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Sales Lead Automation

The 2 Most Effective B2B Lead Generation Strategies of 2020

This guide will share with you two of the most effective b2b lead generation strategies we saw in 2020.

It is a step-by-step blueprint with everything you (or your team) need to do to copy and win with these ideas. It also includes what to avoid, so you can sidestep pitfalls.

We’ve sent out over 150,000,000 (Yes, million.) emails. These were some of the most impressive results we’ve ever seen.

In fact, in the middle of worldwide lockdown (the Pandemic of 2020), one of these strategies drove over $5,000,000 in new business for one company.

Here are the top 3 campaigns we looked at closely across all the emails sent in 2020:

  • Mass Email Campaigns (individual blasts to 50,000+ emails at once)
  • ABM (account-based email marketing)
  • Individual Automated Sales Outreach Emails

The winner was hard to pick as every company judges success differently. Though, ultimately, sales are what matters, and that starts with a conversation.

The last campaign strategy above, individual automated sales outreach, will keep any SDR busy. It drives consistent conversations throughout the year. It’s also very affordable for any size business, from a startup to a Fortune 100 size budget.

But for companies looking to either drive massive awareness or reach decision-makers who are harder to contact, the other two methods clearly outperform.

What’s funny is that these other two strategies are complete opposites, as you’ll see in a moment.

The ABM strategy is a very methodical approach to sending a small, limited amount of emails. It’s highly targeted but uniquely so, as many have never seen it done this way before. Yet this strategy can drive over 60% opens! It also drives massive replies for booking meetings as you’ll see below.

The other approach is like a firehose of emails going out at once (50,000 or more at once). It’s also highly targeted but in a different way as we’ll touch on shortly. This strategy creates massive awareness for brands and clicks to your content. Many will use this to drive attention to a piece of content (perhaps how you arrived here). It’s also used for webinar signups or promoting an event. Look at these stats from a recent campaign (62,000+ opens):

Here’s the thing.

They’re both very effective at driving leads.

In fact, some businesses did both of these strategies at the same time, compounding their marketing and sales impact.

This guide will show you stats on both strategies to prove to you just how effective they are.

More importantly, it will show you step-by-step how to implement them yourself.

So pull out an idea notebook and let’s get ready to have an impactful 2021.

Let’s start with mass email!

Have A Question – Schedule A Call

Mass Email For B2B Lead Generation

I often get asked if mass email marketing still works and I always reply, “Absolutely!”.

But you have to know what you are doing.

The days uploading a list you purchased on eBay and blasting out 100,000 emails are long gone.

In the old days (10 years ago), you might have gotten away with this, but not anymore.

The email service providers (ESP’s) were receiving so many complaints of spam emails that they had to do something. And something they did!

ESP’s started looking beyond just a sender’s IP address (where you are sending your emails from) and how many bad email records were sent.

When a bad list manifests in high undeliverables, this is a clear giveaway that you are a spammer. So, the ESP’s got smart and started to track your email reputation over time.

Your email reputation score is impacted by many factors. Your reputation score takes into account how long your email domain has been around and how many complaints your email has had against it. It looks at how engaged the people are who are receiving emails from your email address and if they opened and clicked.

All of these statistics contribute to whether your email is delivered or not.

For the mass email sender, this can be a big problem because historically these campaigns were a numbers game. The more emails the better. Even if your conversion rate was less than .05%, if you sent a lot of emails, you could still turn big profits.

But like all good things, they come to an end.

Most mass emailers will tell you that they used to make millions in mass email marketing. But as soon as the ESP’s and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) adopted these practices, things became a lot harder.

However, mass email can still be very effective when the appropriate changes to strategy, technology, and processes are made.

Why You Should Consider Mass Email

We can drive more traffic in one week of using mass email than most marketers can drive in months using content marketing, search engine optimization, display advertising, and/or pay per click (PPC) ads. We have proven this time and again. 

I think all marketers should be using mass email because it still has the highest ROI of any marketing channel today.

Some reports suggest email returns $40 to $45 for every $1 spent. Mass email offers low cost with potentially high returns.

You can also test and track results in real-time. 

Or nearly real-time. Within 72 hours you’ll collect 80% of your open, click-through, and conversion reports. Fast, right?

