Sales Email Tracking Software: Is It Worth It?

Sales reps are under pressure to track and report: Dials, calls, meetings, email sends and open rate. Not to forget, email clickthrough and download rates. All tracked by sales email tracking software. But is all this tracking worth it?

Sales reps are under pressure to track and report: Dials, calls, meetings, email sends and open rate. Not to forget, email clickthrough and download rates. All tracked by sales email tracking software. But is all this tracking worth it?

If yes, how do we know? Why? Says who?

Certainly software vendors espouse the benefits of knowing X, Y and Z data. Tools like ToutApp, HubSpot, MixMax, Yesware and outreach.io. But what sales outcomes are generated better thanks to sales email tracking software?

More importantly, what behavior does all this measuring encourage among sellers? Is tracking software good for sellers, considering the outcome demanded of them? (sales conversations)

The Problem With Sellers as Marketers

Sales reps are increasingly being held accountable for marketing statistics. This is problematic. Because measuring B2B inside- or field-sellers against marketing outcomes encourages them to write, speak and act like marketers.

Email tracking is a key culprit.

Here’s the rub: Sellers, by definition, need to start conversations with customers. Starting early-stage C and VP level discussions demands superior B2B sales communication skills.

Not marketing skills.

If we’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s this!

Too often our sales-focused communications practice sees reps sending pure marketing-speak within email (and voicemail) messages. Results are close to zero on the sales outcome side.

In the words one client:

“Our Inside Sales team is nothing more than virtual assistants who push marketing messages in hopes of setting meetings for reps. Lead quality is so poor I’m not taking any more appointments from our Inside team.”

This trend gets to the problem with social selling: It’s not. It’s social marketing.

Personal branding. Engaging with insights. Being seen by customers as a thought leader. In theory it sounds great. In practice, sellers are pushing marketing messages at customers. These marketing ideas are hurting sellers’ ability to start conversations with customers.

All because of how sellers communicate with clients.

B2B customers are not on social media waiting to be sold to. And if they are they’re already being marketed to by marketing teams! They know what a marketing message sounds like and don’t need any more of them.

The Truth About Sales Email Tracking

I question the validity of encouraging sellers to write in ways that earn downloads and opens … at the cost of earning replies and client conversations. Sales email tracking software encourages sellers to behave like marketers. This is counter-productive to generating sales outcomes.

Tracking quantitative stats is one of many lousy ideas being foisted upon sellers the last five to 10 years by “experts” who have something “new” to sell.

I’m not saying these tools aren’t good. Yes, they are useful. But the way they’re being applied is wholly irresponsible in many cases.

Like social selling, sales email tracking software tools are discouraging good sellers from trusting their instincts as good communicators. Good communications doesn’t scale very well.

Likewise, this marketing-focused tracking teaches inexperienced sellers to push marketing messages. All in hopes of achieving greater marketing outcomes!

This only hurts reps’ ability to earn replies and start client conversations. If I didn’t see so many sellers and sales organizations struggling to earn conversations with clients I might feel otherwise.

Marketing isn’t evil. It’s just not appropriate in a sales context. There is a difference between sales and marketing automation. Respect it.

The Problem With Sales ‘Campaigns’

Marketing is creeping into sales. Modern, digital (yet under-performing) sales forces create “campaigns.” They use email tracking software to measure opens, clickthrough rates (to links within emails), download rates (offers within emails).

Sales reps send campaign emails that include “opt out” links. Opt out links? Yes. So the customer can opt out of the “campaign.” The campaign?

Trouble is, most outbound sales email sequences feel like campaigns to customers. The moment a rep’s emails feel like part of a mass emailed sequence he/she is done. It’s over. You get marked as spam. Not to mention not getting replied to.

Sales email sequences are reading too much like newsletters potential clients haven’t subscribed to. Clients generally opt in to receive marketing newsletters. But they don’t choose to get cold emails. Thus, marketing-esque email copy ends up feeling like spam.

