Let's face it, all those sales emails you get can really get annoying. So annoying, that many founders shy away from reading email. But, when emails are done right, they can be super effective and help you get the traction you need.
First Of All: Remember This: Friends Don't Let Friends Do Cold Email Wrong
Cold-emails are ALL ABOUT STARTING A CONVERSATION.
What Should I Expect?
The following post will:
- Outline the strategy to follow at a high-level
- Provide step-by-step tactical tactical instructions
- Surgical Segmentation
- Creative Conversation Starters
- Subject Line Optimization
- Physical Mail Outreach
First, Let's Discuss The Strategy
Use Emails For These Six Purposes:
- Finding FIRST CUSTOMERS
- Connecting with INFLUENCERS
- Building relations with PARTNERS
- Sharing a story with the PRESS
- Finding new INVESTORS
- Ramping up SALES
None of this matters if you don't write good emails.
"Good Email" Vs "Bad Email"
The biggest challenge to emails is crafting messages that people actually reply to.
Let's Think About What Makes A "Bad Email"
Bad Emails Are:
1. Too sales-y
2. Have generic messaging
3. Don't drive the reader to reply
Good Emails Are:
2. Has Context
3. Brief, Structured
4. Ends with a question
Good emails are conversational (thus they end with a question, the same way you'd start a conversation in real-life). They have solid information architecture, so the email is scannable and easy to digest. They have rich context that is relevant to the recipient. Most importantly, they have a very distinct and clear value prop (i.e., NOT “We should just shoot the sh*t because we’re clearly both rockstars bro!”).
Making emails relevant is a formula.
I learned this from the team at ProLeads (500 Startups B12), who have an entire business based around this concept. You have to have both a contextual statement followed by a deductive statement.
Imagine that I’m the girl in the purple shirt and that I’ve just invented a new charging dongle to help ease all the Apple confusion earlier this year. I read an article by an influential blogger, Roger, about this same problem and I’d like Roger to cover my new Dongle.
This is how I’d craft the initial part of my cold email:
The blue box is the "contextual statement” - giving relevance to why I’m writing
The purple box is the “deductive statement” - proving that I’m real and have a purpose tied to that relevance
But this can’t be scalable? WTF? Do you have to write each email manually.
NO NO NO. Of course not. If you have a budget, you can use automation tools or you can format your lists with these fields. Of course it takes a little more manual attention, but it’s well worth it.
IN MY EXPERIENCE, COLD EMAILS THAT USE THIS FOMULA HAVE A 2X REPLY RATE COMPARED TO THOSE EMAIL THAT DO NOT.
Remember at the beginning how I said “starting a conversation is the most important objective with outreach?” Well in order to start a conversation, you need a reply. So this step is very important in crafting good emails.
There is no reason to send cold emails that are not rich in relevancy. You will most likely get marked as Spam, you will get negative replies. And, you will be polluting the email ecosystem with more junk and annoying everyone. Please don’t send sh*tty emails, please!
Now that we know what makes a "Good Email", here are some examples for the 6 use-cases I listed above, along with the reason I think they are "Good Emails."
An email to find your potential first customers to try your product
An email to an find an influencer to promote your product
An email to the press to cover your startup
An email to a potential partners to market your product
An email to a potential investor to invest in your startup
An email to a targeted sales prospect to buy your product
Second, Let's Explore The Process
Since I’m such a big fan of manuals and playbooks, I decided to write yet another one.
STEP 1: FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE GOING TO SEND YOUR EMAILS TO
The image below highlights the basics of Account Based Marketing (ABM). It’s not by best illustration, but it’s really clear that you have to find the account (company, sphere, etc) before you can find who you want to talk to. This is usually true that you have to do some research based on a strict set of criteria in order to find the right targets.
STEP 2: DEFINE THE TARGET BEYOND THE TITLE
Think about all the related characteristics this person has and how you can use that to narrow in on where to find them, the state of mind they are in, references you could lean on, etc. Remember, this is actually a person that you’re trying to start a conversation with.
STEP 3: WRITE A MESSAGE LINKED TO THEIR OUTCOME
Understand what their #1 problem is. If the reason you are reaching out is not related to their #1, maybe their #2 problem, you will probably not get a reply. So, find someone where you are able to start a conversation around something they care about and create a hook that is related to a positive outcome correlated to that problem.
Sanity Check: By sending a cold email, you are essentially making it known that you are in a lesser position of power than the recipient. Be OK with that and act accordingly. You are the one who is asking for something.