What’s your alternative?

If you’re waiting for Google to index your content so you rank on search engines, good luck! 

If you are, don’t forget to factor in content creation and SEO costs. Plus, remember, you’re competing with everyone else in your industry who is doing the same thing.

Or, perhaps you think people will click on your display ads? Or that you’ll get a ton of traffic from social media so you don’t need mass email. If you are one of these people, then you are letting Google, Twitter, and Facebook take control of your destiny, which is nuts if you ask me.

How to Make Mass Email Work For Your Business

Everything starts with good data.

I don’t mean just having a clean and verified list. I mean a solid, clean list that is targeting your ideal customer profile.

So often we meet other marketers and marketing firms that don’t know how to pull a valuable, targeted list of prospects.

Here is a typical request we get every day.

“I need a list of salespeople, director level, and above. I want them in these industries at a company with at least 500 employees.” Sound familiar?

When pulling data you need to think outside of the box.

What do I mean? Let me show you. 

Let’s look at some options for pulling lists. 

Say you sell software testing services. You could target every software engineer, developer, CIO, or CTO in the country and your results would be awful. Don’t get me wrong. If you’re lucky enough not to burn your email reputation, you might get some ROI out of this campaign but why take the risk when we can refine it more?

Let’s target these same job titles at companies that have job openings for software testing, developers, and/or engineers instead.

Sure your number of possible contacts will be lower, but your list is much more targeted. 

If you want to take this a step further, consider buying intent data. With intent data, we can look for companies actively consuming content related to software testing, development, quality control, kanban process, agile development, application development, and other relevant topics. 

Doesn’t it make sense to target companies consuming content related to your products and services first?

Sure it does. Trust me you will thank me later on your way to the bank.

Another example: Let’s say you are a small marketing firm looking for new clients and your ideal profile is mid-sized software companies.

Doesn’t it make sense to target software companies based on recent funding announcements?

Or perhaps using intent data, we look for companies consuming content related to product development, branding and communications, marketing strategy, and sales enablement. These companies are reading content like this for a reason.

Companies who recently have received funding have shareholders who are expecting growth and return on their investment. They’re much more likely to open and reply to your email.

Yet another example: Let’s say you are a software company that has developed a cheaper alternative to Paypal or Stripe.

Doesn’t it make sense to use Technographics so you can target companies who are using e-commerce platforms like WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Magento, Volusion, Shopify?

By adding some intent data, we can refine that list further. We can look for companies consuming content related to credit card processing or payment solutions.

Don’t forget Personas!

What’s a persona?

Some might call this an avatar. Regardless, a persona is a helpful way to find and understand each person who plays a role in the buying decision for your product and service.

So if you are selling shipping services, your personas might be anyone with logistics, shipping, material handling, procurement, purchasing, supply chain, supplier, or sourcing in their job title.

We recommend you include at least 3 personas in your lists:

  • End-User: The person most likely to use your product and service
  • Decision-Maker: The person who will be responsible for approving the purchase of your product or service
  • Financial Authority: The person who ultimately approves the budget and pays for the product or service.

Each of these personas has different questions and concerns.

Example questions each of these personas might have are:

  • Financial Authority might only be interested in terms and conditions, your escalation policy, and expected ROI
  • Decision Maker may want to know how your solution has helped other companies like theirs and if it will help them  reach their targets
  • End-User might only be concerned with how disruptive this is going to be to their normal way of doing things

Note: If you sell something that has a more complex buying decision with an extended sales cycle, you might want to include a persona for a Researcher. Decision-makers and executives alike often task a team member to research solutions. Their job is to come up with a final list of providers to compare before making a purchase decision.

All of these personas are uniquely different so we recommend you break up your lists by departments/personas and create relevant content for each one.

Think of this process as a giant FAQ exercise.

To help understand what this might look like in regard to developing an effective messaging and content marketing strategy, you can reference the chart below.

Mass email will work fantastically if you follow these steps.

At the end of the day, we are talking about relevancy.

Research proves that business executives don’t mind receiving an unsolicited email as long as it’s relevant to their job, life, or interest.

Positive Side Effect: If you take the time to follow this process, not only will you be more effective with your mass email marketing efforts but you will also have a fantastic sales enablement document. This document will help your salespeople understand what each persona cares about when engaging these unique personas on their sales calls.

