Forward: If you’re the kind of person that skips ahead in books to see what happens to the main character, I made a nice summary at the end of each section and at the end.
Let’s face it, writing effective cold emails in 2018 is tough. With the implementation of GDPR, increasingly stringent spam filters and thousands of prospects that would rather tell you to go f*** yourself than read another cold email, writing effective cold email is becoming a true art form. Average open/Reply rates from 2016 vs 2018 look very different, even for the exact same email. Despite the changes in landscape, cold email will continue to remain a necessary outbound channel for reaching prospects and generating top-of-funnel activity.
So how do you evaluate if your email is actually cutting through the noise and getting you results?
Here’s an important reminder that many SDRs and email marketers forget. If you aren’t continuously analyzing your cold email data, you probably aren’t writing good emails.
Whether you’re a seasoned sales/marketing veteran or a rookie SDR still looking to land your first qualified meeting from email, you should constantly be evaluating these 4 data points to understand how to improve your emails.
Deliverability and Bounce Rate
I’m combining these two points together because although these two aren’t totally the same, each has a dependent relationship with the other.
We’ll start with deliverability. Although it may seem obvious to some of you, having a low deliverability can be sabotaging your success before you even type a single letter. Low deliverability typically means that your email domain has been flagged as spam or your list data is sub-par. To sum it all up: nobody can read your emails if nobody is getting them.
Bounce rates are equally important because they tell you how many emails are incorrect, or getting rejected by the server you are sending to. This can be related to deliverability, but can also be related to the quality of the data you are using. If you are targeting 100 leads, but you have a bounce rate of 10%, that means only 90 leads you are targeting even had the chance to read the email.
To combat low deliverability and bounce rates, you should be evaluating your data to see if you have unreasonably high numbers for either metric. Typically, you should consider a deliverability rate of under 92% and a 10% bounce rate as poor. Combat this by validating your email addresses before sending an email and sending a test to a different domain to make sure the email comes through to the inbox instead of the spam box. A high bounce rate can trigger spam filters to believe that you are sending spam and have a lasting impact on your deliverability rates. If you need a refresher on deliverability, I’d recommend checking out this blog from Hubspot.
Summary: If nobody receives your email, what you write doesn’t matter. Bounce rates are typically indicative of a good/bad list data provider.
Many people consider open rates to be a vanity metric. Although this may be true at a high level, open rates are still incredibly important. Without a high open rate, the number of people who can reply to your email is stifled. If you have a bad subject line, it doesn’t matter how strong your body copy is. You simply won’t get the same number of replies if the majority of your prospects don’t even read what you wrote.
Most B2B email delivery platforms use aggregate data to determine your open/reply rates. This means if you are sending an email to 100 prospects, 12 bounce and you get a 30% open rate, 26 delivered emails were opened, not 30. This also means that your reply rate will be skewed based on the number of people that replied to your email from the number that opened your email.
Open rates are a massive indicator of a good or bad subject line. If you want to increase your open rate, you need to:
1. Make sure that your deliverability and bounce rates are good. This can tell you if a good chunk of people even had the chance to read your subject line.
2. Change your subject lines to make them intriguing enough to get someone to open your email. This seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the number of emails people send out that have zero-effort subject lines because they couldn’t be bothered to use the right side of their brain. If you need help with subject lines, here’s an article with some examples (note: examples, not templates) to give you some ideas on how to compose a successful subject line. If you're stuck for ideas, Sumo has compiled a handy guide featuring 87 Email Subject Lines.
One thing that is necessary to mention at this point of the article is that the definition of “high” open/reply rates are highly unique to each industry and target persona.
If you are selling into IT or Procurement, you can safely assume your open/reply rates are going to be lower than someone selling into Marketing/Sales. Comparing your data to a blog post saying you should always be getting at least 50% - 60% open rates may not be as helpful as you think because those metrics may have been pulled while targeting a completely different persona that is far more likely to open your emails.
Instead of comparing against outside data, take a look at the data from your organization, and try asking questions like:
“What were the open rates of the most effective email campaigns we’ve used in the past?”
“What open rates are the top reps on my team getting?”
“What constitutes a good open rate in my industry?”
The last one can be tougher to gauge because salespeople love to blow smoke out their asses and exaggerate their metrics. But if you’re decent at networking you can often find true numbers after a beer or two.
When you establish a baseline metric of what a “good” open rate is it’s time to start making changes to try and crush that baseline. Adding personalized tags into your subject line can be effective, but remember to keep it short at around 5 words, and don’t bullshit your prospects into opening an email with a subject line that has nothing to do with the actual email.
