Preference centers need give and take

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Question: What are the best practices for building an effective b-to-b email preference center? Answer: While there are many ways to enhance the collection of user information with email signup activities and b-to-b email preference centers, I am more concerned with other types of best practices, especially those that are more user-oriented. To be sure, marketers and their sales forces would like to know a subscriber's name, title, buying interests and annual budget. But unless we are talking about the publishing world, we shouldn't demand that kind of data in exchange for what is essentially the right to market to them. And most b-to-b marketers do not have the volume to justify offering the ability to choose frequency of emails. For Godfrey's clients, we believe the best practice is to ask a user to provide the information we need to fulfill their request. In this case, if we are providing a routine email newsletter, we can legitimately ask for their email address. If we are segmenting the content they will receive by industry or technology category, we can ask for that information as well. Only when they have asked us to provide them with something else can we request more. That's probably one reason why some of our clients still offer printed catalogs and mailed CDs or DVDs: It's a reason to ask for full contact and mailing information. Even better is when they ask for help with a technical question. We can legitimately request a description of their problem or situation. This quid pro quo, give-and-take process creates a hierarchy of possible responses on a typical b-to-b website, resulting in what we have for many years called “differentiated outcomes.” Some visitors will come, look and leave. Others will visit and perhaps download a white paper or tool. A few may sign up for an email newsletter, giving you the opportunity to market to them. And a handful may ask for help or request assistance that can result in a sales call. Being clear about those different kinds of outcomes is better for everyone: the user, the sales force and the marketer. Jim Everhart is VP-creative director at b-to-b agency Godfrey (
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