Why should every B2B company (business-to-business company) have an email marketing strategy in its digital marketing arsenal? B2B marketing strategies are all about building trust with potential customers and demonstrating how a product or service can meet their specific business needs.
But the B2B decision-making process is long, and includes extensive research. Keeping your business at the forefront of a buyer’s minds is essential.
Email marketing is the perfect opportunity to send personalized, targeted messages that share just why your brand is the best choice.
When it comes to B2B lead generation, email marketing is still king. Now more than ever, people are checking their inbox and opening business emails that offer value.
These statistics provide plenty of proof:
- According to Experian, for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is over $44.
- 93% of B2B marketers say they use email marketing.
- 90% of B2B marketers use email engagement (opens, reads, clicks, downloads) to measure the success of their content.
- According to the Content Marketing Institute, 81% of B2B marketers say their most-used type of marketing content is email newsletters.
- As Earnest Agency reports, 72% of B2B buyers are most likely to share useful content via email. If a buyer finds your emails helpful and engaging, chances are high they’ll share it with colleagues and industry peers.
But how do B2B email marketing strategies differ from B2C email marketing efforts? And what B2B email marketing best practices and strategies should you follow for success? We have the answers.
B2B vs. B2C email marketing: The buyer’s journey
B2B email marketing campaigns are very different from B2C email marketing campaigns because of the elaborate B2B funnel.
B2C email marketing is focused on convincing someone to make an instant purchase. It also heavily appeals to a buyer’s emotions. After all, B2C customers can buy right away, and their purchases are relatively low-stakes.
Meanwhile, B2B email marketing is focused on education and logic. It strives to build lasting trust and form strong relationships in order to nurture a lead toward a purchase.
This is because the long B2B buyer’s journey involves extensive research and repeated actions, leading up to a higher-stakes purchase.
B2B buyers often check and double check the details of all available options before they make a purchasing decision. They often research on their own, even before contacting the company. B2B buyers also often consult other stakeholders in their company before settling on a purchase.
WebFX outlines the new B2B buyer’s journey, which includes looping research steps.
Your B2B email marketing strategy should be tailored for this longer sales cycle. In fact, email marketing is the perfect way for a B2B to address specific customer problems and pain points, and show how your product or service provides viable solutions.
Use emails to tell potential clients how your business offers value, and address any concerns that might keep them from purchasing. Answer common audience questions, share educational content, and build authority in your business niche.
The B2B journey doesn’t end with a purchase, though. Customer retention is an equally crucial part of your relationship. With the same focus on education and trust, deliver retention-focused emails that continue to give customers the information they need.
The B2B email marketing strategies list (11 B2B email marketing best practices)
Now that we’ve covered the benefits and fundamentals of B2B email marketing, let’s dive into 11 essential B2B email marketing best practices to set your B2B up for success.
1. Set measurable email goals
Like all B2B marketing strategies, email marketing must be data-driven. Before you begin writing a single email, set measurable goals to track the success of your campaign. Your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Set goals for click-through rates: How many website visits would you like to get from a given email campaign (per month, per quarter, or per year)?
- How many landing page visits would you like to receive through email?
- How many product page visits would you like to receive?
- How many blog page visits would you like to receive?
- How many qualified leads do you want to gain through email marketing (per month, per quarter, or per year)?
- By what percentage do you want to see an increase in qualified leads?
- By what time period?
- How many conversions do you want to get through email marketing (per month, per quarter, or per year)? Or, what conversion rate do you want your email campaigns to achieve? (Conversions aren’t just purchases. Anyone who moves to the next stage of the buyer’s journey as the result of an email counts as a conversion.)
- If you send emails after someone subscribes to your list, how many new subscribers do you want to gain within a certain period? What do you want your email subscriber retention rate to be?
- Set goals for email open rates and read rates.
2. Use an email service provider (email marketing software)
One of the most important steps in setting up an effective B2B email marketing plan is to choose an email service provider (ESP) or email marketing software.
An ESP helps you format emails professionally with your company’s branding, send out mass emails to a preset list, automate sending emails, set up autoresponders, track key email metrics, and help you send the right emails to target audience segments. Evaluate ESPs carefully to determine which one will best serve your B2B’s needs.
Some well-known email service providers include:
- Constant Contact
3. Set up a clear email plan in advance
When it comes to email marketing, one of the worst mistakes your B2B can make is to send emails to prospects randomly, with no rhyme or reason.
All your emails need to have a plan behind them. Consider these fundamentals when forming your email marketing plan:
- At what point in the buyer’s journey will each email be sent?
- How does each email help build authority, trust, and relationships?
- How does each email communicate the value of your company to a lead/customer?
- How does an email encourage a customer to move further along the buyer’s journey?
- For example, how can an email help answer a customer’s questions about you or dispel their doubts about moving forward?
- How does each email work with other emails to create the best flow of emails along the buyer’s journey?
