Cold email, Gmail, email

What We Learned From Cold Emailing 175,000 Sales Prospects during COVID-19

Cold emailing is exciting to me right now. It works to drive new business. Even during a pandemic. And you can do it above-board (which is certainly easier in the U.S., outside of California).

What’s “cold emailing”? It means emailing new people for the purposes of letting them raise their hands if they’re interested in your offering. It’s a sales email. 

Done right, most people welcome them, or at worst ignore them. Done wrong, and you can create ill will, get your domain blacklisted, or even be subject to federal or state penalties.

Over the last 6 months, we’ve been involved in dozens of outgoing cold emailing campaigns for 8 clients and for ourselves. We’ve sent roughly 175,000 emails in that time. I’ll give you the stats and insights on that in this post.

And yes, we have done it all in legally compliant ways. If you think of sales emails as “spam”, I’d urge you to educate yourself with this sales email Q&A article.

Can You Sell During a Pandemic?

I may have picked the wrong time to get into sales!

Actually, I’ve been selling services since 2005, but most of that time, I didn’t think of myself as a salesperson, I almost never used cold email for sales prospecting until 2018, and, frankly, the economy sucks right now, so it’s tough out there. This was a tough time to start doing 10-20 sales calls a week.

Many small businesses have lost a lot of business due to the pandemic. If you didn’t go out of business, count yourself lucky. If you are still surviving, what can you do to thrive?

You can do more for your existing customers. Sure, you may be worried, and this has been a time when anxiety and depression have risen. But, to me, the best remedy for worry is taking action. Since March, we’ve taken more aggressive sales action than ever before. 

The smart thing about being involved in prospecting and sales during a time like this is that, in the dozens of sales meetings we’ve had since the pandemic started, we’ve had our ears to the ground. We’ve gained constantly updated insights about markets, budgets, operations, and more from real businesses — insights we couldn’t find anywhere else.

That’s one reason I’ve come to really like sales: In a time where we are more isolated than ever, we’ve been able to reach out remotely with Zoom-based sales calls and talk to more people than ever before. Chatting with business people helps with the isolation, and you also get the intel needed to pivot, not to mention… sales!

Friends Pivot!

How Companies are Pivoting During the Pandemic

If you’re like us and some of our clients, “pivot” has been the name of the game in 2020. How are businesses changing to stay afloat or thrive during COVID?

  • The focus of your offering: The market’s needs have changed, which is one reason we’ve promoted ecommerce and sales prospecting services more — businesses need more new ways to find revenue.
  • Sales and marketing targets: Many people have lost jobs, and those still working are wearing more hats; some entire industries have lost so much revenue that they’ve cut many of their normal investments.
  • Clever offers and pricing: People (and many businesses) have less money, so you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, which is possible without even raising your prices. Offers, deals and discounts have always been a great way in B2C to drive purchase decisions. When those deals have an expiration date, that creates urgency, which is often the key to getting new customers. Some businesses, not wanting to undermine the value perception of their offerings, choose instead to add in more freebies or bonuses or service, without lowering their prices.

The Stats on Cold Emailing Results

We’ve done enough of this to have some stats to pass on so that we can answer questions like:

people head comprised of data ones and zeroes
  • How many emails do we need to send?
  • How many get delivered?
  • How many go to spam?
  • What % of people should open a cold email?
  • What % of people reply?
  • What % can we actually get scheduled for a sales call?
  • What % become customers?

Naturally, all of these numbers can vary with a lot of factors, such as:

  • How big is your market?
  • How many customers do you need?
  • How good is your targeting (list sourcing)?
  • How good is your email messaging?
  • Is there a product-market fit?
  • How good are you at follow-up?
  • How effective is your sales pitch?

Have a Look At the Numbers

For one client, initially, we sent 76,000 emails, but in the first phase, we had to test a lot of messaging and the client also was pivoting, trying to figure out product-market fit, and testing out multiple offerings. A number of those campaigns taught us that certain campaigns and offers were not interesting enough to get a response. 

