Eye on b-to-B: Prospecting, Not Spamming

Dec 01, 2002 10:30 PM  By

Say “e-mail prospecting,” and many marketers squirm. The term often brings to mind the unsolicited e-mails that crowd electronic mailboxes, touting everything from herbal remedies for baldness to instant mortgage approval. So while they’re interested in e-mail’s ability to inexpensively reach prospects, most b-to-b catalogers are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to prospecting electronically.

Then again, the relatively low cost of contacting prospects by e-mail rather than by print mail or outbound telemarketing has encouraged some catalogers to test e-mail prospecting programs.

‘I don’t like spam’

Lakewood, NJ-based Action Office Supplies did try e-mail prospecting, several years ago. “The aggravation that went with it made it not worthwhile,” says Scott Neuman, president of AOS Web-Com, the ISP that hosts Action Office Supplies’ Website.

Neuman had sent e-mails to about 40,000 names gathered via “Web mining” — using software to search the Internet for pertinent terms that would lead to likely prospects. Neuman had sought out phrases as “procurement agent” to find individuals who fit the profile of an Action customer.

The campaign wasn’t a flop: It generated a roughly 2% response. But the cost of dealing with people who didn’t want to receive the e-mails consumed a great deal of time, says Neuman: “You would get people calling and yelling at you for a half-hour.”

Another problem for some business catalogers is the need to qualify potential customers and establish a credit limit. To do that, they typically need to check prospects’ credit rating and the size of their companies. This process is nearly impossible with just an e-mail address to go on.

Finally, some potential clients’ e-mail systems will block any unsolicited messages. That’s the case with the U.S. Armed Forces, says Johnny Wilkinson, vice president of marketing with GTSI Corp., a Chantilly, VA-based provider of information technology to government and military agencies. “We don’t send out e-mails that are unsolicited,” says Wilkinson. “That’s a major no-no, and they’ll block the IP address.” Instead, GTSI’s print catalogs direct buyers and prospects to the company’s Website, where they can sign up for e-guides and other messages.

Money talks

But for many, the low cost of e-mail marketing more than compensates for its drawbacks. According to Harte Hanks, a San Antonio, TX-based customer relationship management solutions provider, a direct mail marketing campaign with a $10,000 budget would typically reach about 11,000 people. An e-mail campaign with the same budget would reach 21,000 individuals.

The cost of e-mail lists can vary hugely. Lists from new online firms typically run $100/M-$150/M, says Rick Buck, director of e-media with Lexington, MA-based marketing firm E-Dialog; tech-related lists can run up to $500/M. But even the most expensive lists can be cost-effective, given that an e-mail campaign doesn’t involve the print, production, and postage costs of a catalog or solo-mailer campaign.

The promise of more contacts for the buck led industrial signage and labels cataloger Labelmaster to test e-mail prospecting. The Chicago-based company started with database appends, explains director of sales and marketing Barry Litwin. For the past several years, Labelmaster has worked with an outside firm to obtain e-mail addresses for names and postal addresses already in its house file but not on its opt-in e-mail list.

“We greet them as customers of Labelmaster,” says Litwin, adding that response rates to the e-mails have been the same as those of opt-in e-mail recipients.

An e-mail append generally costs $0.25-$0.75 per name, says David Linhart, senior vice president with Chicago-based e-marketing firm YesMail. As the number of names increases, the price per name drops. YesMail electronically matches names on the customer’s file to e-mail names using postal records and first and last names. Once it makes a match, YesMail sends the individual an e-mail, asking if he would like to unsubscribe. If the recipient doesn’t respond within five days, he’s included on the list of names sent back to the client.

And in June, Labelmaster began testing 15,000-25,000 e-mail names from industry publications such as Occupational Health & Safety and from online marketing firms. Labelmaster asked the prospects if they would like to receive an electronic edition of the cataloger’s newsletter. At press time, Litwin did not yet have results from the test.

E-Mail Prospecting Guidelines

To get the most out of your e-mail prospecting campaign, keep the following hints in mind:

  1. CHECK THE LIST

    Ask whether the list is a double opt-in, says Reggie Brady, president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions in Norwalk, CT. In other words, did the individual sign up to receive e-mail messages and then check a box (typically located near the “submit” button on the registration page) confirming that he meant to opt in? E-mails sent to those listed on double opt-in lists are the most likely to be opened, says Brady.

    Also, have someone from within your company sign up with the firm whose e-mail list you’d like to rent, suggests Gary Hennerberg, head of the Hennerberg Group, a marketing consulting firm in Grapevine, TX. This enables you to verify that the company makes it clear to those opting in exactly what they’re signing up for.

    And don’t forget to ask how recently the names and addresses were collected, says Randy Wessler, vice president of product management with CRS solutions provider Harte-Hanks. The more up-to-date they are, the more likely that they’re accurate.

  2. ASK WHO ELSE IS MAILING TO THIS LIST

    The more companies that are renting a list, the more e-mail each name on that list will be receiving — especially if some of those companies send several messages a week. “Find out how many times a contact can get an e-mail from the list within a 30-day period,” says Wessler.

  3. KEEP THE MESSAGE SIMPLE

    “In b-to-b, succinct text and nice, clean HTML are best,” says Al DiBlasi, vice president with Meta Response, a Deerfield Beach, FL-based e-mail marketing firm. Flashy graphics that take too long to load can turn off potential customers, as can messages that go on for more than one page. Brady suggests that catalogers using HTML keep the size of graphic elements to no more than 35 kilobytes.

  4. WATCH THE SUBJECT LINE

    The message needs to be compelling and attention-grabbing, or the recipient is likely to delete the e-mail. But don’t overdo it. Some corporate e-mail systems are set up to delete e-mails that contain “free” or an abundance of exclamation points in the subject line, which are typical of spam.

  5. FOCUS ON BEGINNING A DIALOGUE

    Not every e-mail message has to be sales-oriented. For instance, the message may include a button that says, “Click here to register for our upcoming webinar.”

  6. INCLUDE YOUR COMPANY’S NAME IN THE “FROM” LINE

    If the e-mail appears to be coming from an unidentified Internet service provider, some corporate systems may block it, says Wessler.

  7. TEST THE MESSAGE

    “Make sure you spend extra time in set-up, so that when the customer gets an e-mail, the name is accurate, and the message fits with the browser,” says Barry Litwin, director of sales and marketing for signage cataloger Labelmaster.

  8. COORDINATE YOUR E-MAIL WITH OTHER MARKETING MESSAGES

    According to Wessler, multichannel marketers who combine e-mail with direct mail and phone campaigns can boost response rates by up to 15%.
    KK