Business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce brands often face a different set of challenges than their business-to-consumer (B2C) counterparts have to handle.
B2B buying cycles tend to be longer, which impacts the frequency and type of content that’s relevant to this particular audience. And the B2B audience a brand serves with its products can vary greatly in its composition—its customers’ industries and business needs can be completely different yet they can all find value in the products they purchase from the brand.
I recently spoke with Chris Joyce, president of Union Jack Tools, about his acquisition of the business, the six vastly different industries the brands serves, and how segmentation has become a cornerstone of the brand’s B2B ecommerce marketing strategy.
Dan Cohen [DC]: What does Union Jack Tools do and what kinds of customers do you serve?
Chris Joyce [CJ]: We’re an ecommerce supplier of food-grade cleaning and material handling products, and we primarily sell to businesses in the food and beverage industry.
Our primary customers are food manufacturers, craft breweries, cideries, wineries, agriculture, pharma and even health and nutrition companies. Basically, any company that produces products that the FDA deems as food. We work with some really interesting brands, from chocolates, to dog food manufacturers, to CBD / hemp producers. We’re proud to service half of the top 100 food processors and half of the independent breweries in the U.S. and Canada.
The FDA audits these companies to make sure they’re in compliance with food safety requirements. The tools and containers they use fall under those regulations – primarily FSMA and HACCP. They need to use the proper equipment when handling products that are made for human consumption—they must be safe for food contact, as well as easy to clean for hygienic purposes so they don’t harbor bacteria.
We have over 500 FDA-compliant products designed for food safety, including tank brushes, floor squeegees, scoops, dippers, metal detectable pens, rakes, and bulk harvest containers / totes.
[DC]: How long have you been with the business and why did you get involved with it?
[CJ]: Union Jack Tools is a 13-year-old company. My wife Cheryl and I acquired it two years ago after an eight-month search. My background is in software, where I have 25 years’ experience. I bootstrapped my last company and sold it six years later. Our goal was to find a well-established ecommerce business that was selling quality products in a growing industry. The former owner of Union Jack Tools was ready to retire so that allowed us to step in and utilize our experience in software, marketing, and customer service to grow an international brand. We were excited when we found this company.
[DC]: What ecommerce platform do you run your store on?
[CJ]: We’ve been on BigCommerce for years and that’s actually served us very well. When we took over the business, we were able to fill a number of gaps and improve the customer experience. Klaviyo was one of several investments we made in technology.
I had evaluated other ecommerce platforms, but nothing really gave us the flexibility we needed without going fully custom, which was cost-prohibitive. BigCommerce handles all the security and compliance headaches for us so we can focus on growing the business.
I really like the model, and they have an open system where vendors like Klaviyo can plug into it and provide value. We get to choose everything from our payment provider to our email marketing software, so we pick the best-of-breed solutions instead of being forced into a closed system. We still have some gaps to fill, but I feel like overall we’ve been able to improve on the platform and they’re continuing to add value.
"I had evaluated other ecommerce platforms, but nothing really gave us the flexibility we needed without going fully custom, which was cost-prohibitive. BigCommerce handles all the security and compliance headaches for us so we can focus on growing the business. I really like the model, and they have an open system where vendors like Klaviyo can plug into it and provide value. "
Chris Joyce, president of Union Jack Tools
[DC]: Union Jack Tools sells primarily to other business-to-business (B2B) customers. Tell me a bit about how you use email marketing to reach and connect with your customers.
[CJ]: When we took over the business, one of our first goals was to make sure we were creating relevant, engaging content for the six industries we serve, which we knew would be a challenge because those customers are really different from each other.
The former owner used Mailchimp and sent out a single monthly newsletter to the entire list of customers. We migrated the Mailchimp list over to Klaviyo, segmented it into six different industries, and set up flows for our welcome series, abandoned cart emails, winbacks, etc., that are tailored to our B2B frequency. We now have a platform to create and track conversations with our diverse customers including transactional emails. Our branding and tone is consistent and our content is really focused on the products and pain points (for example, regulations) for each market. Klaviyo is more than just an email platform. We’re getting insights into our business and the performance of our emails.
Early on, we understood the concept of segmenting our audience, but I didn’t realize how it actually allows you to focus more clearly on each segment and create relevant content. We spend a lot of time in the craft brewing space, so we know the regulations, we know that a lot of the people in the industry are owner-operators who started a brewery but they may not necessarily understand food safety as in-depth as a large corporation does. We work hard to help educate them on those topics.
"We migrated the Mailchimp list over to Klaviyo, segmented it into six different industries, and set up flows for our welcome series, abandoned cart emails, winbacks, etc., that are tailored to our B2B frequency. We now have a platform to create and track conversations with our diverse customers including transactional emails."
Chris Joyce, president of Union Jack Tools
[DC]: What are some of the particular challenges that a B2B ecommerce brand deals with that a B2C ecommerce brand might not typically need to worry about?
[CJ]: In my experience, many email marketing consultants have a lot of B2C experience, so they encourage you to send emails at what seems like a pretty aggressive cadence for a B2B audience—twice a week, for example.
Our emails go to people at corporations in most cases, and we knew we didn’t want to be pushy, salesy, or do significant discounting so we felt like there was a different cadence that would be more appropriate for our customers.
We’re fortunate to have high-quality products that last for one to two years, creating a longer buying cycle. Sending emails twice a week would likely burn out our list. B2C brands have a lot more opportunities to email their customers and encourage them to make a purchase than B2B brands have. B2B customers typically purchase based on a need or based on a product’s lifecycle rather than impulse, so it’s not like you’re trying to upsell them to buy another pair of blue jeans for the Fall.