Overall, we got 136 positive leads out of 353 leads, from 76,000 sent emails, and that yielded 26 scheduled meetings. At that rate you have to send 3,000 emails to get one meeting. But that success rate includes all of our early flailing around to find product-market fit. 

When we really found our stride with messaging and a little college trick, we got 24 of those 26 meetings, and 328 of the 353 leads. Using that strategy, we sent 27,000 emails, and that means we only had to send about 1,000 emails to get a scheduled meeting. Some of my newer emails are doing even better than that.

Deliverability and Open Rates

One big consideration in cold emailing success is deliverability. 

Most warm-email providers — like AWeber, Constant Contact and Mailchimp — won’t let you send to cold lists at all.

To send cold emails to purchased lists, you basically have two options:

  1. “Slow-Burn”: You can send slower using platforms like Google and Outlook, and get higher delivery rates. One account might send 1,000 – 3,000 emails in a month. However, your open rates can be 20-60%, so you get, say, 600 email opens from that.
  2. “Fast-Churn”: You can send faster with more mass email-oriented platforms, but you often get lower delivery rates. You might send 30,000 emails in a month, but only get 2-8% open rates, so you get 1,500 opens. In my experience, to get appointments, you have to send about 3x as many emails with fast-churn to get the same number of appointments you get from slow-burn.

Yes, overall, fast-churn gets you more opens; however you’ll deliver to a much lower % of your list, so you end up wasting a lot of contacts. One thing you can do is combine the two methods, and do both.

The Quality of Your Email Lists

You can’t succeed at cold emailing with bad info, outdated info, or incomplete info. Some databases don’t have much info, and some of them are not 100% compliant with state and federal regulations. 

You need things like company name, job title, and more if you want to personalize your emails. And in a world of spammy sales emails, personalization is critical

If you do personalization well, you won’t just get responses — you’ll get responses where people thank you for personalizing, and feel bad if they can’t work with you.

But if you don’t have accurate, up-to-date personal info in your contact lists, you can’t do it.

Email and first name are not enough. That’s expected. That won’t make you stand out. You need more, and you need a list provider that has it.

Additionally, you need one that has fresh data. Not data from a year ago. Data from today, yesterday, or at worst a month ago. Keep in mind that 2020 has seen a ton of layoffs, so there are a lot of people who are no longer at the same company. Or may be unemployed.

My recommendation for a list provider is Brothers Data. They have all of that, and very competitive pricing. We do everything with their data.

And Now…

There are many more tips for succeeding with cold emailing, but those are a few to get you started.

If you need help with your lists or email sends, or just can’t keep up with it yourself, reach out and contact us!

Why Sending Cold Emails For New Business Actually Works

Not many things are more controversial in the marketing world than cold email.

"You mean SPAM?!"

“You mean SPAM?!”

No, actually, we have laws like CAN-SPAM, CCPA, CASL and GDPR that are very specific about when and where and how you can email new contacts without it being spam or illegal. In most of the U.S., you can email anyone as long as you include a street address and an unsubscribe option.

"But have they opted in?"

“But have they opted in?”

Right, if it’s an opt-in list, those are people you’ve already done some marketing to (even if they just viewed your website), so that’s not a cold list. Those aren’t net new contacts. And opt-in is not required by law everywhere for every purpose. Including an opt-out method is all you need to do for this in most of the U.S.

"But isn't it just wrong to send email to people who haven't opted in?"

“But isn’t it just wrong to send email to people who haven’t opted in?”

Well, morality is a bigger question… but if it’s not wrong to show ads to people who didn’t ask for ads, then cold emailing isn’t any different. If you do believe advertising is wrong, well, you’re in the minority of business people, and most successful businesses do some kind of advertising somewhere. Some companies rely on door-to-door sales, and you don’t get to opt-in before they knock on your door.

"But don't people just ignore spam anyway?"

“But don’t people just ignore spam anyway?”