Increasingly, poorly executed marketing copywriting — shoved into sales reps’ automated campaign emails–drives customers to mark sellers’ messages as spam. This damages web domain reputations of sending organizations.

Another example: Focusing on tracking tools encourages sellers to sabotage their messages’ deliverability and readability. I cannot tell you how many sellers sabotage themselves by attaching PDF documents to cold email messages.

Sellers push value at customers who don’t ask for it. Reps create calls-to-action when they only serve to repulse customers. And sellers begin to make ill-informed outreach decisions based on data that is, actually, highly unreliable.

Email Open Tracking Is Unreliable

Here’s my biggest beef. Email tracking software is being used by most sales teams to in ways that tempt us to turn bad data into facts that are not facts at all.

Open tracking technology is imperfect; at times wholly unreliable. In theory, knowing if and how often the email is opened is great. But in practice your tracking software may not see “opens” from prospects who have opened. Likewise, many tools report a client “opened” when they have not opened. Technical reasons why include:

1. The recipient isn’t connected to the Internet.

2. Some mobile phones and email clients download images by default. A 1×1 pixel image is used by tracking tools. Consequence: even if the recipient has not opened the message, you will see it as a false positive — “opened.”

3. Some web-based email clients, corporate email clients and Android-powered phones block images by default. Consequence: even if the recipient opens the message, the sender’s server doesn’t count the email message as being opened.

Breaking Away

If all of this email tracking seems common to you, yes, it is. But organizations on the leading edge are quietly breaking away from the pack… training sellers to act like sales people, not marketers.

And they’re reaping rewards.

I get it. We want to fulfill a reasonable urge. We want to know if sending an outbound email message is reaching a recipient or not. But at what point do marketing-rooted desires like this (in aggregate) get in the way of a sales teams’ ability to generate more sales outcomes?

What is your experience lately?

Strategy Before Tactics … Please!

I am regularly asked for help with a social media challenge, an email campaign that needs a boost or a digital campaign that needs an overhaul. And every single time, I ask that the client step back and share the marketing strategy with me, so I can prepare an appropriate recommendation. More often than not, I get a blank stare.

Marketing and strategyI am regularly asked for help with a social media challenge, an email campaign that needs a boost or a digital campaign that needs an overhaul. And every single time, I ask that the client step back and share the marketing strategy with me, so I can prepare an appropriate recommendation. And more often than not, I get a blank stare.

I don’t know if the problem starts with our marketing educational system, or if marketing students aren’t paying attention in class. Or perhaps people changed career tracks and decided marketing was easy, so why not? Whatever the case, more and more marketers seem to be lacking a solid understanding of marketing strategy, and are constantly thinking about and implementing tactics which — surprise! — don’t get the results they’re seeking.

I thoroughly enjoy reading/listening/watching Professor Mark Ritson, an associate professor of marketing and columnist for UK-based Marketing Week, because he truly tells it like it is. His May 11th blog included the perfect metaphor, and it’s worth quoting verbatim, because it’s dead on. Here’s what he said:

“Marketing strategy is where we play and how we win in the market. Tactics are how we then deliver on the strategy and execute for success. In traditional military strategy, the generals of old would gather, survey the battlefield in depth, review the enemy’s forces and then decide exactly where to attack, at what time and with which forces. Strategy agreed, the orders would be sent down to the various battalions who then concerned themselves with the tactical business of executing their respective objectives. A troop charged with taking a hill, for example, might deploy its archers and then send in the infantry to finish off the enemy.”

If you have no strategy, an entire military effort might consist of each battalion conducting random acts of aggression against the enemy, without any idea of the big picture or the desired outcome.

And this seems to be how many marketers are operating today. Lots of digital initiatives because it’s cool or there’s a fear that if they don’t have a digital presence they won’t be seen as cool. Likewise for content marketing, creating video, writing a blog, emailing customers, conducting outbound calling, starting a loyalty program, etc., etc., etc.

These are all tactical details that should exist because they support an overarching brand strategy, which is also linked to measurable objectives.

