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Ruth P. Stevens


Managing Email Addresses in B2B

How to increase email coverage of your customer base

Published: Monday, April 3, 2017 - 11:01

Everyone is looking to do more with less these days. When you compare the cost of postal mail—about a dollar a piece—to the cost of email —about a penny a piece—any B2B marketer is going to prefer using email as the medium for staying in touch with current customers and inquirers. No brainer, right?

But here’s the rub: Most B2B companies have email addresses for only a fraction of their customers. And even worse, if their privacy policies call for opt-in, only a fraction of that fraction will receive the email.

Consider the case of Cicso Systems, the networking hardware giant. Although 45 to 50 percent of Cicso’s global house file contains email addresses, only 29 percent of those are opted in. Doing the math, that’s a mere 14 percent of the file that can be contacted via email.

Out of email contact: The root causes

This is clearly a dire situation, when you’re trying to cut costs. How did we get into this mess? There are a number of contributing factors, among them:
1. Data decay. We all know how volatile data are, especially in B2B. Email addresses are one of the most volatile elements of all. According to Kevin Akeroyd, vice president of global sales for Jigsaw, 32 percent of business email addresses change annually (compared to 29 percent of phone numbers and 16 percent of postal addresses).
2. Consumer-like privacy policies. Business buyers need information to do their jobs, so they generally welcome relevant email from their suppliers. But in the 1990s, when email policies were first being established, companies—especially among large corporations—tended to settle on opt-in as their guiding policy.
3. Blanket opt-in. In companies with many product lines, an opt-out of email for one category may be applied to communications about all products, further depleting the available email addresses.
4. Global standards based on lowest common denominator. Many firms have decided to comply everywhere with the most restrictive policies from any geographic location, usually Europe, in an effort to do business consistently worldwide.

However we got into this mess, we have to get out. So what are the options for business marketers to increase their customer coverage via email?

Data append

The cheapest and fastest route to jump-start your email address collection is via data append. For pennies per record, you can expect to append valid email addresses to about 10 to 30 percent of your file.

Some best practices:
• Select a reputable vendor, such as FreshAddress, Walter Karl, or TowerData.
• Only try append on names with whom you already have a business relationship, like customers or inquirers. Appending email addresses to prospect names, while tempting, should be avoided.
• Neither should you ask the vendor for email addresses of additional contacts at sites where you do business. Stick to the contact names already in your database.
• Once the appended email addresses have arrived, treat them with care. The email expert Regina Brady, of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, suggests that your first few communications should explain why they are hearing from you, and state the opt-out prominently at the top of the message.

Permission policy revision

Just as the B2B world has ducked the “Do not call” list, it’s time for business marketers to rethink their early decision to apply opt-in policies to their email communications.

Myself, if I attend a trade show and exchange cards with a vendor, I fully expect to receive email, as well as postal mail, from that company. As a business buyer, that’s how I stay informed. So, as long as opt-out is offered, and respected, it’s my view that a business relationship implies willingness to receive email, and that the well-established standards of opt-out (i.e., “notice and choice”) should be the rule of thumb for business marketers.

It appears that this view is gaining some traction out there.

Dave Lewis, chief marketing officer of Message Systems, believes that the better approach to permission policies should be based on neither opt-in nor opt-out, but on customer behavior. “The rule should be whether the customer is engaged as indicated by such behaviors as clicks, downloads, purchases, and answering survey questions,” says Lewis. “For too long our focus has been on list size. We need to move toward list quality.”

Proactive address collection

When you look at the cost savings, the business case for aggressive email address collection is very clear. So educate your customer-facing personnel on the importance of gathering email addresses, and weave a collection program into your current business processes.

Cisco Systems, according to Robert McCarty, business analysis operations manager, has a standard practice of outbound phone calls to its small and medium-sized business customers to gather email addresses. The marketing team for small and medium-sized business customers also works with distributors and resellers, and asks them to allow Cisco messaging to go out to customers from whom the distributor has email permission. In the large accounts, the calls are made by the named account managers who cover that company, but marketing provides them with suggested topics to improve the call’s effectiveness.

Cisco does not offer any incentives to customers to share their email addresses, in order to comply with restrictions that exist in certain countries. At Cisco they believe it’s better to give a compelling, persuasive reason, and for no salesperson to call.

Some tips on email collection best practices:
• Explain to your customer the benefit of providing the email address. Give a good business reason like, “We want to keep you up to date on new technical developments.”
• Service touch points may actually be the most effective collection points, vs. outbound marketing communications.
• Create a web-based preferences page, where customers can manage their subscriptions and indicate what kinds of email, mail, and phone calls they’d like to receive.
• Avoid blanket permissions that apply across brands or business units. “The more options you give them, the happier both sides will be,” says Lewis. “You may find that they’ll opt to receive things they didn’t know were available before.”
• Place an email collection device on your home page, and deeply in your site as well. “Thanks to search engines, you never know where people will enter your site, so be sure the email sign-up is everywhere, including landing pages,” notes Brady.

Relevant communications

Stop blasting! Once you have an email address, your mission shifts to maintaining its status—preventing customers from opting out. Relevant, timely, targeted communications are the key. We all know this, but not all of us are executing.

Marketers at Tektronix, an engineering instruments company in Oregon, feel the relevance problem has been solved by communicating with customers through a strategy they call “incremental profiling.” Based on product interest, Tektronix sends an email, or makes an outbound call, with an information-based offer.

For example, for customers who have indicated an interest in spectrum analyzers, they’ll offer a paper called something like “Fundamentals of Real-time Spectrum Analysis.” If the customer responds, Tektronix asks for more detail about product interests: Are they looking for radar, surveillance, wi-fi, RFID, or other subtopics within spectrum analysis?

The result is better segmentation, greater relevance, and best of all, response. The program is generating 46 percent click-through rates and 9 percent response rates, meaning the customer opened, clicked, and took some action to continue the dialogue. “We get not only high response rates but also a good profiled database,” says Martyn Etherington, head of IoT global marketing at Cisco Jasper. “The hard part, though, is the rigorous planning that goes into setting up the dialogue streams in advance. We involved our sales peers in developing the questions to go into the email conversations.” Etherington relies on an email dialogue tool called i-OP to manage the communications.

First published on Ruth Stevens’ website.


About The Author

Ruth P. Stevens’s picture

Ruth P. Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at business schools in the United States and abroad. She is a guest blogger at Biznology, AdAge, HBR.org, and Target Marketing Magazine. Crain’s BtoB magazine named Stevens one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing. Stevens is the author of B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results (Racom Communications, 2015) and Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers (Que Publishing, 2011). Stevens has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM, and holds an MBA from Columbia University.