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Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2010 at 8:02 am

B2B Buyers Still Want Basics from Your Email Marketing

By Brendan Regan
March 9th, 2010

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.

1FutureNow Inc. Mail - [Sherpa Weekly] 2010 Online Marketing ROI Tour; Site redesign doubles social sharing - brendanr@futurenowinc.com#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:

  • more interactivity
  • more graphics
  • advanced customization
  • less content
  • advanced delivery timing,
  • and social networking links.

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.

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Comments (60)

  1. [...] full post on Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc Tags: Basics · Buyers · Email · from · Marketing [...]

  2. You don’t want to come across as a salesman and that your making a pitch. It should actually be great information and just gently push the user to trying to purchase something.

  3. [...] B2B Buyers Still Want Basics from Your Email Marketing Published: March 9, 2010 Source: Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc 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… [...]

  4. I agree with all the four points.

    In terms of relevance of content, I think the key is also to add educational value in the e-mail messages.

    E-mails are also effective way to link in blog, and other elements of the content network.

    -Deven

  5. Agreed Devan. I think educational value is even more important at times than what you may link out to. They may not even have the time to do anything past skim over your article for new information.

  6. Brendan,

    You talk about adding links to relevant content. How do you overcoming consumers increasing blindness to links. I know personally no matter how well placed links are, unless I am very engaged and the author is very credible, I will just ignore them.

  7. Email marketing is extremely difficult these days. There is so much spam that people just delete all marketing email straight away without even looking at it.

  8. I agree with everything especially with this: it’s key to put yourself in your prospects’ shoes as much as possible. Think like a customer and you’ll know what to do and improve in your end as a marketer.

  9. @WhatIsTheBible: Good question. I believe that if the content is interesting, the prospect won’t be “blind” to the links.

    If it is an issue, you could test making the links more visually obvious and high-contrast using color, boldness, underlining, etc.

    Also, you can experiment with how your links are worded. For more on wording persuasive links, see http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/09/28/persuasive-links/

  10. Yes most of the companies need basics.
    I see this also from my customers. most of the time the best response I get from the most simple messages like a Happy easter card. and my signature.

    Toeic you are right, most emails are delted, but in Europe still we have a good rate on opened messages, so still we can use email marketing

  11. It seems that all 4 points are summarized by the fact that people are busy nowadays. They don’t have time for videos and other splashy media in emails. For me, it’s best if an email gets to the point, however I can drill down and learn more quickly. I prefer a summary of the information first and details next.

  12. You don’t want to come across as a salesman and that your making a pitch. It should actually be great information and just gently push the user to trying to purchase something

  13. Email Marketing is difficult now due to increasing number of spams. But if you are doing it right and keeping these basics in mind you can get good results.

  14. Though difficult, but you just need time for email campaign. Its worth trying. (and its good for branding)

  15. as a person who has years of experience in marketing I can safely say email marketing does not work. The best marketing these days are facebook and twitter

  16. @Brendan

    Awesome thank you sir!

  17. Email marketing have always been a great method to interact directly with customers. You just need to offer something extraordinary.

  18. A little thought on your point # 1 – It would be so unprofessional to send a pitching email to a prospective client with links pointing to a totally different subject.

    That would:
    1. Depict how disorganized your company is.
    2. Probably turn off the “buying mood” of the client.
    3. Direct your prospective customers to your competitors.

    Thanks for the article.

    Jack

  19. email marketing is/was a great tool. Its too bad it has been abused by many. It takes so much just to get through so someone will open let alone read for 2.5 seconds.

  20. That would:
    1. Depict how disorganized your company is.
    2. Probably turn off the “buying mood” of the client.
    3. Direct your prospective customers to your competitors

  21. @ Jet Airways

    I don’t think you have to offer something extraordinary, just something useful or practical that the customer needs.

  22. This is the kind of information I needed. My emails will be much improved!

  23. Your continuing update of the new trends are really appreciated. Thanks for all the information. Please do give us more.

  24. You have some honest ideas here. It looks like you have done a research on the issue and discovered.Anyway thanks a lot.I think most peoples will agree with your blog.Keep it up.

  25. never send email marketing only use text. add more graphic and images

  26. What the customers really want is the best! Anyway, great thanks for those useful tips, that’s a lot of help.

  27. So in summary – say something new and relevant; present your ideas clearly; avoid unnecessary padding; OK.

  28. #2 is also good as well. People will skim emails as it is. You might as well make it easy on them.

  29. There is so much spam and therefore mail marketing is so difficult. So I do not like email marketing. What do you think about Guerrilla marketing?

  30. Back to the basics will help, still you have to realize that people want solid content. Don’t over simplify to the point where you have no meat!

  31. That was a useful tips. Many marketers are now using emails to market their product or services but the down side of that is that their are bombarding each people of emails that make them irritate.