If your marketing initiatives are under-delivering, step back and ask yourself a few questions in this order:

1. What’s the business problem I am trying to solve? Why?
2. Who is my target, and why?
3. What is my strategy for connecting with them (where you play)?
4.Why should they care about my product/service (how you win)?

Then, and only then, can you review your existing tactics to see if they align with your strategy. Chances are, if you aren’t achieving your objectives, they don’t align — and that’s when you can start evaluating different tactical solutions that make more sense.

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 3: Email Results Analysis

For many marketers, the bulk of their time is taken up with list selection, subject lines, email design and ensuring the email links to integrated landing pages. But not enough time is spent analyzing the results of those efforts in order to learn and apply it to the next campaign.

For many marketers, the bulk of their time is taken up with list selection, subject lines, email design and ensuring the email links to integrated landing pages. But not enough time is spent analyzing the results of those efforts in order to learn and apply it to the next campaign.

Whenever clients ask us to help them with new creative, our very first question is “Can we see what you’ve done before and the results associated with it?” You’d be amazed how many don’t have this information — let alone know where they can find it.

And on many occasions when they do provide us with it, they are unsure how to interpret the results or use them to influence the next campaign effort. So here are a few best practices worth considering:

  • Maintain a Historical Record: You should have one digital file that contains the creative for every email you’ve blasted. Organize them by target audience (existing customers, warm prospects, cold prospects). This makes them much easier to find when you’re thinking about your next campaign by audience type.
  • Target Audience: Ideally your notes should include the parameters you used to select your target from your house file (e.g. customers who haven’t purchased in 60 days from X/XX/XX; or inquirers who downloaded whitepaper “ABC” between X/XX/XX and X/XX/XX”). If you rented or purchased an outside list, include additional information like the company you rented from, the name of the list, the parameters you provided to them, and the price you paid (you’ll want this to measure your ROI).
  • Blast Quantity: While this is important, it’s NOT the metric you should be using to calculate your open rates. You’ll also want the number of hard and soft bounces, and whether or not your email system is automatically re-blasting to soft bounces at another time. You want to start measuring results based on how many recipients actually received your email which requires you to subtract hard and soft bounces from your gross blast quantity.
  • Open Rates: While this may seem like a no-brainer, emails can get opened up to 10 days after you blasted, so be sure to take a “final” tally a few weeks after your initial blast date instead of creating your only results report within a few days of the blast.
  • Clickthrough Rates: This number should be based as a percent of the number of unique individuals who opened the email. I’ve seen lots of email companies report click thru rates as a calculation of clicks divided by the number blasted—and I just find that irritating. Your audience can’t click unless it opens the email, so the most important stat is to understand how many of those that opened, clicked.
  • Conversion to Sale: What was the objective of the campaign? To sell a product? To download a whitepaper? Don’t assume that just because your target clicked on the link, they took the next step. Using Google analytics (if you don’t have any other source of intel) will let you see which links a web visitor clicked on, including the “download” or “shopping cart” button. If your email is the only source of driving traffic to this page, then you can match this rate back to your email campaign. If your email drives the recipient to your website, shame on you. Read Part 2 of this series about Best Practices for Landing Pages.

If you achieve a high open rate (there are lots of recent industry stats here for comparison), then your problem is not your subject line.

If you achieve a high click thru rate, then you’ve designed great email creative with a great offer (and may want to examine/test your subject line to see if you can get better exposure of your message).

If you achieve a low conversion rate, reexamine your landing page. Does it match your email offer? Is it working as hard as possible to lead the visitor to the desired next step? Is your button obvious and clear what the recipient will get when they click?

The truth is, you won’t really know if YOUR email campaign is working until you establish some benchmark metrics, and then begin to compare additional email efforts against that benchmark (while always keeping an eye on industry averages).

Riding Coattails

Situated neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a lesser known, but growing, shopping holiday called Small Business Saturday. (with the apropos tagline of Shop Small). Founded by AMEX in 2010, and officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has quickly become a noteworthy event. Posting numbers of more than $5.5 billion in additional revenue to small businesses across America last year alone, this date presents a unique opportunity for marketers to grab some coattails and hang on.

