This is a tactical guide to help you track email responses in Marketo. Our friends at Etumos helped a ton. You can also watch the 6-minute video version :).

Why'd we write this?

Because more B2B marketers are sending conversational email - human, plain-text, conversational messaging that invite replies.

And those marketers started asking: How do I track replies for a specific program in Marketo?

Conversational Email Template

When your email goes conversational, there are new MOPs processes to consider.

In this guide we'll give our definition of conversation email, highlight the MOPs challenges, and then dive into the technical Marketo program configuration. Once you have the template, you can quickly replicate for all your conversational email programs.

What is Conversational Email & Why Track Replies?

We all know nurture emails.

Typical nurture email is about engagement through content, clicks, and form fills.

Conversational email is about engagement by through replies and conversations.

The traditional email CTA is "click here."

The conversational email CTA is "just reply." Taking out any barriers or hoops for the reader to engage.

Here's how we break it down:

Conversational email vs Nurture Email

So conversational email is specifically geared to drive a response... an email reply... a thread.. a conversation.

With these campaigns, there's a natural hand-off to sales. Marketing sends a 1-to-many conversation starter. Sales continues 1-to-1 with people who reply.

The idea is NOT to fool your recipient or disguise automation.

The idea is make your automation more human and conversational.

This tells your audience that they can engage on their terms. It says "just reply and we'll talk more. Don't worry, we're not going to put you through a bunch of hoops."

Buyers like it because they are treated like humans rather than database records.

And sales reps like it because it's a warm hand-off.

Everybody wins.

That's why conversational email is a growing trend in B2B. 35% of the Cloud 100 are already sending from a human alias, 22% of their emails are already in plain-text.

The MOPs Problem with Conversational Email

Standard email programs can't track email replies out of the box. In general, Marketo (and other systems) are built around clicks, forms, cookies, and events. Email replies aren't in the picture. In fact, most of these platforms don't receive any email.

Email Metrics

Since there is no native tracking or logic for replies, this causes two problems:

  1. Attribution & Reporting: You can't measure responses as success in a program.
  2. Automation: You can't stop/remove contacts from a program based on a "replied" status.

The Solution

By using Siftrock to manage your email replies, you will be able to receive and route all the responses back to your sales team.

You can then configure Siftrock to sync email response meta data to Marketo.

Based on the Siftrock data, Marketo progression statuses can be used to tag contacts as "Replied" in a specific program. You can then use those statuses to remove people from programs, attribute campaign success, and trigger additional automation steps.

Marketo Email Reply Management and Tracking

NOTE: In the solution described here, we're defining a process for real human responses. You would follow a different process for handling auto-replies - e.g. left company, out of office, and others. In addition, this solution does not cover human replies that are unsubscribe requests which Siftrock also separates.

Technical Details: How to Configure Reply Tracking Program Statuses in Marketo

We're going to walk through the following 6 steps. If you are familiar with Marketo programs, this can be completed in the time it takes to finish your AM coffee.

  1. Custom fields for reply data.
  2. Program channel tag for conversational email.
  3. Routing for human replies.
  4. Tracking for Human replies.
  5. Smart Campaign within program to set "Replied" status.
  6. Smart List to exclude people from subsequent emails.

You'll bounce between Marketo and Siftrock to complete these steps.

Marketo Reply Tracking Configuration Guide

(Click the image for PDF of this cheat sheet)

For the sake of this example, you have a research study called "2018 State of the Cloud Report." And you have an engagement program configured to send a series of conversational emails to people who download the report.

In Marketo: Custom Fields and Channel Tag

The first step to get up and running will be to set up custom fields and a new channel in Marketo.

1.) Custom Fields - Reply Metadata.

You will create two custom fields for reply data. You'll later use these fields to capture information from Siftrock and drive automation in Marketo.

Siftrock Subject (field type: string). This is the subject line captured from the human reply. This field should be mapped to Siftrock's "Email subject" field. You could also call this field "Last Email Reply Subject."

Last Siftrock Reply (field type: datetime) This is for tracking the date that the contact replied. This field should be mapped to Siftrock's "Date of the Reply" field. You could also call this field "Last Reply Date."

2.) Program Channel Tag - Progression Status for Replied.

This is for something like "Conversational Email" or "AutoXDR" which is a program that has human emails going out to prospects trying to drive replied.

In your channel, you'll need the following progression statuses:

  • Member
  • Delivered
  • Clicked
  • Replied

Channel Tag for Conversational Email

You'll notice that we've added a 4th progression status called "Replied." This status step is key to reply tracking. Here's our example channel:

In Siftrock: Route & Track Skill

In Siftrock, you'll need to set up routing for your human replies, as well as tracking to Marketo. First, you'll want to decide which emails to send through your skill. For this use case, the human reply type is most important. See our initial setup of the skill here:

3.) Routing for Human Replies - Send to Reps

You'll want to decide how to route your replies. Most likely you'll want to route positive human replies to someone on your sales team. This can be a generic sales@alias, a slack group, or Siftrock can route to the correct lead owner. For more information on these options, check out our help guide on route and track here. In our example, we're sending along the human replies directly to lead owners.

