B2B Email Marketing Best Practices: A Basic Guide

You want to close deals. You’re trying everything possible right now and you want to know how to up your B2B email marketing game. 

That’s why you’re here. 

Throw all of the B2C email marketing tactics you know out of the window — they are, for the most part, a waste of time for B2B companies. If you're a company trying to generate more commercial roofing leads, your emails will be different from one trying to generate more residential roofing leads. With B2B there are two things that matter more than anything else:

  1. Target the right audience.
  2. Have an offer that is worth a damn to that audience.

Everything else we're about to cover in this post is pointless without satisfying those two criteria.  

Full disclosure: Unlike most other articles out there on this topic, I’m not going to try to sell you anything. I’m not an email marketing company or affiliate of any. I just run a  marketing agency and am a B2B business owner myself.

The 12 Most Basic B2B Email Marketing Best Practices

Be Empathetic: You’re Noise Until You Prove Otherwise

How many emails do you read every day? More importantly, how many emails do you delete every day?

The people you’re trying to reach and sell to are people just like you.

They’re inundated with emails left and right and most don’t segment their incoming email into folders. While we may think this is a good thing as it ensures we end up in their normal inbox, it’s not.

filtered marketing emails b2b email best practices

How often have you looked at your inbox and felt a pang of annoyance when you see that there’s a long list of marketing emails?

 deleting marketing emails from inbox
Deleting All the Emails in this Category without a Second Thought

Ever just resigned and deleted them all in one go? 

I sure have.

And if you’re doing that, you can bet the people on your list do as well. So how do you reach those people? 

By being empathetic. 

I wish I could teach you how to be empathetic, but I can’t. That’s something you have to develop all on your own for it to be authentic. 

Tip: I tell myself that the primary goal of every email, every article, every ad should be to build relationships and not just increase sales. 

Don’t get me wrong, we all want to make sales, but this isn’t B2C. Building relationships is how we build trust, and building trust is how we make sales (that can often grow in value over time). 

Nearly every tactic following this one is rooted in empathy and by using them, you’ll dramatically improve the effectiveness of your B2B email marketing campaigns.

Get Your Tone Right

Your tone can make or break your campaign. You have to know who you’re talking to when you write to them. Your tone should change depending on the recipient’s role and current engagement with your brand. 

Don’t get too formal. This may be B2B marketing but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring in your email messages. Talk to your email subscribers the way you would in person.

Keep it conversational. 

Don’t fall victim to your own language. Odds are you’ll be using too much jargon. Scale it back a bit — even if you can reasonably expect your audience to understand it.

Example of good copywriting
Thanks to Harry from Marketing Examples

Craft Interesting Subject Lines (Hire a Copywriter)

People are more likely to open emails if the subject line is personalized. 

This has been bashed into our heads so often that it’s just dogma now (or best practice, however you want to look at it).

You need to take things a step further by writing something that will make the reader actually want to open the email.

So how can you do that?

Get Rid of Spam Words

First off, get rid of spam words. Including them can easily cause your email to get flagged and end up in the spam folder. You can learn more about spam words in this robust article by Active Campaign: 188 Spam Words to Avoid: How to Stay Out of Spam Filters.

Keep it Short & Don’t Be Afraid to Inject Some Personality

Subject lines get cut off at varying lengths on our phones these days depending on the phone and app. The iPhone cuts things off in Apple Mail at about 43-46 characters. If yours is longer than that, make sure you get your point across before it gets truncated.

Note: The two most popular email clients are Apple Mail and Gmail respectively.

most popular email clients statista
Source: Statista

You can inject a bit of personality in your subject line (and make it stand out a bit more) by using an emoji.

If you’re worried about people thinking this will look too unprofessional, well, you know your audience better than I do. However, I would encourage you to try it out. I’ve often seen business executives think they know their target audience, only to be proven wrong.

How Emojis are Perceived in Marketing Emails

Hire a Copywriter

If you really want your email marketing to resonate with people and get the results you want, I’d suggest hiring a professional copywriter. If you don’t see the value of a copywriter and don’t think it’s worth the money, you must know something billion-dollar (and trillion-dollar) brands don’t know.

Note: I’m not a copywriter myself (I’m just a computer scientist turned marketer), I just know a good copywriter can produce an insane ROI. If I had to recommend one copywriter to check out, it’d be Joel Klettke from Business Casual Copywriting.

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B2B Email Subject Line Examples

b2b email best practices - BrightLocal
Example from BrightLocal
b2b email marketing best practices - Futur
Example from The Futur

Personalization Is Not Debatable

It’s 2020 folks. If you’re not personalizing your emails you’re wasting your time. 

The top 3 reasons for using personalization in email marketing are:

  • Improved open rate (82%)
  • Higher CTR (75%)
  • Increase in customer satisfaction (58%)

At this point, personalizing your emails to the reader is table stakes. It’s also a lot more than just using a name. If you have built out proper customer personas you can use additional information gathered to really cater things to the reader.

In addition to being the CEO of Ardent Growth, I’m also the CMO of RunDoyen, an online coaching platform for elite runners. At RunDoyen we ask visitors an extensive set of questions to get to know their goals, desires, motivations, preferences, and much more. 