Situated neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a lesser known, but growing, shopping holiday called Small Business Saturday. (with the apropos tagline of Shop Small). Founded by AMEX in 2010, and officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has quickly become a noteworthy event. Posting numbers of more than $5.5 billion in additional revenue to small businesses across America last year alone, this date presents a unique opportunity for marketers to grab some coattails and hang on.

Often what stands between you and successful integrated marketing—the cross-channel marketing of a consistent brand message—is a brilliant idea. As marketers, we may be more challenged seeking creative inspiration than we are by deploying the actual campaign. Events, such as Small Business Saturday[1], are apt fodder for an integrated campaign that will speak to and engage your customers on many levels: philanthropic-type support of small business, special offers at a time when shopping is especially top of mind, social sharing, community building, and much more.

Our approach to an integrated campaign is to draft the content and then brainstorm to choose in what channels we can publish the content to “give the project some legs.” In the case of Small Business Saturday (SBS), AMEX has provided a fair amount of content for participants; while it may not be ideal for the channels you choose, it’s certainly a great start, as that first step is often the biggest—and hardest.

As an example, we sifted through the promotional content and chose to first launch our initiative as a Facebook campaign where we invited our friends and fans to like the post to support small business. For our network followers, who are small business, we asked that they comment on the post, adding their logo and an offer valid only on 30 November.

With the social postings making a regular appearance in our timelines, we then created the email campaign to educate our small-business clients about SBS, give them ideas for participating, and direct them to the site’s resources for launching full-blown initiatives in their own communities. To both gain support for the event and foster a closer relationship with our customers, our email offered a complimentary, branded email theme they could use to specifically promote their own SBS offer—no strings attached.

While it wasn’t planned as part of our integrated campaign for SBS, blog articles such as this could easily be developed in a way to extend the reach of your campaign.

Big business (B-to-B) can also benefit from promoting events (like SBS) when selling to small businesses, just as we did by offering our clients an email theme. A larger enterprise can nurture goodwill by becoming involved in a way that is beneficial to their clients beyond the bounds of their typical day-to-day business relationship. Clients are much more likely to show loyalty to vendors with whom they feel a connection and benevolent events give both parties a place to come together in a like-minded pursuit.

Campaign inspiration surrounds us, and it’s not always about discounting, selling and downloads. As any salesperson can tell you, developing qualified leads requires relationship building, and that is seldom done using email alone. Intersperse your typical business and sales emails with feel-good content that benefits the customer beyond your products and services, and you’ll find that engagements become more valuable, last longer and, yes, drives sales.

Join us in celebrating Small Business Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.


[1] If Small Business Saturday isn’t right for you, think about other charitable or community events, such as breast cancer walks, balloon festivals, food fairs and the like. Coattails come in all sorts of fabrics. Be receptive to events where content is readily available, and this will reduce the demands on your internal team or external resource needs.

Gearing Up for the Holidays: Make Your Email Marketing Deliver Long Tail Results

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy. The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy.

The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers. The first, and most obvious, is the opportunity to increase sales. Bargain hunters everywhere will be snatching up the best deals across all channels. The company with the lowest prices will win their attention—and possibly their business—until a lower price appears at the next store. This opportunity works best for companies with killer price negotiators and heavy volume.

Creating and solidifying relationships between customer and company is the second opportunity. Connections can begin with deep discounts but there has to be a strategy in place to move customers from discount shoppers to loyal buyers. The process starts with understanding how people become loyal to your company. What path do they follow from first purchase to long time customers?

The answer to that question is most likely, “it depends,” because the path is dependent on the customer type and what motivated the first purchase. Discount promotions attract bargain hunters, hit and run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters tend to watch for discounts before buying again while hit and run shoppers buy once and disappear. Active customers stay around during the off-sale season and build lifetime value. Only a small percentage of customers acquired during high promotion periods will become active customers without intervention.

