By Jeff Molander,  Communication Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc.
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  • Does open rate matter in sales emails?

Your open rate should be zero. Hu? Yes. Because, today, tracking open rates lowers sales outreach email deliverability. Guaranteed. Removing open tracking increases engagement, replies. 

Don't believe me? Shut your tracking off -- then send!

Truth is, there's no money in your knowing this. That's why so few discuss it in blogs, on LinkedIn. 

Not tracking open rate -- at all -- creates more response from prospects because you're reaching the Primary inbox more often.

Kissing off open rate addiction is also good for your mental health due to the false positives involved. 

Stop copying subject lines

We've all heard the gurus say it: “Use my subject lines to get better open rates" as they hand out their "secrets," says deliverability expert, Jesse Ouellette of LeadMagic.

“There are way more factors involved with open rates... which make them less accurate by the day. Privacy and e-mail delivery are the bigger factors making open rates a waste of time,” says Mr. Oullette who reminds us of the prime objective of sales outreach: Response.

"You’re trying to get a response, positive or negative.. not send them to a website. That’s what e-commerce marketers do. They didn’t opt in here," he says.

Mr. Oullette claims he's helping clients land in the primary inbox with 7-10 percent reply rates. 20 percent of which are positive. (welcoming more conversation)

But there’s more to consider. Putting energy into open rates damages your mindset. Because, given the technological realities involved, open rates are misleading at best. They trick us into believing we're breaking through -- when we're not.

Open tracking technology is unreliable, encouraging us to believe in a reality that doesn't exist. 

So what’s the deal? Are open rates a useful -- or bogus, useless -- metric?

Are open rates lying to you?

“Your open rates are lying,” says Mr. Oullette who reminds us -- email deliverability is the number one performance lever for cold email outreach. This makes open rate useless. 

For example if your emails are reaching inboxes you'd be getting a lot of ‘not interested’ or ‘take me off your list' responses. If you aren't this means you're in Spam. You're trapped there.

Mr. Oullette reminds us how open rate, “doesn’t mean they’ve seen your e-mail. Because Apple/Google are now starting to open many of your emails.”

He’s referring to how anti-spam software often registers “open” when no human open occurred. Giving you a false sense of success and interest on the other side.

Potential customers are not seeing, nor interested in most cases.

"I decided to look at people who'd 'opened' my email newsletters regularly - and then called them. A surprising number had no idea who I was. They couldn't remember reading anything. This made me wonder if any of these 'open' stats were actually telling the truth -- that a real human opened, let alone read any of these," says Aussie sales trainer, Rashid Kotwal.

“My open rates were amazing, they were great. I felt like that means I was doing something right. But nothing at all came from those open rates. In fact, they slowed me down more than anything,” says Business Development Rep, Rachel Pierce of AppViewX.

“This had me thinking -- I must be doing something right. But my quota attainment told a different story.”

Average sales email open rates don't matter

“I get asked every day, what should your open rate be... on average? The answer is pretty clear in my mind. 0% Open tracking isn't accurate anymore. Plus, when you use open tracking you can't use the Cold E-mail Secret Weapon,” says Mr. Oullette.

That being plain text emails. No HTML. 

“Plain text emails land primary inbox anywhere. They get responses like you wouldn't believe and you can validate your PMF/Copy faster than anything," he says.

You see, most email sending / tracking / engagement tools don't have "Adjusted Open Rate." This metric is able to exclude all people with iPhones, who don't want to be tracked... presenting a more accurate open rate number. Not using Adjusted Open Rate puts you at risk for increasingly inaccurate measurement.

He says most of us believe the main sales email open rate factors are...

  • How many people have Apple Privacy on that receive your e-mail
  • Time you send your emails
  • Subject line of your email
  • How good your e-mail delivery is (domain and ip reputation, content in the e-mail)

Mr. Oullette calls this belief misinformation. 

Yet, on average only 20% of cold B2B emails are opened, according to Nate Stoltenow, head of innovation and business development at Innovation Refunds. 

“Contrary to popular belief, the reason has little to do with the subject line, preview or message. It’s because the prospect never saw it. The average cold email goes right to Spam," he says.

Ignoring opens earns more response

It’s true. Not tracking open rate -- at all -- creates more response from prospects. How can this be? Simple. Deliverability gains.

You’re reaching the Primary inbox more often.

Business Development Rep, Rachel Pierce of AppViewX says when she stopped caring about open rates her replies went up. More customers are engaging with her outreach emails.

