Email has been a staple of B2B marketers for decades. It’s a channel that organizations rely on to reach out to existing customers, amplify their content and generate leads. Technology that enables email segmentation, personalization and automation is helping companies of all sizes step up their B2B email marketing capabilities.
Still, there are rules that high-performing email marketers must follow to get the most from this ubiquitous marketing channel. Below, we list five B2B email marketing best practices that help you better influence sales and generate qualified leads. But first, we examine the role email plays in the B2B buying cycle.
The role of email in the B2B buying cycle
Nearly 70% of respondents in DemandGen’s 2020 Content Preferences Study—a study that surveyed over 200 B2B executives about how content influences their buying behavior—said they relied even more heavily on content in 2020 versus the previous year.
Nearly 50% of buyers look at 3-5 pieces of content when making a purchase decision, 16% look at 5-7 pieces of content and 14% look at more than 7 pieces of content.
That’s a lot of content and it’s part of a complex, increasingly self-driven B2B buying process that’s become predominantly virtual thanks to the pandemic. The top content types preferred by buyers in the Demand Gen study is also telling—65% of respondents listed video as the top content type they’d engaged with during the buying process, followed by white papers, blogs and webinars. Put that stat in your pocket for a second as we assess where newsletters fit within the B2B buying ecosystem.
Industry newsletters are low on the list of content types that buyers are willing to register and share their information for, compared to webinars, research/survey reports, white papers or e-books. The following chart illustrates top B2B content types used by buyers in order of value (as determined by how many respondents are willing to register to receive them).
Source: DemandGen 2020 Content Preferences Study
While industry newsletters are part of the larger ecosystem of B2B buying, executives may not be willing to disclose their contact information solely in exchange for a newsletter subscription. Even so, survey respondents listed email as the second most popular medium they use when sharing content with colleagues and peers. Executives were also more likely (in some cases, much more likely) to share their email address versus other information (name, company, title, etc.) to obtain any type of content, as per the following chart.
Source: DemandGen 2020 Content Preferences Study
When creating a B2B email marketing strategy, it’s important to understand how buyers use email throughout the buying process. Best practices for effective email campaigns are hyper focused on buyer preferences, content needs and current trends that leverage emerging technologies to improve the overall customer experience.
Best practice #1: Personalize email targeting across channels and segments.
Personalization is important. How important? As far back as 2016, 74% of B2B buyers were saying they’d switch brands if a company didn’t personalize communications with their business. It’s become increasingly important for B2B buyers to receive relevant, personalized emails that address their specific needs and meet them where they are in the buying cycle. Marketing automation tools, ABM platforms, and AI-driven technologies help marketers customize email content to specific buying segments and profiles by connecting CRM and sales data to intent/behavioral data. It ensures that the emails you send are personalized based on data-driven insight tailored to the specific buyer’s needs.
Best practice #2: Build a reliable B2B email marketing database.
Best practice #1 can only be achieved by prioritizing and focusing on best practice #2—building a solid, up-to-date and actionable database. To do this, it’s important to have the right tools and processes in place to build and maintain your data. Set standards that everyone in the company follows, establish a process for monitoring, cleaning and enhancing data, and implement lead generation strategies to help grow the database. Tools like customer data platforms (CDPs) and customer experience platforms (CEPs) integrate with existing martech tools like your CRM platform, clean and enhance data (often with the use of AI and machine learning) and enable companies to collaborate on email creation and deployment.
Best practice #3: Use video in your email campaigns.
Video can help your email stand out to B2B buyers. It enables you to keep your email brief and is an excellent way to direct people back to your website. Adding the word “video” to the subject line of an email can increase email opens by 19%. Video thumbnails have been shown to increase clicks by 50%. Using and/or promoting video within your email leverages your video content assets, making it easy for recipients to view and share videos they may not otherwise have known existed.
Best practice #4: Promote your blog and website content with email.
The CMI’s 2021 Content Marketing Benchmark report lists the top three B2B content distribution channels as social media, email and an organization’s website/blog. Distributing blog content via your email newsletter ensures that customers and prospects receive the latest industry and product information directly from you boosting your organizations thought leadership potential. It also makes it easier for buyers to share the information with their teams. Again, automation and technology can help facilitate this process. Tools like SharpSpring—aimed at small businesses—automate the process of sending personalized emails to segmented lists based on criteria you specify. More robust platforms like Pardot, a Salesforce product, combine all-in-one marketing automation tools like lead management, campaign building/deployment and analytics all in one place.
Best practice #5: Optimize your email program for technical performance and customer experience.
An effective B2B email marketing strategy uses technology to improve customer experience. Technology that facilitates the sharing of blog posts, video, e-books and other content using a targeted and automated approach, ensures that the right people see the right content at the right time. When reviewing email performance, it’s important to review customer engagement metrics, evaluate ROI and optimize your approach accordingly.
The (email) customer is always right
Today’s B2B email marketing best practices tend to look a lot like B2C best practices—namely, it’s all about the customer. Email remains a top content format and distribution channel for B2B buyers and sellers alike. But making your email campaigns impactful requires a deep understanding of B2B content preferences and expectations.
Buyers give more credence to some types of content versus others (e.g., branded vendor content has more credibility with buyers than content authored by third-party analysts.) Buyers also expect vendors to provide high quality content. That means using more data and research to support claims, curbing sales messages, and creating shorter (easier to share and read) content. For more information about creating a comprehensive B2B marketing strategy or to request an email marketing proposal, please don’t hesitate to contact us.