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?

The B2B Marketing Ironies of Our Time

I’ve been noticing some ironies in the world of B2B marketing lately. You know what I mean. When the common wisdom is one thing, but the reality is another. I get annoyed. Especially when the so-called common wisdom is driven by the profit motive, or by fashion, or political correctness. Let me share a few ironies that I’ve noticed, and I hope readers will add others to the list.

I’ve been noticing some ironies in the world of B2B marketing lately. You know what I mean. When the common wisdom is one thing, but the reality is another. I get annoyed. Especially when the so-called common wisdom is driven by the profit motive, or by fashion, or political correctness. Let me share a few ironies that I’ve noticed, and I hope readers will add others to the list. Or tell me to shut up and talk about something else.

When Inbound Goes Outbound

Here’s an interesting one. Hubspot preaches inbound marketing as a mantra, right? The theory is that if you post irresistible content to your website, you’ll rise in search rankings and attract interested buyers to find you. The result: You get higher quality prospects, with higher conversion rates and at lower cost than traditional outbound marketing. Which is true. But it’s gotten to the point where some marketers have gotten the impression that outbound marketing is bad, inferior, old-fashioned, or maybe even immoral.

But guess what? Turns out Hubspot’s own growth as a software company has been driven via cold calling through an inside sales team. Yep. Even Hubspot realizes that you can’t get all the B2B business you deserve using inbound marketing alone. An interview with one of Hubspot’s former sales chiefs actually made their call center sound like a pretty well managed and productive organization. Kudos to them.

The Digital Revolution Will Be Direct Mailed

Here’s another. Google and Facebook are leading the digital marketing revolution. Budgets continue to shift to digital channels. Marketers are abandoning print and face-to-face channels in droves. But, hold on. Did you know that both Google and Facebook use dear old direct mail for cold prospecting in their ad sales businesses? I’ve seen actual samples. Their direct mail is first rate, including benefit-laden outer envelopes, a compelling offer to motivate response, supplemented by powerful calls to action and easy-to-use response vehicles. Ironic, isn’t it?

B2B Opt-in Isn’t Optional?

Now, my last example involves an irony that had an impact on me, personally and professionally. Back in 2010, I was invited to become a contributor to Harvard Business Review’s online publication. What a thrill! I quickly prepared two articles, and when the first was published, was dismayed to see that it caused a firestorm of criticism.

In the article, I made the case that email marketing policies in B2B should be more flexible than those in consumer, when it comes to strict use of opt-in. My rationale is that business buyers need information from suppliers to do their jobs, and they want to be up to speed in their fields. So, if a prospect leaves behind a business card at a trade show, for example, the exhibitor should feel comfortable following up with an email.

The response was immediate, and it got nasty, fast. Readers argued that nothing justifies opt-out email behavior — which is ironic because opt-out is in fact the guideline operational under the CAN-SPAM Act.

But here’s the larger irony, which made me both laugh and cry: A few months later, at a conference, I spotted the booth of the very company where one of my most vicious critics was employed. So I stopped by the booth to find out more about their services. And just as I turned to leave I asked what if any way they planned to follow up with me. “We’ll probably send you an email,” they said. I rest my case.

My conclusion? Whatever is in fashion, or what people think is working — remember that the basics still drive B2B marketing. It’s the daily blocking and tackling of account targeting, sales lead generation, outbound communications, call centers, data management and building a trusted reputation that drives business growth.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Driving Demand Generation: Who Belongs on That Bus?

In last month’s blog post, I discussed the ideal marketing operations structure — the why and how to centralize this vital function. In this post, we explore the demand generation function. What should be part of this function and how should you reconcile it with having a “shared services” team?

Revenue Marketing RoadmapIn last month’s blog post, I discussed the ideal marketing operations (MO) structure — the why and how to centralize this vital function. In this post, we explore the demand generation function.

What should be part of this function and how to reconcile it with having a “shared services” team in MO? How would you go about centralizing all demand generation into this one group if you currently have an outbound team and a separate inbound team under different directors?

Demand Generation Group Structure

The charter of a demand generation group looks like this:

Responsible for driving revenue results and optimizing interactions with all global buyers across the revenue cycle to accelerate predictable revenue growth.

Consequently, in larger organizations you are likely to see the following functions in this group:

Demand generation group functions
Demand generation group functions.

