Saturday, February 21, 2009

Email Autoresponders 2.0 in B2B Marketing

Reflecting back on a long week I had the pleasure of meeting a number of new clients and seeing what they have accomplished as part of their online marketing initiatives. I am extremely lucky to see some of the most cutting edge marketing tactics being used and wanted to highlight some of them here.

I was inspired this morning after my 11 cups of coffee by a former customer and now colleague, Heather Foeh and her blog post "Friday Quick Tip: Re-Visit Your Autoresponders". By autoresponder email, I mean the confirmation email that a registrant immediately receives when they fill out a form on a website. Heather has some good tips to ensure that your information and call to action(s) is up to date. At times, marketers set these up and then forget about them. In this post, I want to highlight some of the interesting trends I'm seeing in marketing automation - specifically the autoresponder email and how you can take advantage of this often neglected marketing gem.

The Evolution of the Autoresponder Email

Let's start with the evolution of the autoresponder. Although this post is mostly from a B2B perspective, the items described here can also be applied in the B2C world. In the past, email recipients were used to receiving a text based email that had a simple message that thanked the subscriber for submitting their information. This in itself was a big step forward as many marketers either didn't have the capability to implement this due to their technology provider or the insight to add this tactic. Now, there are many different types of autoresponder emails from product/service confirmations to event detail information. In this post, I want to concentrate on the use case in which a user either signs up for a newsletter or to access resources from your website. Here is a quick timeline to trace how far marketers have come by displaying how past autoresponders appeared:

1. The Traditional Email Autoresponder

Thanks for registering.

2. Email Autoresponder 1.0

[Insert company logo here]
Thanks for registering.

Click here to unsubscribe.
CompanyX address

3. Email Autoresponder 1.5

[Insert company logo here]

Dear FirstName,
Thanks for registering to receive [insert name of resource] from CompanyX. Please be sure to return to


Manage your profile or click here to unsubscribe.
CompanyX address

Autoresponder Email The Next Generation

Looking at the examples above, there really isn't anything wrong with the autoresponder 1.5. It provides relevant information, it's simple and to the point. I would also include a few other items as part of autoresponder 1.5: relevant static links to key areas of your website as well as asking recipients to whitelist your email address. This is all great but, if you're looking at ways to get more out of your autoresponders then keep reading.

I've found that autorepsonders can have open rates that can achieve greater that 80% open rates and clickthrough rates in the 20-30% range which blow industry averages out of the ball park. Registrants who fill out forms almost expect to get these emails as they have already taken the time to provide you with some type of information. The least you can do is provide them something useful in return. Other goals to keep in mind is to encourage the new subscriber to open and read future emails but encourage as well as interacting with you in other channels that they may not have known about.
  1. Personalization: Adding "Dear FirstName" in your email is good but you're wasting an opportunity to build a relationship between the new registrant and a real person at your company. You know the saying "people buy from people" - well it's true. A recent Aberdeen report has demonstrated that email personalization drives higher email open and conversion rates. Knowing that registrants will most likely open the autoresponder reduces the risk of having a real person in the "from line". What this does is begin or continue the relationship between the prospect and sales rep. As an added tip, make sure you add the name of your company in the first few characters of the subject line so the email recipients realizes that the the name of the person in the "from line" is from your company.

    Once the person opens the email, have a signature that includes a real person's name and contact information. The autoresponder should encourage the email recipient to contact the sales rep if they have any questions. The best in class marketers have their CRM synced up to their marketing automation platform which means that known contacts from their CRM should already have an associated sales rep. Your marketing automation platform should also allow you to dynamically include the sales reps information as part of the autoresponder. As an added tip, include a picture of the sales rep. If the registrant is new to your system, have a generic signature that perhaps is from your CMO or a known figure within your organization. Your marketing automation platform can also help you build signature rules based on other contact information such as geography which allows for a personalized approach even if a web visitor has yet to be assigned to a sales rep.

    This type of personalization leads to a much stronger and smoother hand-0ff process between the marketing and sales teams which I described in my last post "Lead Management and Football". Using this technique demonstrates that marketing is at the top of their game.

  2. Dynamic Content: This is one of the key areas that makes me smile when I'm reviewing how our customers are getting the most out of our product. Dynamic content in an email allows you to:
    • Simplify the autoresponder email creation. Instead of having 20 different versions of the same email, have one email that you can easily maintain. Using dynamic content you can change key areas such as what was exactly downloaded as well as customizing a call to action either based on what they downloaded and/or the interests that were specified in the registration process.