Recap: We talked about the challenges of mass email marketing, how to pull the right kind of data, and how to break up those lists into personas to become more relevant resulting in fewer spam complaints and better deliverability.

Now let’s talk about email verification and why it’s so important. 

Why Email Verification is a Must

Once you have your ideal personas identified and you have pulled your lists, it’s time to verify the data before you operationalize it.

Whether you are preparing your email data for a sales automation program or a mass email campaign, email verification is a must.

If your list has a lot of bad email addresses and a lot of bounces, the ESP’s of the world will notice this. Next, they’ll categorize you as a bad email marketer.

If you have a few undeliverable emails or bounces, that is normal. When sending email frequently to an opt-in or permission-based email list, it’s common for emails to bounce. So the ESP’s will still deliver your email when compared against another sender with a lot of undeliverable emails.

How Email Verification Works

These third-party verification services evaluate emails by looking at a lot of data.

They’ll look at spelling errors, spam traps (more on this below), proper formatting, and syntax (i.e. missing symbols @ or improper formats like JohnSmith@johnsmith@com). They perform DNS checks to make sure the domain is valid and the final step in email verification is to check the SMTP protocol to make sure that the mailbox exists and is able to receive messages.

They do this by pinging the email address and mail server associated with that address and evaluating the server response. Mail servers tell the email verification provider if yes, this email is active and deliverable or no, this email is not active (undeliverable).

Let’s touch on spam traps, before jumping into the challenges of email verification.

What Are Spam Traps and Honey Pots

We’re surprised by the fact that most people don’t know what a spam trap is (also known as a honey pot).

If you are doing ANY email marketing these days and let’s be honest, who isn’t? You must understand what spam traps are and how to avoid them. 

If you don’t limit emailing them, you risk damaging your email reputation and any hopes of getting a meaningful ROI on your email marketing efforts.

Spam traps are used to identify and monitor those who are sending spam emails. 

Pretty much any company who monitors the emails they’re receiving is using spam traps to lure spammers. 

Even if you don’t send emails to non-opt-in email addresses and you practice strict permission-based email marketing, you still may wind up emailing a spam trap.

Why? 

These spam traps tell the universe more about how you collect email data versus what you send them. 

Sendgrid, a Twilio company, tells us there are three types of spam traps, Pristine, Recycled, and Email Typos.

Pristine spam traps are emails that have been created by ISP’s and other organizations but are never used. 

So if a person or company is in the practice of scraping websites or LinkedIn profiles for contacts, including their email addresses, this fictitious email awaits. Once someone emails this email address, it tells the world you are practicing data scraping and are most likely sending unsolicited email. 

This is the most serious type of spam trap and can cause irreparable damage to your IP address or domain. 

Recently, we heard about a marketing director who purchased a list from eBay of 100,000 emails. He sent an email to everyone on the list without verifying it. Later that day, the CEO of his company was trying to email his wife to pick up the dry cleaning, and both his email and domain were blocked from sending the email. It took days to get his email account back up and removed from the spam houses blacklist.

Recycled spam traps are emails that have been recycled or repurposed to detect spammers.

Often you will see role-based emails like Sales@, Marketing@, Info@ associated with these types of traps. We also see former employee emails being used as recycled spam traps. 

These spam traps don’t negatively impact your email reputation and domain as severely as sending to Pristine spam traps but it’s still a good practice to avoid them.

Emails with Typos

These are emails where the domain is misspelled (i.e. Yaho.com vs. Yahoo.com). While this doesn’t happen often, it does tell the internet you aren’t practicing good email hygiene. Thus, you will likely be marked a spammer because your list is dirty and not verified.

This category speaks to the problem related to email verification and data hygiene in general. 

While it is unrelated to spam traps per se, if you are sending a large amount of email that is undeliverable, watch out. If your bounce rates go over 5-10%, chances are you are going to get flagged as a spammer.

At a minimum, it shows the world you are not sending to your lists on a consistent basis or practicing good data hygiene. All signs of a typical spammer.

The Challenges with Email Verification

The challenge with email verification providers is that not all mail servers are configured to send a response once pinged.

