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 blacklisted 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.

Do forms work in HTML emails?

Do forms work in HTML emails?

Posted by Mark Wyner on November 7, 2007

Over the years we’ve received loads of inquiries about the use of forms in emails, such as newsletter subscribe forms, event registration and surveys. So we decided to run some tests to get to the bottom of just how well forms are supported in all the major email environments.

Is it okay to use forms in emails? It’s not the best idea. But what do you say when your client asks you to put one in an email? You can either tell them “no” for reasons which may not make sense to them, or you can back up your defiance with some hard evidence.

The short of it is that email clients consider email forms to be a security risk. While some email clients simply warn you of potential danger, others outright disable the forms. So if your client wants to send out a form, they should know that most of their recipients will never be able to use it. And for those who can, they’ll think twice about submitting data when they see a warning from their email client.

Results Summary

Common email clients share a propensity to distrust forms in email messages. But they differed greatly in how they handled the intruding forms. Following are some notable oddities.

External data submission

Upon submitting a form in many webmail clients, a JavaScript alert announces that the form is submitting data to an external page and asks if you want to continue:

[Gmail screenshot: You are submitting information to an external page. Are you sure?]

[Yahoo! Mail screenshot: Warning! You are about to send information to someone other than Yahoo! If you do not want anyone outside of Yahoo! to have this information, click Cancel now. Remember Yahoo! will NEVER ask you for your password in an unsolicited phone call or an unsolicited email. Please change your preferences if you do not want to see this message again.]

Scam alerts

Thunderbird recognizes that the form may be malicious but doesn’t strip its functionality. Instead, it warns you of potential danger:

[Thunderbird screenshot: Thunderbird thinks this message might be an email scam.]

Odd behavior

Windows Live Hotmail shows the form. However, the form functions in an odd way; and certainly not correctly. If the form is submitted by keying the “return” key, the page is refreshed but no data is sent and the process is not completed. If the form is submitted by clicking the submit button, nothing happens. Outlook 2007 also exhibits some unique behavior in that it custom renders the form. Inputs are replaced with brackets and the submit button is replaced with the button’s value enveloped in brackets. So it’s a plain-text version of what the form would look like, even though the HTML is being displayed.

Complete Results

How Forms Perform in HTML Emails
Client Form is displayed Form is functional
.Mac Yes No
Yahoo! Mail Yes Yes
Yahoo! Mail Classic Yes No
AOL Webmail Yes No
Gmail Yes Yes
Windows Live Hotmail Yes No
Apple Mail Yes Yes
Thunderbird Yes Yes
Penelope (Eudora 8) Yes Yes
Outlook 2007 No No
Outlook 2003 Yes No
Outlook Express Yes Yes
Windows Live Mail Yes Yes
Lotus Notes 8 Yes Yes
Entourage Yes Yes

The Recommendation

Given the sporadic support for forms in emails, we recommend linking to a form on a website in an email rather than embedding it therein. This is the safest, most reliable solution to pairing an email message with a form. More people will see it and be able to use it, and as a result participation will increase.

7 comments so far


wrote on November 8, 2007 2:26 AM

Hmm, have to differ with at least one of your results here I’m afraid, as we have received and submitted forms using Outlook 2003 SP2, and it appeared to function fine.

That aside, I completely agree on leaving forms out of email. If an email is generating enough interest that someone fills in a form, then it is enough for them to click a link to a webpage before they fill it out.

Mark Wyner

wrote on November 8, 2007 6:26 AM

Thanks for sharing, Stormy. It’s interesting that we experienced different results because we, too, tested Outlook 2003 on XP with SP2. Maybe the types of forms we used differ?

We probably should have pointed out that we tested the POST which performed very poorly, and then proceeded with a GET form which worked much better. Our chart exhibits results from the latter. Also, our form comprised a single text input with a button. Very simple to see if the most basic form would function.

All said, even if some forms function in Outlook 2003 they continue to be unreliable in many other clients. But know that your feedback is still valuable and we appreciate it very much.

Danny Foo

wrote on November 9, 2007 3:26 PM

I’m curious, by form does it also mean the polls some people include in their newsletters?

I’ve always been wondering how they achieved this. :S

Dave Greiner

wrote on November 9, 2007 6:06 PM

Danny, yes, this refers to any kind of form element in emails, including polls and surveys. Basically, they are very hit and miss and not recommended.

