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Inside the best email practices for customer conversion and retention

Last updated on November 13th, 2015 at 11:00 am

The B2B sales mantra is straightforward – attract, convert, and retain. While everyone needs to fill the funnel, marketers are wise to focus on conversion and retention: data analytics vendor SumAll discovered that between 25 and 40 percent of total revenues come from returning customers, and businesses with 40 percent repeat customers generated nearly 50 percent more revenue than similar businesses.

Hundreds of marketing automation toolsets boast features to aid with conversion and retention, but one of the most effective methods is good, old-fashioned email. Implementing some best practices can make a big difference.

You’ll want to bookmark these tips from experts on retaining those repeat buyers:

  • Automate. Marketing automation software has changed the game for B2B marketers with “drip” campaigns that deliver information to prospects in a timed and coordinated fashion. Just about every marketing automation tool has this functionality, but even if you aren’t using a package you can still set up a campaign with an email marketing solution. Ron Cates, the director of digital marketing education at Constant Contact, urges marketers to review timing when establishing an autoresponder campaign. “If a customer happens to sign up at midnight on a Sunday night, you want to change your one-week reminder to go out at a better time, like in the morning of a work day,” says Cates.
  • Segment, segment, segment: One of the downsides to automation is that it can be tough to deliver the personalized messages that resonate. The best way to overcome this is to segment lists to deliver targeted messages. “Email campaigns that go to smaller lists get big open rates of 55 percent or more,” says Cates, compared with industry averages in the mid-20s. “The more you can segment, the more successful you will be.” Sales and marketing teams can segment lists, but another option is to enable customers to self-segment. Cates recommends embedding a survey or links in an initial email to ask prospects what information they want and need: how-to videos, ROI stats, customer examples, advanced user features, or quick start guides, for example. Marketers can quickly create a segmented list of people who clicked each link to enable very targeted follow up. B2C marketers are sophisticated at segmenting, but B2B needs to catch up – those who do, stand out remarkably well.

At a minimum, Cates recommends that marketers start out with two lists: existing customers and prospects.

“The relationship is stronger with customers. You can email them more often, and they are okay with more promotional content,” says Cates. “Prospects don’t want as many emails, and they shouldn’t be as promotional.”

  • Pretty it Up. Attractive emails get more attention, and attention drives results. “Messages that include graphics lead to more clicks and conversions,” says Dan Murphy, CMO of Embotics, a cloud management platform company. “With B2B marketing, unless it looks great, people think the business behind it is amateurish,” says Cates. He suggests that marketers take advantage of the pre-designed templates that are included with automation tools or email platforms to create an attractive, consistent, and branded campaign. The bonus? “Emails created with our templates get up to eight times the clicks and attention,” says Cates.
  • Make it Mobile: Whether you use a pre-designed template or create a custom design, make sure it’s mobile friendly. In 2011, only eight percent of email was viewed on a mobile device; today 53 percent of email is read on smartphones and other mobile devices, a 500 percent increase per Litmus Software. If the email is not mobile-friendly it can be skipped.
  • Pick the Right Content: There’s a subtle shift in messaging from B2C to B2B says Cates, but it is important: “The recipient wants information on what will help them sell what you are selling,” he says. “They want to know how they can use your product or service to help them get more customers.”

Marketers also need to be reminded that B2B sales is more about nurturing rather than jumping right into closing.

“While your ultimate goal is sales, your immediate goal should be to establish trust,” says Nicole Krug, Principal, Social Light “In a B2B climate people are likely comparing solutions and they are constantly having people try to sell them, so use your email campaign to show all the great things about your application and how easy it is to do business with you.”

She suggests starting with a welcome email that offers tutorials or quick-start guides, and then moving to information about lesser-known features. “Then start to share the extras you get in the pro version, finally making your way to an offer to upgrade,” says Krug. “While it may seem like a longer process, you’ll be more successful in the long run if you can establish a good relationship with the user.”


The experts at AddThis, a marketing optimization tool, point out that readers can help guide content choices. In a recent blog post, the team recommends reviewing analytics and keyword searches to find user-driven ideas for content generation.

  • Create a Call to Action: Don’t make the reader hit “delete” too soon – establish a clear and strong call to action, and make it easy to respond. Create a big, bright “Download Now”, “Register Now”, or “Order Now” button, and put it high up in the email. But above all, give them something to act upon. “Even if they are not ready to buy then and there make it easy for them to sign up for an email with an incentive,” says Constant Contact’s Cates. “Offer them a campaign of 50 tips once a week, or something that keeps you connected. When it’s time to take action, you will stay top of mind.“

If you’re ready to up your email marketing game, take a look at the options available. This guide from Capterra enables you to sort by features including autoresponders, behavior-driven rules, and click-through tracking.


Be sure to also read our report on how to increase opens, click-throughs in your email marketing campaigns


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Alison Harris
Alison Harris
Alison Harris is a B2B marketing, PR, and content strategist who helps technology companies reach new markets and increase sales. A former technology journalist, she specializes in helping companies with complex products and services communicate clearly and effectively with their target markets. She is fully on board with content marketing that is well-written and educational, technology that improves our everyday lives, and the serial comma. She loves living in Portland, Maine equally as much for its rapidly growing craft beer culture as for its technology start-up scene. Read more about her thoughts on B2B marketing or connect via LinkedIn.