Well, again, spam is really just two things: illegal email, and/or email that your email server thinks is spam. Let’s just call it unrequested email. We call a lot of snail mail “junk mail,” but it’s suddenly not junk mail if you decide to use the pizza delivery discount your mailbox got “spammed” with, is it? And this is the most important point:

It’s not spam if it has value to the receiver.

"WHAT?! How can SPAM be valuable?"

“WHAT?! How can SPAM be valuable?”

As in the pizza coupon example, if I send you info about a problem you need solved, and you reply and we get it fixed, then I’ve created value. We’re more likely to call it “spam” if we receive something irrelevant to us. So again, as in much of marketing, relevance is key, and creating value is how we prove relevance.

"How do you write relevant cold emails?"

“How do you write relevant cold emails?”

As with all marketing, you start with the targeting- who fits what you offer, and what are the problems you solve? The more accurately you can target those people, and the more compelling your value message is, the more response you’ll get, and you can do so well that you don’t get ANY spam reports. We have cold email campaigns for ourselves and clients that are getting 44-75% open rates due to high degrees of targeting and deliverability, plus really compelling messaging. Most companies don’t do that well with their warm, opt-in emails.

"But does it really work?"

“But does it really work?”

One company we worked with during COVID-19 got 353 leads (responses to cold emails), setting over 150 sales appointments and capturing 3 new sales. I’m certain we would have had many more sales in normal times, but unfortunately COVID really slashed most people’s budgets. Point being, this process does work very well, and even in difficult times.

"How do you get it to work so well?"

“How do you get it to work so well?”

I can’t reveal all our strategies and tactics here, because we need to keep a competitive advantage! But the keys are targeting (quality list acquisition), ensuring high levels of deliverability, and staying in the inbox (of course staying out of the spam box, but also staying out of Gmail’s categories like updates, social, and promotions. Your cold emails are wasted if most people don’t see them.

And then there are the messaging strategies- most people aren’t great at getting a response with their marketing, and cold emails are even more difficult. Not only “why should I open this?” but also, “who the heck are you?” and “why should I care?” If people’s response to your cold email is, “Not opening that- looks like spam!” or “Some rando salesperson with a lame message not relevant to me,” then you’re not going to get any traction with them.

"Don't some salespeople send cold emails all the time?"

“Don’t some salespeople send cold email all the time?”

Typically, salespeople write bad emails that don’t work. Getting sales appointments is a marketing job and salespeople usually suck at marketing. But salespeople THINK they’re great at marketing. If that’s true why do they have so much trouble getting leads?

Sales and marketing go together like PB&J. We understand sales (because we do it, too), but we’re brilliant at marketing. We’ll get you the leads. You close them. But don’t make us send some salesperson’s crappy emails, because they won’t work.

And most of the decision-makers in sales know about these problems.

"So how do you acquire good emails?"

“So how do you acquire good emails?”

Hopefully it’s not by scraping or guessing! A lot of services out there do scrape, but not everyone’s email is online, obviously, so that won’t work very well, or in every industry, or for every job title. 

Or they guess people’s emails by knowing what formula a company uses for its email addresses. But this isn’t the best way. 

Having a good email database requires a lot of data input, and it needs to be updated regularly, especially in a time like COVID-19 where many people are changing jobs or being fired or furloughed. So, it’s best to get your emails from a really big source, a company that mainly does that, because it’s a big effort with lots of government compliance issues to consider. We work with a partner, Brothers Data, with a database of over 140 million people just in the U.S. 

“How do you maximize deliverability?”

“How do you maximize deliverability?”

There are some key things to avoid doing, like sending way too many cold emails at once from a new account, sending lots of emails to low quality email lists, not validating emails ahead of time, certain keywords you need to avoid putting in your messaging, and of course, sending boring, long, hard to read, or irrelevant emails that people will get annoyed with and mark as spam. 