If that chart doesn’t scream a set of questions for you, its time for another cup of coffee!

Program managers, top-level business managers for marketing investment in demand generation, provide direction to the content team, and ultimately own the number: marketing influenced revenue.

Campaign managers take direction from the program managers. They are probably the same person in smaller firms. Campaign managers may specialize in one or more channels, but since campaigns are becoming omnichannel you are better off having them focused by target market segment. Their campaigns are grouped by stages of the buying cycle by segment — awareness, lead acquisition, lead nurturing, customer loyalty, advocacy etc.

The martech power users, QA and best practices management functions could alternatively be executed in a marketing operations department. Keeping them in demand generation means they continue to operate close to the program and campaign management team. On the other hand, if your MO function is well developed, putting them in the shared services group in MO means they are close to analytics and project management. This means this team will probably have a more streamlined relationship with the field marketing team, i.e. the “HQ” region is less likely to dominate the global campaign calendar unless the revenue goals merit it.

Tele-qualification is often both in marketing and sales. If the line is blurry, that’s good. It should be, because the function is squarely on the line between the two organizations. If you use them to sell smaller deals, renew contracts, etc, then they probably belong in sales, and are rightfully described as an inside sales function. But if the function is strictly to provide higher quality leads to sales, driving up sales’ productivity, then keep them in marketing.

An Inbound vs. Outbound Digression

There are more internet battles on inbound versus outbound than about Kirk versus Picard! Some say inbound is less expensive than outbound for lead generation or that outbound is marketing to the masses (TV commercials, radio, email blasts, trade shows). Is inbound just content marketing using SEO, and paid traffic through online channels? By all means add your comments below, but here is my perspective: It is not news that the two are merging so marketers need to move past these debates, unite these teams, and start designing and executing omnichannel campaigns.

7 Steps to a Better B-to-B Landing Page

Despite years of practice with digital campaigns, B-to-B marketers still have trouble getting their landing pages to work as hard as they could. I am not sure why, since there’s nothing more important to capturing the responses from outbound messages and kicking off a relationship with prospects. You could say the landing page is where your campaign pays off. But I am still seeing obvious errors

Despite years of practice with digital campaigns, B-to-B marketers still have trouble getting their landing pages to work as hard as they could. I am not sure why, since there’s nothing more important to capturing the responses from outbound messages and kicking off a relationship with prospects. You could say the landing page is where your campaign pays off. But I am still seeing obvious errors. So herewith I offer a seven-point checklist of landing page best practices. And I invite readers to add some of their own recommendations.

1. Connect the landing page directly to the outbound message. When respondents click through to the landing page, they should experience a seamless flow from one to the other. The outbound message—whether a SEM ad, an email, a direct mail piece or even a print ad—should act like the teaser, to motivate the recipient to click or type in the landing page URL. The role of the landing page is to close on the deal, the same way a salesperson asks for the order. So the two formats should act as one, working together to move the prospect along. If they are disjointed—whether through design or copy inconsistency—the momentum is lost.

2. Create a fresh landing page for each variable in your campaign. OK, I know this means work. But the effort that goes into the outbound message should be equaled or exceeded when crafting the response vehicle. If you are doing an A/B test on your creative or your offer, you need two landing pages. Plan for it.

3. Mobile-enable your landing page. No excuses. The dramatic rise in tablet and smartphone use cannot be ignored. As any direct marketer will tell you: Don’t get in the way. If you put up any obstacles, your response rate will inevitably be lower. A landing page that is engineered for ease of use on mobile devices is no longer a nice to have; it’s a must.

4. Prepopulate the form where possible. If your outbound message includes digital information about the respondents, don’t make them retype their data.

5. Ask for the minimal amount of information you need to take the next step in the relationship. The more elements you require, the lower your response rate. So ask yourself, “How will asking for this piece of information change the way I deal with the inquiry?” If the answer is, “It won’t,” then hold that query for a later stage in the relationship.

6. Develop a culture of constant testing. Any responsive vehicle benefits from continuous improvement. Your landing page is the perfect place to test copy, offer, layout and other variables like the number of data elements you ask for. Do it, don’t duck it.

7. Follow landing page design best practices. Hubspot offers some excellent tips in this area. Remember that the purpose of a landing page is to drive an action. So everything you do-the copy, the offer, the layout, the graphics-must focus on that end.

I welcome your ideas on how to improve landing page results.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.