Silverpop - Taking Your Email Segmentation for B2B Marketing to the Next Level
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Taking Your Email Segmentation for B2B Marketing to the Next Level

by: Adam Needles (@IBMforMarketing)
19 February 2010

We focus quite a bit on this blog on lead management, marketing automation and content marketing practices for B2B marketing.  To me, these are the three pillars of highly-effective, buyer-centric B2B marketing, and their concurrent mastery means you have achieved quite an advanced stage of B2B marketing within your organization. 

Yet I realize that for many marketers they may still be getting their heads wrapped around the basics.

For the record, no matter how basic or advanced your B2B marketing strategy is, a common denominator -- one of the most basic fundamentals -- is effectively leveraging email marketing.  Email plays a critical role in helping marketers stay in touch with their buyers, nurturing through long buying cycles and serving up valuable content that moves them forward in the buying process.  Success with email marketing is a critical discipline for B2B marketers; moreover, success with email marketing is a great first step toward marketing automation.

One of the critical ingredients -- which bridges the two disciplines -- is effective segmentation.  Segmentation, in a nutshell, is making sure the right message gets to the right buyer at the right time.  This is a critical component of nurturing buyers and is something an advanced marketing automation platform helps to enable -- supporting mass-one-to-one marketing.  But how do you achieve this pre-automation, probably with less-robust tools? 

How do you take your email segmentation to the next level?

This is a topic I covered in a presentation I delivered a few weeks ago in London at a B2B Marketing magazine event, which focused on the basics of B2B email marketing. 

My answer is to better align email campaigns and messages to stages of the buying cycle -- becoming more buyer-centric and less product-centric in our marketing.

How do you approach B2B email segmentation in a more buyer-centric fashion?

Success with a buyer-centric mindset requires moving away from static, 'batch and blast' mentalities around segmentation.  Segmentation needs to be treated as more than just chopping up lists based on demographics, such as industry vertical or BANT (budget, authority, need, timeframe) data. 

There is an increasing amount of research that indicates this type of demographic segmentation is not as effective as we might think.  For example, this recent post on DemandGen report indicated that less than 20% of B2B buyers go through a 'formal' buying process, where needs and budget are identified in advance -- meaning that even though they pursue a buying cycle, BANT data is possibly ineffective for more than 80% of buying decisions.

The need for more buyer-centric B2B marketing also reflects a major power shift that has occurred over the past decade -- something I've frequently highlighted on this blog and also in a post on my Propelling Brands blog, "Nailing Down Evidence That the Nature of the B2B Buyer Has Changed."  More than ever, B2B buyers are in a stronger position against their vendors -- empowered by a multitude of information channels and increasingly making B2B buying decisions on their own terms.

So here are four ways to do email segmentation that will help you move away from demographic categorization and move towards buyer-centric B2B marketing:

> Segment by stage of the buying cycle:  The first, and perhaps most obvious effort, is to overtly segment campaigns by stage of the buying cycle. In other words, specifically tune different email messages and download offers based on both explicit and implicit indicators of where a buyer is in his/her current buying cycle. 

This means having different email campaigns and targeting these campaigns at buyers that have hit certain buying-stage triggers.  For example, you might do a weekly pull of all prospects that have downloaded a particular white paper from your Web site that is commonly read at X stage of the buying process, and then launch an email to that list with messaging and additional download offers aligned to that stage.  And then you might follow that up a week later with another email designed to introduce information aligned to the next stage in their buying cycle.  Finally, you might measure click-through and downloads from that second email as an indicator of whether the buyer has, in fact, moved to that next stage or not.

Success with segmenting by buying cycle thus requires two levels of insights.  The first -- which I've previously covered on this blog -- is understanding the specific types of information consumed at different stages of the buying process.  Segmenting against the buying cycle means not only delivering up the right content per buying stage, but also using content clues -- i.e., content being consumed -- to categorize buyers' current buying stage.  The second is understanding at what stages this information consumption aligns with specific information channels, such as email, the Web or social. 

Below is a chart that shows the key stages of the buying cycle we should care about as a B2B marketer and how this aligns with many of the channels buyers access at those stages.

[caption id="attachment_617" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Source: Silverpop; click to enlarge"]Source: Silverpop; click to enlarge[/caption]

There is clearly a 'waterfall' effect where buyers move from channels they control to channels the vendor controls.  And email tends to be most effective in the middle of this progression -- i.e., once there is a relationship, email is a strong vehicle for nurturing and moving the dialogue forward.  Similarly, buyers move from initial thought leadership content -- which helps to frame their 'pain point' and how to approach it -- toward increasingly solution-oriented content.  And email is especially effective at bridging this transition by introducing the buyer to information that is increasingly solution oriented.