Summary: If nobody opens your email, what you write inside doesn’t matter. Open rates are usually indicative of a good or bad subject line.
Reply rate is often considered the almighty metric for cold-email effectiveness. I see posts on LinkedIn like this all the time:
“Our SDRs have been getting 15% response rates!”
“I emailed 100 C-Suite execs and had a 40% response rate!”
Nice. The reality though is that most of those C-Suite responses were telling them to unsubscribe, that they were content with their current provider, or simply to go shove their email where the sun don’t shine.
Despite my pessimism, getting a high response rate is typically seen as an indicator of a successful campaign by many intelligent sales leaders. The reality though, is that a high reply rate is only as good as the number of positive responses you get. We’ll talk about that next when we discuss conversion rates. For now, remember that open rates are typically related to your call to action AND a good subject line. If you have a good open rate, you have a higher chance of having a good reply rate because more people read your email. If you have a high open rate and a low response rate, there are two places you need to look - your opening sentence, and your call to action.
Your opening sentence is crucial because this is where you grab the attention of your audience after your subject line gets an open. If you have a strong subject line but a weak opening line, chances are that your prospect stopped reading and replied “not interested” because they have 27 other unread emails that have stacked up since they got into the office. It’s still a response though, so your response rate probably looks good.
If your opening sentence is good, but your call to action doesn’t give them any reason to give you a positive response, you may still receive some “thanks but no thanks” emails. These will pad your open rates and make your metrics look great, but vanity metrics don’t build a full pipeline. Focus on using call-to-actions (CTAs) that are short, powerful, and worth responding to. Here are some examples to give you some inspiration. When evaluating your emails, look at your response rate metrics to understand if:
A) You have a strong opening line that engages your audience beyond your subject line
- B) You have a call-to-action that’s engaging enough to get someone to give you an answer (regardless of if it’s positive/negative)
Summary: If nobody replies to your emails, the body of your email is likely at fault. Reply rates are indicative of your CTA, your opening line, as well as your subject line, but a solid reply rate doesn’t necessarily equate to a good cold email.
Well, we made it this far. If this article is anything like a cold email, you’re either still here because you liked what you read, or because you want to see how full of shit I am. I won’t know this until I see the responses, just like you won’t know what your conversion rate is until you see your responses. Simply put: a good conversion rate means that many of the replies that you received converted into meetings or qualified opportunities. Conversion rates don’t meddle with the likes of “we’re not interested” responses because they are too busy riding the wave with “hell yes I’d like to hear more” responses. It may seem obvious, but you want strong conversion rates over anything. Here’s the secret recipe for a good conversion rate. A good conversion rate is the sum of all parts, plus strong body copy. Think of it like a perfectly cooked steak. The body copy is the most important part, the center meat of your email. The subject line is the smell that draws you in, the opening line and CTA are the seared crust, drawing you deeper into the juicy center, curious what the chef has to offer. As for the center, well, the body copy of your email is the warm pink center (or a hot brown center if you’re a heathen) that tells everyone that you know how to cook a damn good steak, or write a damn good cold email. A well written cold email should leave your audience wanting another bite.
If you have a good open rate, a good reply rate, and a bad conversion rate, you need to look at the body of your email. What did you offer? Did you give enough description that left your audience wanting more, but not enough that they felt full? Did you prove value without giving away all of the value? Did you talk about yourself too much and overcook your email?
Okay, I think you get it now. I’ll stop with the steak references.
Summary: If nobody agrees with meat (I swear I’m done) with you, what you wrote wasn’t good. Conversion rates are indicative of your deliverability, your subject line, your opening line, your body copy, and your CTA. You won’t ever get great conversion rates if any of these pieces are lacking severely.
If you want to use your cold-email data to analyze and improve your emails, follow this guideline:
- If your deliverability rates are bad, get better data and make sure you aren’t ending up in spam.
- If your deliverability is good but your open rates are bad, change your subject line.
- If your deliverability and open rates are good but your reply rates suck, change your CTA or opening line
- If your deliverability, open and reply rates are good, but nobody is converting, change your body copy.
If your deliverability, open, reply, and conversion rates are good, then give yourself a huge pat on the back because you did it! Now do it all over again because in 3 months that email isn’t going to be as effective.
"We’re still really proud of you, though, because writing a cold-emails that actually convert is one of the hardest things you can do in modern sales." - Sam Feldotto, Director, Sales Hacker