When we started our winback campaign, for example, we realized we had to extend the timing of the emails from 30 to 90 days to reflect purchase cycles. We’ve adjusted the timing on all of our messages accordingly.
"B2C brands have a lot more opportunities to email their customers and encourage them to make a purchase than B2B brands have. B2B customers typically purchase based on a need or based on a product’s lifecycle rather than impulse, so it's not like you're trying to upsell them to buy another pair of blue jeans for the Fall."
Chris Joyce, president of Union Jack Tools
[DC]: So you’re currently segmenting your communications based on the type of customer you serve (a brewery, winery, food processor, etc). How long ago did you implement these segments and is this approach working for you?
[CJ]: We implemented Klaviyo in January of 2019, so we’re still less than a year in but one of the first challenges we tackled was how to segment our list.
Originally, we tried creating segments based on product categories, but a lot of our product categories span multiple industries. For example, just because a customer purchased a tank brush doesn’t mean they work for a brewery. We then tried looking for keywords in the company name, but that proved to be unreliable with so many creatively named breweries and food manufacturers. We ended up using custom attributes in Klaviyo to manually determine their industry. Our Justuno welcome signup prompts for their industry. We visit their websites and follow them on social media, so we’re fairly confident that we know they are in the correct segment. While this manual process isn’t ideal, we look at it as an opportunity to get to know our customers better.
[DC]: How has your segmentation strategy helped you grow your business?
[CJ]: Prior to Klaviyo, we didn’t track a lot of things. But now we’re tracking key performance metrics each month so I know how much my list is growing, how many people are net new customers vs. repeat, how much of our sales are from email, our average order value, etc.
We’re using popups to drive people to join our mailing list and choose their industry segment. We see greater participation in some segments than others. For example, the average open rate for our brewery campaigns is over 30 percent whereas the other campaigns are closer to 20 percent. We believe that’s directly related to the quality and relevance of the content. Our content is really an extension of our customer service and that’s a differentiator. We’re not a soulless corporation drumming out automated emails. We are writing real content and we’re looking at the responses, so I feel like that’s establishing trust and it’s part of our brand.
We’re less than a year in with Klaviyo, but I feel like things are getting better with each quarter because we’re spending time building our content. We haven’t outsourced it, so that’s on us to continuously get better with over time.
[DC]: Besides segmentation, what are some of the most effective email marketing strategies that you’ve used to grow your business?
[CJ]: The flows I mentioned earlier are obviously very effective, especially the abandoned cart flow. That’s what I consider basic blocking and tackling. It keeps the visitor engaged.
New product announcements that link to our product catalog and those educational pieces I talked about that link to our blog posts have been really successful. They’ve helped to increase our clickthrough rates, particularly in our brewery segment since they’re often seeking guidance on things like how to handle FDA audits, the regulations, and food safety. We see clickthrough rates on our brewery campaigns that are 2-3x higher than some of our others.
The timing of that content is really important, too. We see higher open and clickthrough rates in the early morning before brewers gets started with their day. Harvest season is our busiest time of the year so we send out emails that have to do with wine harvest in the July timeframe before they get out into the fields. We don’t send that stuff in February when it’s not relevant to them, so that approach has been effective as well.
[DC]: What advice would you give to fellow B2B ecommerce brands that are looking to grow their businesses?
[CJ]: Stick to your own instincts about what your customers prefer in terms of the frequency of your emails and your content. Know their buying cycles, because they may be different by industry like we’ve seen. Many email consultants will encourage you to send a lot of emails, but don’t burn out your list because you didn’t follow your instincts.
I don’t think you should outsource your content, either. Unless someone’s really familiar with your audience and your products, I feel like you’ll have a better connection with your customers if you create your own content. You’re emotionally invested in producing that content. For example, when we’re on the phones, we get feedback like “I read your blog post about this” or “I got your email about a new product.” You get first-hand validation for those efforts, so I think some of those activities are things you need to do yourself—at least for a while.
I would recommend hiring a professional to set up your flows. We went through that with an agency and they knew out of the gate the best practices for frequency, tone, style and flow configuration. They know ways to avoid you from getting flagged as spam or sending too many emails and burning out your list. They set up seven different flows and 24 email templates, which got us off to a good start. We had that baseline template we could clone and create our campaigns from, and it made everything so much easier.
"Unless someone’s really familiar with your audience and your products, I feel like you'll have a better connection with your customers if you create your own content. You're emotionally invested in producing that content."
Chris Joyce, president of Union Jack Tools
[DC]: Where do you want to take Union Jack Tools in the future? What’s ahead for 2020 and beyond?
[CJ]: I consider our mailing list an asset to the company and creating repeat business is the main reason we started with Klaviyo. With recurring business, you’ve got to nurture customers. Getting our existing customers to make purchases time and again is a big component of our growth.
Communication is also key for customer service and we feel like Klaviyo is the right platform for that. Each month, as we add more and more content to our library, we feel like it makes us a stronger service provider. We’ve gotten more comfortable creating email templates and campaigns, which we didn’t have any experience with coming in. It gives us the confidence to go in there and keep dripping those messages out, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort.
Our goals this year are to segment our flows even more. We want to segment them by industry because we think we can actually get even more personalized there. We also have to create more content for other industries. We’ve done a great job for breweries, for example, but we haven’t had the bandwidth to go really deep into the products and the industry regulations across all six industries yet. That’s going to help us grow in those industries in the same way we’ve grown in the brewery market.
We know there are opportunities to do sub-segments, like by product category or other areas, as well. We’d like to explore retargeting with Facebook ads, which we haven’t done yet. We’ve really just scratched the surface in terms of what we can do with the platform.
Looking for more insights, inspiration, and resources to help you grow your business? Check out this Entrepreneur Growth Guide.
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