“It's slow. Painfully slow and they're still way lower than I'd like but focusing on any kind of reply and completely ignoring the open rate has helped me a ton! I have my open trackers completely turned off." 

“I don't even track open rate now. I have doubled my reply rate since. We used to get 3-4% replies and now we are at 6-7%,” says Sourabh Mittal of Scoutreach.

Sourabh Mittal

I don't even track open rate now. I have doubled my reply rate since. We used to get 3-4% replies and now we are at 6-7%

Scoutreach

Ricky Pearl of Australia based Pointer says, "Open rates are a useless metrics for cold emails. We haven't tracked opens for 2 years now. But then again, we know we are getting in the inbox in much better ways."

Ten months ago VP of Sales, Nate Stoltenow was earning an 80.2% open and a 5.2% reply rate. He turned open tracking off -- and earned a 36.5% increase in replies.

He went from 5% to over 7% reply rate -- overnight.

"Open rate is irrelevant now," he says.

Focus on replies

In the Academy, we focus on not asking for meetings; instead, provoking conversations. Likewise, Mr. Ouellette insists -- focus on getting replies. Don't associate open rates with goals.

“Once you get over a healthy response rate (>5%) then narrow in on the targeting (relevance/timing) & messaging (copy/subject),” he says.

“If you get replies, you'll be able to fix your copy, optimize your campaigns and reach sales goals,” says Mr. Oullette who encourages us to consider how privacy, and email deliverability drive open rates. 

"What if I told you that relying solely on open rate numbers is not just misleading, but dangerous for your business?" asks Upticks.io founder Patrick Spielmann. 

"Notice in this image how a substantial chunk of leads used Microsoft and custom email servers, skewing the open rates. This epiphany came when Uptics introduced detailed email stats broken down by providers, shedding light on the actual performance," Patrick said.

open rate tracking email

Notice in the image -- the open rate on Microsoft vs Gmail, but the Reply Rates tell a different story.

Solution: Plain text

Plain text email opens you up for wider possible reach -- getting into more inboxes. Mainly because plain text has no HTML and is therefore not flagged as a security risk by your recipients email client or corporate IT geeks.

“There is virtually zero risk in your email outside of ‘social engineering’ to be an attack vector with a plain text e-mail,” says Mr. Oullette.

Won’t this result in a 0% open rate? Yes.

Because there’s no tracking. And that gets you delivered far more often! It’s possible to avoid going to spam or “Promotions” tab, earn 19 positive replies, book 8 of them to your calendar.

All thanks to lack of tracking.

Open rate zero! Turning off the open tracker helps deliverability. Remember, you are not using plain text if you:

  • track click rates
  • track open rates
  • use colors or complex signatures
sales email open rates

Open rates are a useless metrics for cold emails. We haven't tracked opens for 2 years now. But then again, we know we are getting in the inbox in much better ways.

Ricky Pearl

Pointer

This is rich text. Just as problematic.

“Plain Text, gets you closer to your goal by keeping higher replies which generate feedback. Open trackers are the training wheels of cold e-mail. They're becoming less and less accurate,” says Mr. Oullette.

“Before you disable them you need to make sure you know how to land in the Primary Inbox. Warm up the domains and go plain once you feel confident in your domain's ability to deliver. Three weeks and get to forty emails a day, with nothing hitting spam,” he says.

Nate Stoltenow of Innovation Refunds was getting an 80.2% open rate and 5.2% reply rate.

"Then I got greedy and turned off open tracking."

Result: He got 0% open rate, "yet, my reply rate increased by 36.5%."

Mr. Stoltenow says, "Do whatever it takes to get into the primary inbox – even if it’s unconventional."

Inbox placement is EVERYTHING says Mr. Ouellette who recommends:

  • switch your Rich Text to Plain Text
  • turn off open trackers
  • get multiple domains across your system and load balance results

The name of the game is getting into the Primary inbox. 

Deliverability is the number one performance lever for cold email outreach.

About the Author

In 1999, I co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc. where I helped secure 2 rounds of funding and built the sales team. I've been selling for over 2 decades.

After this stint, I returned to what was then Molander & Associates Inc. In recent years we re-branded to Communications Edge Inc., a member-driven laboratory of sorts. We study, invent and test better ways to communicate -- specializing in serving sales and marketing professionals.

I'm a coach and creator of the Spark Selling™ communication methodology—a curiosity-driven way to start and advance conversations. When I'm not working you'll find me hiking, fishing, gardening and investing time in my family.

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