The dark art of B2B email writing
Updated: Mar 2
Picture a busy executive sitting at their desk. The Teams channel is pinging. That report from last week still isn’t finished. There’s lunch to fit in somehow. There’s a two-hour Zoom meeting coming up after lunch. There are countless distractions all around. And then there are the emails. Lots of emails.
One internet stat (that there doesn’t seem to be a source for) claims that the average office worker gets 121 emails a day. There’s simply not time to properly read and interact with all of them.
If you want to get through to business people by email, a mediocre effort just won’t cut it. Only the best subject lines will do. Interesting and compelling copy is a must. And clear calls to action are essential.
Here’s our take on what it takes to create a successful B2B email.
Grab attention with the subject line
There’s no secret formula to a good subject line. But with B2B emails, anything that stands out in the inbox is a good bet. Remember, your audience are getting dozens, if not hundreds of emails each day and don’t have time to open all of them.
Try some of these ideas:
Numbers. Digits stand out more than words (for example, “Top 7 tips for writing email subject lines”).
Emojis. A flash of colour really helps make it pop. Keep it professional though!
Personalisation. First names or the name of the business can make it seem more relevant.
Emotional/power words. Try evocative language like “secret”, “guaranteed”, or “urgent”. Be careful of turning it into clickbait though.
Most importantly, keep an eye on your analytics to learn what’s working and what isn’t. Every business is different so you need to know what works for your audience, not anyone else’s.
Keep up the momentum
You’re up against multiple challenges with a B2B email. Firstly, busy executives need a good reason to open it. Then they need to quickly understand what it’s about and if it’s for them. Then they need to be able to find the information they expected. Lastly, they need to know what action to take next and how to do it. If any of those steps fail, your email isn’t working hard enough.
Each step needs to be thought through to keep people engaged. For example, this SAP insights newsletter stumbles after you open it:
Jumping straight into a story (and a long one at that) could be off-putting to a lot of readers. A great subject line or a powerful call to action is useless if readers hit delete as soon as they see this essay of an intro.
A few simple edits would fix this:
add a descriptive header so people know what to expect
front-load the content for skim readers
break up the paragraphs to make it look more inviting to read
With those changes, readers would be guided through the newsletter rather than just bombarded with text.
Try different persuasive techniques
It’s tempting to think your email formula is working perfectly. But it’s always worth trying different ideas to see if you can improve your results. Here are a few to get you started.
Although common wisdom is to keep emails short and straightforward, sometimes the opposite can be even more effective (if you have something interesting to say). The longer you can keep your reader reading, the more involved they’ll feel.
This example from the Copywriter Club takes the technique to the extreme:
And it doesn't stop there. The email is 1000 words long, and the rest of it is just as weird. But once you start reading something like this, you feel invested and want to keep going. You can use that to your advantage to make people feel more engaged with your business.
Highlight the benefit
With so many emails competing for attention in a typical business inbox, it’s important to make it clear what you offer people. Is it time savings? Respect from colleagues? A few minutes of entertainment? If your readers don’t know what’s in it for them, they probably won’t engage.
It would be interesting to see the results of this LinkedIn email. It asks people to engage with a hashtag without any hint of why they should bother.
This one seems like LinkedIn are a bit desperate for people to get back online. A hashtag should be about bringing like-minded people together, or joining a collective experience – people need to feel like there’s something in it for them.
The business world is competitive. If everyone else is doing something and you’re not, you’ve got to wonder why. Do those companies know something you don’t? Are they going to start taking over your share of the market?
Using social proof is one of the most persuasive tools in the B2B marketer’s toolkit. Take this example from Atlassian:
It’s only one sentence, but that’s enough to tell you that lots of other businesses are using Confluence so maybe you should too.
Deliver what you promised
All B2B emails have a purpose. Whether it’s getting people to buy a product, sign up to an event or read a report, ultimately you’re trying to build a loyal customer base.
If your email promises exciting content or a revolutionary product, you’d better make sure you can deliver. If you let people down, you might not get a second chance. But deliver on that promise and you’ll keep them coming back for more.