Forget “batch and blast.” B2B email marketing must tie into the buyer’s journey.
When used properly, email marketing is one of the most powerful weapons in a B2B marketer’s war chest.
Email marketing is more scalable (and less intrusive) than telemarketing. It’s more personalized and interactive than direct mail, and it gets better engagement than social. Plus, email marketing is cheaper and more measurable. Sure, it’s not the only marketing communication tool you use, but it’s one of the most important.
B2B marketers who overlook the power and cost effectiveness of email marketing in favor of “sexier” tactics do so at their own peril. According to the Direct Marketing Association, the average ROI is 40:1. According to a study by Message Systems, 63% of marketers cite email as the channel that offers the best ROI.
The problem with email marketing, however, is that many companies still view it as a stand-alone tactic. Some marketers and business owners are thinking to themselves (and saying) “let’s do some email marketing,” as if they want to shake the revenue tree to see what easily falls off.
Often, the impulse is to indiscriminately push out some unwanted sales messages or company news to the biggest email list in the CRM. “Let’s get our name out there.” The problem boils down to the fact that companies still want to sell their way instead of letting the customers buy their way.
That creates a real disconnect because the way people buy is changing. Dramatically.
A Corporate Executive Board study found that B2B buyers are at least 57% through their purchase research before they first contact a seller. Many of the buyers are up to 70% through their research before reaching out to possible vendors.
With buyers doing so much research before first contacting the seller, companies should use content marketing in lieu of email marketing at the top of the funnel to shepherd the buyer through that first 57% of the sales process.
As the graphic below shows, content can play a strategic role in moving prospects along the buying stages.
Targeted distribution is where really smart email marketing is taking place these days. It is the glue that is holding together the online sales process. Done right, email marketing can be the lubricant that greases the wheels of your lead nurturing machinery and puts the right information in front of the customer at the right time.
A popular rule of thumb for content distribution is the 10:4:1 rule:
- 10 pieces of relevant and helpful industry content. Examples include links to third-party articles, new research, and industry trends. Essentially, you want to distribute content that shows you have a clear understanding of and expertise related to your industry.
- 4 links to company blog posts that are applicable to people who don’t use your product of service (helpful articles).
- 1 piece of content that moves your prospect to the lead stage. Examples include links to eBooks or webinars behind a landing page that can convert a visitor into a lead.
The best way to approach email marketing is to align it with your sales cycle. And the first meeting you should have is with your sales team to talk about the process your leads and customers go through before buying.
For instance, what kinds of questions are prospects asking the sales team? What are their biggest pain points? How long is the sales cycle? Once you have answers, you’ll want to do a content audit to make sure the information on your website is providing answers to the questions your leads want. This process is known as content mapping.
In Adele Revella’s “The Buyer Persona Manifesto,” she offers this definition of a buyer persona:
“It’s an archetype, a composite picture of the real people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones you sell.”
It’s important to remember that this buyer persona is not necessarily your customer. The development of the persona helps you discern the difference between who you THINK your customer is versus who you real customer is. Flowing from that is a wealth of strategic insights about not only who your customer is, but also how and when to talk to them.
Don’t send the same message to everyone on your list.
The people on your list are at widely varying stages of the customer lifecycle. Are the people on your list researching how to solve a problem? Are they researching solutions providers like your company? Are they a customer?
When a prospect fills out a landing page form, ask for information that will help to put them in an appropriate buyer persona segment so that subsequent emails will be more relevant and helpful. Then, analyze what content your leads are downloading most and think about what they need next. As you start to see patterns, you can then begin to offer proactive answers that can guide them through their research and speed up your sales cycle.
This process of offering your digital hand to prospects to guide them through their research cannot be done without email marketing. And to make your email marketing most effective, you should use marketing automation software.
This enables you to engage and personalize each email communication to your prospects. If you are able to personalize each stage of the sales cycle your lead is in based on what behaviors they take on your website and the needs of each persona, your email will be enormously effective.
Douglas Burdett is the principal of Artillery, a B2B marketing agency, and is the host of The Marketing Book Podcast. A former artillery officer, Madison Avenue ad man and standup comedian, he was recently named to Inside View’s Top 25 Marketing Influencers list.