We refer to this as a catchall or accept all email responses. This means that the company’s IT department has configured their mail server to accept all emails as long as the syntax and domain are correct.

So, if you try to verify santa@microsoft.com, the email verification service will get a catchall or accept all messages from the server. This says that it will try and deliver that email if you send it.

Now we all know Santa doesn’t work for Microsoft or at least, let’s hope not 😂

So the only way to know if that email is good or not is to actually send an email to santa@microsoft.com. This will certainly result in an undeliverable email or bounce, and will negatively impact your email reputation.

Another challenge with email verification is what we call “Unknown” email records. This means the server didn’t send any info back to the verification service. So they literally don’t know if that email is any good. Hence the classification, “Unknown”.

The BIG Problem

When you source data from any provider on the market today, you will find approximately 50% of all data falls under “catchall” or “unknown” when you verify those records.

So if you load up a list of 50,000 records, it’s fair to estimate that around 25,000 of those records can’t be verified until you send an email to them.

That’s a big problem because let’s say, out of those 25,000 records (50% of your list) your delivery rate is only 60%.

That means 40% of your 25,000 are catchall or unknown email records (potentially bad). Thus, you just sent 10,000 bad emails out using your email address and domain.

So if you send 50,000 emails and 10,000 emails are bad, that’s a 20% bounce rate. That will ruin your email address not just for that campaign but any future email campaigns. So future emails will most certainly be sent directly into the spam folder. 

What can you do about this?

The higher-end email verification providers keep log files on catchall email addresses and whether they are good or bad.

These services are not cheap but are well worth it.

For these reasons, we only elect to use these more expensive email verification services. We also recommend verifying records just before putting them into a campaign. This practice helps keep the number of undeliverable or bad emails sent to under 3%. 

Data Reality

It’s impossible to purchase 100% valid email records. If anyone claims to have 100% verified records, run!

On average, data degrades at a rate of anywhere between .05% a week to as high as 5% a week.

Why? People change jobs, switch emails, get fired. Even death impacts email data. Not to mention that you can’t verify 100% of your catchall or unknown records.

So if you have 1 million valid contact records today, a year from today you will have anywhere from 700,000 to less than 500,000 valid records.

So your goal should be to verify records in real-time and to only use a top-notch email verification service that can verify as many of your catchall and unknown records as possible.

Data Prep for Personalization

Statistics prove the more personalized an email is, the higher the response rates.

So in this section, we will talk about how to prep your data for personalization. 

While most marketers will personalize an email by using the prospects {FirstName}, this is a very basic level of personalization. It can also ruin an email campaign.

Why? 

Most data providers use LinkedIn to capture email addresses on their prospects by scraping that person’s LinkedIn profile page. Many prospects abbreviate their first name with a letter.

Example: A. for Alfred

It doesn’t sound very authentic to start an email off with, “Hello, A”.

We actually look up a prospect’s LinkedIn profile, try to find their first name, and update the contact record.

Often we have to search on Google using what we have of the person’s full name, title, and company to find their complete first name.

In fact, many people put an emoji or initials as their first name on their LinkedIn profile for the express purpose of identifying people who send unsolicited email. Next, they mark you as a spammer.

We call these people complainers and the more of these people you have on your list, the bigger the problem it becomes for you. Especially if you want to use email as your primary marketing channel.

When we verify our email data, we actually take known complainers identified by our verification service out of our email lists. Instead, we put them into LinkedIn campaigns. When they accept your connection request, you can communicate with them on LinkedIn instead. 

So if you plan to use {FirstName} in your personalization efforts, you have to manually review your list prior to upload. Sure it’s a pain, but it is absolutely necessary. 

First Name personalization is very basic. What if you want to use their job title, the company name, or perhaps, the industry in your personalization efforts?

The same principle applies when using any other attribute in your personalization efforts.

Many b2b contacts are scraped from their LinkedIn public profile. A lot of people stuff or inflate their job title to rank higher in LinkedIn search results or to attract certain audiences.

Here is an example of a person who stuffed their job title on LinkedIn:

Vice President – Corporate Responsibility / Vendor Management

So in this case we need to remove not only keywords but also symbols “-” and “/”.

Why? 

Because it wouldn’t sound personal or natural to say:

Hello A,
I noticed you were the Vice President – Corporate Responsibility / Vendor Management at Acme Company Inc, a division of ABC company.

