An effective B2B email marketing strategy has much less to do with email, per se, than you may think. The best programs nurture and engage leads while also acting as a critical step toward closing deals—and, ultimately, making your company more profitable.

As email marketers, we have access to leads as they enter the sales funnel, giving us the ability to largely influence not only the nurture journey through email marketing but also the flow of information throughout the sales funnel.

Email marketers can track leads from start to finish and attribute full or partial credit and ROI to marketing activities. We can also identify which lead sources and nurturing campaigns produce or convert the most opportunities, providing literally valuable insight into how to wisely spend marketing dollars.

Today, the conversation about the effectiveness of an email marketing plan, or B2B marketing overall, is less about vanity marketing metrics like open and click through rates and more about Marketing's ability to drive quality leads that contribute to your company's bottom line. And this is where managing your contact database comes into play.

Managing your database is arguably more important than all the thought and effort put into email subject lines and calls to action. Thoughtful management will help you make informed decisions about your marketing strategies, so it is important to identify, track and measure contact interactions as they become leads, Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), Sales-qualified leads (SQLs), and, ultimately, closed opportunities.

So, if your database is a mess—like most are—here are three steps that will help you organize and optimize it (and even a few Pro tips for taking your email marketing to the next level).

Step 1: Determining the Source

The first step in measuring marketing ROI is to establish an original-source field.

The source field should be set on every single contact as they enter your database. Even if your marketing automation software assigns a first-touch campaign to new contacts, it's important to have a separate field that notes where this contact originally came frombefore he or she converted to a lead via your website.

Original sources could be paid ads, social media, online events, search engines, or other activities that are promoted beyond your website. The goal is to identify as early as possible where and how you got this contact's information.

Once you capture that information, you can determine whether the contacts are "Marketing sourced" or "Sales sourced," based on which department is responsible for the sources tracked.

Pro tip: As you add contacts to your email database, it is important that the sales department also input contacts into the sales CRM software so that source and date information is stored in both places (Sales and Marketing). If Sales has not bought into using a CRM system, the process of identifying when and where a contact is created and who gets credit for deals will be less accurate.

Step 2: Tracking Influence

Now that every contact has a static source field, the next step is to track and capture conversion information.

Marketing conversions are identified using a scoring model that outlines the point value associated with each digital interaction—forms completed, emails opened, specific originating sources, etc. This process also sets a threshold for becoming an MQL; once nurtured contacts pass this threshold, conversion information should be stored in a contact's profile as the item, resource, or campaign most recently interacted with.

While this method doesn't measure the full scope of marketing activities that may have helped qualify this lead, the purpose of this field is to establish a single point of conversion when a lead becomes an MQL. This way, you can determine whether contacts have been flagged as "Marketing-qualified" before these leads are handed off to Sales for the next stage of the sales process.

Pro tip: When identifying an MQL conversion point, consider also capturing MQL conversion date so you can measure the length of the nurture journey from contact creation to MQL conversion.

Step 3: Reporting Closed Deals

With source and conversation information captured and recorded in your contact database, and closed opportunity information stored in your sales CRM, you now have the data needed toreport on Marketing's end-to-end involvement in the sales funnel.

Though each company decides how this data should be used and how credit is given for each sale, this reporting approach best equips you with the facts needed to prove the influence Marketing has on the bottom line of your business.

Pro tip: Sales and Marketing should determine whether credit for sourcing a closed opportunity is first come, first serve, or whether the sales staff should identify decision-makers and key influencers to determine which department sourced those contacts first. Ultimately Sales should get full credit for closing each deal, with Marketing tracking marketing-source and influenced-opportunity information along the way.

There are four categorizations of closed opportunities:

  1. Marketing-sourced and Marketing-nurtured: Marketing created and nurtured the contact through value-added digital interactions before handing the lead to Sales.
  2. Marketing-sourced and Sales-nurtured: Marketing created this contact but was unsuccessful in engaging him or her through email, social, and other trackable, digital interactions before handing the lead to Sales.
  3. Sales-sourced and Marketing-nurtured: Marketing did not create this contact, but successfully built interactions with him or her through email, social, and other trackable, digital interactions.
  4. Sales-sourced and Sales-nurtured: Marketing did not create this contact and this contact did not respond or interact with any trackable marketing activities.

Once you know which closed opportunities fall into which category, you can put together a contribution report on how much revenue Marketing sourced directly and how many conversions Marketing influenced during all stages of the sales funnel.

The bottom line is that Marketing relies on Sales to convert leads into closed opportunities, and so Marketing can never take 100% credit for the resulting revenue.

However, the process I've outlined allows marketing to provide data-supported evidence to demonstrate the full impact of digital marketing on the sales funnel and the bottom line of your company. Moreover, this information can be used to drill down and measure the impact and ROI of specific campaigns and marketing investments.

If used wisely, that information can guide your decision-making for which sources provide the best, highest converting leads, where leads get stuck in the sales funnel, and which investments offer the highest returns.

If you're looking for full sales funnel tracking and reporting, many technical or strategic methods for getting those answers are available. Many digital marketing agencies love to nerd out over these kinds of problems, and they have experts and strategic thinkers to build and streamline a custom B2B funnel tracking program for your business.

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How Email Marketers Can Manage Their Database for Sales Funnel Tracking

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