B2B Customers Demand More Personalization In Email

Published: July 20, 2016

Email marketing: Most (if not all) B2B marketers are leveraging it. But are they doing it right? It depends on who you ask. When done properly, email is still a very strong channel for engaging with B2B buyers. Companies such as Uberflip, with email open rates that range from 34% to 53%, can attest to it.

According to Salesforce’s 2016 State Of Marketing Report, 80% of marketers agree that email is core to their business; and nearly half (49%) of those marketers say email is directly linked to their business’ primary revenue source.

Yet while marketers may believe they are leveraging email to its fullest potential, the customer thinks otherwise.

Ernan Roman, President of ERDM Corp., a firm that conducts specialized Voice of Customer (VoC) research for companies such as Mass Mutual and IBM, said today’s email strategies are broken. Email is suffering from an “it’s cheap, it’s easy and it’s fast” mindset, he said. “As far as our research has determined, those three criteria have contributed to horrendous spray and pray. And they haven’t changed in 2016.”

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Roman emphasized that marketers should completely rethink their approach to email, because in the B2B VoC, “the level of exasperation and irritation is profound.” He pointed to several paraphrased quotes provided by the study’s respondents, such as:

  • “I would appreciate if your company asked me what I needed. That way, you could help me by providing information about services you offer that I don’t even know about.”
  • “I’d like to know what resources companies like yours have for technology executives like me. They must have solutions that would help me, but you never ask what my needs are.”

According to the results, it’s clear buyers have a strong desire for personalization — and that it must be a priority in email deployment. But, Roman said that traditional approaches to personalization using implicit data are not working. “Marketers have to move to explicit, self-profiled preference data,” he said.

This means B2B marketers must create a single view of the customer — another big trend in email marketing.

“The more you’re able to have that sort of 360-degree view of the customer, to see everything that they’re doing, the more you can cater to their behavior,” said Chad White, Author and Research Director at Litmus, an email testing and email marketing analytics provider. “And personalization is part of that.”

Is Marketing Automation To Blame?

Sure, marketing automation has made marketers’ jobs much easier. But is it making it too easy? Some argue that automating repetitive tasks such as email removes valuable personalization. If you’re automatically sending out an email blast to a majority of your prospects and assuming all of them will find the content relevant to their needs, then you may not be giving each prospect the level of personalization necessary to clinch a sale, or nurture a lead.

On the contrary, White maintained that marketing automation and personalization are not mutually exclusive.

“I see them as two sides of the same coin,” said White. “Personalization is about getting the right content to the right person; marketing automation is about creating a message to send at the right time. Both are legitimate, powerful ways [to reach prospects]. Automated, triggered emails [are probably] a bit easier to do, maybe more appealing to set up. Once you get it going, it’s a little bit more self-sustaining.”

White also said that while marketing automation is “easier to wrap your brain around and people are pushing harder on that,” there is also a lot of innovation around personalization in email. However, personalization is a “little less natural” for B2B companies, he acknowledged.

Content marketing platform provider Uberflip relies on marketing automation for its email strategy, but the company’s VP of Marketing, Hana Abaza, also agreed that marketing automation doesn’t provide a substantial level of personalization.

“Personalization is really a spectrum,” she said. “You can get some of the fundamental stuff from marketing automation tools, but what marketing automation probably won’t do for you is help you in personalizing the actual topic and subject matter of the email.”

A Strong Database Is Crucial To Successful, Personalized Email Marketing

Maintaining accurate data is another stumbling block for marketers, according to Ellen Valentine, Evangelist at Silverpop, a digital marketing technology provider.

“I think that B2B has been so focused on the top of the funnel and getting new names into their database,” said Valentine. “[Now], they have all these old, tired people in there and they’ve been blasting [out emails to them]. They need to [clean it out] by doing an automated reactivation campaign and dish out that effort to engage them. If they are still unresponsive, you need to get them out of your database.”

Uberflip’s Abaza also emphasized that when leveraging email marketing, it’s important to focus on ensuring that the email is highly relevant to the person you’re sending it to and in order to do that, you need data.

“This really comes down to properly segmenting your database,” she added. “When I email my friends, I know that the email is going to get a 100% open rate. I know they will click on what I put in the email because I know them that well. How many of us can be that confident that we know our email list that well? Most of us probably don’t.”

In other words, marketers should take the time to get to know the prospects on their email lists and engage with them as if they’re sending an email straight from their personal inbox. These types of “personal note” emails, such as webinar invites, webinar follow-ups or eBook promotions, have proven to be successful for Uberflip, generating:

  • 34% open rate and 8% CTR for E-books;
  • 44% open rate and 8% CTR for webinar invites; and
  • 53% open rate and 19% CTR for webinar follow ups.

“[These emails] appear as a personal note from my Gmail, and oftentimes, when I need to write an email to go out to a segmented database, I will actually open up my Gmail account and write it in there,” she said. “That helps me get a feel for what it’s going to look like when it actually goes into their account.”

“Those types of emails, for us, are oftentimes way more effective than the overly-designed HTML template,” Abaza concluded. “I think that’s one tactic in B2B marketing that’s overlooked. We spend a lot of time fully designing an email that we don’t need to spend that much time on. Generally, the better the segmentation and more relevant the content, the higher the numbers.”

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