Updated: Dec 22, 2020
With all the focus given to inbound marketing by companies like HubSpot, you might be forgiven in thinking that sending out email is dead. But in B2B, email marketing is still one of the most important communications tools, generating on average $38 for every $1 invested.
Email marketing is a digital marketing strategy based on sending emails and developing relationships with prospects and customers. An effective email marketing strategy converts prospects into customers and turns customers into evangelists. One advantage of email marketing is that you can automate the entire process.
But high ROIs are only available to marketers who really get the most out of their email marketing platforms and email marketing strategy. Just sending a monthly newsletter will not produce these great returns.
So Where to Start?
GDPR and ePrivacy
First, it is important to understand the legal basis on which you are relying to send email to a business contact. This is influenced by a number of factors: do they have an existing business relationship with you (e.g. a customer); can you show that they have a 'legitimate interest' in receiving communications from you; do local ePrivacy laws permit the sending of emails without express permission and/ or have they given express permission for you to send them emails for a defined purpose.
Purpose of email
It is important to be clear the purpose of your email and what action you expect the recipient to take, if any.
You may want to send a newsletter to customers, informing them about your recent product updates, upcoming events and news about your company that you consider important. This performs a different purpose, and is sent to a different audience, than one sent to a bought-in contact list advertising a new eBook as an incentive to complete a form.
Deliver great content
Like any marketing, email marketing relies on strong, engaging content. No one is going to spend time on reading your email amongst the hundreds they receive every week unless it is compelling. Email marketing is all about expectations, and it’s up to you to set them. If your call to action is strong, and your follow-up is consistent, then you can count on a positive campaign.
How to write a great email newsletter
The newsletter to customers is the obvious place to start with email. It combines an audience that knows you - at least a little - with your need to keep people informed.
Newsletters are an effective way to build brand credibility, nurture leads and gather customer information. Really, they should be a staple of every e-marketing strategy.
But they’re only effective if they’re actually being looked at. Having a high open and click through rate is dependent on sending timely, relevant, interesting and helpful content. Otherwise, rather than clicking through, your customers will simply click away and tune out.
Don’t add to inbox clutter. Unless you have something to tell your customers that absolutely cannot wait, only mail out quarterly. Think about the sheer volume of email that arrives in your inbox every day – how much of it do you dismiss? By mailing quarterly, your customers will come to recognize that your company has something interesting to say because you don’t appear in their inbox frequently.
Mix it up. Since you’re only mailing out 4 times a year, include multiple articles to showcase your expertise. Consider including an opinion-based one and a fact-based one and/or maybe a lighter one that uses humour and lets your personality shine. But don’t use a newsletter to sell your products and/or services (the clue to its purpose is in the name!). Highlight your expertise, not your ability to sell.
Other Email Types to Consider
Standalone Emails: As popular as newsletters are, they have a drawback. When you send multiple links or blurbs in an email, you weaken your main call-to-action. Your subscriber may click on the first link or two in your email but may not come back to the others, or they may skim your email and move on. So, if your main goal is to drive a specific action – sign up for this webinar, buy this product, read my latest blog post – you may be better off with a standalone email. These emails are dedicated to just one topic and put the call to action front and centre. Your readers’ attention won't be diverted, so they’re more likely to take the action you want them to.
Plain-Text Emails: If you only ever send fancy formatted emails, text-only messages may be worth a try. According to HubSpot, even though people say that they prefer heavily-designed emails with numerous images, in actuality, simpler emails with less HTML won out in every A/B test. In fact, HTML emails tend to have lower open and click-through rates that correlate directly to how many HTML elements are included. This is likely due to email programs such as Gmail filtering promotional emails out of the main inbox and into a different tab where they may not be seen by users.
Plainer emails can be great for event invitations, blog content, and survey or feedback requests. But even if you don’t send text-only messages, simplifying your emails and including fewer images could be enough to boost your open and click through rates.
