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The Evolution of Email in B2B Marketing

Olin Hyde

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Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing Jukebox. Today we are joined by Ryan Phelan,. With nearly two decades of online marketing experience with Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA, Ryan has focused on driving innovative GTM strategies for high growth SaaS software and Fortune 250 companies. Ryan is a nationally known speaker at conferences and industry events on subjects relating to digital marketing. In 2013 he was named one of the top 30 digital strategists in the United States by the Online Marketing Institute. In today’s episode, Ryan shares more about the changes he has seen in email marketing over the years, and what topics he is most passionate speaking about. We also dive into the importance of focusing on the “why” behind your marketing strategy, instead of being consumed by the tactics. For all this and more, stay tuned to hear today’s episode!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Profound changes in the email marketing space over the last 20 years.
  • The topics that Ryan talks about most as a conference speaker.
  • Differentiating between tactics and strategy; focusing on the “why”.
  • Impact of increased privacy legislation and GDPR in the email space.
  • Importance of implementing metrics and knowing your numbers.


“We’ve only got a finite amount of time, and with that finite amount of time we have to make sure that what we’re doing is effective and not just buckshot marketing where we’re throwing an idea out there and just getting it done for the sake of getting it done.” — @ryanpphelan [0:04:49.1]

“In an industry with so much data, there has to be that knowledge of the data to make you smarter, and to make the others around you smarter, especially in the B2B space.” — @ryanpphelan [0:09:43.1]

 Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Ryan Phelan — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanphelan/

Ryan on Twitter — https://twitter.com/ryanpphelan

Marketing Land — https://marketingland.com/

The Business Stats You Must Have on Instant Recallhttps://marketingland.com/the-business-stats-you-must-have-on-instant-recall-245320


[0:00:07.2] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the B2B Marketing Jukebox by LeadCrunch. Help us start a movement to make B2B marketers the maestros of shareholder value.

On our website, leadcrunch.com, you can find timestamped transcripts of these podcasts and info about the guests. Subscribe to these podcasts on all major platforms, like iTunes. Send topic or guest suggestions to the host at david.green@leadcrunch.ai.

Here’s Dave.


 [0:00:34.1] DG: I am here today with Ryan Phelan, and Ryan and I have known each other, because I was involved with MarketingSherpa, which at one time had a huge e-mail conference. And I also got involved with the Direct Marketing Association where Ryan was involved in one of their chapters called the Email Experience Council. Ryan has about 20 years of experience, I’ve seen him up on stage, known him for a long time and consider him a friend.

Ryan, thanks so much for joining me.

[0:01:02.0] RP: Yeah you bet, Dave. It’s great to be here today.

[0:01:04.9] DG: Well listen, I want to tap into a little bit of that experience because our audience, as you know, is really B2B, but you’ve seen it all in 20 years in the e-mail space. What have you seen that really has profoundly changed in that period of time?

[0:01:22.2] RP: That’s a great question. Across the board, I mean gosh, I was doing email when you had to develop email in an HTML editor and then you had to log into AOL and paste that and then send it to yourself and then copy that HTML, because AOL did some goofy stuff to HTML code. From that to, “Hey, we’re doing real-time clocks and countdown timers and we’re doing video and all that stuff,” I think there’s some principle changes in email. Number one is the ability of the marketer to render really relevant information across the board, whether it be video, whether it be images, whether it be information, I think those have gotten easier and more prolific.

So that’s the first thing. I think the second thing is that the amount of data, and this is primarily for the US group, the amount of data that’s available is immense, and growing at an exponential rate. That allows marketers to not only tap into that data to be able to target segment, but gives them a great amount of freedom to develop profiles without having to ask the consumer and have that data age.

So that’s the second thing. The third thing is the amount of leadership. Back in the day we were all making it up as we go, and a couple of people would get together and talk about stuff, that’s how the EEC actually started was we all decided, “Hey, let’s do a conference and share what we learn.” So the amount of information across the board is immense, and the similarities between B2C and B2B grow ever closer as the years, or months actually, not even years, but as the months go on.

[0:03:09.4] DG: As I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen you get up on the stage at conferences and give what I would characterize as a sermon. For those that haven’t had the benefit, what do you tend to talk about most?

[0:03:21.7] RP: It’s funny you mention the sermon. I studied to be a Catholic priest back in the day, and that kind of lent me—that and I was a DJ at nightclubs. That really got my style on stage and I’ve been told I give sermons quite a bit. But really what I’m talking about a lot is trying to urge marketers to take a step back and not think about email as a tactical execution. It is fairly easy, and I put easy in air-quotes, easy to launch an email campaign. Just one to many, and that’s a tactic. That’s not really anything other than a tactic, is the ability to launch a campaign. Yes, it makes money, yes it accomplishes a goal, yes it drives revenue and drives toward KPIs, but really it’s just a tactic.

The strategy is what I encourage people to look at, is look at the why, not the how. We’re all great at how, you got a bunch of marketers into a room and you say, “Hey, we need to get this done,” they’re like, “Oh, do this and this and this and this.” That’s tactics. What we really need to think of is why in the heck would we do it in the first place?

So I spend a lot of time on stage urging marketers to look at the why, at the reason for doing things and its impact into the consumer, impact into the prospect, into the subscriber and doing a methodical look at how are we going to best spend our efforts? Because we’ve only got a finite amount of time, and with that finite amount of time we have to make sure that what we’re doing is effective and not just buckshot marketing where we’re throwing an idea out there and just getting it done for the sake of getting it done.

[0:05:05.1] DG: Boy, is that ever true. I wish more people would contemplate the why question and back up from the tactics a little bit, I think we would all benefit from doing a few things well and not trying to do so many things just to say we have a checkbox on that item.

