Peter Drucker famously coined the phrase, “Whatever gets measured gets managed”. This is true in just about everything but is particularly useful in cold outreach campaigns or as part of a cold outbound strategy that uses email as a channel.

As with most sales strategies, there are countless metrics that one can measure to determine the effectiveness of a strategy, but we like to focus on the following metrics to help fuel our decisions and measure the ongoing success of any campaign. We didn’t just suck these metrics from our thumbs, we’ve done the hard work and tested each one and we’re certain that they’re the metrics that matter in cold outreach through email. We are going to focus on the following key metrics:

  • Open Rate
  • Reply Rate
  • Reply Time

Before we dive in, we need to frame the conversation around the two types of sending environments that are optimal for cold outreach. We need to discuss high sending environments and low sending environments. I am sure you gathered from the names, but just to be clear, if you are sending more than 70 emails a day it’s a high sending environment and anything less than that is a low sending environment. Each environment has its pros and cons and striking the balance between them is vital for success. At FueltoFly, we use both types of environments to enhance the return of our cold outreach campaigns and so it’s important to understand each one and how they impact results. 

Another important thing to mention at the outset is that these metrics are fluid. We can measure against industry benchmarks to keep our campaigns moving in the right direction, but it is important to not paint all campaigns with the same metrics brush. Other factors, like industry, company size and quality of prospecting play a role in how well a campaign performs. Sales teams need to be cognisant of this and manage their expectations accordingly. The true essence of a data driven approach is that you are tracking the correct metric and using it to inform your decisions, it’s not the exact numbers themselves. 

We are going to focus on the metrics that matter in a high sending environment in this article, as this is what most companies look to do when starting with cold outreach.


Open Rate – the foundational metric 


You can’t talk about metrics in email without starting with the foundational metric, the open rate. If no one is opening your emails you are not getting your message to the right people, simple as that. So naturally, a higher open rate gives a higher possibility of starting a conversation with a prospect, which is the ultimate goal. A good open rate for a high sending environment is between 25% and 40%. There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at an open rate, we are going to look at the ones we know make the biggest impact on your campaigns.


Email Authentication

This is one of the least understood factors that contribute to open rates, but one of the most important things to get right when sending cold outreach campaigns. Essentially, the email authentication protocols DKIM, SPF and DMARC are applied to ensure that emails that are sent come from the actual sources they are sent from, and are not forged or faked. In a low sending environment, this sort of authentication is handled by your email provider, like Gmail. In a high sending environment, we need to make sure these measures are correctly implemented to avoid any issues with your email delivery. 


Volume Management

Self control is key when sending a successful cold outreach campaign. You can’t start your campaign by sending 1 500 emails on day one. This is a sure-fire way to ruin your domain’s reputation and head straight to the spam box. It’s best to follow a process of slowly incrementing volumes each day building your domain’s reputation day by day. As an example, we would start a campaign with 25 emails a day, and by day ten we would have incremented up to about 500 emails a day. 


Bounce Rate

The easiest way to improve your open rates is to ensure that all your emails are actually being delivered to the intended people and not being bounced. Emails are bounced for two major reasons, bad data and spam blocking. To counter these causes, we need to consider email verification and domain reputation. 

At FueltoFly, we see email verification as such an important factor that we check it twice. We use two independent tools that help us verify a prospects email address, to ensure that it exists and that emails can be delivered to it. This helps us reduce bounces from bad data. 

Spam blocking prevention is countered by protecting the integrity of the domain. Things like email authentication, volume management and deliverability are key to keeping your campaigns away from the spam filters. We also need to consider the messaging and the copy of each email. We need to avoid prospects actively spam blocking our emails, and this is affected largely by the value given in the initial email and the way the campaign follow up messaging is constructed.  We are constantly looking at these factors to figure out how we can adapt a campaign to prevent spam blocking and to maximize the returns on each sequence.


Opt-out Rates

Legally, you have to ensure that there is an option for a prospect to opt-out of receiving emails from your brand. This metric is the one that hurts the most as people are actively and intentionally declaring that they don’t want to hear from you. If you have a high opt-out rate then you may want to consider the quality of your prospecting and the way your messaging is being delivered. If you are writing copy that is super salesy, or maybe you’ve structured your email campaign in a way that your follow-ups are too aggressive, or your messaging just isn’t resonating with the prospects, it might be time to change tact. Opt-out rate is a good measure to help you decide.


