Despite the potential difficulty in assessing a multichannel campaign's success, integrating e-mail with other efforts holds significant potential for marketers. “That integration enables conversations to go much deeper and gives b-to-b e-mail readers the ability to choose which channel is most convenient and makes the most sense for them,” Mullen said.
Marketers are particularly interested in how e-mail and social media can be used together—for example, using e-mail to drive recipients to a discussion in a social network or enabling them to share a message's content with their peers. “The dynamic of e-mail plus social has really revolutionized customer acquisition,” said Joel Book, principal in the marketing research and education group at ExactTarget, a provider of e-mail marketing software and solutions. “Really smart b-to-b marketers are the ones that are empowering their subscribers, fans and followers to spread the word.”
John Johnston, e-business marketing manager at Volvo Construction Equipment, an ExactTarget customer, said his company is currently piloting a social media effort and determining how to integrate e-mail marketing into it. “What we want to be able to do is engage customers in a conversation and interact with them wherever they may be,” he said.
One of the biggest lessons Volvo has learned, Johnston said, is that e-mail communications are much more successful when they're personalized. The company has restructured its e-mails so that content is dynamic, changing according to a recipient's interest, he said. “We don't want to mass mail,” he said. “We want to do all we can so that, if recipients have a specific interest, that's the interest that's reflected in the e-mail content.”
Personalizing communications can be difficult for b-to-b marketers, Smith said, because they often don't have the advantage that a consumer marketer with access to third-party demographic data might have. The trick, he said, is to pay attention to such customer activity as website downloads. “Smart marketers are collecting de facto preferences and then adjusting as necessary in subsequent communications,” he said.
For example, Smith said, e-mail recipients that click through to the website and download white papers are probably still in data-collection mode. But if they click through and spend time examining detailed feature and function information, they are likely closer to buying. “Tailor every communication to what you currently understand about them and be very cognizant of how people are moving through the cycle, so you can change with them,” he said. “Just because they came in wanting a white paper doesn't mean that their only need three months down the road is more white papers. Determine the appropriate communication for that point in the life cycle.”
E-mails with links to videos can be especially effective in engaging a recipient and helping marketers determine that recipient's level of engagement, ExactTarget's Book said. “A person that watched the entire video on a particular product, downloaded a spec sheet and a white paper with case study interviews—they're well along [in the sales cycle],” he said.
Overall, Book said, the key to success for e-mail marketers is a sound customer engagement strategy. “The difference between those companies that are succeeding versus those that are failing when it comes to e-mail marketing is that [the successful companies] have taken the time to really step back and think through their strategy of customer engagement,” he said.
For Johnston, success boils down to a simple but thorough process: “Build, evaluate, review, adjust and repeat,” he said. “It's not a hard thing to do, but it can be time consuming.”