For those of us who work the B2B side, who spend LOTS of time with marketing automation systems trying to carefully craft personalized, triggered emails, a lot of the “email marketing best practice” guides are, well, useless. Personalize! they say. Use lots of pictures. Yuck.

We try though, we really do, testing each of these theories, assuming that, at some point, our business audience will behave like traditional consumers and will read emails because they like our companies, click our links because the cat graphics our designers made are just tops.

But they don’t.

The conventional wisdom of “when to send emails” and “just the right amount of content” goes right out the window in the B2B world, and to keep our marketing automation justifying its… complexity, we’ve got to do what we as marketers do best: use data.

B2B Email Marketing Is Not A Prison

In marketing automation, data is everywhere. We know which prospects clicked which triggers, where they are in our funnel, and what the likelihood is that they’re sales-qualified. We should have them right where we want them, right?

Wrong. While it’s true that outbound email communications are the best way to target decision-makers in businesses (just try to sell a 200k per year SaaS on Facebook or cold call a CMO at a $1B company and let me know what happens), the fact of the matter is that we’re reading the wrong data (or, the right data, incorrectly) and targeting like marketers. Click here we say to them. We know you read our white paper.

But this, frankly, is oppressive. And, while there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of retargeting, calling-to-action, and personalization, automated email marketing shouldn’t be a cage: we caught you reading our white-paper; now here’s 10 emails.

Rather, it should be a snare.

Transforming B2B Email Marketing into a Snare

Something drew your prospects into your funnel. Honestly, it was probably Adwords and a cleverly-titled piece of content. Fair enough. But, does that make them sales-qualified / in need of your more seductive email marketing measures? Let’s see…

According to a recent study by Adobe and Argyle Social, only about 25 of every thousand  leads (2.5%) generated by your inbound are sales-qualified. Why? Because they found you on Google. They were looking for something specific, and you got them. Good for you. But do you really want to build brand negativity by sending them 7 emails, just because they viewed an infographic? Probably not.

You captured their information, but that isn’t the same as them giving you an email address, saying shoot me some info about your product. Instead, unless it’s a direct newsletter signup or product inquiry, it’s likely more of a begrudging here’s my email address; I’m just going to delete everything you send me.

So what do we do from here? When the odds are against us, when most conventional email marketing wisdom has failed us, what do we do? Because B2B brand management is arguably more important than B2C (just because a prospect isn’t sales-qualified today doesn’t mean they can’t be converted, unlike many B2C consumers), how do we use our intelligence to create conversions without becoming aggressive and spammy?

Using Data in B2B Email Marketing Strategy

It’s simple. We treat our prospects like people on the fence who need a bit of nurturing and a LOT less aggression. We can do it by:

  • Personalizing through content: Someone reading a white paper of yours doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for you to start courting them (or even sending them weekly notes about yourself.) Instead, use what they’ve learned to continue their conversation. Did they view an infographic about content marketing? Perhaps your first email should be about adapting writing styles to particular audiences, or something like that. You want to draw them into the funnel, but be gentle, create multiple content/clickthrough triggers, and allow the complexity available in marketing automation to work for you.
  • Context + Consistency: Delivering content as promised (whether weekly, daily, etc) will absolutely affect your clickthroughs. Send too many, and you’re spam. Don’t send enough, and you’re a vague memory. However, coupled with consistency is the need for context. In Vero’s analysis of 100M+ emails, they discovered that both your subject line and your pretext (what bit of the email text displays prior to opening in the average email platform) are directly related to your open-rates. Because you have the opportunity to be more personalized than most, use these spaces to your advantage. Having subject lines that mimic a more transactional style and continue the conversation your businesses is having with them (as determined by which trigger they hit) makes opening the email more interesting, more necessary.
  • Using One or Fewer Images: Because these emails are personalized and contextual to user interactions, nowhere in your marketing automation campaign should you find yourself sending out newsletter-style content. Instead, keep your messaging focused on slowly turning the single conversation and feature, at most, one relevant (hyperlinked) image. Doing this keeps engaged prospects on track and sheds those who were only passing through.
  • Stop Worrying about the Length of Your Copy: True fact: copy-length doesn’t matter. Instead, what matters is saying what you need to say with as much economy as possible. 100-word emails aren’t going to garner any more clicks than 25-word ones or 500-word ones. What’s going to get the click is saying enough, leaving your audience wanting more (that’s what your landing pages are for!), and getting out of Dodge. Seriously.

So by personalizing based on target clicks and engaging your prospects in singularly targeted, transactional emails that say what they need to (and no more), you’ll increase your email clickthroughs all through the simple wisdom of being a better conversationalist, bringing your prospects closer to your brand (and ultimately deeper into your funnel.)

I think the lesson here is that, in email, we create an expectation: that we’re giving something useful. The “image” of the company email, especially in B2B, has been debased and degraded for years, but we’ll take it back (and everyone will win) by treating prospects as people seeking information, unsure of us at first, but who are won over by the quality of our thinking, not worn out by our persistence.

Also important (and oft overlooked) is that fact that, in B2B email marketing (like anything else), you need to be able to reach your prospects. Try the CircleBack app for iOS or Android for a glimmer of the contact intelligence we can offer to you as a business solution.