Also consider these elements when planning your B2B email marketing:
- Will an email stand alone or be part of a detailed email series (like a lead nurturing sequence or email course)?
- How many emails will you send at each stage of the buyer’s journey?
- What day and time will each email be sent at, to reach a lead when they’re most likely to read that type of email?
- How frequently will a lead receive emails from you? (How many emails per week? How many emails per month?)
- Will you segment emails for different types of prospects? If so, how? (See #5 below for ways to segment customers.)
- Will the emails be personalized to a specific customer or audience segment? Or, will the email be a mass mailing, sent at the same time to everyone on the list?
- Will an email be sent out manually, or automatically after a customer performs a certain action?
For more details on the steps you need to make an B2B email marketing plan, in order by stage of the buyer’s journey, we’ve put together a dedicated checklist. Check it out here.
4. Consider using only inbound marketing emails
You might be tempted to send emails to mass lists of potential buyers, regardless of whether someone has expressed interest in you first.
But modern B2B email marketing best practices leave cold emails as a thing of the past. Today’s B2B buyers are increasingly younger, and they don’t want you to pitch to them out of nowhere. They’d rather do their own research first, come to you when they’re interested, and let you know when they’d like to receive your emails.
Focus on building your email list with landing pages, lead forms, and other lead magnets. Then, use the information you’ve gathered through these lead generation tools to build targeted inbound email lists, with emails tailored to the needs of different audience segments.
Sending emails only to people who have already expressed interest in you means you won’t waste time and energy with people who have no interest in buying.
5. Send personalized emails
B2B buyers appreciate personalization just like B2C buyers do. 83% of B2B buyers seek personalized experiences, making these experiences vital if you want to win their business.
As Instapage explains, personalization involves “tailoring your advertising, offers, and communication efforts to fit the needs of each B2B customer,” with “smarter targeting and better understanding to deliver faster, more relevant, and expected experiences.”
How do you deliver personalization through your B2B email marketing strategy? Segmentation helps.
First, make sure you’ve defined the buyer personas of your ideal customers. Creating buyer personas will help you determine what emails will best convince a given customer to purchase your product. (Our brand strategy template has everything you need to create a buyer persona).
Then, using the information you’ve gathered from your buyer personas, segment the types of emails you send to different audience members. Narrower segments are better – again, you want a prospect to feel like you’re speaking directly to their needs and problems. But don’t include age or gender demographics in a segment, as these factors don’t help you predict B2B buyer needs.
Here are some possible ways of segmenting your emails:
- By industry
- By department the buyer works in (marketing, sales, customer success, etc.)
- By their position
- By business location
- By the predicted needs they seek to meet using your product
- By the buyer’s predicted amount of influence in the buying decision
- By the length of time they’ve been on your email list
- By what enticed them to join your email list
- How often they engage with your emails
- What content of yours they’ve already read
Then, answer these questions for each segment, and act on your answers:
- How can you anticipate the segment’s needs as each buyer moves through the funnel, and deliver solutions almost instantly?
- What calls to action and messages will best motivate each buyer to move forward in the funnel, and help alleviate their possible objections?
- What content pieces will best meet needs of that segment at a given point, and how will you integrate them in your emails?
6. Don’t underestimate email drip campaigns
An email drip campaign is a set of automated and targeted emails (two or more) sent in a specific order to someone who takes a given action, such as signing up for a course or starting a free trial.
Each subsequent email is set to send after a lead performs another behavioral trigger, or a certain number of days after the previous email.
Drip campaign emails have an 80% higher open rate than single emails, and a 3x higher click rate on average. And successful email drip campaigns generate 80% more sales at 33% lower costs. One reason they’re so successful is because buyers intentionally opt in to receive the campaign.
Want to learn more about this powerful B2B email marketing strategy? Check out our dedicated article for everything you need to start a successful email drip campaign.
7. Focus on the first email you send
What’s the most important email in your B2B email marketing strategy? It’s the first email after someone signs up for your list and becomes a new lead, according to data from Jay Schwedelson, CEO at Worldata and email marketing expert.
If someone opens up that first email, your future emails are 80% more likely to end up in their inbox, not their junk or trash folders. Inboxes remember people’s reading patterns, and keep emails from addresses that buyers find relevant in their primary inbox. That first email you send is crucial for building a relationship and trust.
Offering your new reader something valuable is key at this stage. For B2Bs, that valuable offer will likely be an ebook, whitepaper, or in-depth guide. Make sure this material offers more information than your typical pieces of content.
Also, when you send the email with the content piece attached, be sure to include points of progression – what are the next steps you want potential buyers to take, and how can your product/service offer value to their business? This email should be about much more than delivering the content piece.
8. Automate emails
Using your email service provider, you can trigger email automations to reach potential and current customers right after they complete certain actions.
Strategic email prompts can go a long way in keeping your company relevant.
- A confirmation email immediately after someone fills out a lead form, with a link to the promised content.
