Product Emails Need a Focused Team

I recently talked with the teams at a couple SaaS businesses who are responsible for the notifications and other emails their products send. It was eye-opening to hear how they think about the infrastructure and business requirements for app-generated email.

Naturally, many aspects of the approaches they’re taking are specific to their particular apps. But one issue they shared was an understanding of the key roles on their product email team. They identified a core group of responsibilities for getting welcome and onboarding messages, user invites, activity notifications, and account management and security alerts specified, implemented, and delivered.

Your Product Email Team’s Starting Lineup

Here’s what that “email dream team” for SaaS products looks like.

  • Product Manager. Even a dream team of all-stars needs a captain. The product manager defines the requirements for a product email team for a very simple reason: the most successful SaaS businesses treat email notifications as a core product feature. For large SaaS platforms, it’s even likely that the product manager’s entire focus may be on developing an app notification service that includes email along with other channels such as SMS or push.
  • Technical Lead. In the most effective product email teams, the technical lead works the product manager to design and build the technical foundation for triggering, generating, and processing data for email notifications. This architect will work a team of developers to implement the framework and functionality needed for product emails. As such, she or he’s responsible for ensuring that issues like reliability and scalability of product emails are addressed.
  • Growth or Product Marketer. Working hand-in-hand with a product leader, these marketers should lead the messaging, design, and cadence of app emails—as well as work with the rich data these emails generate. In many ways, understanding how to drive user action by connecting the content of product emails to the app’s value proposition is the ultimate distillation of their core business responsibility.

Like the classic three-legged stool, these three roles are necessary to support email notifications in just about any SaaS app. The good news is that these roles already make up the core of your product team.

The Product Email Team’s Bench Players

In combination with a cloud email delivery/infrastructure-as-a-service provider that handles the backend message generation, delivery, and data, these leads might actually be all you need. But if your business still operates its own infrastructure, the email team also needs to include some specialized “postmaster” roles that can be challenging to fill.

  • Infrastructure Admin/Ops/Security. The real and opportunity costs required to administer systems in a data center are well understood today. Email servers are especially susceptible to scalability, security, and downtime challenges—even more so when dealing with the performance characteristics needed for product email notifications. It’s important that a product email team understand the trade-offs between managing this themselves vs. relying on an email API.
  • Deliverability Manager. To be honest, email deliverability is a role most product teams are surprised to learn they need. After all, it’s natural to assume that email “just works” once it’s sent. But the reality is that getting messages to the inbox is surprisingly complex. (In fact, recent figures say 28% of all email is undelivered or lost in the spam folder.) Really experienced email deliverability managers are hard to find, but that expertise can make a huge difference for notifications strategy. Having it delivers a lot of value (and peace of mind).

One thing that stands out about this product email team is how much more cross-functional it is than most email marketing groups. But that makes sense—notifications and other app emails serve a different business need and have a completely different technical architecture than classic campaign-based email marketing.

In fact, I was struck that this email dream team looks a lot like the growth teams that have driven social networks and other big B2C platforms. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, when you consider how product emails affect user engagement, conversion, and retention—the key factors that drive growth.

Nearly every SaaS product sends email—does yours? If you’re on a SaaS product team, I’d love to hear how you handle these needs and roles. Ping me on Twitter or leave a comment below. I’d love to chat.


See how @Zillow grew their email engagement by 161% w/ @SparkPost & @Iterable Click to Tweet
If it’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two years by working at SparkPost, it’s that there’s a clear difference between ‘delivered’ and ‘deliverability’ when talking about email. An email that’s delivered simply means an accepted transmission by the ISP has occurred. However, when measuring true email deliverability, we’re talking about measuring the success of getting into the Inbox vs. the spam/junk folder.

Email deliverability is a very important part of the equation for growth marketers wanting to crack the nut on email marketing. However, it’s not everything. Metrics such as open, click-to-open, and forwards are also important. Why? Because an engaged user is an ambassador for your brand. When we recently sat down with our customer, Zillow, they expressed interest in improving user engagement in their email marketing. Through regular conversations with their Technical Account Manager (TAM), we suggested they speak to our partner, Iterable. Iterable has been able to guide them in achieving better segmentation and increased open and click-to-open rates by 161% and 18%, respectively. Being able to test, scale, and nurture customers in real-time is essential to growth for Zillow and all companies.

In our recorded webinar , Beyond the Click: Essential Email Metrics that Drive User Engagement, please join us, Iterable and Zillow as we discuss Zillow’s unique approach to email.

In this upcoming webinar we’ll talk with Zillow to learn:

  • How deliverability helps increase user engagement
  • The approach Zillow took to increase their open rate by 161% and their click-to-open by 18%
  • Which email metrics to measure to boost your ROI
  • Why Zillow is able to make quick decisions based on real-time data

Get the recorded webcast today for Beyond the Click: Essential Email Metrics that Drive User Engagement.

In the meantime, you can read Iterable’s guest blog on how growth marketing can help increase user engagement by improving three email metrics.

