Better Practices for B2B Email Marketing
Getting a low engagement rate is not what anyone wants for their B2B email marketing campaigns. But it is all too common of an occurrence for companies who send irrelevant emails with ineffective designs to untargeted groups without tracking to understand performance.
Email is an incredibly valuable tool for B2B marketers and is a great way to connect with your users by delivering personalized and relevant content wherever they may be in the sales funnel. And unlike B2B social media, you own the audience and the ability to message them at will.
Turning B2B Email Best Practices into Better Practices.
Email marketing best practices are great and all, but what you need is something that goes to the next level, beyond the typical lists and infographics B2B marketers usually find in searches.
What you need are BETTER practices.
Technological shifts are coming constantly for B2B companies. From how iOS changed email strategy for all marketers to Google’s Universal Analytics sunsetting to the role of data privacy as a differentiator, the best practices just won’t do. It’s time for better practices!
These B2B email marketing better practices are intended to guide you in improving your company’s email deliverability and engagement.
Keep in mind that every business and industry is unique and that you will need to test and experiment to determine which better practices will be the most effective for your audience.
Developing a B2B Email Marketing Strategy
A strong email marketing strategy is the keystone of all your email activity. Doing it right enables you to focus time, money and other resources in a way that will maximize the chances of reaching your goals.
Define A Purpose
Crafting a successful B2B email marketing strategy begins with having a purpose and how it connects to business goals. The purpose will root you in all your decisions from which emoji to use in the preview of an announcement email to thinking through user intent for dozens of pathways in automated drip campaigns.
Your email marketing strategy should be centered around this purpose, which is a clear and concise statement of what you want to achieve with your emails. Your purpose might be something like:
- Develop attention and interest
- Create awareness for a service line
- Generate conversions and qualified leads
Identify your KPIs
After setting your goals, you need to determine which metrics will help you measure whether or not those business goals are being met. This will help you track the progress of your business, and it’s also a good way to keep yourself motivated.
- Open Rate to measure attention and interest of past customers or unengaged users
- Clicks on button to landing page that creates awareness for a new service line
- MQLs sourced from email
For a B2B company, the purchasing process can be impossible to organize and manage with dozens upon dozens of stakeholders each with a unique point of view.
Getting multiple departments and players to align takes patience and coordination skills. It can also take an email marketing campaign strategy created to address common questions and barriers for each stakeholder in over every stage of the sales funnel, including the post-purchase stage.
Matching an email marketing campaign strategy with the entire sales cycle, and buyers’ needs along the way, is a critical component of an effective, holistic strategy.
Opt Ins for Lead Generation
Opt-in email marketing delivers messages directly to a subscriber’s inbox, ensuring that the right message is delivered at the right time and with their approval. Follow these better practices to get the most from opt-ins.
Implement a Double Opt-in Process
A double opt-in process is one that sends an email to a contact after they have signed up to receive communications in order to have them verify that they would like to be contacted. This ensures that leads are engaged and have provided consent to be communicated with. It is important to note that a double opt-in process may be a deterrent for some people to finish signing up to receive email marketing campaigns, but ultimately it will improve engagement.
Use Welcome Emails
Welcome emails are a great way to remind users that they opted in to receive communications from your company. Set up an auto-responder that welcomes users to your mailing list and re-introduces your brand. A welcome series is even better, with emails being sent one day, five days, and 10 days after the person registers.
Each welcome email should include additional content or bonus material to reward the reader for opting into the newsletter as well as information about what they can expect from you in terms of frequency of communication, what types of information they’ll be receiving, etc.
List Lead Management
B2B list management is more than a “set it and forget” affair. Once you’ve earned a contact, nurturing and growing that relationship requires constant care and attention. It’s about treating those contacts like people, not numbers on a spreadsheet.
To do that well, you need better practices for caring for this valuable business asset.
Clean your Database Regularly
Some of your email contacts might not opt-out of your email campaign, but still never open your emails. It’s tempting to email as many people as possible to reach more prospects, but keeping your least engaged recipients on your mailing list can hurt your deliverability rate.
Analyze who hasn’t engaged with your emails over a certain period of time, and remove them on a regular basis. Known as email list hygiene, this process gives a more accurate email open rate and keeps your database free of people who are no longer interested in hearing from you (ultimately improving deliverability).
Email list hygiene can be approached in multiple ways:
- Run all contacts through a re-engagement workflow. Send a sequence of emails to subscribers asking them if they would like to continue to receive emails from you. Usually, this ask comes in the form of a CTA that directs users to a confirmation page or a preferences page where they can update their email preferences and contact information. Upon completion of the campaign:
- Remove/delete any emails that hard bounced
- Remove/delete contacts that didn’t open or engage with the emails in the campaign or move them into an “Unengaged” list. Use this list as a suppression list when sending future emails.