Jonathan Sweet

wrote on November 10, 2007 2:22 AM

Something that we’ve noticed is that forms work in Outlook (pre 2007), but not in the preview pane (they won’t post to the server).


wrote on November 17, 2007 12:19 PM

The presumption that participation will increase by using a landing page is open to debate. Users are lazy — make them click, and that’s another commitment. If it’s possible to present simple survey queries in an e-mail, you’d likely see more responses. After all, they’ve already opened the e-mail — all they have to do is tick a few boxes, or fill out some info, and click. But if they have to take another step, they might be more likely to abandon.

Mathew Patterson

wrote on November 19, 2007 6:12 PM

You are right Sully – it is an extra click, and you would expect to lose some people because of that. Unfortunately though, forms just don’t reliably work in email, and it is worse for someone to fill out a form and then see it fail.

The raw number of participants may fall by having a landing page, but the number of successful forms lodged would be expected to increase.

Gator Mail Hints’n’tips April 2007

Please check out the Communigator file manager here for load of usefull things to steel.

1. Take advantage of the preview pane
Always include preview pane friendly code in your designs, this uses basic HTML to render colour, branding and information before the email has even been opened.

2. Code emails by hand if you can
Programs such as Word / FrontPage are not ideal for designing HTML emails, because these “WYSIWYG” editors typically add extra code that causes havoc with certain email clients. Although CommuniGator cleans this code when pasted into your design, it is better to have an HTML programmer code your email template by hand to keep it clean. Otherwise, use programs such as HomeSite or Dreamweaver and remove any unnecessary code by hand.

3. Do not use canvas background images (they don’t display in most email clients) and have always been a problem with Lotus Notes. Now Office 2007 uses Word to render email this is more of a problem.
See January’s hints & tips

4. Avoid pixel spacer gifs – pixel spacer gifs are used to force widths in table data cells to aid formatting, spammers use them, so you shouldn’t.

5. Avoid using Cascading Style Sheets
CommuniGator does support CSS but, as far as best practice is concerned, inline styling is a better option. Your designs will be delivered exactly as they should be. CSS on a Website can simplify the coding process and ensure a consistent style, but in HTML email, they can cause incorrect rendering in some email clients or simply get stripped out or overwritten. CSS can still be used in all its glory on landing zones.

6. Keep HTML emails from 500 to 650 pixels wide
HTML messages that are wider force the recipient to scroll horizontally to see the whole message.

7. Validate and check your HTML content – using the Validate HTML button built into CommuniGator you can quickly validate your email design code ensuring its conformance to W3C recommendations and other standards. CommuniGator has a spam checker allowing you to check your content before you send your campaign.

8. Avoid scripting in your emails
Do not use scripting in your email designs, take advantage of the built in functions of CommuniGator. Save any bespoke scripting for your landing zones, including Java Script.

9. Link to a Web version and text version of your email message
This benefits recipients whose email clients don’t render your email properly, no matter how carefully you format it. To create a link to a copy of your email just simply link to landing zone ‘0’. As CommuniGator is capable of sending a 2 part Mime message don’t forget to include a text version with your design.

10. Use image alt tags
These show one or two words describing an image or an action when the image doesn’t display because of slow loading time or default image blocking.

11. Use horizontal layout rather than vertical
This allows readers who scroll down in the preview pane to see more content in the pane. Eliminate story layouts and “skyscraper” ad formats that are more than the pixel equivalent of 4 inches deep.

12. Don’t overuse HTML functions
Keep the use of HTML functions to a minimum, for example, layout items such as layers are a bad idea. Don’t use any scripts in your emails other than the built in CommuniGator functions.

13. Personalisation
It is always a good idea to personalise your emails. ‘Custom Links’ enables you to merge data into your designs.

14. Text Version
Always include a text version of every email that you design, CommuniGator will automatically send a 2 part MIME message, if the HTML version is blocked the text version will be delivered in its place.

15. Good subject lines
Writing subject lines for promotional emails and newsletters is made much harder by the huge amount of spam sent on a daily basis. More and more people are becoming less and less patient when it comes to scanning their inbox.
You need to write a subject line that appeals to your readers and immediately lets them know that your email is not another piece of spam. Using CommuniGator’s ‘Custom links’ you can personalise your subject lines.
Many thanks for reading, we welcome your feedback: Submit a topic for the next bulletin (end of May)