Subject Lines

The subject line is the first thing a prospect sees, it’s obviously important, but it’s the kind of thing to only focus on when you want to take your open rates to the next level, past 40%. A good place to start is to ensure that your subject lines don’t have any spam words in them and that they are as personable as possible. We find that using a first name in the subject line still produces great results, so making sure you do the due diligence in your prospecting is key. 

Keeping your subject lines short is also a good practice, they should be no longer than five words. We find that unassuming subject lines comprised of 3 words generally work best. The important thing to remember is that a data based approach is an iterative process, and so ensuring that you are AB testing your subject lines to find out what works best for each category of prospect will really go a long way to boosting your open rates. 


Reply Rate


The next big metric on our journey is the reply rate. It takes a lot of work to get your prospects to open your emails, so getting a response from a prospect shows that you are on the right track. In a high sending environment, a reply rate of between 1% and 5% is good, At Fuel to Fly we hold ourselves to a reply rate of 2% to 5%, but 5% and upwards is what you should be striving towards. 

Improving your reply rate is all about context. The reply rate is affected by how well your message resonates with that particular prospect category, how your copy is written and and how well the audience as a whole receives cold outreach. These are more qualitative measures and are largely subjective to each campaign, so testing, iterating and analyzing are important to keep driving your reply rate upwards. For example, a 3% reply rate from 5000 emails a week in the HR industry would be a good response, but a 1% reply rate from a similar campaign in eCommerce would also be a good response to the campaign. 

When it comes to reply rate, we find that reply categorization is crucial. It really helps us understand the prospects and what is working and what is not. Enabling us to really hone in on who is opening emails, what subject lines are working and which prospects are more likely to converse with your company. This iterative process is what really sets FueltoFly apart from other companies. We want to categorize our replies per sequence and per prospect category into 4 big buckets. These are, interested, possible interest, not interested and do not contact. 

We find it is important to differentiate between the high intent leads, that book a demo or a meeting, and those who just request additional information or pass us onto a colleague. This is why we have two buckets for interested prospects. The additional layer of “possible interest” really helps us fine tune our campaigns. For example, if we get a reply that shows possible interest, we may pause the campaign for that company and pursue a conversation in a low sending environment with that prospect or similar prospects at that company. 

Each data point tells its own story and managing how you read the metrics is equally as important as the metrics themselves. For example, categorizing a reply as not interested can indicate if the campaign can be redirected to someone else at the company or if the offering is just not a fit for that particular company. These insights are what we are after in a data centric approach. They guide the campaign’s trajectory and keep us on track towards the campaign’s goals and objectives. 


Reply Time


The time it takes your sales team to reply to an email response is a major factor in the conversion rate of that prospect. According to a study conducted by the Kellogg School of Management, prospects are 21 times more likely to become qualified leads if contacted within 5 minutes of them replying to your campaign. What would a 21 times bump in leads do for your overall revenue as a company?

The study also recorded high rates of positive sentiment towards the brand when reply times were within 5 minutes. Leading to better conversations and more willingness to engage with a sales team. This is something your business has complete control over and has the potential to make a significant impact on your bottom line.

We often come across companies that feel that once a prospect has replied once, they are hooked. From the above study, and our own experience we know this is not true. Sales teams don’t always pursue leads as they enter the funnel, leading to a drop in interest from a prospect. Put yourself in their shoes, like most savvy buyers in 2022, you know what you need and you know what problems you are trying to solve. If a solution is presented to you and you respond, you want the company to be on their toes and reply quickly.

Companies often do not see the value in faster reply times and sometimes don’t fully understand their role in the cold outreach process. Having a system in place that tracks these reply times is key to getting the data required to fully understand each campaign. At FueltoFly, we ensure our clients have access to the complete stack of tools required to maximize that data collection and maximize the insights from each sequence.

Metrics are vital to the performance of any campaign and when it comes to cold outreach via email we hope we have given you some insight into what we consider to be the metrics that matter. Remembering that the goal is not always to hit a specific number, but to use the data collected to inform your decision making process. Open rate is a massive metric to follow and is influenced by a number of different factors. Your reply rate gives you an indication of who is engaging with your message and how to hone in on your ideal customers. The time it takes for your team to respond also plays a vital role in your campaigns success and is something we encourage all sales teams to track and to invest in.