- After you’ve been sending emails for 6 months to a year to the majority of your list, manually evaluate your email performance and do the following:
- Remove/delete any emails that hard bounced
- Define inactive subscribers (users who haven’t engaged with the last ‘X’ number of emails or who haven’t opened an email in ‘X’ months) and remove or delete them from your database. You can also use HubSpot’s Suppress Graymail feature to automatically exclude contacts who have not been engaging with your emails from being sent emails.
We suggest a bi-annual or annual engagement series to ensure that your contacts are truly engaged. Based on the pricing structure of most CRMs like HubSpot, it’s important to perform these audits/cleanups so you’re not paying for unengaged users.
Segment Lists By Buyer Persona
Segmenting your lists and tailoring your messaging to match your customer’s wants and needs is the best way to improve engagement. Segment your email streams according to factors such as:
- What did they engage with lately?
- Where do they live?
- What industry are they in?
- What part of the sales process are they in?
The more you cater your messages to your subscribers’ tastes, interests, activities, etc., the more likely you are to reach and resonate with your recipients.
Avoid Using Purchased Contact Lists
The success of your email campaigns depends on deliverability and a healthy open rate. If you’re contacting people whose information you bought. Rather than earned from a previous interaction, you’ll quickly see your emails’ performance drop.
Buying email lists doesn’t just damage your deliverability and brand reputation, it can also put your email account at risk. Email clients like Gmail, Yahoo!, and Outlook don’t want to be associated with accounts that recipients repeatedly flag as spam.
GDPR also requires each EU recipient’s consent before you reach out to them. Purchased email lists usually do not come with that consent.
Here are a few reasons you don’t want to purchase/rent a list:
- You’ll violate the rules of consent under GDPR and similar laws
- Most reputable email marketing services don’t let you send emails to lists you’ve bought
- Good email address lists aren’t for sale, they’re organic. Users who have interacted with your brand organically and know who you are will be more engaged than a user who has never heard of you.
People on a rented/purchased list don’t know you and therefore will hesitate to open your email and interact, increasing your probability of being identified as spam. Too many spam complaints can hurt your overall email deliverability and IP reputation. Additionally, your account may be penalized by the email service provider (ESP.)
Before an email recipient ever opens an email, there are three critical pieces of information that they are exposed to: sender name, subject line and preview text.
Success, as it relates to these three “first impressions,” is not just about providing compelling content—it’s about making sure each works together to maximize the likelihood the user will peak inside your message. Perfect these components can increase performance noticeably.
No-Reply is a No Go
Avoid using ‘No-Reply’ in the sender’s email address. CAN-SPAM is a longstanding piece of legislation and is an important guideline for all email marketers. CAN-SPAM requires marketers to never use the words “no reply,” or a similar phrase, as your email sender’s name (for example, “firstname.lastname@example.org”).
“No reply” in an email message prevents recipients from opening and even opting out of further emails, which CAN-SPAN protects their right to do at any time. Instead, have even your automated emails come from a real person (for example, email@example.com) or a recognizable brand name. Your customers are much more likely to open emails if they feel like they’re coming from a human being.
Write Compelling (but Concise) Subject Lines
A good subject line should contain between 30 and 50 characters (including spaces). Email accounts and mobile devices often cut off any subject lines that go beyond this length. Your email subject line should grab their attention, while giving readers some indication of what to expect once they open the email.
Optimize the Preview Text
By default, preview text pulls in the first several words of the email body and displays it next to the subject line before the person opens it. Most custom email templates will default to conditional statements like “can’t see images?” or “not displaying correctly?” that are usually displayed along the top banner.
Customizing your preview text ensures that this isn’t a problem. Think of it as an extension of your subject line and make your preview text short and to the point.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
Personalization is a great way to optimize open rates and make your content more engaging. Use personalization tokens where appropriate (in the subject line, in the greeting of the email, or even in the content, when applicable) and use segmentation to send users the most relevant content possible. HubSpot allows for dynamic content via “Smart Rules”, which allows you to show different images or content to different audiences and is another great way to personalize your emails.
Designing and Email for B2B Audiences
A well-designed email goes a long way toward making your marketing campaign successful. It takes the average reader 13.4 seconds to skim an email. Poorly designed emails end up in the trash immediately, while well-designed ones can win customers in as little time.
Stick to fewer than three typefaces
Don’t junk up your B2B emails with more than two, or a maximum of three, fonts or typefaces. Using more than three can cause your email to look cluttered and spammy.
Keep the main message and call-to-action above the fold
If your main call-to-action (CTA) falls below the fold, as many as 70% of recipients won’t see it. Also, any CTA should be repeated at least three times throughout the email in various places and formats.