      In one example, I have a client that promoted different case studies based on the industry that was specified in the sign up process. In another example, a client specified exactly what was downloaded by capturing this in the registration process and then dynamically displaying this on the email. These techniques are simple, effective and led to increased response.

    • Pull in content from RSS feeds: I've outlined this concept in an earlier post Latest Trends in Email Marketing: RSS and Calendar Reminders. You can promote corporate blog posts, upcoming events, press releases and the newest white papers/case studies in an RSS feed(s) that you can add to your email either underneath the main "Thanks for registering text" or as a side column. This means that not only are you saying "Read our latest blog posts" but you're actually including the title of your latest posts as well as a link to read the entire article. In this way you have new content that is dynamically added to your autoresponder without the marketer having to make any manual updates. This is a great way to get more out of your content and drive new registrants back to your website.

    • Personalize who the email is coming from. I described this above but want to point out that this is a form of dynamic content

  3. Promote Other Channels: More and more marketers are using social media to keep prospects engaged while they are in the sales and marketing funnel. In addition, more and more of prospects are using social media to learn about your products and services as well as comparing you to your competitors. As I outlined in 10 Tips for Using Twitter And Email Marketing for B2B you can add your company's Twitter address, Linkedin groups and links to RSS feeds such as your corporate blog to your autoresponder emails.

    You should consider other channels as well. For example, Breaking Point Systems offers a free poster which has proven to be a very successful campaign. I also find this approach brilliant as the autoresponder email drives recipients back to the website to fill out additional information to receive the poster. Another idea is to include a link to a video that may be a customer testimonial that is relevant to the recipients challenge or job role.

  4. Sales Should not Follow up the Email With a Call: So you're reading this post and hopefully enjoying it and then you read this and you're like "What? Chad - you should have stopped after the second cup of coffee". Just because a web visitor signed up for a white paper or a newsletter on your website and you have pasted a nice picture of the rep on your autoresponder doesn't give anyone the right to call them up. If you have a properly defined lead management process, leads should only be passed on to sales for follow up if the prospect has attained a high enough lead score. In this way, you're focusing your sales team on the prospects that are more inclined to buy and sparing a potential buyer from being called too early in the purchase process.

  5. Don't Stop After The Autoresponder: You may be saying: "Wait a minute - so, sales shouldn't follow up but I shouldn't stop after the autoresponder?". That's correct. As I mentioned above, you want to ensure that new subscribers are "sales worthy" according to the agreed upon definitions that you should have between sales and marketing. A great way to keep a new subscriber informed about your company is to move them into a nurturing program typically called a "welcome program" for new subscribers. This may involve a few different channels including having someone follow up with them by phone to further qualify the "inquiry" but the first few touches should be via email to demonstrate the value of having provided you with their email in the first place and to build a profile which translates into a lead score for marketers that have implemented a lead scoring system.

    What is important is to provide content that is relevant. Relevancy depends on the recipient's interests that they provided, what they have downloaded and/or which pages, offers or emails they responded to. Frequency is also very important. Try to prevent recipients from receiving email content that they have already received. You also want to ensure that recipients are not receiving too many emails in too short a period of time. However, I believe that relevancy trumps frequency and if the content is relevant, recipients will want to receive it and if they don't feel like looking at it right away, they'll still want to get information from you in the future.
Measure the Results

Measuring the results is very key in this process. If you've read the above you may either be excited or overwhelmed. I would recommend benchmarking your current key email and conversion metrics and then slowly adding some of the techniques above and seeing the results. For example, by adding in personalization, are your sales reps receiving inbound calls as a result of this email? Of course, you will need a process in place to measure this (perhaps a dedicated line) but I would recommend starting simple and building on your successes. While these recommendations will require an investment of time up front, it will pay off in the long run.

Have you tried any of these techniques? How has it worked for you?

Chad H.

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Heather said...

Excellent post! I completely agree about the "don't let sales follow up with a phone call" part. Well said!

Anonymous said...

Terrific post Chad, thanks for your insights and links to further resources. Autoresponders are definitely one of the most overlooked yet effective B2B marketing tools. Agree with you and Heather re: not letting sales follow up with a phone call.

Gave a thumbs up on StumbleUpon :)



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