Let’s start with the definitive: Yes, email marketing still works. In fact, it works damn well.

Seventy-seven percent of business-to-business marketers use email newsletters as part of their content marketing strategy, coming in behind only social media and blog posts in terms of usage. Meanwhile, email is the No. 1 channel to distribute content among B2B marketers, with 93 percent using it. Sixty-four percent of B2B marketers also utilize a dedicated email platform.

As you might imagine, B2B email marketing remains popular because it provides return on investment. Ninety-one percent of Americans use email on a daily basis. Even more importantly, emails are estimated to prompt purchases at triple the rate of social media, with average orders 17 percent higher in value.

So we know email works. The question is why.

The answer goes beyond its ubiquity and zeroes in on its unique position between outbound and inbound marketing.

Numbers don't lie: Email marketing still works.

Best of both worlds

We’ve written before about how content marketing has left outbound efforts in the dust. Think of outbound marketing in terms of door-to-door salespeople. They may get lucky from time to time, but for the vast majority of people, they’re a nuisance. No one wants to be interrupted when they’re vegging out on the couch eating chips (just me?).

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, can be thought of as creating a storefront in cyberspace. Your content is the signage signalling prospective customers to stop in and look around.

Email bridges the gap.

“With content marketing, you’re reliant on people finding you,” said Jeff Baker, Director of Digital Marketing Strategy at Brafton. “You’re hoping they’re going to search the term you optimized for or find your website or use social media and see you on there. It requires some sort of action on the part of the consumer to get your message. Whereas with email marketing, you put yourself right in front of them – you get sent into their inbox and how you’re presented to them is dictated by you.”

Isn’t that just outbound marketing? Not quite. Think of it as outbound marketing-light.

“Prospects can choose to ignore you,” Jeff said. “An email is a lot different from a constantly ringing cell phone due to cold calls. An email can be deleted with a click, no response necessary.”

In short, B2B email marketing allows you to reach out to your target audience directly, but in a way that reduces stress, annoyance and frustration on their part. You let them make the decision about whether to engage.

“An email is a lot different from an annoying cold call.”

B2B best practices

For the most part, effective B2B emails follow the same best practices as their business-to-consumer counterparts:

  • Intriguing subject lines that create a sense of urgency.
  • Tight, direct text that doesn’t meander or waste recipients’ time.
  • Custom imagery and videos to break up text in a visually appealing way.
  • Layout that makes emails easy to scan and highlights important information.
  • Clickable calls to action that guide recipients to a desired next step.

Value and relevancy should take center stage. You must have content worth sharing before hitting send.

That said, remember that the B2B audience typically requires more persuading than B2C buyers. Deals, contests and promotions don’t hold the same weight. If a company decides to do business with you, it may be a significant financial decision.

There are numerous stakeholders to please, and the person who brings you to the table wants to be sure they’re doing the right thing (nobody wants to lose their job because they clicked on the wrong email and believed it).

In short, you have to build trust.

Extending your reach

Beyond content creation, you have to nail down the nuts and bolts of actually sending your emails.

“Your marketing automation software should have the ability to segment by primary and secondary audiences,” Jeff said. You need to filter out businesses that aren’t a good fit in favor of those that are most likely to buy your products and services.”

You can also segment based on industry. Conversion rates will likely differ across various verticals, so if one industry is providing more ROI, double down on your efforts there.

In order to acquire the necessary email addresses, build out a newsletter list or offer gated downloadable assets that allow you to capture recipients’ contact information. Once they subscribe to your newsletter or download your latest eBook, you’ll have one more potential lead to nurture through your email marketing.

While some organizations may shy away from buying email lists to get this information, there’s no denying email prospecting works. Just remember it’s more effective when individuals opt in themselves. When people voluntarily hand over their information, it means they’re choosing to receive content from you. They’re more likely to interact with your brand.

No matter how you acquire contact details, keep email marketing best practices in mind. Stay out of the spam folder by sending valuable, relevant content. Also, make sure you do so in a reasonable manner. Emailing someone every day is a great way to sour them on your brand and get a reputation as a spammer.

“If you’re sending out something in an email, make sure you’re sharing it on social, too.”

One piece of the puzzle

Don’t forget that email is only one component of an effective B2B content marketing strategy. Blog posts, downloadable assets, social media and more should all work together with email to achieve your commercial goals. You can support this by ensuring all content, regardless of format and channel, is aligned through voice and timing.

“If you’re sending out something in an email, some kind of asset, make sure you’re sharing it on social, too, and using the same voice and approach,” Jeff said. “It’s essential to have continuity in messaging so there’s no gap. You don’t want an email saying one thing and a Facebook post saying another.”

Plus, odds are prospects will conduct their own research of your business outside of the picture you paint in your emails. Even award-winning B2B email marketing won’t withstand social profiles that haven’t been updated in months or a barren blog that isn’t offering anything of value. It creates a disconnect that portrays you in a bad light.

Make sure your content marketing strategy as a whole can back up the message your B2B emails are sending.

Eric Wendt is a writer and editor at Brafton. He discovered his love of words after realizing he was terrible at math. If he's not updating his Tumblr with poetry he's too embarrassed to share, there's a good chance he's out in search of the perfect pale ale.