We use that data to develop buyer personas and take personalization a lot deeper in our marketing emails. It’s quite effective too, so if you haven’t established buyer personas yet, be sure you put that on your list of priority items for this quarter.

b2b email marketing - example of personalization
Email Marketing Personalization Based on User Preferences

The Power of Segmentation

Like personalization, segmentation should be a core component of your B2B email marketing strategy. While B2C focuses a lot on demographics, B2B marketers should focus on firmographics.

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Examples of Firmographics

Examples of firmographics include things like:

  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Company name
  • Company status (e.g. LLC, partnerships, privately held companies,etc.)
  • Location
  • Annual revenue
  • Buying/Sales cycle stage
  • Company growth
  • Job title and role
  • Purchasing power

Collecting this information will be a core component of your customer personas and act as the foundation of your segmentation strategy in your account-based email marketing campaigns. 

What you don’t want to do is send the same emails to everyone in the accounts you’re targeting. You’ll want to focus on the decision-making users (DMUs).

Create User Personas

With segmentation, you can write personalized emails to match the role you’re talking to — which is even more important when the average buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6-10 decision-makers, according to research by Gartner.

Send the Right Message at the Right Time

Determining the best time of day to send your marketing emails is just the tip of the iceberg. Sending the right message at the right time is also about mapping your email content to the recipient’s place in the B2B buyer’s cycle.

For instance, you would be sending drastically different emails to someone who first opts into your email marketing from a specific landing page versus someone who’s opened 3 emails, watched a webinar, had a demo call, etc. 

A good top-of-funnel email can be much more informative the way your blog might be. In fact, recapping a recent blog before and then encourage the recipient to visit a page on your site is a great way to combine the goals of email marketing with the goals of content marketing. 

Case studies, white papers, and relatable stories work great for people in the middle-of-funnel (good MOFU marketing can be the primary driver of your opt-ins). 

Discounts, special offers are phenomenal for leads sitting in the bottom of the funnel.

Email is Worthless without a Good Offer

Despite all of the complex funnels you may build out...with hyper personalization, perfect segmentation (good luck), and the right timing:

It's all a waste if your offer is shit to begin with.

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Use Email Validation to Keep Your Email List Clean

Getting emails into people’s inboxes has been getting more and more difficult. Ensure you’re keeping your bounce rate low and that you prune out any invalid emails from your list.

A failure to do so can quickly lead to your domain being flagged as spam, which is going to kill your deliverability rates. There are a variety of tools out there that can handle cleaning up your email lists (I use Zero Bounce or Respona). 

Provide Value with Your CTAs

Email marketing has a very high ROI in digital marketing (upwards of 4200%). Every email needs to have some type of CTA that flows naturally from the copy leading up to it. 

Warm up the reader with useful and helpful information that matches their place in the buyer’s cycle before asking them to take action.

asana email top of funnel
Asana - TOFU (Sort of)
appsumo middle of funnel email
AppSump - MOFU
appsumo bottom of funnel email
AppSumo - BOFU

Omnichannel Marketing: Time to Get Holistic

While I’m sure email marketing isn’t the only marketing channel you’re brand is leveraging for lead generation, you should still make sure that you have everything working in concert together.

Social media platforms like LinkedIn have much higher cost-per-lead metrics.

However, by using the results of your email marketing campaigns to remarket to your more engaged users you will often find that your total cost-per-customer acquisition reduces over time.

Make Sure Your Tracking Data is Clean

Everything key element we’ve talked about up to this point will be severely diminished if you’re data isn’t being collected and tracked properly in the first place. 

If you haven’t set up an integration between your email marketing automation tools and analytics tracking software (like Google Analytics), you need to do so before anything else.

If you haven't decided which you want to work with, here's a helpful review of email marketing services you can use to help compare.

Every major email marketing services provider typically has a set of instructions on how to get this set up if you search their site or search for something like integrate [tool name] with Google Analytics.

integrate email marketing tool with google analytics
Example of How HubSpot Integrates with Google Analytics

Sidenote: You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned things like email templates or email design at all yet. That’s because each B2B business has a dramatically different audience.

Sometimes a plain vanilla-looking email can have significantly higher conversion rates versus one that’s beautifully designed.

The idea here is that vanilla-looking emails don’t “look” nearly as “sales-y,” which reduces the likelihood of the viewer ignoring the ad/moving on.

plain email with video mike
Plain Email Design
designed email futur
Higher Fidelity Email Design - Futur

Analyze & Iterate

As you run your campaigns you’ll want to monitor and evaluate your data at set intervals. By doing so, you can easily run a/b tests and do comparisons to find insights about your audience such as:

  • What email subject lines receive the highest open rate?
  • What emails receive the most click-through rate?
  • What type of decision-maker engages with our emails the most?
  • How many interactions do we need to have with a prospective customer before converting them?
  • Which emails result in the greatest number of users to unsubscribe from our newsletter?
  • What’s the average ROI of our email marketing efforts?

And so much more. Just ask yourself which questions make the most sense for your business goals and ensure you have the data organized so that you can easily draw the answers from them. 

Email with Empathy

If you want to be effective with your B2B email marketing the best thing you can do is turn up your empathy. We’re all getting inundated with marketing emails so do your best to do more than just grab attention — work to deserve to be your audience’s inbox as well.

It’ll go a long way in developing brand loyalty and an engaged email list.

If you read this far down, you’re one of the few that still reads long-form posts. Welcome to the club. I’m the same way. If you’d like to know when I publish something else, you’re welcome to sign up for my own email updates as well.

I rarely send anything out and when I do, I try to make sure it’s something people will get value from. Cheers!