So taking the proper steps to research and correct our list, we might say:

Hello Alfred,

I understand you are the VP of Vendor Management at Acme Company.

This email sounds much more natural and personal.

However, this also requires manual inspection of not just the first name, but also the job title and company name.

What title do you use?

If a contact record has more than one title, we pick the most senior job title.

We call this process giving everyone a raise☺

No one minds if you refer to them as vice president when they are actually a manager. However, turn that around and call a VP a manager, and you might not impress your target audience.

This level of personalization is also necessary for your sales automation campaigns as well.

If you are not willing to do this, that’s ok but know that it’s probably better for you to not use personalization. It will actually hurt your efforts, not improve them.

Now You Are Ready for Mass Email

Let’s assume you’ve done a good job and have pulled the most ideal prospects’ email records possible.

You have broken your lists up into segments, wrote relevant content for each segment, and have used a top-notch email verification provider.

Now you are ready to start sending campaigns.

How to get started

How many emails you can send and over what timeline will be dictated by the email you are going to send from, how long that email has been around, and what it’s email reputation is.

For new email addresses, you will need to warm up your email reputation over time. Start by sending small batches of emails. Slowly ramp up your volume. Monitor your email delivery, the open rates, and click-through rates, all of which impact your email reputation.

What if you don’t have time to warm up an email address?

While it is not recommended to start blasting thousands of emails out of a new email address, you can ramp up more quickly by managing your sending practice.

This means you need to spread your email sends across multiple IP addresses and SMTPs or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.

Using a process called “store and forward,” SMTP moves your email on and across networks.

It works closely with something called the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) to send your communication to the right computer and email inbox.

By having multiple IP addresses and SMTP service providers you can throttle your email sends across several providers. This will reduce the chances of getting flagged as a spammer.

If this sounds technical, it kinda is but can be learned over time.

That’s why we recommend you hire an experienced email firm to help you with these kinds of campaigns.

This is especially important if you don’t have the ability to verify your data using these advanced verification processes or have the internal resources to implement a more robust email sending engine or process.

Final Word on Mass Email

Ultimately, even if you follow all of these recommendations, you need to make sure that the email content you are sending is helpful to the recipient. 

Mass email is best used to build brand awareness and provide helpful thought leadership content. It’s aimed at establishing you or your company as leaders in your industry.

After all, when have you ever made a purchase after receiving a single business email from someone you don’t know?

What makes you think your target audience is any different?

Send something of value a few times, establish some creditability, and then most will consider making a purchase from you.

Next, let’s jump into ABM Mail (account-based email).

Will Mass Email Work For Your Business – Schedule A Call

Account-Based Email Marketing

Account-based marketing or ABM has been all of the rage for a few years now but this strategy, like most, has pros and cons.

One pro of an account-based email program is the fact that you have developed a targeted list of prospects to go after. This makes your marketing and sales efforts very focused (which is never a bad thing).

However, when it comes to how you developed your targeted list, the devil is in the details.

If you are simply relying on basic company firmographics (company size and/or industry) don’t be surprised if you only have limited success with your ABM efforts.

To help you build a better-targeted list of prospects, consider combining company firmographics with other data attributes.

Example:

You could target your ideal companies based on size and industry that are using certain technologies (also called technographics)

You can also cross-reference companies that match your ideal profile with companies that are actually consuming content related to your solutions or having conversations on social media about your type of service/product.

This is called Intent Data and it’s the best data to market to.

All of these strategies take time and money to execute and they don’t really scale very well.

The best solution we’ve found is to use intent data and firmographics to uncover who might be in the market for your product and/or service versus building an ideal list of companies based on simple firmographics.

Just because a company is the right size and in the right industry doesn’t mean they are in the market. Thus you could spend a lot of time going after the companies with zero interest in your offer. 

You can’t make anyone buy your solution but you can certainly target companies showing buying interest in your products and/or service thanks to intent data.

That’s where account-based eMail marketing really pays off.

Instead of picking a random list of companies, we recommend using intent data to find companies in the market for what you are selling.

Next, download a list of all the relevant job titles at those companies.

Example:

Let’s say you own a logistics company and you offer global shipping solutions. 

