If you’ve been in digital marketing for any length of time, you know it’s no secret that email marketing delivers results. 81% of B2B marketers say email is their most common method of marketing, not surprising when you know that the typical ROI for email marketing is $36 for every $1 spent.
But, when you’re new to marketing, getting a handle on what makes email so successful and what the best approaches are to using email can be hard.
This post will shorten the learning with proven strategies and examples of great emails to help you get started.
What is B2B email marketing?
B2B email marketing is sending messages, both commercial and informational, to a group of people (aka your email list) using email. The goal of these emails is to build trust, show prospects how you can help, and sell your product or service using your list.
What's the difference between B2B and B2C email marketing?
B2B and B2C use similar approaches, but they differ slightly in terms of how they reach their target audiences. With B2B emails, you’re appealing to the needs of a company, while with B2C emails, you’re reaching out to the needs of a single customer. B2B tends to be seen as more serious than B2C, so marketing emails traditionally have a more formal tone.
However, it’s important to remember that you’re still dealing with human beings, regardless of whether you’re doing B2B marketing or B2C, so mixing B2C tactics into your B2B emails can be surprisingly productive.
B2B sales can be a lot more complicated than B2C. Partially, this is because the products tend to be more complex. But, there are also more people involved in the process.
Product managers, product marketers, legal teams, and sales teams can be heavily involved in the process of not just sending the emails, but creating them. This means that when you’re creating B2B emails for marketing, you need to be prepared well in advance for any sales or releases. And also need to have a strong email product workflow in place to move email initiatives through the marketing pipeline.
Longer sales cycle
Along with having more stakeholders involved on your end, there are usually quite a few stakeholders involved on the customer side. This means that the sales cycle in B2B can be quite long, typically 4 to 6 months depending on the product.
This can affect the kinds of emails that you send out and when you can expect to see results.
Cold vs. opt-in email marketing
Cold email marketing is sending unsolicited commercial messages to potential customers. These are designed to drum up business from businesses who seem to have a need. Cold email is typically a mutli-step process that involves reaching out with a series of emails that speak to the potential customer’s pain points.
Opt-in email marketing, on the other hand, is sending commercial messages to customers who have agreed to receive them. These are marketing messages that build up trust with customers over time by sharing not just information about products and services, but also helpful information about using the products (or service), customer stories, and other relevant information.
How to create a successful B2B email marketing strategy
A successful B2B email marketing strategy doesn’t just happen. You need to have a strong understanding of not only email marketing but also your customers.
Automations vs. Campaigns
Automations are typically one to one emails that are triggered by a certain behavior. This could be something that happens when a prospect is browsing your website, it could be when they download a piece of content, or it could even be what happens when they reach out to ask a few questions. Automations are ultimately triggered when a prospect shows interest and provides additional context based on their behavior.
Campaigns, on the other hand, are sent out to either everyone on your list or everyone in a specific segment on your list. These usually have a specific goal in mind, like introducing customers (and prospects) to new features or mentioning sales or upcoming events that people may want to prepare for (like Black Friday).
Profile your target customers
The better you understand your target customer, the more successful you will be with your B2B emails. Historically, people create personas based on what they think their ideal customer is, but this doesn’t always deliver the best results.
Actually talking to people who purchase, or those who are interested can help you create a true profile on your customers based on fact, rather than assumption. You can use this data to create emails that reflect their pain points and answer questions that they may typically have during the purchase process. Having these conversations can greatly reduce friction for potential customers.
Trigger on website behavior
As mentioned above, setting up triggers that are activated by what prospects are doing on your website can help your customers along their journey. Once you have someone in your CRM, say after they download an ebook, for example, you can follow that person around your site and send them emails based on what they’re doing (like downloading an ebook about a specific topic, for example).
Think like a buyer
Remember that B2B sales are complex. They involve more stakeholders and sales cycles can be quite long. The more you understand your buyers, the more you can customize the emails you send to reflect that process. This makes it easier for people to get answers to any questions they may have, to provide additional information to stakeholders, or even just better understand your product or service.
When you think like a buyer, you can send out emails that proactively answer questions or address concerns that potential customers may have about your product. You can usually learn what these questions are by talking to your sales team. They’ll know what objections prospective buyers have, what questions they’re asking, and they know what answers to provide to help move them through the pipeline.
Customer lifecycle stages
Customers have different needs at different stages of the purchasing process. The typical lifecycle of a customer looks something like this Awareness, Acquisition, Purchase, Retention, and Loyalty/Advocacy.
The more you can customize the emails you send out during each stage, the better. Again, this is where really understanding your customers can help a lot. For example, if you can identify all the people on your list who are signing up for the first time and have never used your product, you can send them emails that talk about how your product helps, share case studies, and even product reviews.