Put your logo in the center or upper-left hand side of the email
Eye tracking studies have found that people instinctively look for logos in the upper left-hand side of emails, often because it’s consistent with the placement of a logo on most websites. However, it’s also acceptable to put your logo in the center to align it with the email content beneath it.
Whether your logo is centered or on the left hand side, branding the header of your email reminds your recipients that it came from you.
Include an email signature
People are naturally more inclined to read and listen to emails if they know it came from a human being, not just a collective marketing team.
Use appropriate ALT text for every image
In the event that an email isn’t properly loaded or a user is using a screen reader, it is important to add ALT Text (a short description of what the image is) to all images. Not only does this help with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, but can give users a sense of what is supposed to be there in the event an image doesn’t load.
Closely tie emails to landing pages
Your landing page should match the email in terms of headline, copy, and content. The look and feel of your landing page should also match the email. Consistency goes a long way toward a customer’s trust in the content they’re receiving.
Use tracking tools to see which emails and landing pages perform the best so you can keep doing what’s working and optimize what isn’t.
Allow recipients to subscribe to your newsletter
Great content is shareable content, and if your current subscribers are forwarding your emails to their friends and colleagues, you’ll want to help them subscribe, too.
Add a small but visible call to action that allows an email viewer to subscribe to the newsletter if they received this email from someone else. But remember, because your newsletter should already be driving another action, such as downloading an ebook or becoming a community member, make sure this “Subscribe” button doesn’t distract or confuse users, weakening your main campaign goal in the process.
Use UTM Parameters
UTMs (Urchin Tracking Modules) are tags that can be added to URLs to help understand how your website visitors found you. UTMs are advanced tracking options that help you better understand the success of your B2B email marketing campaigns. Here’s an example of how UTM parameters appear:
It is important to be consistent with the naming conventions and the letter-case you use in UTM parameters, so that the data is properly categorized in your analytics platform. UTMs should be lowercase across platforms for consistency of reporting.
Another recommendation is to keep track of your UTM parameters somewhere. Keeping a record of the tagged links you have used will help ensure your team is on the same page. Creating a naming convention guide can also be helpful in ensuring that your team uses the correct tags.
Google’s Campaign URL Builder is an excellent tool to assist with the creation of UTM parameters. Just be sure to be consistent with your naming conventions!
Always be Testing (and Learning)
Email marketing is most effective when testing has been done. That’s why it’s important to test your emails before sending them out. You can run A/B tests or split tests to see which subject lines or designs get the best open rates and click through rates.
A/B test everything
A/B tests, or “split tests,” can be used to improve almost any of your digital marketing content. In an email, this test effectively “splits” your recipients into two groups: Group A receives the normal newsletter, while Group B receives the newsletter with a specific variation. This variation tests to see if your audience would be more or less likely to take an action if your newsletter was different.
A/B testing can help you learn about what works best for your audience, and it’s important to conduct A/B tests regularly. Test different subject lines to optimize open rates. Test different content to optimize click through rates. Test to see if personalization really does drive more engagement. Test everything.
Find what send times work best for you
Every industry, business, and audience is different. Industry benchmarks can tell you what day and time most companies see the highest open and engagement rates, but ultimately it’s up to you to determine what works best for your audience. Test sending emails on different days and at different times to determine when your audience is the most engaged.
Time To Hit Send?
Not so fast. Before hitting send, there are two final steps to make sure the email is as successful as possible: structured QA and adjusting the deployment time.
Test and QA your Emails Before Sending!
Be sure to thoroughly QA and test your emails before sending them to a large number of contacts. Noble recommends creating a checklist of items to double-check before sending. This can include double-checking subject lines and preview text, reviewing content for spelling/grammar errors, previewing on mobile, ensuring links are working properly and UTM parameters are showing up, etc.
It’s always a good idea to send a test email to yourself and at least one other person to review before scheduling or sending an email.
Don’t Forget About Different Time Zones
Remember that your recipients are likely in different time zones than you. When you schedule an email, you can set the email to be distributed at a certain time depending on the recipient’s time zone. If you’re manually sending an email, consider who you’re sending to and what time it might be. It may be worth sending to different lists based on location!
Timing is Everything
Consider sending your emails on “off” times, i.e. not on the top of the hour. So for example, send your newsletters at 10:07 am instead of 10 am. Sending at the top of the hour increases the chance that your emails will be delayed and not reach your recipient when you originally intended.
B2B email marketing requires a lot of moving parts. In order to make it work, you need to make sure you have a solid foundation of strategies and tactics in place. If you’re not sure if your foundation is as solid as it needs to be, contact us to provide the strategy and insights you need for success.
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