You can only improve what you measure.
In the context of sales email outreach, that’s a philosophy to live by. As any sales strategist worth their salt will tell you: To compete in a fast-paced, ever-changing market, you need to know your numbers — and why they matter.
Tracking email engagement metrics means more than just looking at your open rate. The best-performing strategies pull data from a variety of metrics — not just to boost win rates, but to gain fresh insights into buyer behaviors.
In this blog, we’ve compiled a list of email engagement metrics to help you better gauge buyer sentiment and track your email performance in a new light.
Why should you measure email engagement?
Keeping an eye on email engagement just makes sense. The additional effort required is low, but the potential returns can be huge. Engagement analytics are frequently included in common sales platforms and CRMs like Salesforce and HubSpot. It’s highly likely that you’ll already have these tools at your fingertips without any extra purchase or heavy lifting.
Essentially, there can be no negative impact from tracking engagement metrics on your sales processes or email marketing campaigns. Plus, with 81% of SMBs still relying on email as their primary customer acquisition channel, and 80% using email for retention, it’s one of the most potent tools in your sales arsenal — so you’ll want to be certain that you’re getting it right with every send.
Seeing how recipients interact with your content gives you a real-time view of what worked, what engaged and what missed the mark. Then, through a process of tracking and testing, you can refine underperforming areas and optimize performance.
Which email metrics should you track?
Selecting the metrics to track for your sales team can differ based on specific factors, namely your processes, objectives and strategy. “Success” will vary on the goal of each campaign, so the metrics you choose should tie naturally to your objectives.
For example, if you’re just seeking name recognition or visibility, you’ll look for a high open rate. If you’re looking for genuine sales opportunities, you may monitor appointments booked or click-through rates. We can’t make that decision for you, but we recommend reading our five tips for effective email strategy if you’re looking for insight into building out your strategy.
Equally, it’s important to know that each industry has its own unique benchmarks for engagement metrics. Different industries target different demographics, which each have their own behavioral patterns.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most relevant metrics to keep in mind when designing your sales email initiatives.
1. Open rate
Open rate measures the number of emails opened, divided by the total number of emails sent. It can be used to gain a top-level overview of email campaign health, and is a good indicator of a strong subject line — but little else.
Be careful not to focus too heavily on your open rate. Taken in isolation, a high open rate doesn’t tell you why the recipient opened, or where the most value was found. Plus, with image blocking enabled for some recipients, it can be a difficult and unreliable metric to track accurately.
How to use open rate effectively:
Due to its limitations, it’s best to consider open rate in the context of other metrics, such as click-through rate, click-to-open rate, engagement rate, response rate or bounce rate. Only then will you be able to paint a full picture of your buyer sentiment. You could use this metric to benchmark internal campaigns and controlled variables, such as weekly emails sent to the same prospect or contact list.
2. Bounce rate
Bounce rate is the number of emails intercepted and returned by the recipient’s email inbox, divided by the number of emails sent. While generally considered to be more of a marketing metric, bounce rate can still add value to sales optimization. There are two types of bounce rates to be aware of:
Soft bounce: Temporary bounces that show the email was sent to a valid email address, but something is blocking it. Typically, this will include large attachments or a full inbox on the other end.
Hard bounce: Permanent email bounces that show the recipient’s email address is wrong, inactive or fake. A hard bounce could suggest that the sender’s email has been blacklisted by the recipient or email service provider.
How to use bounce rate effectively:
The general benchmark for bounce rate is 2%. Anything above this is worth investigating. Bounce rates over 5% suggest there is a significant problem that needs to be resolved. Whether soft or hard, a high bounce rate harms your overall sender reputation, which increases the likelihood of your future emails being marked as spam. We generally advise the first email in your cadence to be asset-free if you want to be labeled as a safe sender.
Depending on the sales platform that you use, it may be possible to access features that limit the number of emails you can send per day or restrict the pace of your emails. Being able to use features like this is a common way for businesses to reduce the possibility of their future emails being marked as spam.
3. Click-through rate
Click-through rate (CTR) is the ratio of recipients who clicked on a link in an email campaign compared to the number of people who received the email. It’s one of the most commonly measured email metrics in both sales and marketing, largely because it’s a great way to understand prospect interest, the quality of your personalization and your engagement over time.
If conversion or qualification is the purpose of your campaign, CTR will help you calculate the performance of each and every email sent. It’s also frequently used for A/B testing, to find better ways of driving traffic to the website or selling products online.
