Smart practices for b-to-b newsletters

Developing an e-mail newsletter takes careful planning, including variations on content to reach disparate audiences with the right message to spur response, maintain interest and ultimately increase sales

Adam Needles

Director of field marketing and b-to-b marketing evangelist, Silverpop

Prioritizing content is often an afterthought for too many business-to-business marketers, including in their e-mail marketing. In fact, in the recent “2010 E-mail Marketing Benchmark Report” from MarketingSherpa,” content relevancy was named the No. 1 challenge for e-mail marketers — especially b-to-b marketers.

Unfortunately, too much time is spent on logistics and planning while content development is left to the end. Instead, content should lead. Pay attention to what topic is most important to your current demand-generation programs. What are the different content angles you can build around it? What partners and resources can you leverage? How does this fit into the editorial calendar?

Smart content marketing in the modern era must be rationalized against the buyer and where they are in the buying process. An e-mail newsletter to both prospects and customers may not be appropriate as these two groups are at different points in the buying cycle. For prospects, address their No. 1 pain point. In fact, lead with that, rather than push your product. B-to-b buyers start with a problem, which they are looking for a solution to, and then they make their way to finding a solution. Make sure you have the right content for the right phase of that dialogue with the targeted buyer.

Lead buyers back to other content and don’t leave them hanging. Too many newsletters either deliver content in the e-mail body itself or point to temporary content pages. Your e-mail newsletter should point buyers to additional resources on your corporate domain. This is especially the case with blog content. Don’t write a blog and then separately write an e-mail newsletter. Write great blog content and then feature it as a headline in your newsletter, linking directly to it. This benefits SEO, but more important, it brings buyers back to a resource where they will find other relevant information and hopefully stick around.

By placing more emphasis on newsletter content — and grounding it in strong buyer insights — you will not only stay in touch with clients and prospects, but you will help nurture relationships in the right direction.

The Takeaway
Lead with content that addresses your prospects’ No. 1 pain point

Janine Popick

Cofounder and CEO, VerticalResponse

When b-to-b e-mail lists are cultivated correctly, a company will end up with several e-mail addresses from businesses that have not yet made a purchase. Your list could be made up of prospects you met at an event or include visitors to your website who signed up for the e-mail newsletter. This group of subscribers usually results in the second-best response rates for your business. While they are interested in your business, they should be separated from your customer list so they can be moved through the b-to-b sales cycle with strong offers and calls to action. Always have a way to get new business leads and be conscious of moving them through the purchase process.

B-to-b marketers should take their existing customer newsletter and tailor the content slightly toward converting leads and offering specials. Do not, however, send unsolicited e-mail to purchased b-to-b lists, nor to those who have not opted in to their e-mails. This will reflect poorly on your business through increased spam complaints and bad word of mouth.

As an alternative, try either renting a postal list of potential prospects or looking at the list of leads you have acquired over the years. Send this group a postcard which directs them to your business website. Include a great offer or a giveaway such as a free download to spur their interest. Always take the time to cultivate your e-mail list, and avoid sending e-mail to a business that hasn’t opted in.

By segmenting your b-to-b subscriber lists, marketers can increase response rates and sales resulting from e-mail marketing campaigns. It’s important to tailor your e-mail marketing campaigns for different audiences, and adapt content based on whether you’re e-mailing to prior and existing customers, or b-to-b prospects. Getting your previous customers to buy again is a lot cheaper than getting new customers.

The Takeaway
Cultivate your prospect list and segment subscriber lists to tailor content

David Baker

VP of CRM solutions, Razorfish

In its infancy, the e-mail newsletter was a general bulletin that was sent out with the same cadence as the print bulletin was mailed. It then evolved into a sales tool to keep customers engaged and to build content that can be shared in organizations. Today, the company website does the work of providing a baseline introduction to the company and its products or services, and e-mail is used as a means of building continuity and consistency in the brand communications. Likewise, the company’s social presence is about providing an expression of the brand experiences for customers.

There are four fundamentals that provide the keys to great b-to-b newsletters in today’s world. The first is to recognize that e-mail is not for everyone, so offer options for content sharing and feeds. The e-mail newsletter is a great tool, but with average open rates of less than 30%, you must recognize that more than half of the people on your list will not see the value outside of the first interaction.

Second, think about your subscription management. While this depends on your product or service and the rate of the pipeline and lead decay, offer some form of subscription and contextual control of what content subscribers receive through e-mail. The top 10% will appreciate this, and this attribution alone will support the ROI.

Third, timing is important but not critical. While it’s important to be consistent in your communications, we must recognize that the business consumer is triaging e-mail remotely more so today than ever, so you must optimize communications to “quick reads” and “archiving.”

Finally, don’t let it get stale. Just like a website and social media site, content and approach should evolve and should be aligned to heuristics. E-mail newsletters should be reviewed regularly, redesigned from time to time and kept very practical to the task-based needs of your prospect or customer.

Be sure to reach out regularly across your organization to find content for your newsletter program that will keep readers interested, engaged and staying the course with your brand – and you’ll be on your way to increasing sales and building loyal customers.

The Takeaway
Recognize that e-mail works for some of your customers, but not all

Alisa Erba

Channel marketing manager, VeriSign

At VeriSign, we use the newsletter to keep partners up to date on the latest product, company and industry news. Typically, we gather article ideas from internal content experts such as product management, product marketing, sales and support.

Additionally, we always include a “partner spotlight” in every newsletter issue. We feel it’s important to provide partners with an opportunity to share the success they’ve had with a particular marketing program, sales technique or integration process. Whatever the topic is, it’s a great way to share best practices with the broader partner base. Plus, it adds a personal touch to the newsletter by highlighting new and exciting things other partners are doing.

The format of our newsletter is brief and informative, not blatantly promotional, but provides enough information to pique our partners’ interest in a particular topic. Many articles include a link to related resources such as a white paper, case study, webinar or blog for partners to learn more. We are very interested in what our partners have to say, so we include a feedback mechanism for partners to e-mail us their newsletter suggestions, story ideas and comments.

The primary objective of the newsletter is to educate and inform our partners. We send the newsletter to all of our contacts on a quarterly basis. We’ve found that sending communications on a regular planned schedule helps to keep interest and readership high.

Content is dynamically populated based on the relevance to the partner segment receiving the information. For example, if a partner doesn’t sell a particular brand or product, we typically don’t include that information. One way to keep open and click-through rates high is to send relevant and timely information. If you keep doing that, customers and partners will continue to open and read your newsletter. In the end, that’s how you measure success.

The Takeaway
Maintain regularity to keep interest and readership high

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