5 Steps to Building a Large and Responsive Opt-In E-List of Qualified B2B Prospects
By Robert W. Bly

Many B2B marketers want to cut marketing costs by shifting more of their marcom budgets from traditional direct mail and paper newsletters to e-mail marketing and e-newsletters. But if you want to ramp up your online marketing program, you should start building a large opt-in e-list of customers and prospects now.

Why? Because without a significant online "house file" (list of opt-in subscribers), you can only reach prospects in your niche by renting other marketers' opt-in e-lists, which is hardly cost-effective: each time you want to send another message to your industry, you have to rent the list again -- at a cost that can easily reach into the hundreds of dollars per thousand names.

Some marketers buy databases containing e-mail addresses of business prospects in their niche market. This can work if you are sending highly targeted e-mails on extremely relevant topics and offers to narrow vertical e-lists.

But when you send e-mail messages to non opt-in lists, you are mostly asking for trouble. CAN/SPAM does not prohibit e-mailing to people who have not opted in. But people on non-opt-in e-lists are much more likely to register SPAM complaints than those on legitimate opt-in e-lists - and far less likely to buy from you.

So the best online strategy for B2B marketers is to build your own opt-in e-list of subscribers. Doing so eliminates the cost of renting opt-in lists while preventing the spam complaints and lower response rates typical of non opt-in purchased or rented lists.

When you own an opt-in e-list covering a sizeable percentage of your target market, you can communicate with your prospects and customers as often as you desire or think is appropriate at minimal cost. Being able to send an e-mail to your target market with a few mouse clicks makes you less dependent on costly direct mail, print newsletters, and other paper promotions.

By using a double opt-in process that requires new subscribers to verify their identity before being added to your e-list, you help minimize spam complaints and bounce-backs. Owning a large opt-in e-list of target prospects also decreases marketing costs and improves lead flow and revenues.

So how do you build a large and profitable opt-in e-list of qualified B2B prospects in your field? Here are 5 ideas:

1-Dedicate a portion of your online marketing budget exclusively to list-building. Most B2B marketers drive traffic either to their web site home page or landing pages relating to specific offers (e.g., free webinar registration, free white paper download, purchase a product). And a lot of the traffic they drive to these pages is existing customers and prospects who are already on their e-list.

You should spend a minimum of 20 percent of your online marketing budget on building your house opt-in e-list. That means getting qualified prospects in your industry who have not yet opted into your online subscriber list to do so.

There are many online marketing options that work well for e-list building programs. These include pay-per-click advertising, postcard marketing, banner advertising, online ads in other marketer's e-newsletters, B2B co-registration deals, video marketing, viral marketing, editorial mentions in trade publications, online article marketing, affiliate marketing, and social media --to name just a few.

2-Calculate your maximum acceptable cost per new subscriber. When evaluating marketing methods for e-list building, you have to weigh the cost of acquiring the new name vs. the value that new name has for your business.

To determine value, divide total annual revenues generated by your online subscriber list by the number of names on that list. Example: If your 20,000 online subscribers account for $600,000 in annual sales, your subscriber value is $30 per name per year.

You decide how much you are willing to spend to acquire a subscriber worth $30 per year. If uncertain, use this rule of thumb: list building campaigns should ideally pay back their cost within 3 to 6 months. Therefore, if your names are worth $30 per year each, you can afford to spend up to $15 per subscriber to acquire new names.

Say you drive traffic to a landing page where people can sign up to your e-list. The conversion rate is 50 percent, so for every two unique visitors you drive to your registration page, you get one new opt-in subscriber.

Using Google Ad Words, you can drive traffic at a cost of $7 per click. Can you afford that? Yes, because that means you get one new subscriber for every two clicks you buy, which works out to $14 per subscriber - within your $15 per new name limit.

Would it make more sense to base the allowable acquisition cost per new name on the lifetime customer value (LCV) of online subscribers rather than just the average one-year revenue per name? Theoretically, yes. But you can only do that if you've been marketing online long enough to have reliable numbers on which to base LCV estimates. Until you do, stick with the revenue per year per name figure as the baseline.

3-Publish a free e-newsletter. The best way to build and regularly communicate with an opt-in list of B2B prospects is to publish and distribute a free e-newsletter on a specialized topic related to your product line and of interest to your target prospects.

Publishing a free e-zine gives you two important benefits for your online marketing efforts. First, it gives you a standing free offer - a free subscription to your e-letter - you can use in your e-list building efforts. Second, having the e-newsletter ensures that you communicate with your opt-in subscribers on a regular basis. This regular communication builds your relationship with your online prospects while increasing the frequency of branding messages and online marketing opportunities.

4-Build a "free-on-free name squeeze page." With a staggering number of free e-newsletters on the Internet competing for attention, it's not enough to have a simple sign-up box on your home page for your free e-newsletter. You should offer a bribe as an incentive for visitors to subscribe. The best bribe is a free special report the visitor can download as a PDF file in exchange for opting in to your e-list.

For instance, if you sell supply chain management software, and publish an e-zine called "The Strategic SCM Partner," offer a short bonus report "7 Steps to Improving Supply Chain Management in Your Enterprise" as a premium for new subscribers.

Drive traffic not to your home page or standard subscription form, but to a special "free-on-free name squeeze page" - a landing page highlighting this offer. We call it a "name squeeze page" because it extracts or "squeezes" new names for your list from Web traffic. "Free on free" means you are offering free content (the report) as a bribe to get the visitor to accept your primary free offer (the e-newsletter subscription). For an example of a free-on-free squeeze page see: www.bly.com/reports

5-Capture the e-mail addresses of site visitors who do not buy, subscribe, or register. Put in place one or more mechanisms for capturing the e-mail addresses of site visitors who do not buy a product, download a demo, subscribe to your free online newsletter, or take other actions that opt them into your e-list.

Going back to our example for supply chain management, when the visitor attempts to leave the site without purchasing or registering, have a window pop-up to capture his e-mail address. The headline says, "Wait! Don't leave without claiming your free special SCM report!"

Short copy explains they can get a free copy of your special report "7 Steps to Improving Supply Chain Management in Your Enterprise" by typing in their e-mail address in the blank space and clicking submit. If you are not proactively making an effort to capture e-mail addresses of site visitors who do not otherwise register, you are leaving money on the table.

For more ideas on building your e-list and capturing the e-mail addresses of site visitors, go to www.thelandingpageguru.com.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 70 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.