When it comes to creating B2B content—especially email copy—I’ve heard a lot of so-called advice.
- Keep it short
- Get to the point
- No one reads it anyway
None of this is necessarily wrong, but it’s not necessarily right, either. If anything, it’s is oversimplified (and a little lazy). And like anything that gets oversimplified, the nuance is lost.
The reality is that email is still the best business opportunity out there. If you’ve taken the time to build a solid mailing list, you’re sitting on a pile of potential revenue. But too many businesses look at email copy as something to be done and forgotten. Check it off the list. Email sent. Next!
If you’re not going to take it seriously, it’s never going to work as well as it could. And that’s a huge missed opportunity. But if you’re ready to give it the time it deserves, you might find getting better results is easier than you thought.
Start with the Basics
I used to be an English teacher. Every writing assignment began with the same two questions, whether I was teaching remedial freshman or AP seniors:
Who’s your audience and what’s your purpose?
The same should be true for every email you send (and every piece of content you write).
You should be writing your email to one person. I don’t care how big of a list you’re using. Write to one person. ONE.
What’s the purpose of the email? Why are you sending it and what’s your expectation? If you can answer this, you’ll know exactly what to say, how to say it, and what to ask them to do.
A Deeper Look at Purpose
Too many people approach B2B writing like everything is a sales pitch. What’s that old saying? “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?”
If your only approach to writing B2B copy is to sell, you might as well give up now.
When it comes to email, you can have a lot of purposes. You might want them to read something. You might want them to demo something. You might want them to buy something. You might just want to share something interesting. This requires some thinking and clarity. Are you nurturing? What stage of awareness is the recipient? Have they heard from you recently? All of these inform purpose.
But if you treat every interaction like a conversion-to-be-had or a sale, you’re just hammering away.
Back up. Think about your audience, consider what they should do, and start over. You shouldn’t be writing emails to sell—not every time anyway.
Write for Humans
If you want to give your emails a fighting chance, you have to deliver clear, conversational, and structured writing. Notice I didn’t specify short or long. There’s no defined length here. In fact, what works in one case doesn’t always translate to another (if you skipped the “Purpose” part, go back and read it). Just because you’re writing a B2B email, doesn’t mean you have to be short, terse, and boring.
That said, think about how you process email. Because chances are pretty high that others are doing the same thing. We’re human. And we’re busy. And we’re all doing the same things, so don’t assume they’re not. Work with it.
If you’re like me, you’re scanning your inbox for relevancy. I’m purging any email that doesn’t require immediate attention and I’m not looking at subject lines; I’m looking at senders. Anyone I don’t know gets deleted. This is why it’s critical to send consistent emails to your list. Name recognition is half the battle. And you can play with this. Some research shows that emails from people get opened more than emails from companies. So try “Joe at [Company Name]” instead of just [Company Name] and see what happens.
Okay, back to purging…Right off the bat, I’m clearing at least 50% out of my inbox based on name recognition. Then, I’m carefully looking at the other 50% to see which ones I may need to deal with first. This is where a subject line is critical.
Depending on which piece of research you’re looking at, somewhere between 33% and 47% of people report opening emails based on subject lines. Aside from your name, getting this right is important. I won’t go into subject line writing here because there have been a million posts written about it, but know this: Good ones work. And by good ones, I mean, relevant. Use numbers. Call people by name. Just don’t be tricky. No one likes to be deceived.
Once you get them to open, you’ve got to hook them. Consider how they’ll read it.
I probably should have mentioned this sooner, but Litmus reported last year, after analyzing more than a billion emails, that 56% of emails are opened on mobile. Just 19% were opened on desktop.
This has enormous implications for how your email should look. We can make some assumptions based on this: tiny text, people on the move, probably distracted.
You’ve got to get them to pay attention.
Show Them What’s Important
Real talk: No one is reading your entire email. Not at first, anyway. But that doesn’t mean you should make it short.
They are skimming. Which means you need to give them cues to stop and pay attention. Bold, italic, and underline are your friends. When in doubt, use bullets. Text links and buttons are helpful too. These are called signifiers, and they help skimmers know what to pay attention to (like the blue link in this sentence).
Here’s what reading on email on your phone looks like: Scroll down, stop, pay attention to a particular thing, scroll back up, start again.
Once you’ve got their attention, you have a real chance of getting them to read from top to bottom. But again, you’ve got to keep them engaged. This is where a structure can help. Keep it simple. Empathize with them or call out a problem, talk about it a little more, present a solution. Classic. And it comes in three parts, which is perfect for telling a story…
Bring It to Life
In its purest form, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You don’t have to tell a big, long saga. But don’t skimp either.
In this case, your beginning should be a hook, something that catches the reader’s interest or engages their curiosity. The middle should be a little more detail oriented. Think benefits, then features. The end should be a crystal-clear CTA—just one. Don’t give people more than one thing to do. As humans, we’re terrible with choice, and we all have shiny object syndrome.
One last note here: CTAs don’t have to “sell” or “convert.” Without getting into semantics here, just be clear about what you want them to do. Then ask them to do it.
If you’re unsure, think about what you want them to say “yes” to. A phone call? An appointment time? A download? These microtransactions are the key to significant revenue later. People are much more likely to spend a small amount now before they ever say yes to a “big ask,” especially in email. Lower a reader’s friction, and you’ll get better results.
Make It Personal—But Not Too Personal
Lastly, sign the damn thing. From a real person. Not from a team, not from your company, and not with your logo. From a person. Research shows this is better because it feels personal.
And don’t close with throwaway words like “thanks” or “sincerely.” Definitely, never “cheers” (unless you’re British). I like “best,” “regards,” or simply your name.
In short, be a real person. Even if you’re writing on behalf of a business. Because treating people like people is always better than treating them as an item on a checklist. And in case you’re still struggling, here’s a simple template to get started:
[Catchy statement or statistic that applies to recipient’s work]. [Commentary about that statement or statistic].
[Transition statement about your thing and how it alleviates their thing].
[Details, info, benefits, etc. about why they should want it/need it/attend it].
[Tell them what to do next].
[Friendly sign off],
P.S. [Reiterate, in a different format, the thing you want them to do—button, link, image, etc.]