And how you can reverse the trend

It’s no secret that B2B email is less effective lately. The main reasons are the non-delivery issues due to spam filters, not formatting for recipients’ hand-held devices, and the difficulty of breaking through the clutter, to name a few.

But there are other serious reasons–too many batch-and-blast campaigns, content that is not relevant or targeted enough, an increased volume of emails sent, an economy where many workloads have increased due to cutbacks, more active competition, and a more savvy target.

You can overcome these to make your email marketing and lead generation the most economical and productive ever.

It’s a hectic, more competitive world today.

Here are some points to ponder:

  • It’s a tough economy. Many companies have downsized. Many of your prospects are tasked with doing much more work with fewer staff. They don’t have as much time to read through and consider your email messages. What can you do to capture their attention?
  • Your competitors are becoming more aggressive in this still difficult economy. They are also sending out more emails. How can you differentiate your efforts?
  • Prospects are more sophisticated and busier than ever. They know from past experience which messages are likely to be valuable and useful to them and which others are probably just “buy me” marketing. They quickly skim through email with their fingers on the delete button and open and read only those messages that seem compelling. How can you make your email messages the ones they are compelled to open?

The only ways to capture prospects’ attention, differentiate from the competition, and be valuable and useful to your prospects are great content, relevant content, helpful content and timely content.

It’s as simple as that. Content is still king. But batch-and-blast emails don’t cut it anymore. They are relevant to some but not all. They help some but not all. They are timely for a few but most are not ready just yet.

Yes, it’s a simple solution — content that’s personalized and delivered with the right message at the right time to the right people, based on their previous actions and preferences. A simple solution, but one that’s difficult to do with manual uploading and segmentation — there needs to be an easier more automatic way. There is, of course, an easier, more effective way — marketing automation.

Marketing automation is technology that pays attention to prospects and their actions or nonactions. It schedules and sends various types of your messages based on the prospects’ preferences and positions in the sales cycle. For a full explanation of marketing automation, see last issue’s article by Mac McIntosh: What Is Marketing Automation? 19 Reasons Why You Should Care.

Deliverability is tougher today.

According to a Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report from Return Path, Inc., only 75.2 percent of B2B emails arrive in inboxes in the U.S. and Canada. That means that one out of every four legitimate emails sent doesn’t make it. We all need and use systems like Postini, Symantec and others to shield us from spam (about 95 percent of emails are spam). These systems, unfortunately, trap some well-intended, nonspam email as well.

You can get better deliverability. Try to get recipients to white list you, use spam checkers, employ Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) and reply to email challenge-response spam filters.

Put seeds (monitor addresses) in your email lists and check them for deliverability issues.

Appearance affects open rate.

With all the new technology and devices from BlackBerries, other PDAs, iPhones, various email clients (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo and others) and PC browser differences (Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, etc.), the appearance of your emails or landing pages are rendered differently than you may expect. Small screens may make your beautifully designed template look weird. Outlook, Gmail and a few others completely ignore cascading style sheet (CSS) instructions. Test your email in as many devices and systems as possible to try to come up with an optimal design that works well in all or, at least, in most.

Realize that some recipients have the images turned off. What will they see? Is the beginning copy enough to pique their interest?

For those who have images turned on, is your email optimized to show well in email preview panes?

Things to do

So when your B2B list is getting larger, when your sales force is clamoring for more qualified leads, when you need to nurture prospects and bring them to the hot spot in the sales cycle, consider marketing automation using targeted content as a better way to deliver the right message to the right prospects at the right time. Then start a deliverability improvement effort and design your emails for various devices so you have the best chance of getting it delivered, opened, read and acted upon.

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