~ Tracy Sestili
VP, Growth Marketing

9 Things ISPs Really Want Email Marketers to Know

Every individual of an organization is responsible for its growth, from the email marketer who creates the campaigns to the engineer who manages the systems that send them. The popularity of “growth marketing” strategy illustrates this desire to accelerate business, but what is growth marketing and how can it be applied to improve email performance?

Having a growth mindset, rather than one that is fixed, means understanding that it is always possible to better understand your customers. People’s preferences are not set in stone, so it’s critical to possess a spirit of self-improvement around your tools and tactics.

In essence, growth marketing is all about coordinating all the channels at your disposal to increase user engagement, and email has been proven time and again to be the best digital channel for ROI.

Much of what is discussed in business is user acquisition, the strategy of gaining new members of your audience. But once an email address has been obtained, it’s up to you to keep users interested.

User Engagement Benchmarks growth marketing

Regardless of your role, you can practice growth marketing by improving these three metrics to increase user engagement.

  1. Open Rate – Obviously, emails can’t be opened if they’re delivered to the wrong place. Technical operations teams and email marketers alike understand that deliverability isn’t just about email acceptance, but also about the right inbox placement. Get started on the right foot with customers by ensuring that your content doesn’t land in the promotions tab, or worse, in the spam folder.
  2. Click-to-Open Rate (CTO) – Unlike click-through rate, which measures the total times a link was clicked, CTO more effectively determines user engagement by only calculating the number of clicks from opened emails. According to industry benchmarks, email pros should expect a 25-40 percent click-to-open rate.
  3. Unsubscribe Rate – Though few of us enjoy seeing unsubscribes to our emails, they do serve as a sort of “tough love” that helps improve overall list quality, as well as a learning opportunity for fine-tuning content. Setting up an email preference center is the key to reducing your unsubscribe rate, which should not exceed 0.4 percent.

These metrics are key to understanding how to communicate with your users, but there are many more that must be considered.

Find out how to implement high-performing campaigns in The Growth Marketer’s Guide to Email Metrics, co-produced by SparkPost and Iterable.

Want to know how Iterable and SparkPost work together to support the email marketing needs of B2C companies? Visit to learn more or reach out to us to request a demo. We look forward to hearing from you!


—Alyssa Jarrett, Content Marketing Manager at Iterable

Alyssa Jarrett, Iterable

Zillions Guide Blog Footer


Iterable SparkPost Partnership Announcement

Why We’re Partnering with Iterable to Deliver Growth Marketing

I’m certainly not the first to say that the digitization of information has proven to be the most powerful development of our age. It’s revolutionized our lives. It’s changed the way we do business. And it’s advancing faster than many of us realize.

One really significant example of this impact of data is the increasing prominence of “growth marketing.” Growth marketing is one of those ideas that’s come at just the right time, when business needs and technology capabilities align to make an idea really take off. It’s all about using the exponential increase in data in our marketing tools to shape how our customers and prospects interact with our businesses—both to increase the value to our business and to improve our customers’ experience.

Marketers are helping increase profit margins by using data science to understand customers at increasingly intimate levels—who they are, what they want, and what they might do next. With that intel, companies are engaging customers with messages that are scientifically targeted to motivate customer movement through the funnel—and increase their own competitiveness.

While this sort of data-driven capability traditionally has required complex systems and a team of data scientists to really execute, a new generation of tools is making the core methods of growth marketing accessible to the rest of us. That’s a remarkable change, and it’s one of the reasons our team at SparkPost is really excited about our new partnership with Iterable, whose next-generation Growth Marketing Platform is gaining industry recognition in its own right.

In his announcement about working with Iterable, SparkPost’s CEO, Phillip Merrick, said, “We are happy to announce this best-of-breed offering to our customers. This combination of SparkPost’s high-performing cloud email service with the front-end growth marketing capabilities of Iterable provides customers with the ability to rapidly improve customer engagement through faster iterations of data-driven marketing campaigns.”

Phillip’s right. We’re really excited about this. The prebuilt, out-of-the-box email and data integration between our services let our joint customers take advantage of SparkPost’s strengths—like our email performance and rich analytics—and Iterable’s flexibility and ease of use to make a data-driven, growth marketing strategy reality. To put it another way: this combination makes it easy for email marketers to hit the ground running and be successful with growth marketing. Quickly.

Some other partnership advantages we are proud to be delivering to our customers include:

  • Less drain on development
  • Powerful multi-channel tools
  • The ability to rapidly improve customer engagement
  • Increased efficiency of data-driven marketing campaigns

I also want to say that not only is this a powerful combined toolset, but it just might be a lot fun to use! I personally was really impressed when I saw the way our tools worked together to use Iterable to define triggered emails as part of a growth campaign, for example.

By the way, SparkPost and Iterable recently shared some advice for turbo-charging growth marketing in a recent webinar together—it’s definitely worth checking out. And if you’d like to learn more about the partnership, you can read the entire press release here.