> Segment by relevance of content against a given persona:  Closely related to segmentation by buying stage is segmentation by the relevance of content.  Despite a high correlation between certain categories of information/channels and stages of the buying cycle, there may still be nuances to information that appeal more to different behavioral buying segments.  This has to do with distinctly-different personas that respond to different messaging in different ways.  The core information may be the same, but the way it is delivered, or the ‘wrapper,’ may need to be different.  

In the current era, where buyers expecting more tailored information than ever before, you need to deliver content that has the right type of information and that also matches the buyer's persona.  Moreover, that idea of persona may not be a demographic persona; rather, it may be a persona that is defined by the information-search behaviors of that buyer.

This type of segmentation is nuanced and more complex, but it also shows the greatest return on investment when it comes to the success of campaigns.  This fact was highlighted in the MarketingSherpa "2010 Email Marketing Report" (see graphic below; used with permission).

[caption id="attachment_618" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Source: MarketingSherpa; click to enlarge"]Source: MarketingSherpa; click to enlarge[/caption]

So how do you do this?  First you need to define your differential buyer personas.  (This is something I've covered in greater detail in a past post, so follow this link for more insights into leveraging buyer personas in B2B marketing.)  Then segmentation by relevance can be best tackled by 'mashing-up' buying-stage information with persona segmentation in a cross-tabulation effort.  That way you can literally multiply the number of buying stages by the number of distinct personas and come up with a tangible number of email campaigns that are necessary to drive more buyer-centric communication.  You may also find in this effort that there are certain combinations of buying stage and persona that are more frequent than others -- helping you prioritize which email campaigns you tackle first.

> Segment by buyer pull (vs. push):  A third way to think about segmentation is in the context of when a buyer is asking for information.  This is a shift in thinking for traditional push-based marketers, who think in terms of campaigns where they unfortunately 'blast' X number of emails to Y list ... and only when it is convenient to the marketer.  An alternative ideas is to only deliver email to a buyer when he/she is looking for it and open to it.

An obvious opportunity is to have emails and campaigns that are triggered to a buyer saying, "I'm ready for X information."  But buyers aren't usually that specific or up front.  So it's up to us to read the buyer's actions and content consumption patterns to anticipate need.  This sometimes means buyers need to 'stumble upon' information, and this has implications for email marketing.  There may be certain messages and outreach that you need to segment against because a buyer will prefer to find and/or download that information on his/her own time -- particularly via Web or on a blog.  In this case, what you don't put in an email campaign may be as important as what you do put in that campaign.

A marketing automation platform supports this type of segmentation via behavioral tracking and triggering of campaigns, but as with some of the other examples, there are batch ways to collect and launch emails against this information.  There are also some statistical methods for 'guessing' when a buyer will be most open to a message that may exist in your email marketing platform.  In fact, this is something that Silverpop has built into its own email marketing platform.  A feature called 'Send Time Optimization' analyzes when a buyer typically opens email and times delivery to a time-of-day and week that a buyer might be more receptive to the information.

> Segment by peer channel:  A final segmentation opportunity is to leverage what Charlene Li (who is speaking at this year's Silverpop Customer Conference) refers to as the 'Groundswell,' and to deliver email in a 'sideways' fashion.  What do I mean by this?  The most direct and credible route to a given buyer may not be going directly to that buyer; rather, it may be to go to through peers who will influence the buyer.  That means that you may write an email and send it to one person but really with the intent that (s)he will forward it to your actual intended decision-maker and/or post it to a social media network, sharing it with a broader base of peers.

A recent report by ITSMA highlighted the key nuances of this opportunity.  One, they pointed out that peers are the number-one influencers in B2B purchase decisions, and two, three-quarters of B2B buyers are using social media -- often as a proxy for tapping into peer input (see graphic below; used with permission).

[caption id="attachment_619" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Source: ITSMA; click to enlarge"]Source: ITSMA; click to enlarge[/caption]

This means segmenting messages and information, not only by the immediate target, but by second and third-degree relationships that might be influenced -- especially if they are a potentially more important audience.  Emails need to be designed to be shared.  For example, the Silverpop email marketing platform has 'share to social' capabilities built in, and so we did a study to measure its impact.  We found that social 'sharable' emails on average reached a 24.3% greater audience size than traditional emails.

What are some additional ways to think about buyer-centric email segmentation?

I hope these ideas around taking your email marketing strategy to the next level are helpful.  I believe it's important to think in these buyer-centric terms, whether we are merely trying to improve effectiveness or whether we're planning to further invest in marketing automation infrastructure.

What additional strategies or tactics you employ to get beyond basic demographic and BANT segmentation and, instead, to better align to the buying cycle?


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