The Hidden Value of B2B Email

The Direct Marketing Association reports that in 1999 there was more email sent in the United States than there was U.S. Postal Service mail. Roper Starch Worldwide said this year that email is preferred by 48.5 percent as the primary business communications vehicle, versus 39 percent for the telephone and 3.5 percent for traditional mail.

Nevertheless, it is probably premature for B2B marketers to assume that email can replace direct mail or telemarketing entirely. For one thing, the Internet is not yet a precision medium for targeting. It hasn’t reached the level of maturity that direct mail has in terms of our ability to hone a prospect list by using key criteria to select exactly the right individuals for a mailing program. In addition, access to individual names and titles via the Internet is problematic. But here’s what you can do to integrate email into your existing marketing programs.

Opportunities Exist With a House Email List

The hidden value of B2B email is in building your own house email list. Aggressively collect email addresses from prospects and customers, and make sure that you always ask the question, “May we communicate with you via email?” Collect email addresses every time you do a promotion, every time you ask for contact information, and every time you offer anything through traditional or electronic fulfillment. Offering subscriptions to e-newsletters, conducting online seminars, and allowing preferred access to special web sites are additional ways to build a house email list.

Once you have built that list, you can integrate email into your existing direct marketing lead generation, qualification, order generation, and customer-relationship programs. Here are three examples:

Email Follow-Ups

Both customers and prospects will be more accepting of email marketing if it is used to follow up on inquiries or orders, especially if they were electronically sent to your organization. If the email message clearly states that it is in response to an inquiry or order, it is generally acceptable if that message also includes some marketing information and a call to action.

An increasingly common practice in direct marketing is to follow up an initial promotional contact with direct mail, a fax, or telemarketing. In direct mail, the follow-up can be as simple as a double postcard or a one-page letter. Direct mail testing supports the fact that such follow-ups usually generate an additional one-half of the original response rate. For example, if an original mailing generates a two percent response, the follow-up will typically generate an additional one percent response. The added bonus is that most follow-ups can be executed at a very low incremental cost because you are reusing a list, and the physical piece itself is inexpensive to produce.

Email holds great promise as a replacement for or enhancement to this follow-up strategy. If you have a prospect’s or customer’s email address, sending an email that reiterates the offer and messaging of an original contact (whether it is by mail or phone) could be effective. Email may break through in a way that a follow-up mailing or phone call may not — and at a much lower cost than mail or phone contacts.

Email can also be very effective as a means to quickly follow up on a personal meeting, summarize what was discussed, and offer an opportunity to respond. Email is a personal, immediate way to just say thank you when you cannot reach someone by phone.

Email Alerts and Priority Notifications

It may be appropriate to do a “broadcast email” to a large number of customers and prospects when you have something very important to say. Of course, “big news” may be a matter of interpretation, and not every email recipient will react the same way, but if it really is big news (such as a merger, an acquisition, a new president, going public, or something similar) then nothing can beat the immediacy of email. It is likely that customers and even prospects would subscribe to an “alert service” that keeps them in the know about such developments.

You can also use email as a “priority notification” medium. For example, send an email in advance of a direct mail invitation to a live event or online seminar, indicating that you want the recipient to be informed of the event before anyone else. This preferential treatment can result in increased event attendance.

Email Rescue Programs

Email can be an effective way to increase event attendance when it is lower than anticipated. Send out an email urging the recipient to attend. If possible, make a special last-minute offer to encourage attendance. I have seen this technique turn seminar failures into seminar successes.

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