email nurturing

B2B Subscribers Are People Too

Using real language is hot right now. Everybody is talking about being authentic and transparent, and depositing the corporate, PR flack, bullshit copy in the dustbin of history.

I bought a course from Andre Chaperon called Autoresponder Madness (ARM) a while back. The basic premise is use real language. Write like you were talking to your friend at the bar.

I love this approach. It’s more human. And, it’s a vibe that carries over into the constant decision making needed for effective email marketing.

Experimenting With ARM

We launched a new experiment with this ARM approach over a year ago. I selected non-branded PPC as the guinea pig traffic.

This gave us a chance to experiment with the list building and email nurturing, while still pushing our highest quality traffic (branded PPC and all organic) through our existing marketing funnel.

That decision gave the project a chance to breath. To try different things with less scrutiny and clock-ticking performance anxiety.

Here are some of the things we tried.

Text only emails. Like an email you send to a friend. You don’t insert header graphics into personal emails because that would be corny. Same thing with B-2-B emails.

B-2-B is a misnomer. Yes, you’re selling to another “business,” but that building in downtown Duluth isn’t reading your emails. That cluster of cubicle walls, drab carpet, and sickly florescent lights isn’t writing checks for your product or service. People are. Real people that respond to real stories.

Full disclosure. We use HTML for our emails to make it look like text. It’s easier to control the look.

Skinny Column. 425 pixels wide. It’s less intimidating than a wall of text. Easier to read.

Informal language. People sniff corporate speak a mile away. In the past they swallowed that crap because there wasn’t an alternative.

Things have changed. Corporate platitudes. Stuffy “professional” language. “World class” this and “finest amenities” that. Nope.

Name merge. Lot’s of email top tips lists tell you to merge personal information into the subject line or in the greeting. We’ve done tests and adding a first name to the subject line did improve the open rate for the eNewsletters we send to customers.

But, I didn’t think it fit the style of these emails. There are better reasons for recipients to open our emails than seeing their first name in the subject line.

Plus, as I was setting the emails up I discovered I could put the merge field in, but if the recipient didn’t have a first name on record there had to be a placeholder default word to swap with [First Name]. That’s a deal breaker. No way I’m starting off this pilot campaign with “Dear Professional.” Hokey!

From a real person. We always put a signature from a real person. Not a fake signature .jpg. Just the first and last name, and job title of the author.

Cliffhangers. Within the email you can start a story or thought, but then go off on a tangent. People seek closure to open ended story threads. Pick up the story thread at the end. They’ll read the entire email to get the payoff. Then, add another cliffhanger before you sign off. Put it in the P.S. if you want.

“In my next email…”

This works. How do I know? Well, I binge watched Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones…two shows that leave you hanging brilliantly. I…could…not…stop…watching. In fact, waiting for a new season is excruciating.

I feel the same way (almost) about Andre Chaperon’s emails. When I first subscribed he sent a series of emails priming me for the ARM sales pitch. I knew what he was doing, but I still jonesed for the next installment. That’s amazing and powerful. When’s the last time a customer or prospect asked you to send them another email?

Is It Working?

No idea.

Just kidding.

I think so.

Unfortunately, we’re still in transition from our horrific CRM to something that is serviceable. Our systems aren’t talking to each other yet. So, we don’t have the full picture.

There are some other indicators that this little email experiment is working.

We have sent 75,595 emails since we launched mid-January. 14,196 opens (28.4%). 3,199 clicks (4.5%). And a click to open ratio of 22.5%. Of course, clicks aren’t the most desired action for these emails. Delivering helpful advice is. So, we can’t judge the campaign on CTR only.

About 31 people have replied to the emails interested in hearing from a Training Coordinator. That’s cool. Now, it would be great if we could dive into our CRM and sort through our last batch of sales and see efforts attracted those customers. But, our system is spotty at best right now.

So, we can only judge the effectiveness by…

  • Anecdotal evidence, including lots of excellent responses to our emails.
  • Sales generated by direct email replies.
  • And, our company’s revenue figures.

Not an exact science but if we keep getting positive feedback, and sales are trending up (they are!), there’s no reason to stop the experimentation.

At least until our CRM hooks into Marketo, and the data tells us what channels are driving leads that are turning into sales.

I can’t wait for that day. I’m sure there are campaigns that I think are successful right now, because they are generating leads at a great price, but are not producing sales. That will help me focus on the stuff that is generating great returns and optimize the spend.

Anyway, this campaign is cool. The language is natural. We offer tips on issues our audience encounter every day. I’m certain this is the way to go with B-2-B emails, and it will be nice to have numbers in the next six months to validate that hypothesis.

What Do We Write About?

We have a long nurture cycle for our core product which is a live, in-person 4-day training course that costs $2,285.

The people we’re targeting work in health care, education, and other human service orgs. We train the trainers for their organizations. They, in turn, go into their hospitals, schools, and other facilities to train our material, which helps staff deal with disruptive behavior before it turns to crisis.

The people on our list get emails with helpful tips and an unobtrusive link to learn more about our training programs. We connect to the front line workers…the ones most likely to deal with behaviors from patients, students, and clients. We also offer information for administrators and decision makers. How to calculate the ROI of our training. Case studies. Evidence-based results. More tips.

We move them into substreams that speak to educators, health care workers, and dementia care. And, we ask them questions.

  • What is one thing that you need help with right now?
  • What do you think about the emails we’re sending you?
  • Who are you and what do you do?

CPI: Most Trusted Advisor

We’re getting a lot of great replies that the emails are…

  • Saved for reference
  • Passed around to other staff
  • Used in live situations.

Awesome!

And, it aligns with our mission.

Our customer service is fantastic. Callers always get a live person on the phone. Our training is proven. So, our emails, naturally, should include helpful stuff that recipients can use on the job right now? That’s a natural extension of all the things CPI does right.

Plus, the real connection puts us at the top of prospects minds when it comes time to make a decision on what training to invest in. “If their free stuff is this good, the paid material has to be amazing!”

Activity Triggered Email

We use Marketo, a marketing automation software, so we’re able to track how people are interacting with our emails and our site. If someone clicks on a lot of links and/or downloads a significant amount of material from us, an auto email triggers.

We tell them we noticed they were checking out a lot of content (in a non-creepy way). And we  ask them if they are looking for training, or need clarification about what we do, or if they’re just browsing. We also ask them to reply to the email if they want to speak to someone.

Next Steps

There’s been talk of aligning these emails phase-by-phase to a defined buying cycle. Sounds good on paper, but I’m not sure how feasible it is. People sign up on the list for all kinds of different reasons. They could be at any point on that buying cycle at any time.

I think the best thing we can do is continue to define the issues our audience have at work. And, to write emails that help address those issues, as they provide services in education, health care, and human service.

Make the emails as helpful and engaging as possible. If they receive value early and often, our subscribers will stick with us even if an email or two doesn’t apply to them.

Then, we keep offering links to learn more about the training in case they’re ready to go. And, keep giving them a chance to connect by asking questions that they can engage with by replying.

So, keep doing what we’re doing, and refining the messages and process over time, according to feedback and data.

Image Credit: Tim Morgan

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