We start by creating a list of topics that might indicate whether or not a company might be in the market for your shipping solutions.

Our list might have keyword phrases like Reverse Logistics, Third-Party Logistics, 3PL’s, Logistic Companies, Cloud Logistics, Global Logistics Provider, and Supply Chain Logistics to name a few. We might even include keywords on competitors like Cardinal Logistics, DHL, FedEx, Geodis, and JB Hunt.

The idea is that if a company is consuming content related to these topics, there must be a reason or intent behind reading this content.

Or if a company announces expansion plans via a recent press release, we know there is an initiative where our services may be required. Or a funding announcement that might indicate new initiatives or growth opportunities.

Once we have this list of companies, we now look for ideal prospects at these companies. 

Again we might do a search like, anyone with these keywords in their job title: Logistics, Shipping, Supply-Chain, Supplier, Vendor, Procurement, Purchasing, Material Handling, Warehouse, Transportation, Final Mile, Last Mile, White Glove.

Next, we’d download all of the contacts at those companies with these job titles and sort them by job level (i.e. manager level on up to C-suite). We then tag the most senior prospects as either influencer 1, 2, or 3. 

Example: Vice President of Global Logistics might get tagged as Influencer 1, while Director of Shipping might be tagged as Influencer 2, and Warehouse Manager might get tagged as Influencer 3.

Note: We verify the list prior to tagging contacts because it doesn’t make sense to tag the records before ensuring their validity. Remember, per our warning above with mass email and truly any email, it’s imperative that you always verify any data you have to ensure the email is active and to protect your company’s domain.

Then we manually create an email addressed to Influencer 1 and copy (cc) into the same email Influencers 2 and 3.

Sample email might look like this:

These account-based emails are getting a 67% open rate and a 20% reply rate (on average) which is huge compared to other sales automated emails or mass email campaigns. 

Why are Account-Based Emails So Effective

By copying three people into the same email, two things happen.  

First, the prospect sees you have done your homework by copying 3 key influencers’ at the company. 

Second, by copying three people, chances are someone will be compelled to respond. This is especially true when you message someone’s boss.

Typical responses we see (using this email above as an example) are:

Brian responds,

Thanks for the email, why don’t you talk to Mark and I will circle back with him to see if it warrants another conversation.

Or

Cynthia jumps in and responds because she doesn’t want you talking to her boss when she is responsible for picking logistic providers and says: 

Hello, I will be glad to set up a call to discuss your services and circle back with Brian and Mark to see if they might be up for a conversation. What’s your schedule look like?

Wrap up on Account-Based Emails

If you don’t have the money or resources to launch an account-based email program, or you’re not happy with your account-based marketing efforts, consider this approach.

  • Pull a list of Ideal companies with or without the use of technographics and intent data.
  • Sort your list by company and manually flag 3-6 influencers at each of your target companies.
  • Hire a virtual assistant or plan to send these one-off emails yourself by copying each of the influencers into the same email.

The results are fantastic.

Two Most Effective B2B Lead Generation Strategies Summary

After being in the email marketing space for nearly 20 years, we have seen a lot of data on email. 

We’ve worked with companies just starting out to companies with revenue in the billions.

Email marketing works and the stats consistently show it translates into the highest ROI for companies.

It comes down to your company’s budget.

If you’re a small startup, start with an automated outreach campaign. Typically, you can get started for under $1000 a month (that includes the tech, data, assistance, and verification).

If you have some budget, look at your objective. If you want conversations with hard to reach decision-makers look at doing an ABM campaign. That will run you under $2000 a month for the data, tech, and support.

If you’re looking to drive mass brand awareness to an event and/or a piece of content, consider a mass email campaign. This typically runs around $2500 a month to reach 50,000 ideal customer profile contacts.

Combine these strategies with LinkedIn outreach simultaneously, and over the following three months you’ll break records for your company.

If you need help, please feel free to reach out.

We have a database with over 50 million B2B contacts that include real-time, verified emails, and LinkedIn URLs. 

Everything is provided. We will advise you on the best email strategy for your business while providing the data, and the tech (email platforms and CRM) all for less than the cost of the data alone!

 

Have Questions Which Email Strategy Is Best For You – Schedule A Call