Roundtable Report: B2B Email Marketing

Added:Jun 27, 2008

B2B email marketing has come of age as companies improve their communication strategies, but will it ever match the sophistication of its B2C counterpart? This month, Newsweaver brought together some key industry figures to discuss the latest issues facing the sector.


Jennifer Curtin, marketing manager at Newsweaver, began the discussion with some new statistics Newsweaver had conducted in conjunction with B2B Marketing Magazine. This was the second year in a row that the two organisations had conducted the survey, meaning this was the first time the data could be used to look for trends over the past year.

The results showed that B2B email marketing had risen in most companies priorities, with only 4% considering it ‘not important’ compared with 13% a year ago.

In terms of recepients, existing customers topped the list. However, in terms of objectives, most companies said they were using B2B email marketing to attract prospective customers, a significant shift from last year, when customer retention was the primary objective.

In terms of frequency, the average company sent out a B2B marketing email once a month. The volumes of recipients and share of overall marketing budgets remained smaller than typical B2C email audiences, but this was showing signs of increasing, with over 32% now sending to more than 10,000 recipients a month.

Another significant trend was the growth of companies opting to conduct their email marketing via ASP-based systems rather than desktop systems (such as Outlook).

In terms of metrics used to measure recipient behaviour, click-throughs surpassed open rates as the main metric of choice amongst those surveyed. In terms of variables tested, subject lines and sending times were the most experimented with. The survey still found that not many people used personalisation in their emails, opting for changes to the name when they did.

When quizzed on the top challenge facing the sector in the near future, most respondents said that ‘inbox overload’ was the biggest problem. This contrasted with last years’ number one- spam. Jennifer suggested that this is the result of improved spam filters. On one hand, this improved deliverability for legitimate email marketers, but on the other hand this was increasing competition to be read in a cluttered inbox.

Session 1

After the presentation, Denise Cox, newsletter specialist at Newsweaver, began the debate by looking more closely at the findings of the survey. She said the increases show that B2B email is thriving, despite naysayers prediciting the death of the medium following the rise of social media sites. She thought it was more a case of looking at how the two channels could best be integrated.

Phil Williams at Rocketseed said many people see sending emails as a task to perform and not follow up, and stressed the need for making use of analytics tools to help imrove the sending process.

Gareth Gainer, Communicator Corp, thought email suffered due to its ‘cheap’ status. “People see email as cheap, and therefore something which doesn’t require a lot of time,” he said. Sheema Luca at Webgains agreed, saying email is often not seen as important as other forms of marketing so it is subsequently pushed onto junior staff, althoguht she added that the open rates of some campaigns indicate this should not be the case.

Jennifer said B2B email still had some way to go to match B2C email campaigns, but this was largely due to significantly smaller volumes making it hard to justify the ROI on big tasks. Gareth thought this was an issue for client education, getting them to define their goals . He advocated the use of more life cycle marketing in email campaigns, when follow up emails and cross selling are used at specific points depending on recipients behaviour.

However, Denise said there can be intelligent uses of B2B marketing that don’t require sophisticated technoliogy, citing a company that followed up an email with a second two weeks later offering a discount, resulting in much higher conversion rates. Graham Jarvis added that another opportunity was being missed by not giving recipients an option to give a reason when unsubscribing.

Ian made the point that in the US, email marketing is much more commoditised than it is here. He cited research that indicated some 70% of US firms use ASP-based email solutions, compared with around 30% in the UK.

He went on to add that one of the biggest issues likely to emerge on the back on technological advances is inbox rendering for mobile devices. As the barriers towards mobile internet access are coming down, marketers need to ensure their messages are looking good on mobile devices- for example, making sure key information is included ‘above the fold’ on a mobile screen.

Denise agreed, and cited devices such as the iPhone making the internet much more accessible on the move, resulting in many people using their phones to browse ‘urgent emails’ while leaving less important messages for when they return to the office. Gareth agreed, but though that in the professional world, the Blackberry is the device of choice rather than the iPhone.

Denise said this move to mobile represented an interesting challenge for email marketers, as it required a renewed focus on making text look good, rather than relying on flashy HTML graphics and layouts.

The discussion then moved on to the feasibility of running videos in emails. Ian said again this was a problem in terms of inbox rendering again, and suggested instead an image of a video player, which linked to a video page on a website.

Session 2

The panel kicked off the second half of the debate looking at some of the biggest problems facing B2B email marketing today. Ian thought that not enough marketers were linking their email campaigns with analytics software. Phil agreed, and pointed to Newsweaver’s research which showed most advertisers are not using the technology available to them.

Denise then looked at the recurring problems of spam and deliverability. She pointed to a trend of recipients marking an email as spam, thinking it is the same as unsubscribing, meaning legitimate email marketers are getting blocklisted by email service providers as a result.

Gateth agreed, saying it’s easier to delete or mark emails as junk as opposed to going through an unsubscription process.

The panel went on to look at some good examples of B2B emails. Newsweaver worked with oil giant Shell to create a dynamic company-wide internal email system. The emails could be personalized to ensure each department received only relevant content, which resulted in high open and click-through rates across all the board.

The panel drew the debate to a close by looking at the future of the medium. Ian cited research indicating that the UK and US markets were slowing down in terms of growth, from 40% a few years ago to 20% now. Germany was one of the biggest growth markets, now reaching a growth rate of around 40%.

The group agreed that optimszing emails for mobile screens was going to become more important, while linking email to customer relationship management (CRM) systems was also a going to play a key part in the year to come.