Your list could be the culprit. Consider penny candy—that eclectic mixture of gummy this and sugar-coated that, with inedible plastic lips and sour patch kids masquerading as gummy watermelons.
Now imagine only getting the pieces of candy you really like. No surprises, just the good stuff. That's what a quality email program and, most important, a quality list can do for your audience. Deliver only the best because b-to-b email marketing is better than penny candy.
The source of your list is everything. Ideally, you've had your well-oiled email machine running through various solicitation funnels. You should have your customer relationship management (CRM) and website sign-ups automatically fed to your email service provider. Realistically though, your list may be stale, or worse. All of those email addresses that appeared out of the ether can be restrictive to optimization at the least, and in violation of CAN-SPAM [http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business] at worst.
Once you have a good base list (your perennial first choice at the candy counter), you can focus your attention on maintenance. By using engagement criteria, you can keep your list “healthy” over time. If you are uncomfortable removing individuals who have never opened your emails, test a different message to those addresses and see if you can solicit a reaction.
The keys to list maintenance are segmentation are targeted messaging. Many ESPs have event-triggered messaging functionality. Create campaigns not only for each segment of your list (i.e., customer/sales lead, title, region) but also by how they interact with the content of your email. For example, if someone clicks on a particular link X, they immediately receive Y communication.
Use analytics to be agile and adapt to new interaction trends. Always think of email tactics as email marketing instead of e-news. Using your list as only a monthly newsletter is like getting only one color of gummy bear. There's so much more to it than that, and it's best when mixed up.
Once you've got the basics down, how do you grow your list? Consider every point of contact with your audience, and ask yourself if you can solicit opt-ins. Consider your trade show booth, product warranty registrations, Contact Us forms, contests or even an offering of quality content, like a white paper, in exchange for contact information. Always include options to join a segmented email list. Most important, in your messaging and in your list building, stay targeted. Remember: Nobody likes plastic lips.
Mike Wilt is a digital strategist and Debbie Crawford is an associate account manager at b-to-b marketing agency Godfrey (www.godfrey.com).