However, you don’t want to send the same information to someone who’s already purchased because they’ve seen enough value to hit buy. For people who have already purchased, you’d want to send them information about related products or specialty uses that your product has that maybe they’re not aware of. Here the goal is to do what you can to keep them actively using your product or thinking about their next purchase.
Use email segmentation
Email segmentation is a way to categorize your customers based on any number of different criteria. The goal with segmentation is to send out emails that speak directly to the customer or potential customer in a way that reflects where they are in their journey. You don’t want to send out an onboarding sequence to someone who’s been a customer for years, for example. That creates a disconnect.
The more specific you can be with your segmentation, the more likely you are to send the right emails to the right person at the right time.
Best practices for B2B email marketing
Most of what makes an email successful is going to depend on your customers and what’s important to them. However, there are things that you can do to increase the success of your emails. The big one is sending relevant content. You build more trust with emails that your audience can relate to. Along with being relevant, it should be well-written, be easy to skim, and look good in all possible email clients ( Gmail, Outlook, etc.).
There is a temptation to use pretty, well-designed emails full of graphics, but they aren’t nearly as effective as you might think. Time and time again, text-only emails prove to be the most effective approach.
Keep things scannable
As much as you want people to sit down and lose themselves in your emails, humans are busy. Most of us are going to skim what we read until we hit something interesting. That’s why it’s important to keep your emails as skimmable as possible.
You can do this by:
- Using bulleted lists
- Highlighting important details
- Keeping it short.
Personalize as much as humanly (or automatically) possible
It’s important to remember that there’s a human at the other end of the emails you send, even in B2B. The more personalization you can add to an email, the better. Simple things like including the person’s first name can help. But, also consider 91% of consumers say they’re more willing to work with a company that provides relevant offers. This means going the extra mile to include personalized offers and information to your customers (and potential customers).
Inbox testing with Litmus or Email on Acid
Platforms like Litmus or Email on Acid help you send out emails that are designed to get results before you even send them out. These platforms help you catch simple things, like spelling and grammar errors, but it doesn’t stop there. They catch things that could put you in the spam folder, affect conversion rates, and even help you check to ensure that emails are going to email addresses that work.
B2B email marketing examples
Now that we’ve covered the best practices, let’s take a look at some strong examples of what good B2B marketing emails look like.
New subscriber welcome emails
Welcome emails are a critical part of your B2B email marketing strategy. They introduce people to your brand, your products, and, if people signed up for a lead magnet or something like that, they deliver on the promise.
New customer welcome emails
Similar to new subscriber emails, new customer emails are a great way to build up a customer relationship. These don’t have to be long emails, but should include a “thank you” for their purchase. This is also a good time to provide any content that new customers may find help, like tutorials, FAQs, or access to customer portals (if you have one).
Abandoned cart / Abandoned browse / Abandoned quote
Abandoned cart emails are the unsung heroes of many ecommerce businesses. They’re triggered when a customer starts the purchase process and stops for some reason. These emails are designed to remind people of the purchase and offer an incentive to complete it.
In a B2B context, we almost always recommend sending text-based abandoned cart emails from a Founder or Salesperson. You’ll find that a very likely outcome, especially for higher-AOV purchases, will be email replies. This is why it’s critical to send your abandoned cart emails from live, monitored inbox so that you can answer questions efficiently. Similarly, browse abandonment emails can also be useful for re-engaging people who looked, but didn’t add anything to their cart.
Product launches are usually big, complex things. The emails you send out are usually the end result of months of planning and testing. That’s why it’s important to get them right. Odds are, you’re not just going to send out one email, you’re going to send out a sequence of emails that hype up the product, talk about the release, and then (finally) offer access. The email below does a great job of hyping up the new products, and it provides an easy way to get samples of the product to test before buying.
Case study and report emails
Got a new case study or report coming out? Don’t bury it somewhere on your website, shout about it from the top of every building you can (or at least send out an email). These types of content can play a critical role in B2B sales, so don’t be shy about talking about them.
Emails should contain the highlights of the report or case study and provide people with a way to download it or access it on your website.
Gated content emails
Similar to the above example, gated content emails should be brief, offer people exactly what they’re looking for, and little else. If you can, attach the promised content to the email itself and provide a link to it, like the email below.
The above example works here, as well.
Curated content roundup emails
Curated counted roundups can help show off what you’ve been doing off email for people on your list. They provide a snapshot of your strongest, best-performing content over any given period of time. These emails can be a little bit longer, like the Ahrefs email below, depending on the amount of content you’re highlighting.
