I recently read some interesting survey research done by the venerable MarketingSherpa around what types of things B2B prospects would find “most useful” in emails sent about product and service offerings. If you have the required membership, you can read the article here.
They surveyed people considered to be B2B “buyers,” meaning the types of folks that a B2B marketer would target. What I saw in the data, which I’ll summarize in this post, was a great reminder that if you are executing well on “the basics,” you’re in a much safer place and can confidently experiment with all the new “bells and whistles” that you could put in your marketing emails (e.g. video, social networking, fancy graphics, etc.).
Let’s look at the top 4 features respondents ranked for what they would find useful from B2B marketing emails. I think you’ll agree that there is nothing fancy or high-tech about them:
#1 “Provide Links to Relevant Content” – This is perhaps the most basic concept in all of email marketing, but remains the most crucial. Relevance rules on the Web; if you’re not convinced, just think about what a small startup named Google has done with ‘relevance.’ In terms of application, it’s key to put yourself in your prospects’ shoes as much as possible. If you tease them with a bit of content, and ask them to click to ‘learn more,’ the landing page on your site better be 110% relevant to what they just read! Do a quick audit of your next upcoming email blast and look for places where you link to your homepage. Are there more specific pages on your site that are more relevant? If you’ve linked to the most relevant page, is the “scent” of that relevance reinforced with imagery, headlines, bolded phrases, etc.? We’ve been writing about the importance of scent from the driving point to the landing page since at least 2006.
#2 “Ability to Navigate from Within the Email to More Detailed Content” – Even your most loyal customers or your most ‘Late Stage’ prospects are still going to scan your email before they commit to reading it. Make it easy on prospects by providing a Table of Contents that anchors down into the details of the email’s articles. MarketingSherpa does this with their newsletters, as a matter of fact [click screenshot to enlarge]. This is a relatively easy feature to include in emails, and the survey respondents are definitely asking for it.
#3 “Highlight Keywords and Points” – OK, maybe this is the most basic thing you could possibly do to improve your emails! Use visual cues (highlighting, bolding, etc.) to give key content some extra prominence. This is essentially “Writing for the Web 101″ stuff, but I’m surprised how many B2B marketing teams get lazy about this point. Remember back to #2 when I said that people are going to scan before they commit to reading? Here’s another way to persuade them to actually read. If they actually read, they may click through, and if they click through, they may convert.
#4 “Better Organization” – This survey choice is worded a bit vaguely, but I interpret it to mean that your B2B emails should have a beginning, middle, and end; they should have clearly-delineated sections that use clear headlines and sub-headlines; all the “read more” calls to action should look the same; the formatting should be clean (even with images blocked). The list of small details goes on, but #4 essentially is asking for the same thing as numbers 1-3.
These four “basic” requests from B2B prospects all follow a common theme: Reduce the ‘mental overhead’ required by the recipient. We’re asking for a lot from our prospects (whitelist, open, scan, read, click, browse, convert). In return, they simply want us to save them a bit of time, and make their lives a tiny bit easier. It’s not so much to ask in return for conversions and sales!
Now, I’ll paraphrase all the features of emails that respondents essentially de-prioritized:
It would’ve been useful to have asked respondents about “video” in emails, but I guess that’s a feature you’ll have to experiment with yourselves. The lesson is that ONLY after you’re solid and consistent on the top 4 features should you start testing the effectiveness of the rest of the more ‘advanced’ email features.
In B2B email marketing, as in life, you have to lay a strong foundation and get the basics right before you start adding on additional features.