Drip campaigns. If your business has a funnel of any kind, you should absolutely use your email marketing platform for drip campaigns. Drip campaigns are longer-term email marketing campaigns that nurture users through the funnel. Based on where a given subscriber is in your funnel, you can send them customised emails that gently encourage them to take the next step toward converting.
To do this, you will need to plan and schedule your emails in advance. They can then be automated to be delivered once a week, or whatever timeframe makes sense. Marketing automation can also track open rates, clicks and other interaction to generate a score.
This score can be used to measure interest, based on the level of engagement, and determine when a prospect to ready to be contacted by Sales.
When to make an offer
You’re not running a marketing database just for the fun of it—you’re there to engage customers and make sales. But transitioning from emails that provide access to lots of free value into one that offers a product for money can be a tricky switch to make. To do it effectively, it’s a good idea to think in advance about your offers, who you are making them to - they won't be relevant to all audiences - and when.
You’ll have a much more successful campaign if people expect sales offers every once in a while, and they come naturally after they have engaged with content emails. To generate qualified leads, you need to treat your relationship with your prospects just as you would any other relationship – with respect, and with stages that reflect a mutual understanding of value exchanged.
Each business has different needs, and there aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how often to make a sales offer and when to only provide content. Just remember that an email list is a permission asset and it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Beginners in B2B email marketing will soon master the basics of defining their audience, the purpose of the email, the call-to-action (CTA) which is the outcome they are looking to drive and a laser focus on delivering grate, compelling content.
Once these basics are in place, the key to developing a successful email strategy in B2B is to understand what works best in delivering qualified business leads. When emails are used to engage with a prospect's buying journey and help them in their selection process, based on their digital behaviour, this is a more advanced use of email to 'nurture' the relationship. This takes the basics of email described here and combines them with the power of a marketing automation platform.
Marketing automation takes digital contact with customers so much further than en masse generic email sends. Through a series of steps—a workflow—the automation process delivers the right content at the right time, helping to maximise conversions and sales. According to HubSpot, lead-nurturing emails generate an 8 percent click-through rate compared to a 3 percent click-through rate for general emails.
In short, a workflow defines the business processes that the marketing automation system needs to use, in concrete terms. Crucially, because it is automated, the workflow is completely scalable.
These are the four basic elements of a marketing automation workflow:
Triggers: The action that starts the workflow, such as registering on a website or purchasing an item
Delays: The time differences between steps of the workflow
Conditions: Explain what must occur for each step in the workflow to take place: for example, if a customer buys one type of product, you might take a different action than if they buy another type
Actions: State what should be done whenever any specific conditions occur
There are many valuable marketing automation workflows that can drive customer conversions up, so you need to decide which work best for your situation and brief.
This article describes some of the most helpful. As an illustration, here is an example of a 'Welcome Workflow', used to engage with new registrants.
Trigger: A user signs up on your website or app.
How it works: Welcome workflows usually consist of a single email or a series of successive mails that build upon each other. The key point is to send an email as soon as users have registered so they feel acknowledged. Give a friendly and appreciative greeting, confirm account information or get them to select the specific services they need.
Why you need it: Welcome emails are opened four times more often and generate five times more clicks than regular emails. The welcome email or series is an opportunity you simply can't pass up to make a strong first impression on your customers.
If you’re new to email marketing, now might be time to re-evaluate your strategy. In B2B, email marketing delivers huge returns for marketers willing to think about its place in their go-to-market strategy. It doesn’t have to be complicated to get started.
First, remember you’re a guest in the inboxes of your subscribers. Your emails are always just one click away from losing their interest forever. Always deliver value and take time to develop a relationship.
As you get started, you’ll need to ask permission. Of course, it’s the right thing to do. But in the era of privacy, such as GDPR, it’s also a legal requirement.
Think about what different customer segments and personas need to support their buying journey. As with any B2B marketing strategy, what really matters is what works. Performance analytics that relate to important business outcomes, like highly qualified leads, will keep you on track.