BTB Lessons for E-Mail Marketers

Most business-to-business marketers use e-mail as part of their arsenal. This communications medium provides marketers with wonderful potential, but I’m concerned that we do not approach e-mail with the rigor we apply to our direct marketing efforts.

Direct marketers have a disciplined approach. They plan campaigns carefully, calculate break-evens and understand what is important to measure. They also take time in the planning process. A series of steps and decisions go into the development of a direct mail campaign or print and telemarketing efforts.

With e-mail, there’s no need to plan months in advance because programs can be launched in days or weeks rather than months. That’s a real benefit, but this speed can lead to less-than-optimal efforts. Remember your roots and apply planning and discipline to e-mail. Here are lessons from traditional direct marketing to use in e-mail program development:

List research matters more than ever for e-mail prospecting. Most marketers work with one or more brokers to develop their direct mail campaigns. Work with savvy e-brokers; and a good e-mail broker is probably not your direct mail broker. Your broker needs to understand the e-landscape. It should verify the level of permission, research how often the list is mailed, report what companies have continued with the list, negotiate rates on your behalf and coordinate message clearances.

This sounds similar to the regular process. However, though there are solid e-mail lists on the market, there are plenty of others where the source of permission is suspect and the names are overworked. A pro will help you differentiate the good lists from the bad.

Good creative makes a difference. We all know that the teaser copy on the outer envelope can make all the difference in getting a direct mail piece opened. The subject line in an e-mail is like the teaser copy: It will “make or break you” in terms of getting your e-mail opened. Many BTB e-newsletters simply use the newsletter name in the subject line such as “Company/Service July Newsletter.” Where’s the compelling value to the recipient? Include a reason for someone to open the message.

Grow your house file as the foundation for success. Marketers have many options. In prospecting campaigns your main objective may be to sell a product or service, but always have a secondary objective of collecting e-mail addresses. Offer a white paper or special report, an online interactive quiz geared toward qualifying leads, the chance to sign up for a Webinar or your e-newsletter. All of these offers work well for BTB marketers and present the opportunity for a value swap. Recipients give their e-mail address and contact information in exchange for your offer.

With retention e-mail, include the suggestion that the recipient forward your message to a colleague. Mail received from a “trusted source” carries greater weight and can open new doors. Consider appending e-mail addresses to your house file. Many of the better e-append vendors now have a sizable number of business names and addresses on their files.

Don’t forget your inbound call centers. Have your reps ask for e-mail addresses on inbound calls and be sure to explain why you’re asking for this information. Some BTB marketers have seen up to 50 percent of callers provide an e-mail address. Many marketers now include the number of e-mail addresses collected as performance criteria for their call centers.

Have a data collection strategy. At registration, collect only information you will use. Here’s an example of why this is important. A BTB marketer tested two registration forms. The first asked for name, title, company, phone and e-mail address along with one qualifying question. The second asked for the same information but included three qualifying questions. The shorter form had almost 50 percent more completions.

Remember, you are beginning a dialogue, and you will have the chance to gather further information from registrants over the course of your relationship.

Test, test, test. This is a direct marketing mantra, but many e-mail marketers forget this. The right subject line can improve open rates 25 percent or more. Personalization can improve results. Text versus HTML can make a difference. Long form versus short form can affect click-through rates. Additional areas you might consider testing that have made a difference for other marketers are day of week, time of day, your “from” line, tone (formal vs. personal), offers and lead articles.

Segmentation. Direct marketers segment their house files and measure results for each segment. Many e-mail marketers use the “one size fits all” approach. Everyone gets the same message. Yet the medium makes it relatively easy to employ technology to provide discrete offers and content to different groups. The latter approach takes more planning, but the payback can be phenomenal.

A BTB office supplies marketer segmented its e-mails into three major vertical markets and four desired-activity buckets (reactivation, retention, upsell, channel migration). E-mail-related sales activity has increased ninefold in the past two years mainly because of the segmentation strategy.

It’s been said that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. But as DMers you already have the foundation for increased success in e-mail if you employ these steps. Apply the learning and experience that you use daily in your direct marketing planning to e-mail, and I guarantee you will reap the benefits.

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