GDPR was ongoing news in the past year. As marketers, everywhere you turned you heard stories about how companies revamped data-handling processes to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. Marketers have lots of concerns, like whether GDPR will kill their ability to send nurture emails, drive leads from their websites, and do effective account-based marketing (ABM).

In short, no, it won’t prevent us from doing any of these things. The regulation doesn’t mean you can’t contact your customers, but this atmosphere of increased privacy protection has marketers turning to new channels and tactics to stay compliant with strict data regulations when running campaigns. This applies doubly to ABM campaigns.

Get clear about the requirements to find wiggle room

Let’s look at the ABCs of how these two buzz-worthy terms relate. ABM is big news for a reason: It focuses marketing on specific prospects. And GDPR severely restricts our ability to target specific individuals with outbound marketing—especially by email in the European Union. GDPR also limits our ability to track website visitors, which affects our ability to effectively retarget.

One major new requirement introduced by GDPR is for organizations to have strict control over opt-in data. So if your company isn’t well prepared to directly verify consent for everyone on your email list (among other things), what do you do? The answer might surprise you: We are working with more and more clients to send direct mail, i.e., good old-fashioned snail mail—and we are not alone.

While we always recommend you talk to your lawyers first, many marketers feel that direct mail doesn’t rely on private data because it uses publicly available business mailing addresses. It’s a vague point in how GDPR defines legitimate interest that gives marketers some flexibility: One can argue that business addresses, main switchboard phone numbers, etc., associated with a company are not personally identifiable information (PII), because they are already publicly available and apply to companies, not individuals. Thus, they don’t receive the same scrutiny under the GDPR as email addresses and activity histories. Here's a good blog post about the viability of direct mail in a post-GDPR European Union.

Build an end-to-end ABM process based on direct mail

We used direct mail for a successful multi-region ABM campaign for a client whose prospect list had less than a 5% opt-in rate. Even though many of the campaign’s prospects were located in the United States, the client didn’t want to risk sending email to them without proof of their explicit permission to receive marketing email. Data vendors were no help—their records didn’t include direct opt-in verification.

The client also wanted to build a scalable solution from the start, so it took over all automated processes for marketing operations from its vendors to handle sending initial and subsequent mailings, record assignments, and sales follow-ups.

Here are the important elements for creating a solution like the one we built with our client:

Strategic data acquisition. We started by requesting a list of target recipients from the client’s data vendor. It’s good form to get all the data you can from this type of partner, so request everything relevant they have. A good example is intent data—information about prospects whose actions indicate they’re in the market for a product like yours. Getting this extra data will cost more initially but it will ultimately help you attract higher-quality leads.

Smart, compliant data management. In this example, as soon as a prospect from the intent list filled out a form on our client’s website to opt in to their email list—and not a moment before—we appended their record to the client’s database, which included the rest of the data associated with that person. We also gave each of the prospects who opted in a unique code in the client’s database to track their opt-in status and indicate they were part of the ABM campaign.

Mailers that entice target prospects to visit your site. Thanks to the gray area around direct mail, the client was comfortable sending target leads a direct mailer. This mailer included a compelling offer to help drive targets to a campaign landing page, where they must enter their unique code before they can fill out the contact form. This code is a second layer of validation and helps ensure that the landing page isn’t discoverable or indexed by search engines.

In this case, we created a two-part campaign for our client, sending a paper mailer that promised a relatively low-value item to prospects who scheduled a meeting with a sales rep. Prospects who attended the meeting were given a higher-value gift afterward. These prospects were all highly qualified, which justified the cost of the gifts.

Companies that have direct opt-in data for their target recipients use tools like PFL or Sendoso to automate sending the paper mailers. We used some best practices for this stage, like including certain wording required by GDPR in our offer copy. And, because our client started out with opt-in data on only 5% of prospects and and didn't have records for other potential prospects in the database, we sent a worksheet with the public mailing addresses for the potential prospects to the postal-mail fulfillment company for every batch of direct mailers. Keeping these addresses out of the database reduced the risk that someone in the organization would send email to prospects who hadn’t opted into email.

Sales team and marketing automation readiness. We prepared for targets to submit their information through the landing-page form by assigning a sales rep in the client’s marketing automation program. When triggered by a form submission, the system sent an “I look forward to meeting you” reply email signed by the salesperson, confirming the requested appointment.

Marketing automation programs can be helpful here. For our client, we integrated calendar functionality into the landing page, where prospects selected an open time on the assigned salesperson’s calendar. When this isn’t an option, some companies send email on behalf of their rep asking for a good time to meet using reply management solutions like Siftrock, to track replies to these “on behalf of” emails.

After the meeting, when you move the status of the prospect’s record in the campaign to “meeting completed,” you can set up a trigger to automate the sending of the other half of the gift (if applicable). For smart data management, we made sure the requested meeting was associated with campaigns in the client’s CRM and marketing automation platforms, to track pipeline and revenue ROI to the campaign.

Signed, sealed, and delivered

With just one piece of direct mail, our client saw a 20% increase in conversion-to-meeting ratio, with 50% of those prospects contributing to forecasted pipeline.

How do those results grab you? (I would take an outcome like that in a heartbeat.)

Your results may vary, of course. Our campaign did so well in part because our client is a highly recognized brand in a hot tech domain. But we’ve seen other client campaigns hit conversion-to-meeting rates as high at 15%, with 75% of those going to opportunity over a three- to six-month period.

Back-of-the-napkin math for a direct-mail ABM campaign

If direct mail isn’t in your quiver of marketing tactics, it should be. Although it hasn’t been getting a lot of attention, it can do some things much better than other channels can. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of it only for converting leads into new customers—you’ll run into opt-in data issues for existing customers, too, in a post-GDPR world. Look to direct mail to drive retention, cross-sell, and upsell.

Want to talk through how you can set up an effective ABM campaign using direct mail? Just get in touch.