[0:05:23.7] RP: Yeah, I mean, people think that just because email is, you know, the concept is cheap, fast, and easy that I can just throw something out and if I do it wrong I’ll do it again sometime else. And it’s like, well, people rely on their inbox, people look at their inbox on a minute by minute basis. You don’t have a lot of time to screw up or do it wrong because the expectations are higher.

[0:05:42.3] DG: You talked about some of the changes and the external forces that are operating on email, like Gmail and the massive amount of privacy legislation. Out here in California where my company’s headquartered, there’s some new privacy bills, I’ve heard GDPR is winding its way through Congress. What’s the impact of all that stuff going to be, in your view?

[0:06:07.4] RP: That’s a great question given what’s going on today. So GDPR just went into force in the EU, and what we’ve seen globally is almost, in some countries, kind of a copy of GDPR. There’s a couple of pieces of legislation in California that are concerning, and concerning in the fact that the one privacy bill, the one version that I read, is kind of like GDPR Lite. But it’s still a high level of control, giving control back to the consumer, which I am all for, right? The consumer should control their data and how it’s used, but with that comes a responsibility to understand and explain how it’s going to be used.

Now, on the flip side, do we want government to define what privacy is, or what online is, or what Facebook is, or whatever? No, I think there’s a place for self-regulation. I think that there are standards that need to be put in place, but what typically happens is that it’s done in a vacuum, and the people that know what’s going on, people that have input from a holistic standpoint, or an independent standpoint, lack a voice to influence, and then you become a lobbyist and then go that route.

Back to your original question, which was these external forces on email are growing, from privacy legislation, and what’s being done in California that should actually get every marketer to perk up, because whether or not you live in California it doesn’t matter. But all of these things like Gmail putting in tabs, and Yahoo doing things, and AOL going away, and you know changing to OAuth. You know, all of these things not only change how we think about email, how the consumer consumes it, the end user consumes it, the B2B marketer, how they consume it.

It means that the marketer has to be more holistic in their approach, they have to look at the wide field, and they have to pay attention. It’s not just about pushing the button anymore. It’s about knowing privacy legislation, and it isn’t about knowing about deliverability, DMARC, and authentication. It’s about knowing about the changes in design that impact Gmail. It’s about all these things, and so these external forces are pushing us to pay attention a whole lot more than we had to, I think.

The Truth about intent Data: What Google, Facebook, and the B2B Publishers Don’t Want You to Know

[0:08:29.3] DG: I had read an article of yours in Marketing Land and in it you talk about metrics, and the need for instant recall, and you talk about a monster dashboard. I just wondered if you could elaborate on that article, which I thought was really very good, for the audience?

[0:08:46.1] RP: Thank you. I think, back to the last point with seeing the broad field, right? There’s also a need for marketers, if you’re thinking strategically, to know your numbers and to know what your performance is. Not just know that we have, that my sales yesterday were X, and my conversion rate is Y, and my open rate is Z. It’s about way more than that, and why I wrote that article is, in just a lot of cases talking to marketers, they don’t have the metrics they should have.

They need to deep dive into those metrics and to know the full deal. Every job that I have had, I have had monster dashboards that give me different cuts of different facts and figures, because I felt that whatever I was in charge of, I was the CEO of whatever I was in charge of, and any good CEO knows his metrics, knows his numbers off the top of his head. It’s something that he lives and breathes, and he tries to grow and increase or optimize. In an industry with so much data, there has to be that knowledge of the data to make you smarter, and to make the others around you smarter, especially in the B2B space. B2B being a perfect example.

Knowing your MQLs, MQL goals, and what you’ve acquired this month. Knowing your average days to close, knowing how long it takes to take a raw lead to an MQL, what your drop off rates are, what your best source of leads is, what your average price per customer is. All those numbers, right? Come into play at about every meeting we have, and if you have a broad view of the industry, if you have a focus on the strategic, then numbers just flow that way.

[0:10:29.4] DG: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I’m a big believer in metrics. It’s a way to get honest with yourself, I think. I think sometimes you can feel good about things, and the numbers tell their own story. If you look at them long enough, there can be some wisdom that you’ll discover there. They can also help you ask questions that you might not have thought of asking. I think especially in B2B where it’s so darn complex, if you understand the high-level funnel, and what your baselines are, and what your conversion should be, and all of a sudden that’s not happening, it’s much easier to kind of go in, and isolate what might have gone wrong, or what you might need to do to change things. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.

[0:11:11.7] RP: That’s the funny thing about B2B, right? In the B2C world everybody operates in aggregate. It’s like, “How did the email do yesterday?” “Oh, it was great, it did X, Y, and Z.” In B2B it’s like, “How’s our marketing going, or how’d that email go?” You are segmented down to where customers that are acquired through this show, you know attribution, hopefully you know attribution—

But you’re so focused on attribution that you know your sources, and you know your revenue sources, and you know all of these data pieces. It’s so critical to know those, and to be able to optimize as you go, because in B2B ten leads can be the difference between a good month and a bad month, or a good sale and a bad sale, or your BDR is what they have to do and, I mean, the smallest of numbers make the biggest of impact.

[0:12:04.0] DG: Ryan, hey. Thank you so much for joining us today, I really appreciate it.

[0:12:07.3] RP: Thanks Dave, it was a lot of fun. Thank you.


[0:12:10.1] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to the B2B Marketing Jukebox by LeadCrunch. On our website, leadcrunch.com, you can find timestamp transcripts and info about the guests. You can send topic or guests suggestions to david.green@leadcrunch.ai. Subscribe to these podcast on all the major platforms like iTunes.

Thanks for joining us and we wish you happy data driven growth.