Ran Mullins By Ran Mullins • June 21, 2016

Email vs. Direct Mail: Which Has the Best ROI for B2B Companies?

When your B2B company is courting leads that have moved into the consideration stage of their journey, you need more direct correspondence. But if they’re not ready for a sales call since they have not yet reached the decision stage, you need another medium that is more personal and open to prospects’ feedback.

In recent years, that platform has been email, which has pushed the traditional use of direct mail out of many B2B marketers’ minds. Email is fast, can be automated and integrates well with advanced inbound marketing and lead-tracking. Does this mean that direct mail is passé to the point of being useless? Not necessarily.

As we’ll explore, both methods present advantages and drawbacks. To judge which one provides the greatest ROI for a B2B company, appraise both the initial investment and the expected efficacy in terms of how well they fit your lead-nurturing strategy. While email certainly is an essential part of any B2B inbound campaign, we’ll also explore whether you should abandon direct mail entirely in deference to its digital counterpart.




  • PRO: Reduced initial cost

The foremost benefit of sending an email is that it costs nothing but time (automation platforms and email marketing software notwithstanding). In a B2B or any other business setting, that does equate to some degree of spending, but a nominal one compared to direct mail. The popular wisdom is that direct mail material costs roughly 100 times more than the same number of emails.

Software to organize and schedule emails sent will run up the cost somewhat, but direct mail takes more effort to integrate its results with lead-tracking software, thus raising its own cost. Without having to spend on raw materials, printing and postage (much of which you must procure out-of-house), email is vastly more economical than sending flyers, brochures or other material through direct mail.

  • PRO: Traceable results

Good B2B marketing strategy comes from verifiable returns on your efforts. That means gaining knowledge about how prospects respond to what you send them. Emails sent to B2B leads can and should contain links to offers or other material on your website, but better still, you can tailor them to specific types of prospects. That, in turn, provides clearer insights into how your material is resonating with them.

Those insights come quickly after an email is sent. Because it arrives in a prospect’s inbox almost instantaneously, you can immediately begin to measure the efficacy of the content, subject line and links. If recipients aren’t opening emails or clicking on links, you can adjust your strategy quickly for the next round of material.

  • CON: Getting lost in the inbox

For all of its ability to provide results with lean spending and real-time insights, email is experiencing a popularity problem much like direct mail had 30 years ago: fighting for attention among large swaths of junk mail.

Email’s ubiquity has required providers to help their users sift the meaningful from the spam in their inboxes. Spam filters have gotten more intelligent, but there’s still a latent danger that they will deem your email unworthy. Lately, the larger issue is simply going unnoticed in someone’s inbox. The average worker receives about 122 emails per day, and that presents a high danger of a prospect never opening your email if they don’t see it within a few hours of receiving it.



  • PRO: Less fighting for attention

It’s funny how physical junk mail has subsided to the point that receiving snail mail that isn’t a bill of some sort has become a novelty. At this point, one of direct mail’s chief benefits is the inverse of email’s primary drawback—less competition in the mailbox helps direct mail makes a greater impression when it’s received.

This presents an opportunity to use direct mail as an effective supplement to email and other inbound marketing efforts. Postcards, flyers and letters have wider aesthetic potential and can focus on offers with few words and good design. The format of your direct mail material should reflect your company’s ethos and what appeals to your ideal prospects, whether it’s a glossy 3” by 5” or a professional message on quality stationery.


  • PRO: Greater response rates (no, really)

Here’s the bombshell of this whole article: Direct mail’s average response rate is over 30 times higher than that of email. Applying the above point about tailoring your format to the recipient, you can achieve even better numbers. Oversized envelopes and postcards tend to have response rates north of four percent (compared to email’s overall 0.1 percent rate).

This means a B2B company can use direct mail to really hit the sweet spot when they want to move a lead from the consideration stage to the decision stage. Whether it’s for the purpose of providing a pricing sheet, offering an introductory trial or sending detail specifications and benefits of what you offer, direct mail material can come across as a thoughtful touch that helps a prospect warm up to the idea of a purchase quite well.

  • CON: Difficulty in personalization

In addition to its larger initial cost, direct mail suffers from personalization compounding that expense. If you are targeting your material to specific prospects, that means you can’t send just one type of direct mail and expect those nice response rates from everyone.

The above benefits of direct mail show this is a somewhat necessary evil for implementing it in your B2B inbound campaigns. You need different formats to evoke the best response from B2B decision-makers. Customizing direct mail material becomes even more difficult because it can take a relatively long amount of time—compared to email and other digital platforms—to get the right insights for tailoring what you’re sending.



Don’t choose a communication method solely because it seems everyone else is doing it. For tech and healthcare companies, email-only campaigns may be more worthwhile because prospects can easily overlook or ignore direct mail. For more traditional sectors like manufacturing and finance, direct mail supplements work well by focusing the conversation and call-to-action all on one piece of paper.

It’s important to remember this decision isn’t binary. For a fair amount of B2B companies, a blend of both these tactics works best. To get the best ROI, invest some time in determining what communication methods your ideal prospects prefer, analyze your results and adjust as necessary to convert those prospects into customers. Rbookend2.jpg