How to improve the performance of your B2B email marketing overnight (and why you should)

Fellow B2B marketers, does this situation seem familiar to you?

Email plays a key role in your digital marketing strategy from top to bottom of the funnel. You send a variety of emails, including ‘batch and blast’, segmented, and triggered, to a list of contacts that you are constantly growing and refining. You work hard to improve the performance of these emails, running A/B testing, keeping assets current, changing the flow of your nurture campaigns, all with the goal of sending the right message to the right person at the right time. And your hard work is paying off – email performance has improved across the board.

But it’s still not where you would like it to be. Your open and click through rates have increased, but they are still below your industry’s benchmarks. Your nurture campaigns are targeting the right segments, but only a small percentage of contacts are responding to them. Essentially, your optimisation has reached its limits, and you need to try something new.

For an immediate boost to your KPIs, and to gain several other knock-on benefits, simply start to track your non-engagers, and address them as a separate segment.

Non-engagers are the contacts in your database who haven’t interacted with your marketing communications (e.g. clicked an email, or visited a web page) for a lengthy period of time. The exact length of time will depend on how often you are emailing contacts, but typically we define a non-engager as a contact who has been ‘inactive’ for at least 6 months.

If you’re not tracking your non-engagers already, you may be surprised by what you discover when you start to do so. In recent projects at MarketOne, we have encountered non-engagement rates of anything from 25% to well over 60%, but even if only 20% of your contacts were not engaged, removing them would have a dramatic effect on the performance of your emails. Imagine, for instance, that for a database of 10,000 contacts, you have an average unique open rate of 15% and a unique click through rate of 5% – that’s 1,500 opens and 500 clicks on average per email. If you remove 25% of those contacts who haven’t engaged in any way for 6 months, your unique open rate suddenly becomes 20% and your unique click through rate increases to 6.6%. Similarly, if you have a nurture campaign where progression is based on email clicks, a campaign with a progression rate of 20% improves to 26.6% when non-engagers are removed.

What’s more, removing non-engagers gives a much clearer picture of your engaged contacts’ reaction to your messaging, and in particular increases the possibility of getting statistically significant results from any A/B tests you conduct. If you have a large number of non-engagers in your database, they can drag down your open and click rates so much that they are too low to measure difference in split tests – by removing them, both indicators immediately improve, as do your learnings.

And it’s not just about improving your KPIs and impressing the bosses. For non-engagers, your messages are clearly no longer hitting the spot – in fact they are probably going straight in the bin, and by separating them out, you have the opportunity to find out why. Maybe they will respond to a different message, or maybe they are simply no longer interested in your products but haven’t bothered to unsubscribe. Surely, either way, it’s better to discover the answer than simply to keep on sending them emails that they won’t respond to.

Once you’ve created your non-engagers segment, we recommend 2 parallel approaches:

  1. Continue to include them in your email schedule. The performance is likely to be terrible, but you will be able to measure it separately, and a small number of contacts may even re-engage.
  2. Create a re-engagement program and feed all existing and future non-engagers into it. This typically consists of a series of emails sent over a 6 month period, using different messaging to encourage contacts to either re-engage with your content or proactively confirm they are not interested.

To start targeting your non-engagers and deliver immediate results, simply:

  • Define what non-engagers are for your business.
  • Create the logic in your Marketing Automation Platform that identifies non-engagers and feeds them into their own segment – you can continue to email them (at least until they have passed through the re-engagement program) but as a separate segment.
  • Create your re-engagement program.
  • Start by feeding your existing non-engagers through the program. This is when you can test different messaging and creative to deliver the best results. Bear in mind that the two main outcomes of a re-engagement program are contacts re-engaging, and contacts unsubscribing.
  • Once you are happy with the performance your re-engagement program, set it to run on an on-going basis, with non-engagers being fed into it automatically when they hit the threshold you have defined.

There is one sticking point that we do sometimes encounter: what to do with non-engagers who pass through an engagement program and still don’t engage? Bearing in mind that by this point they have probably not interacted with any form of marketing for as long as 12 months, our recommendation is to send a final, ‘Is this goodbye?’ email, explaining that if they don’t confirm that they wish to continue receiving emails, they will be unsubscribed automatically. However, for some businesses (often those where number of marketable contacts is a KPI) this can be a step too far. If this is the case for you, these ‘non-engaging non-engagers’ should at the very least be fed into a different segment so that they can be tracked and measured separately. Hopefully, at some point they can be removed.

A well-managed email re-engagement program should be a standard part of any digital communications strategy. It performs a constant data-cleansing role for your contacts and delivers immediate benefits. It ensures that you can target only those who are most likely to respond, helps you to ‘wake up’ those who are still interested, but whose engagement has lapsed for other reasons, and it also helps to remind those who no longer have a need for your emails that unsubscribing is just a click away and can remove them automatically – after all, they can subscribe again if their situation changes. All that, and at the same time your open and click through rates will increase!