By skipping opt-in tactics, many B2B marketers are missing out on a powerful database growth strategy

Wake a good B2B online marketer in the middle of the night, and in no time they’ll be spewing traffic metrics, conversion rates and channel performance stats at you, and then top it off with a rant on how Facebook sucks for their lead gen efforts. But ask them what’s their opt-in list growth strategy and they’ll start to mumble something incoherent about purchasing this list from that vendor, purchasing a license for this shiny cloud data vendor, or how great their gated whitepaper pulls, and then demand that you let them go back to sleep.

Say what? you're buying an opt-in list?

Oh and by the way, we’re talking here about the same marketers whom you’ll find investing top dollars in marketing automation platforms, which, let’s face it, are really just glorified email marketing machines. Powerful email marketing machines, for sure; yet too many a marketer’s strategy for filling them with marketable email addresses fails to include the simple element of offering visitors some content of value in return for their email address and their golden permission to receive more good stuff in the future.

It’s all really a roundabout way on my part of saying that too many B2B marketers neglect opt-in list building as a strategy. This was validated earlier this week when, at the Israel Marketo user group session, I asked for a show of hands for whoever uses email opt-in tactics on their website. Not a single hand was raised, instead I received one of the arguments for why not to do it.

The argument against building email lists

There are two recurring argument that tend to come up in such conversations against building organic email (opt-in) lists.

The first goes a bit like this: “asking people for just their email address, vs. the whole stack of information we need for early lead qualification, has resulted in the past in a high quantity of unqualified leads to whom we’d never sell anything. It led to our sales people having to deal with plenty of junk leads, wasted their time and hurt our lead and customer acquisition numbers.”

The counter argument is that of course you need to build out a separate process for developing those leads, which ideally should be automated and won’t result in wasted time and effort by your costly sales staff. Treating your opt-in list names as “sales-ready leads” is indeed a mistake, but it doesn’t invalidate the power of the strategy. The people in your opt-in lists should be nurtured, dripped, perhaps also retargeted offsite, with content that helps them move further along respective of their own subjective journey vis-a-vis your solution, whatever it may be.

The second common argument is that to offer an effective opt-in call to action, one needs first to build a strong content machine that can follow up and fulfil the opt-in promise. To which I answer: err… you mean you don’t have a strong content machine already?! really, if your reason for not collecting marketable emails, or doing a whole bunch of other inbound thingies for that matter, is that you’re too busy to be bothered with putting in place some storming awesome content plus the capability to generate more of it on demand, then (a) let me know and I’ll be happy to hook you up with one or ten different people who can definitely lend a hand, and (b) feel free not to continue reading this post.

For all the others, I present to you a choice selection of 5 techniques for collecting opt-ins into your marketing database. All assume that there’s already in place the mechanism and its content-fuel to fulfil whatever call to action you’ll be using.

A brief word of qualification: while the tactics below should work just as well for SaaS vendors as for ‘classic’ B2B vendors, there’s a nuance worth noting. In SaaS, usually visitors sign up to the product itself or a trial version of it, which in turn serves as the primary list growth strategy. That doesn’t mean that SaaS vendors don’t use email opt-in tactics successfully.

1. The website overlay

it’s now become an almost ubiquitous feature of publisher and media sites, but not as much in B2B brand websites. Overlay opt-in forms and calls to action have proven to be quite powerful at converting anonymous to known visitors. If you don’t believe me yet, then perhaps this eConsultancy post from last year will convert you: according to it, the average overlay increases conversion by 400%. Also see this from Dan Zarella who found that email subscription pop-ups do more good than bad.

One important note is that opt-in overlays should be placed strategically. Your homepage is probably not the right place for it. Instead consider your blog, or one of your better performing inner pages.

If you don’t have access to a web developer, there are some web services that will install a script on your website and in return for the honor will display a custom overlay with a form. A couple of notable ones are:
Pippity
Pop Up Domination

For WordPress users, the plugin choice is, as always, impressive. Take a look at OptinSkin or at Cliffton’s Lightbox, which I’ll soon* be implementing on this very blog.
* by soon I mean anytime between now and the coming Olympic games.

2. The before-you-leave trick

Javascript magic gives the aware online marketer the ability to react, in real-time, to that millisecond when the visitor attempts to leave the browser. Isn’t that the perfect time to display a before you leave type of message?

Called “exit-intent” by some, or “breaking the browser plane” by others who probably also like to call themselves “growth hackers”, this trigger opens some intriguing options to the bold marketer who’s willing to annoy some of her site visitors if it means converting more of the others to opt-ins. In fact, it is a specific use case of displaying overlays, or lightboxes, or … oh come on, they’re called pop-ups, people!

Anyway, beyond the fact that some of the options mentioned in the previous item support “exit intent” triggers, BounceExchange.com has made a business out of this and offers a complete managed solution for running capture forms in overlays that appear when the user attempts to leave the page, reach for her coffee mug or so much as blinks. Here’s the overlay you’ll see when you attempt to leave their site:

BounceExchange screenshot

 

3. The bar method

A slightly less aggressive technique for displaying an opt-in message is the opt-in bar. I think noticed it first on the excellent Crazy Egg blog, and I dug it so much I implemented it here too. Unobtrusive yet prominent, it’s an effective location to present an invitation to site visitors to subscribe to your list.

hellobar by the same crazy eggers is a free web service that helps you create a subscription bar easily and effortlessly for your website. That’s the one I use here too and I’m quite happy with it. I’m less happy with my subscription numbers, but that’s understandable, I guess, considering how young and erratic this blog is.

The in-app gambit

In the world of mobile apps, in-app purchases and user engagement are staples of good monetization and retention strategies. Nevertheless, B2B marketers have yet to take the hint and adapt these principles to their lead generation efforts, at least based on this author’s experience.

One company that’s literally betting that this will all change soon is IonInteractive. It recently pivoted from being a landing page creation service for enterprises, to a marketing apps company. Its highly influential CTO and co-founder, Scott Brinker, aka chiefmartec, wrote a landmark post about the motivations that brought about the pivot on his popular blog. He writes:

as part of marketing’s evolution from communications to experiences, marketing will increasingly be about building “apps” — lightweight, interactive web and mobile touchpoints that have functionality, logic, and flow

It’s up to the market to determine whether Scott’s predictions will come to be, but in the context of our post here, it is my belief that marketing apps will provide new, sophisticated methods for marketers to collect leads and opt-ins.

Clicksoftware's Service Challenge is an online experience that tries to dispel the dryness of whitepapersOne B2B company that’s already ahead of the pack is ClickSoftware. An enterprise software vendor, and a client (though my work with them is not related in any way to the project I’ll describe here), ClickSoftware recently launched the Service Challenge: an interactive minisite that engages prospects in a fun way, as they navigate a game-like experience designed to show them how much the company understands them and their challenges. The experience ends with a full lead form, although it’s easy to imagine how a future version could present shorter versions of the form within the app itself, collecting information from visitors in exchange, for example, for the promise to continue the education process using another medium, like email.

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About Idan Carmeli

A B2B marketing veteran with a penchant for the written word and a geeky fascination with technology. Through Converto, a marketing services agency he's founded, Idan combines his professional passions to deliver the benefits of marketing automation to B2B organizations large and small, especially through intelligent, well crafted lead nurturing programs.

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