How to use click-through rate effectively:
CTR is a strong metric for gauging buyer sentiment and campaign health — and far more reliable than open rate. Click-through rate is also a great indicator of your prospect’s interest in your product. With the right tracking, you’ll be able to tailor follow-up outreach based on the web content or assets they choose to view. This helps to make your efforts even more personalized. It can also be used to monitor the strength of your prospecting. If you have an especially high CTR, for example, it proves that you’ve clearly identified a pain point, or something your prospect needs.
4. Topline response rate
The topline response rate is the number of responses received, divided by the total number of emails sent. A “response” doesn’t need to be limited to an email reply — it can be a returned phone call, a form submission or a message on a social media channel.
If your goal is conversions, a high response rate will be the intended outcome for your email campaign. As a metric, it’s a good assessment of your prospecting, campaign health and outreach sequence. It’s equally important to consider, however, that a response isn’t always a conversion. A 50% response rate is great, unless it’s 300 emails rejecting your offer of a demo.
How to use response rate effectively:
A positive response is the ultimate sign of email engagement. If you’re aiming for conversions or qualification and see responses as a first step, experiment with your pitch and assets to remedy low engagement.
It’s a common mistake to include automatic replies sent by your prospects while their inboxes are set at “out of office.” To avoid this, you need to find a way to separate these automatic replies from your legitimate responses. Depending on the platform that you’re using, you can filter them out with common phrases such as “automatic reply” or “out of office.”
A decision maker’s inbox can move incredibly quickly. You’ll want to make your content as digestible and attractive as possible, since any reason not to reply will generally be taken.
Email: Is it short enough? Do you prove the value early?
Value proposition: Is it compelling enough?
Call to action: Is it clear and well defined?
Asset: Is it accessible, relevant and attractive?
5. Forward rate
Forward rate is the number of shares or forwards, divided by the number of emails delivered, multiplied by 100. While generally worse at gauging buyer sentiment than the other metrics listed above, forward rates can still provide useful content for inside sellers.
How to use forward rate effectively:
While you’re unlikely to find yourself chasing a low/high forward rate, it’s always worth monitoring it to measure the strength of your contact data and collection. A high forward rate suggests that your content may have reached the right audience or organization, with your value proposition appealing to their pain points, but you’ve just not directed it towards the right decision maker.
6. Revenue per email
Revenue per email is the total income generated, divided by the total number of emails sent. No matter what you’ve been told, the one metric you must track in all outbound campaigns is revenue. Period. All your other metrics simply support it. With any outreach, it’s important to measure success across the funnel as every step — open, click or response — should move you closer to revenue.
It’s not that open rates, CTRs and other vanity metrics aren’t worth tracking, they’re just secondary to revenue. You’re writing a sales email — not a marketing email. It’s important to make that distinction. You should be able to demonstrate a valid ROI from your email outreach and prove its effectiveness as a lead generation channel. If you can’t, there’s a better way to do what you’re doing.
How to use revenue per email effectively:
While a broad metric, there’s a lot that revenue per email can tell us about buyer sentiment and engagement. If revenue per email is routinely low, for example, it will suggest that there’s a more effective approach to getting in front of your prospects. Or, if you’re already hitting your expected revenue per email benchmark, you can look to optimize email content, assets or links with higher engagement, to maximize your chances of converting.
Metrics don’t account for human variance
There are endless dimensions to human behavior. While we can predict certain benchmarks for specific industries, there’s no guarantee of a prospect’s behavior. Yes, timing, personalization and content are all important, but there’s no foolproof way to determine why an email resonated with one prospect and not another.
Testing is critical
Don’t discount your email strategy because it hasn’t worked. It just didn’t work for that prospect. With comprehensive, analytical metric tracking, there are lessons to be learned with every email sent. Bring all the intelligence, and your organizational knowledge and research, together to make your foundational email stronger, based on your discoveries from the first attempt.
Don’t take vanity metrics as gospel
Email engagement data isn’t solely quantitative. There are qualitative insights that you can take, and actions, from every email sent. It just requires some analytical thinking. As we’ve established, open rates and CTR rates are not success metrics… they’re context. Your ultimate goal is to get a response or conversion. Your leader will disregard your 97% open rate if your ROI from email outreach is well below the industry average.
Business Intelligence Senior Manager at Harte Hanks Sales Services. A specialist in giving decision makers the insights they need to strengthen their teams and tell their story within their data.