There are more than blacklists out there you want to avoid getting put on – there’s also sender reputation on various servers. Big email-sending providers like Gmail and Outlook pool all their info together to prevent spam and phishing. If you do it wrong, your email account will get shut down, or, at best, everything you send will go into spam mailboxes that no one reads.

So you can maximize deliverability with good email lists, good sending practices, and good messaging. Again, we have some campaigns where emails are opened at over 70% open rates, and that’s partly because we maintain great deliverability. Without deliverability, you won’t get opens, because people won’t even see the emails.

“Wow, Brian, how can we hire you to do all this?”

“Wow, Brian, how can we hire you to do all this?”

Just reach out.

Here’s Why Your Sales Emails and LinkedIn Messages Aren’t Working

Your sales emails and LinkedIn messages suck.

They’re annoying.

They make me want to mark you as spam, not talk to you.

You probably think it’s a numbers game.

And you’re right: as long as you think it’s a numbers game, that gives you an excuse to suck at it, and your numbers will be super low.

And if you treat everyone you email or message the same, and if you don’t get interested in how to get a better response from people:

  • Your numbers will continue to suck.
  • You will give yourself and your company a bad name.
  • You will feel like you’re doing something positive by taking action, but you’re actually having a negative effect.

If you have a PR department or branding people that are trying to give your company a good image, they probably hate that you’re giving your company a bad image with these spammy emails.

If you’re a salesperson, you may think marketing is stupid. That’s just something that lame, introverted, nerdy people do, right?

That attitude shows in spammy emails, because they lack any marketing sense at all.

The first thing a marketer does is give a crap about the audience.

“Hmm, what does the recipient care about?”

This is clearly not your concern when you write spammy emails and InMails.

All you care about is getting a phone call or demo scheduled.

That’s what YOU want.

BUT the prospects you’re writing don’t care what YOU want.

Prospects care about what THEY want.

You aren’t helping them care by writing in a compelling way.

And that’s why they’re marking you as spam and ignoring you.

They’re saying bad things about your company and your entire profession sucking and you don’t even know it.

They wish you cared, because they probably have problems you could solve.

But they aren’t understanding that you could really help, because you aren’t talking to them in a compelling way.

You only care about your numbers and your numbers game, and you’re not communicating well.

You would still do cold calls if they worked. But they don’t work. Do YOU like robocalls? Probably not. They don’t work.

Neither does this spammy, selfish email approach.

Stop bothering people, and start caring about them, and you’ll get a better response.

If this did penetrate your skull at all, then what you need to do next is read 5 or 10 books on copywriting.

Copywriting is the more than 90 year old marketing discipline of figuring out how to write in a way that get people to take action- actions like saying yes to a phone call or demo.

Your emails are copywriting, whether you realize it or not.

It’s just that you are not a trained copywriter, so your emails suck.

Get some training.

You will learn some fundamental mindset shifts.

You will learn to think about your writing from the reader’s perspective.

And people will start responding.

You will get more appointments and sales.

And fewer people will think you suck.

Do it.

Oh, and if you’re not a spammy salesperson, but you agree with this article, share it with those annoying salespeople that bother you. Send it to the next salesperson who spams you via email or LinkedIn. It just might help them out- and prevent the next victim from getting spammed, too!

UPDATE: Some readers asked me, “So which copywriting books do you recommend?”

I first studied copywriting 14 years ago, so I’m sure there are a lot of great new copywriting books beyond what I read… If I were starting now I would go to amazon, search for copywriting, and check out the reviews. The ones I recall liking the most were Scientific Advertising, Confessions of an Advertising Man, Tested Advertising Methods, Words That Sell, Phrases That Sell. Some of those are older (like 1930’s or 1960’s or 1980’s older) so you may need to ignore or update some of their phrases.

But my best source these days for continuing to learn copywriting is applying my own system, plus the feedback I get from the advertising and landing page metrics.

This blog post describes some of the copywriting principles I’ve developed

and this is a mega blog post of copywriting formulas you might find helpful.