Educational and thought leadership emails
These emails are a great way to provide value to those on your email list, without trying to sell them anything. By talking about issues, trends, and ideas that are important to your customers, you’re not only showing that you understand their industry, but also that you know how to solve their problems. Among other things, showing this knowledge builds trust and shows people you’re an authority.
Event and webinar emails
Odds are you’ve got one of these sitting in your inbox right now. These emails should include everything people need to know about your event or webinar, including what it’s about, why someone might care, and how to sign up. Keep it short and personal, with an obvious link to register, just like this email from Blue Steps.
Pre-trade show + summary
If you’re doing trade shows to drum up business, you need to be sending both trade show schedules and follow-up emails.
If you’re going to be at trade shows, tell people where you’ll be. Fans are going to want to say hello and people who are interested in your product may want to talk to an actual person. But, they can’t if they don’t know where you’re going to be
Follow up emails let you continue the conversation that you started at the show, give you a way to offer up a deal, or even just remind people who you are. They can be highly effective at turning potential customers into paying customers.
Wholesaler emails are unique in that it’s very likely you’ll have an existing personal relationship with the recipient already. We recommend taking a more personal, text-based approach with your wholesale partners making sure to send from a real person/inbox who can field replies.
Consider building out a wholesaler email program that provides your wholesale partners with opportunities for bulk discounts, special pricing, point of sale marketing opportunities, or new products in the pipeline.
B2B email deliverability
In a perfect world, sending a business email would be just exactly the same as sending a personal one. You type it up, hit send, and the person gets the email. However, there are multiple factors involved in business emails that all work together to ensure that your emails don’t end up in spam.
SPF, DKIM & DMARC Email authentication
Authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC work together to prevent cybercriminals from spoofing your emails, altering them after they’ve been sent, and other kinds of email attacks. Without these protections in place, your domain’s reputation could be affected, meaning you’ll end up in the spam folder more often than you don’t.
Send from a subdomain
Having subdomains like marketing.youbusiness.com helps you keep your domain reputation high by giving you more control over it. We recommend, for example, not sending marketing emails and transactional emails from the same domain, largely to ensure the transactional emails don’t get placed in the spam or junk folder.
Avoid no-reply addresses
No-reply emails are no fun for anyone. If you’re sending out emails with no reply addresses and people have questions, you’re making them do extra work to get those questions answered (which increases the likelihood of them not asking those questions and going with another provider.
Monitor your reputation
As mentioned above, your domain reputation helps decide where your emails are going to end up. Email providers will look at the reputation of the emails that you get and, if they have a low enough reputation, you’re going to end up in junk mail.
Google Postmaster Tools can help you monitor your domain and help you fix any issues that arise.
Measuring B2B Email Marketing Performance
Like most things marketing and business related these days, it helps to monitor your email metrics and optimize your efforts based on what you see. The image below does a good job of showing you some of the metrics you could be paying attention to. However, you can’t watch them all. Pick the metrics that matter most to your business based on where you are right now and where you hope to be in the future. Focusing on fewer, more important metrics helps keep you from becoming paralyzed by the sheer amount of data
What is the best platform for B2B email marketing and why?
The answer to this question really depends on what you’re looking for, what kind of business you run, and where you’re at in your growth cycle.
To help you better understand the B2B email marketing landscape, here are a few options that you can explore.
- Hubspot - For a lot of folks, Hubspot is one of their first stops when they’re learning about marketing. It makes sense that since you learned from Hubspot, you’d want to try using their platform as well. Hubspot is a robust, all-in-one platform that contains an email marketing platform, CRM, social media management tools - the works. On the surface, this makes it look ideal. However, Hubspot gets expensive fast and because it’s not a dedicated email marketing tool, you may find that there are things you want to do, but can’t.
- Marketo - Marketo is a marketing automation platform that focuses on B2B, which is ideal, but doesn’t come with a lot of ecommerce specific options (which is less ideal). You gain access to a lot of analytic data, which can help you fine-tune your B2B email marketing efforts, which is also a bonus. But, the learning curve can be steep and support lacking (unless you’re paying for it). And, it’s not an email-specific platform, so you may need to dig around for the features you really want.
- ActiveCampaign - ActiveCampaign focuses on email marketing, which is ideal, and includes a pretty solid set of features for teams looking to focus more on email. The lack of a free plan and limited features on their lowest plan, though, means it’s not the best option for startups.
- Rejoiner - Admittedly, we’re a little biased here, but Rejoiner is an ecommerce-focused email marketing platform. We’ve spent the last decade gaining a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t for ecommerce businesses in both B2B and B2C spaces. The free plan provides everything you need to get started.