Reading through an article on outbound email FAQs just now, it struck me that marketers have a tendency to treat two very different types of B2B emails as if they were one and the same.

For example, the article I just read says:

“Opens and clicks only get you so far. In most outbound scenarios, the most desired call to action is an email reply—which is the most direct and reliable way to gauge interest.”

In our experience at ClickMail, the real answer to the question, “What are the most effective CTAs?” (the question being answered in the article) is “It depends.” And this is particularly true when it comes to the two different types of emails I referenced above: It depends on the kind of email you’re sending. Is it a marketing email or a sales email? In the B2B world, there’s a difference, and the kind of call to action that’s appropriate to one isn’t necessarily appropriate to the other.

Type 1: The marketing email
A marketing email—for lack of a better term—is, in my mind, a communication that is meant to nurture a lead along and to get that lead to take some kind of next step in the relationship. Usually that next step needs to be low-risk, such as clicking through to a landing page to learn more, to watch a short video, or to download some kind of content asset. To ask the recipient of a marketing message to reply directly to the sales rep sending it is to ask for a high-risk action or commitment on the part of the lead. Those leads receiving marketing emails are not yet at the point where a direct reply makes sense.

Instead, they need the softer calls to action, such as “learn more,” or “download the guide” or “see what others say.”

Type 2: The sales email
In contrast to the kind of email I just described, a sales email can have a more direct call to action such as the author described above: an email reply. When I say “sales email” in contrast to the marketing email, I mean an email that’s coming from a sales person (even if automated) to a lead who is far enough along the sales process to warrant a more direct contact with a more direct call to action.

If, for example, a payroll services company were to reach out to me as the CEO of ClickMail via email, and I had no previous relationship with this company, I would be surprised to receive a sales email asking me to reply directly to the sales rep who contacted me. On the other hand, if I have been in the sales process for a while, downloaded some information, and shown definite interest, then a sales type email asking for a direct reply makes sense. That kind of high-risk call to action is acceptable and probably even preferable. After all, I’ve already downloaded more information. I don’t need content, but contact.

Two different emails require two different approaches
It’s a little frustrating when I see marketing and sales emails treated as if they were the same because any newbie reading an article like this could easily become confused or even misled about email best practices, employing the “direct” CTA recommended in the article even though that’s not always the right approach. Although the end goal is the same—sell more—the different kinds of emails need to be treated as distinct kinds of messages with distinct goals.

And, as always, testing, testing and more testing must be done to determine what works best for you, your organization and your audience!


Published On: July 11th, 2016Categories: Email marketing best practices

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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