  32. I really don’t use any images in my email campaigns.

  33. Back to the basics will help, still you have to realize that people want solid content. Don’t over simplify to the point where you have no meat!

  34. Providing links and being organized is by far my biggest thing. I can’t stand having things not look right or wasting a linking opportunity.

  35. I know personally no matter how well placed links are, unless I am very engaged and the author is very credible, I will just ignore them.

  36. I think linking the marketing info to more detailled info is a good tip. I hate getting too much info in 1 email.

  37. Even if you want to say too many things, your email should present all the information to the point with only couple of words or sentences, this will surely help customer to quickly have a look on all the content and then decide where to concentrate first.

    —-
    Robert D.

  38. “Provide Links to Relevant Content”.

    This is actually not only in email marketing. The same is the case in all online marketing

  39. How do you overcoming consumers increasing blindness to links? Wouldn’t it be better to include full pages in the email body to cut the 1 click distance?

  40. @Mark: I’m not aware of an increasing blindness to links in emails; if you have research, please share :) . So long as the links are relevant, and in the main column of the layout where the focus is, you should be fine. You can also try techniques like underlining, bolding, size, color, background color, and borders (all HTML style attributes) to make sure the link text contrasts with body text and background.

  41. [...] View full post on Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc [...]

  42. I personally prefer personalized marketing. Most emails are usually deleted right away unless they were relevant to something I am interested in at the moment.
    Take for example, my wife received an ad based on her favorite movie listed on facebook, she did buy the merchandise being advertised because it was relevant. How many times do you see ads that are not relevant, a million times.
    Targeted marketing works much better.

  43. Great tips about email marketing, but imho the quality of your email content is very important. If the quality of your messages is high, more subscribers will open the message and will take action on the information provided!

  44. If the email list is a opt-in, then these are more willing readers and you can push the envelope a little with your copy writing. But make sure you continue to monitor the CTR and Click to send ratio for any dropoffs and unsubscribe.

  45. I fully agree with your post. And it does matter if the email list is opt-in and the sort of people who receive mail (young/old m/f etc)

  46. I absolutely agree! We don’t want our email to sound like a telemarketer pitch don’t we?

  47. The key to a successful email marketing plan aside from a legal method of getting an email list which is of course through opt in direct marketing plan, is making sure that we have a killer email content which shows connection to the reader as to having a friendly tone and not just a sales pitch. a great content would surely establish trust and potential client base.

  48. I agree with all four points, especially #1 Providing links to relevant content, if someone was referring to content in an email that was available on the web but not linked to I would not take my time to go away and find the information myself.

    Highlighting keywords is very important as yes people do scan the email before deciding if they want to commit.

    What would you consider the next important component once you had fulfilled these four?

  49. E-mail marketing is the cheapest way of you product promotion. we need to take care that we are providing the right content to the user.

  50. I strongly believe that email marketing in very tough these day but it the the best method to achieve business.

  51. In some markets, plain text emails have the best response. If you have a tightly focused message where you just want the recipient to take one action (visit a specific webpage) text only often works best.

    When you have a more generic message (e.g. ‘New products just in this week’) then graphic heavy emails work well.

    I’m never sure about the Magazine style newsletters. These tend to have so much information that it is far harder to get all your messages across.

  52. keywords is very important as yes people do scan the email before deciding if they want to commit.

    What would you consider the next important component once you had fulfilled these four?

  53. email marketing is cheap, but if it’s too cheap most recipient will most probably treat it as junk, a well designed promotional email with intensive graphic is the key.

  54. Not only does the content need to be relevant. It also needs to be delivered in bite-sized chunks that are easy to scan.

    Great post, by the way.

  55. Not only does the content need to be relevant. It also needs to be delivered in bite-sized chunks that are easy to scan.

    Great post, by the way.

  56. When reviewing my email marketing campaign for shortfalls I try to involve my readers (when possible)in the process. I ask them what they like to read and what type of content they’d like to receive in the future. It’s helped me improve my campaigns. Thanks for the good read.

  57. Additionally, it’s really important that the customer should impress and convince of you want to share with them.

  58. It seems that all 4 points are summarized by the fact that people are busy nowadays. They don’t have time for videos and other splashy media in emails. For me, it’s best if an email gets to the point, however I can drill down and learn more quickly. I prefer a summary of the information first and details next.

  59. Providing real comments makes sense. If you’re posting irrelevant emails they will get annoyed and so may report or flag you as spam. The rule doesn’t only apply to B2B but every single business model.

  60. I agree with your suggestion, at present email marketing very crucial for every business but for this you need to hire a professional person who knows about this because it is not easy for everyone. I think for email marketing need creative mind that think different and express the massage different way because everyone busy in there life and they have no time to check every mail so there for creative thing you need to add in your mail.
    Very interesting topic for discussion,
    Nice article

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