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 5 Reasons Why Email Tracking isn’t a Reliable Sales Metric (and What You Should Track Instead)

5 Reasons Why Email Tracking isn’t a Reliable Sales Metric (and What You Should Track Instead)

Erika Desmond

By Erika Desmond on Sep 09, 2015

This could be every salesman’s worst nightmare.
You receive notifications that a prospect you’ve emailed the day before has been viewing your message over and over again. Excited you grab a phone and punch their number on a dial, eager to move the deal further but….

…it turns out they have no clue about who you are.

What th-?!

So what about all these times they viewed your message?

Well, you see, there’s a chance that they haven’t actually read it. At most they might have opened the email but you can’t be sure about that either.

And so, in spite of all those notifications, you’re a complete stranger to them still.

An opened email doesn’t mean a thing…

I admit:

At a first glance, being able to tell if a particular person has opened your email seems like a blessing.

Up until now, all you could do was keep your fingers crossed, hoping that the message would reach its recipient. But it was impossible to tell if that’s actually happened. Unless you got a reply, of course.

These days however, thanks to various email tracking software you can monitor your recipients’ behavior.

In case you aren’t sure how email tracking works, let me go over that very quickly.

Email tracking platforms work in a simple way. They attach a small, transparent image to the message. The image itself is hosted on the platform’s server allowing it to see if the file’s been accessed. And so, every time your recipient opens the message, their email client requests the image from the server and the platform knows that it has been opened.

Is email open rate a reliable sales metric?

I don’t think so. There are 5 issues rendering it practically useless:

1. Many email clients preload images by default.
And thus, they’d report an email as opened even though the recipient hasn’t actually seen it.

Just consider this example:
Imagine your message was the last email a prospect has received so far. If their email client is set to preload images by default, every time they’d launch it, their client would request an image from the last message it received. Yours, in this case. And by tracking server requests for the image, email tracking platform in turn would report the email as opened.

All this would happen without the recipient actually seeing the message.

2. Many email clients and users disable auto-loading images option.
And so, your email would never get marked as opened unless the recipient manually accepts to open the image.

3. What’s more, even if you get a reliable email open data, you might still be in the dark about who actually viewed your message.
That’s especially true when you email a number of people. Most platforms will only report that “someone” has opened the message. But who was it specifically? You might never know.

4. Your prospects might be using tracking blockers.
Like Ghostery (used by more than 2 million people already), Ugly Email or PixelBlock that disable trackers. And thus leave you in the dark about what they do with your emails.

They opened your email, so what?!

The 5th point is so important it needed it's own heading:

5. Maybe they did open your email, but that doesn't mean that they read it.
Did they spend 1 second on it before hitting trash? Or did they spend a few minutes going over all your points in detail? That's big difference, but you'll never know.

The fact that someone has opened your email doesn’t actually tell you anything about their needs or how much they’re interested in your offer.

OK Pawel, I take your point, email open rate is a poor metric. But I still need something to validate if a person I email is an opportunity or not. So, what shall I do?

Track Engagement Instead

Tell me:

What are you really interested in when you email a prospective customer?

My guess is that you care about two things:

  • Are they interested in what you offer, and
  • What should be the next action to move the deal further.

You don’t particularly need to know if they’ve opened the email or not. You’re curious if they’ve found what you sent them valuable and interesting.

In other words, you want to know if your offer engaged them in any way.
And the best way to do it is by monitoring how they interact with your sales collateral.
Here, let me illustrate this with an example.

Imagine you log in to your inbox and notice that a prospect has opened your email. But you also see a notification telling you that they’ve been viewing your proposal document.

Because you also track their interaction with it, you can see that they’ve spent most of the session reviewing a particular option and completely ignored other products or services you offer.


Based on this signal you could, for instance, follow up by sending them more information on that option or suggest scheduling a presentation or demo.

Or imagine that you notice a prospect cutting off their engagement on the pricing page. You could assume that your offer is beyond their budget and plan your next actions accordingly to this information.


Tracking engagement also helps uncover the real decision maker.

You see, the person whom you’ve sent the email to might not necessarily be the one you should be talking to. But they might forward your document to the people it relates to within their company.

By requesting any 2nd to nth visitor to fill in their contact details to see the document you can quickly uncover the people who could say yes to your offer.

And find yourself talking to the real decision maker.


That’s the Power of Tracking Engagement

Email tracking reassures you that messages have reached their destination.

But to truly understand your prospect and know what actions to take to convert them, you need to monitor and understand how they engaged with your offer.

Tracking engagement with sales collateral and other documents lets you work with a detailed information about your prospects’ interests, assess their needs and plan next actions to win the deal.

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