Route Email Replies

4.) Tracking for Human Replies - Sync Reply Data to Marketo

Once you've set up your routing, you'll also need to set up tracking back to Marketo. Here, you can map over fields that will trigger updates in Marketo as well as give context on the contacts who replied. The most important field to map is the "Email Subject" field found under Siftrock fields, you can map this to the custom field "Siftrock Subject"

In our example, we're also mapping the "Date of the Reply" Siftrock field to a custom field in Marketo called "Last Siftrock Reply" With that, you also have the context of the date the reply came through.

Track Email Replies

Once you've completed your route and track skill, you'll just need to switch it to "on" in your skills list. Then you're ready to go on the Siftrock side!

In Marketo: Taking Action on "Replied" Status & Data

Once you've set up routing and tracking in Siftrock, you can set up a smart campaign to set contacts status once they've replied.

5.) Smart Campaign - Define Logic for Replied Status

In your smart campaign, you need to set up the Smart List and Flow to capture customers who reply.

Smart List. In your smart list, set a trigger for when the "Siftrock Subject" attribute changes and set the value to contain the literal subject line of your email. In our example, we include the entire subject line to be sure that we only capture contacts who reply to this specific email.

Smart List to Track Email Replies

Flow. In your flow, change the program status for the identified contacts to replied, and also add those contacts to the list you set up. In our example, we call our program "State of the Cloud Follow Up" set the status to Conversational Email > Replied, and add them to the list State of the Cloud Follow Up - May 20.Replied. In this case, the static list is optional, but can be set-up to help with reporting and history. If you use a static list, you will create that prior to setting up the Flow.

Program Flow to Track Email Replies

6.) Smart List - Exclude from Subsequent Emails

In order to create a seamless experience for your audience, you'll need to remove people who replied from additional automated communication once sales has taken the conversation live. Doing this ensures that you don't keep sending your email series to contacts who have already responded and started a conversation.

To remove those people, set up a smart list in your next program to exclude contacts who have a program status of "Replied." See our example below:

Smart List to Track Email Replies

In the image above filter one contains the target audience for ongoing emails via this campaign and filter two excludes replied program members from receiving subsequent sends. It's also possible to use a static exclusion list, containing members who have previously replied.

And there you have it! Siftrock + Marketo can automatically filter out contacts that replied and set those contacts as replied.

Other Technical Considerations in Marketo

  • You'll have to manually make sure that your progression status is watching for that subject line. That will require change every time for the program. Unfortunately there isn't a good way to scale that with tokens, but hopefully it shouldn't be too much work overall.
  • This approach works with static subject lines when you're sending, but needs some massaging if you have lead tokens in the subject line. Things like "Hey {{lead.First Name:default=there}}" are going to be hard to track with this methodology. You can add additional constraints if you're getting the sender message and the sender message content into fields, and that would be your next step. For the sake of simplicity, let's just start with subject line tracking in this case.
  • This approach treats subject lines as the unique identifier for the original email. That means that you can't have multiple emails going out with the same subject line without further filters. Generally, this shouldn't be a problem. I wouldn't recommend that you track replies to Operational Auto-Response emails, or if you do you'll need to customize the subject line so that each subject line is only used in one email. That would be possible as long as your Auto-Responses are dynamic in the right ways, and not just "Thanks."
  • Be careful with the pithy short "hey" type subject lines, because what you'll be doing is setting up progression statuses watching for a "contains" thereâ€"if you have one email going out watching for someone to reply to a subject line that contains "hey", you'll also catch emails that say "hey stranger." For capturing responses to emails with short subject lines, you can constrain the activity trigger to only look for a subject line value within a short window of time after the send. You can use the "Last Reply Date" custom field as a second parameter in these cases.
  • Not only should you have progression statuses on these programs for "Replied," but these statuses should sync with your SFDC Campaigns. That way, you can get some useful out-of-the-box reporting on campaign influence in SFDC and prove that your conversational email campaigns are bringing value. This will also be critical if you use Bizible for full-funnel attribution.


Conversational email is a growing trend in B2B. And for good reason. Buyers like being treated like humans. They want to engage on their terms. And they expect every channel to be a 2-way conversation rather than a 1-way blast.

This approach also helps find real engagement and intent within your lead database. What better signal that a person clicking reply and asking a question?!

But changes in the engagement model can also be a headache for MOPs. We have tools and systems designed for one model - the traditional nurture approach. So as the model evolves new tools and approaches are needed.

Our hats off to the MOPs leaders who embrace these shifts and set the new standards.

We hope this guide helps you operationalize conversational email so your team can take advantage of this opportunity.

Adam Schoenfeld
Adam Schoenfeld
Adam is CEO and Co-Founder at Siftrock, data geek, golfer, and breakfast enthusiast. He is passionate about data, marketing, and creating simple solutions to big business problems.
Published Monday, June 11th 2018