ve heard it before: Put a forwarding message in your email. You’d be surprised how often this old recommendation is still overlooked, according to Stevens.

She says to bear in mind “business readers know the value of sharing ideas and want to help their colleagues. So if they find something valuable, they’re eager to pass it along.”

It’s up to you to remind them.

As we’ve discussed in previous columns, you can supercharge your forwarding message by:

  • Offering a distribution list of people in the reader’s company who would benefit from the email.

  • Suggesting they forward the email to their bosses for approval, their staff, or colleagues outside their organization, when appropriate.
  • Provide a reason for forwarding, such as the benefit the product will be maximized if everyone in the office uses it. Or it’s available for a limited time only at a reduced price.
  • Create a special landing page for forwarding with a note template that allows for some customization. This makes forwarding easier (and assures an HTML message can be forwarded intact).

E-Mail Is a Personal Medium

Stevens reminds marketers that email is me-to-you marketing — and to treat it as such. Again, remember:

  • Address the recipient by name.

  • Personalize as much relevant information as possible.
  • If you’re sending a letter, have a real person sign it.

She also recommends writing to prospects the way a salesperson would. Get to know their needs and wants. Making them feel good about doing business with you. And sell to them in the way they want to buy.

When you sit down to write your email message, look at your best customer profile. In your mind, create a picture of a real person who fits that description. Think about that person’s day, the challenges she’s facing, and what about your product or service would make her life easier. Jot off a quick note to that person to get your thoughts flowing. A good email letter will probably come out of it.

What’s the best advice you ever got about B2B email? Had any successes lately? Send your case studies to Karen.

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