This week, Harvard Business Review posted a guest article on B2B e-mail marketing in which the author opined that B2B e-mail marketers are applying B2C e-mail opt-in policies to their B2B contacts when they don't need to. She stated that B2B contacts are more in favor of an opt-out policy than the opt-in model most companies use. This, of course, raised a lot of debate on the HBR blog, on other blogs, and on Twitter.
While I do believe that B2B marketing is different from B2C in some regards, in this case, I have to disagree with the author. Technically, she is correct that it is legal to send e-mail to a prospect without an explicit opt-in, as long as the e-mail includes physical mailing address and an unsub link. But is that really how you want to start your relationship? OK, maybe you met at an industry event, but getting a business card from someone is an opt-in for you, not your company's sales team. I admit I do tend to be pretty forgiving when I get spam in my work inbox, because I know everyone needs to make a buck these days, but it makes me think twice about doing business with a company that is wasting time and energy marketing to unqualified leads like me that they got by scraping a website or purchasing a list.
So, if you can't opt people in automatically, how do you feed the sales pipeline? Easy: inbound marketing. Use your website, use search, publish a blog, and use social media to create a presence, and most importantly, provide something of value, and your audience will find you.
But you don't necessarily have to throw away those business cards either. One point the original author made, that I agree with 100%, is the importance of having a preference center for your communications. Consumers are demanding control over marketing communications in their personal inbox and at work. Instead of dumping them into a promotional e-mail stream, send a personal e-mail reminding them how you met and offering them options for keeping up to date with what's happening at your company.
Liz Lynch, communications editor, e-Dialog