Email is an excellent tool for converting bargain hunters and hit-and-run shoppers into active customers. It is inexpensive and effective when used to strategically move people into the buying cycle. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Review newly acquired customer data from the last three to five holiday seasons to identify bargain hunters, hit-and-run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters rarely buy full price items. Hit and run shoppers buy once or twice, usually within a thirty day period, and disappear. Active customers are the ones who predictably buy throughout the year.
  • Define the path from original source to last purchase. This is where you’ll start seeing some patterns. For example, hit-and-run shoppers typically originate as online shoppers that found your site using search engines or social networks. Identifying them early and adapting your strategy accordingly reduces the resources that will be invested in additional marketing unlikely to generate a return.
  • What paths do the active customers follow from first purchase to their current buying activity? How do they differ from the bargain hunters and hit and runners? Did the people who became active customers receive different marketing promotions? The answers to these questions will help design new campaigns to keep new customers coming back.
  • Create test campaigns that personalize the shopping experience. Holiday time is hectic for some, crazy for others. The easier you make it for your customers, the more likely they will return. Use transactional emails to keep people informed every step of the way. Instead of the perfunctory “your order number 123 shipped today and will arrive in 3-5 business days,” try using more friendly language. Your copywriters can make transactional emails informative, engaging, and entertaining.
  • Follow up after the sale. If the products or services aren’t used, there will never be a second order. Personalized emails that ask about the items and service are a rarity. They will stand out in a sea of incoming messages. In addition to establishing successful relationships, you’ll learn about problems that need resolution.

If Email’s Broken, Why Aren’t You Fixing It?

Call me naive, but I don’t understand why any company should still be experiencing poor email open and click through rates. Let’s cut to the chase: Successful email marketing consists of four parts: The List, the “From” line, the “Subject” line and the Creative. However, the most fascinating article I’ve read recently about how to design more effective emails comes from Red C, a direct and digital marketing communications agency based in the UK.

Call me naive, but I don’t understand why any company should still be experiencing poor email open and click through rates.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Successful email marketing consists of four parts:

  1. The List (don’t get me started on the importance of this!)
  2. The “From” line
  3. The “Subject” line
  4. The Creative

Any reader of Target Marketing, or student of direct marketing or email marketing, should know how important the list is—in fact, if you’re not spending any time on list strategy, don’t even bother executing an email campaign… period.

The “From” line can be easily tested. (One of our client’s gets better open results when emails come from their parent company, probably because the parent company has a stronger brand presence among the target audience.)

I’ve written plenty about “Subject” lines. (No more than 40 characters INCLUDING spaces… please!)

And there’s also lots of information out there about best practices when it comes to email creative. However, the most fascinating article I’ve read recently about how to design more effective emails comes from Red C, a direct and digital marketing communications agency based in the UK.

They recently completed an eye-tracking study. it doesn’t tell you what people say they look at, or plan to read, or what they like. Instead it tracks what people actually look at, in what order, and for how long.

The Red C report “10 Inbox Secrets devotes a single spread to each “A-ha!” finding, and provides examples and analytical insight into that key finding. My only recommendation (before you print the article) is to choose “landscape” as the type is pretty darn small when printed in “portrait” mode.

My biggest take-away?

The importance of the opening screen—readers typically focus their attention at the center of the page while it loads, and then orient their attention from there.

Red C recommends combining irregular shapes, graphics and text elements to sustain attention, and also offer recipients ‘pathways’ down the email via text or graphic devices. They suggest you AVOID the temptation to use a press ad structure and design in ‘screenfuls’ which are viewed too quickly and don’t provide enough visual encouragement to scroll down further.

I encourage anyone responsible for email marketing to study this report in detail. Eye-tracking studies don’t lie—they provide helpful insights to understand how readers actually consume emails.

Then don’t be afraid to challenge your creative team to re-think your current email design so you can increase message engagement and, ultimately, click through rates.