- An email to nudge or convince potential buyers to continue with their purchase. Emails like these are considered lead nurturing emails. We cover lead nurturing emails in more detail below.
- You might also deliver an automated email sequence (drip campaign) when someone signs up for an educational series. The first welcome email might be sent right after they sign up, and then the other emails released according to a schedule.
- If you send out a newsletter, the newsletters themselves will already be automated. But if you receive a new email address from a newsletter sign-up, you might also send out a personalized introduction email with details about your company.
- Once a customer starts using your product, you might send an onboarding email with tips on how to get the most out of your product. This works especially well if you offer software and want to encourage customer retention.
9. Use the right sequence of emails to nurture leads
Lead nurturing emails are a prime opportunity to move customers along the buyer’s journey, especially if they’re on the fence about purchasing. Essentially, lead nurturing emails are any emails you send to someone who hasn’t yet purchased from you. It’s intended to convince them to take the next step and purchase.
Lead nurturing emails can take many different forms, but they’re all geared towards keeping your brand on top of mind and convincing a lead that your product/service will meet their needs. To best accomplish this, you should release lead nurturing emails in a series.
Usually, these emails will share links to authoritative content, such as your blog posts or guides, that whet the prospect’s appetite and keep them engaged. Think about a logical order to send out links to your blog posts. Supplement those blog links with targeted messaging about how your brand can solve common customer problems.
Start with more general information, based on the current customer’s stage, the needs they have, and the obstacles they may be facing. Then, as a customer continues to receive your emails, you can get more specific in your posts and messaging.
Remember that you don’t need to insert direct sales messages in every email. When it comes to convincing prospects, building trust is actually more important. Valuable content presented on its own is just as effective (if not more effective) than sales messaging. In fact, 62% of B2B buyers make purchasing decisions based on online content alone.
You also need to decide how often you’ll send out lead nurturing emails per month, per quarter, or year. Even though you don’t want to inundate a prospect with email messages, you do need to send enough emails to keep your brand top of mind.
10. Create an email newsletter
Email newsletters are another way to drive more customer engagement with your content and help build trust. While lead nurturing emails focus on content that meets a decision-maker’s needs, newsletters shine the spotlight on your most recent content.
They also keep leads and customers up-to-date with what’s going on in your company. You can share product updates, company collaborations, and webinars and events you’re hosting. The possibilities are endless. But be sure to always create your email newsletter around the pillars of education, trust, and relationship-building.
11. Follow email design best practices
Don’t overlook the little things when designing a B2B email. Follow these best practices for email design:
Choose your subject line carefully. Subject lines are what motivate decision-makers to open your email.
- According to Jay Schwedelson, the best email subject lines have under 20 characters or over 65 characters. These very short and very long subject lines will increase your open rate.
- Even B2Bs can include a relevant emoji in the subject line – this helps draw the eye and increase open rates.
- The word “new” has proven to be effective for increasing open rates.
- Adding the buyer’s name into the subject line can also increase open rates.
- Avoid words, like “learn,” “meeting,” “chat,” and “urgent” in your subject line. These words may lead people to unsubscribe.
Make sure your email design is uncluttered.
- Don’t include too much text.
- Keep paragraphs short and easy to digest.
- Break the email content up, and draw in the eye, with well-chosen images.
Make sure your logo has a clickable link to your homepage.
- As Jay Schwedelson reports, 31% of B2B email clicks are on the logo.
- Also make sure all your images link to relevant content on your website, such as the content or offer they’re being used to promote.
Be personal and avoid stuffy jargon.
- Sounding human is crucial to connecting with your readers (and will increase the chances the email won’t go to a junk or promotions box).
- Keep your campaign message conversational.
Offer a limited-time deal.
- Even for B2Bs with a long sales process, expiring email offers are effective because they create urgency and exclusivity. The deal doesn’t have to be for your product, either. It could be for limited content or a webinar.
- Language, like “free” and “today,” will increase your open rate if you include them in your subject line.
Include a clear call-to-action (CTA) that details what you want someone to do next.
- For example, if you want readers to click through to a particular post or sign up for a free trial, make that crystal clear. The CTA is key to moving someone through the funnel.
Wrapping things up: Remember to regularly test your campaigns!
Now that you’re equipped with these B2B email marketing best practices, it’s time to apply them to your B2B email marketing strategies and campaigns. Keep the long buyer’s journey in mind throughout the process, and aim to educate, create trust, and build relationships.
But remember – once you’ve constructed your email marketing campaigns, your work is far from over. Your audience metrics are always changing, so don’t just leave your B2B campaigns be. Rather, continue to test and evaluate your email campaigns to see how well they’re meeting your goals.
A/B test different campaigns, messaging, and layouts to find out what best motivates someone in a particular segment and stage of the buyer’s journey. Use all of your data to holistically evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and inform your future email campaigns.
Looking for best practices for designing one specific type of email–a referral program email? We’ve got everything you need to know here.
And if you’re looking to start a B2B referral program, we’ve got you covered.