Email marketing is a bit art–and a bit more science. You might spend hours agonizing over the sharpest verb to use in a subject line. You also might spend hours poring over reams of data. But at the end of the day (whether you’re a wordsmith or a numbers guru), you’re most likely obsessed with two questions:
- Are enough people reading our marketing emails?
- Are enough people taking the desired action?
But, what does “enough” really mean? As a B2B manufacturer, you operate in a niche space; You aren’t targeting millions of contacts like an eCommerce behemoth. You don’t need 10,000 opens. You might be looking for a dozen–but those dozen need to be decision-makers.
“Enough,” then, is a complex answer. One click might be enough when it leads to a six-figure contract. That means you can’t rely on standard B2C email marketing benchmarks. You need a scalpel, not a shovel.
With that in mind, there are two key data points you will need to track:
Email Open Rate: Exactly what it sounds like—the number of people who presumably (more on that later) have opened your email.
Email Click-Thru Rate: A stronger indication of engagement, which measures the number of people who have actually clicked a link inside the body of the email.
Both indicate different behaviors, have different values, and vary in accuracy.
Because Altitude serves dozens of B2B manufacturing clients, we send and analyze emails every day. That means we can define what “enough” means for manufacturers. Let’s take a closer look.
In B2B Manufacturing, What is a Good Email Open Rate?
You don’t need a lot of people to read your email–you need the right people to. A 60% open rate is meaningless if you aren’t moving leads down the sales funnel. Still, open rates are a starting point–an initial KPI that can indicate a few successes or potential problems with both your email content and its technical guts.
We analyzed a year’s worth of email data from three of our B2B manufacturing clients. Our data accounts for 173 campaigns for a total of 673,000 individual sends. Crunch the numbers, and that gives us…
Average Manufacturing B2B Open Rate: 15%
Great. You have a benchmark–something to shoot for in every one of your upcoming sends. Except…
Here’s Why Open Rates Are (Almost) Meaningless
The biggest reason? They’re wildly inaccurate. From the moment you hit “send,” your email leaves the warmth of your Email Service Provider’s servers out into the digital Wild West. The accuracy of your data depends on the generosity of dozens (maybe even hundreds) of different email providers.
And, they’re becoming less generous.
Consumers (and governments) have started demanding more privacy. Just like you wouldn’t want your grocery store to know every time you open your fridge door (be wary of “smart” fridges), email providers are giving users the option–or simply automatically implementing–ways to disguise inbox behavior.
Apple has become the leader in the trend. In 2021, they announced Apple Mail Privacy Protection, a feature that disguises user behavior by “faking” an email open on every send. Let’s say you emailed 10,000 contacts, and 4,000 of them have Apple devices.
Your email open rate might look like it’s 40%. In reality, it could be closer to 0% if all those Apple users opt into MPP. There is no way to gauge whose email provider masks data and who doesn’t. Looking at a single open rate, then, is meaningless.
Still, trends matter. Examining user behavior over a month (or longer) can hold valuable insight. Open rate fluctuation demonstrates content efficacy. But, this information alone should not dictate your strategy.
In B2B Manufacturing, What is a Good Email Click-Thru Rate?
Clicks indicate action. Better yet, they bring your users from their siloed inbox back into your ecosystem. This means, not only can you message them more effectively–you can track them more accurately.
That’s why, when we examine our own clients’ data, we put way more emphasis on the CTR. It shows intent. And proves that our users actually like what we’re sending.
Of the three manufacturing clients that we examined over the course of a year, we found:
Average Manufacturing B2B CTR: 13%*
*This number comes with a blinding red buzzer. Typical CTRs should be roughly a tenth the size of open rates. We have an incredibly skewed dataset because the intent of each campaign varies, wildly. Some emails went to 10,000 individuals with lengthy in-email content (thus a low CTR with little motivation for action). Some went to precision lists with personalized and highly relevant links (achieving more than an 80% CTR). A much better way to look at our data is through the median.
Median Manufacturing CTR: 6%
This is a much cleaner target–one you should aim for in your next tranche of campaigns.
Click-Thru Rates Do Matter (With Some Caveats)
In B2B marketing, you aren’t just sending emails to contacts that use the big 3 domains (Outlook, Gmail, and Apple). You likely have a list full of corporate addresses, each with its own firewalls and data privacy protocols.
In a way, this is a good sign: An @gmail address is far less valuable in our lead pipeline than an @companyname email. But, it does cause some CTR fuzziness. Many corporate inbox systems filter out emails they consider spam by pre-clicking on every link to filter out malicious content. Your data will still show a click, even though it came from a robot.
Fortunately, there are a few practical tactics to filter out bad data and boost engagement.
Focus on Deliverability: You can’t open an email that never arrives. And inbox providers are getting smarter–automatically weeding out spam. To avoid the junk folder, you need to 1) Write content that your users want and 2) Ensure you have a solid, and compliant, technical foundation.
Maintain Quality Contacts: You should conduct regular list cleaning, removing dormant accounts at least once a year. This won’t just boost open rates and click-thru rates. It tells inbox providers that you are providing useful content.
Optimize Your Delivery Time: Start testing different days and times for your sends. A general rule of thumb for B2B lists–never send on weekends or after 4 p.m. If you have a global audience, see if you can segment your send based on geographic regions.
A/B Test Everything: From subject lines to buttons, most ESPs allow you to send multiple versions to refine and optimize your strategy. Just make sure you only test one element per send.
Use UTM Link Tracking: When a user clicks on a link in your email, they return to an ecosystem you control. Properly using UTM links (read a complete guide here) gives you deep knowledge about their behavior. Combine that with the bounce rate (the percentage of users who leave your site after a single visit), and you will get a reasonably accurate idea of who is a human and who is a robot.
Conclusion: In Email Marketing, Action Matters More than Opens
All the vital information you service from email marketing happens outside your control. You’re relying on third-party companies who no longer have much incentive to give you accurate data. They want to make their users happy–at the expense of your spreadsheets.
That doesn’t mean you should toss out open and click-thru rates. But it does mean they form an incomplete picture. All of your email tactics should drive toward action. You want that user to leave their inbox and join you on your turf–your website. So, emphasize tactics that get them there.
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