STEP 4: BUILD A “NO-REPLY” DRIP SEQUENCE
Most people won’t reply to the first email. It often takes multiple emails to get their attention. This makes us feel annoying, but in order to have the conversation start, we have to give several valiant, authentic attempts.
This is done by using tools (described below) that send emails on a scheduled drip, based on whether or not the recipient has replied yet (i.e., no-reply = another email in a few days/weeks/months/etc). This is very uncomfortable to do when you’re doing it in mass amounts. But, remember, the recipient is only getting a few relevant emails from you. Since your emails are context rich, it’s not obvious you are mass emailing :)
No exact same process will work for every business, but I have implemented this type of program many, many times and I’ve found that this general structure below is really quite effective.
In the left column, we have the days of the sequence that an email is sent. Remember, if they reply, they will not get the next email.
In the right column, we have the “Voice of the Email” (this is not the subject line).
Intro Message: Is like the examples above (first point of contact) depending on your objective.
Re: Did You Get This?: Is a bump to the original thread (as a Reply) with a simple one line question that is attached to the original email.
Re: Longer Explanation: This is another bump to the original thread (as a Reply) where I go into more detail with a line like “I tend to write short emails, maybe my first email made no sense… I’m SPECIFICALLY reaching out because…"
Re: Different Person: This is another bump to the original thread (as a Reply) with a shift in messaging asking if there is a different (not better) person to talk to.
Re: Did I do something wrong?: This is the final bump to the original thread (as a Reply - so there are five total emails on this single thread) asking the recipient if there would have been a better way to reach out or if I did something wrong. This is NOT A GUILT TRIP. No one likes guilt trips. This is simply humanizing your self.
NOTE: Some people make the mistake of saying “this is the last time I’m going to reach out.” NEVER DO THAT. You’re crushing your optionality, which is super important as a founder or marketer. Just give it a break (unless you’re asked to stop - then definitely stop!).
Now that everything is queued up, you want to actually get the email addresses of the people you’re going to send to. I like to use a few tools for this. It’s described in greater detail in the playbook with links to tools as well as discount codes, but general instructions are below.
- I use LinkedIn to prospect the names (based on Step #1 with Account and Title)
- I scrape those using EXPORT DATA (won’t be allowed for long, so you have have a VA pull them out)
- I upload the list of first name, last name and company name to Toofr
- I upload the returned CSV with email addresses to a verification service like BriteVerify (stopped using kickbox because they keep being annoying and telling me I don’t have permission to verify these emails)
If you’re a slack fan, there is a brand new integration you can use from Stamplay (500 Startups B14) that allows you to connect to a clearbit account and then simply type the company name-title and if clearbit has the record, it will return the info directly to slack. This is great for your one off emails!
Since you now have a clean list, it’s time to do the most time consuming part, which is to actually personalize it. In order to do this, I use merge tags and add in extra columns into my list for 1-2 extra customizations. This way I can easily run through and entire list and customize with small notes / comments / questions for each recipient in about an hour rather than banging out hours of individual emails.
STEP 7: SEND THOSE EMAILS OUT
The actual sending of your emails is really the easiest part. These are some of the tools I use with mailshake being the cheapest at around $9/mo. I usually don’t send more than 50-200/day. And, I always make sure to monitor my sending record using mail-tester.com several times during the course of a campaign. If your score drops, no one gets your emails.
STEP 8: IMPROVE THE PERFORMANCE OVER TIME
Optimizing is pretty simple. I really want to target my main metric as REPLY RATE. But, first I shoot for OPEN RATE (assuming deliverability is high). I don’t really care about click rate, because I want people to reply. So I don’t include a lot of links usually.
You’ll notice here that the top line has near double the reply rate because it has context with a “connection blurb”!! Also, note the small batches to be able to measure effectiveness and have quick feedback loops.
STEP 9: GET READY FOR YOUR CONVERSATIONS
If you’ve done everything above correctly, you’re going to get responses. Be sure you know what you’re going to do. And, be fast. That means you probably don’t want to send emails out in the middle of the night since it looks like a machines is doing it, which it is!
STEP 10: START TO SCALE UP
You did it! Now, start to think about where you can outsource and build teams around this process to make it more efficient and more high volume.
In Summary, Outbound Email can be a very effective way to grow your startup, when the messages are relevant to the recipients and provide value.
- Make sure your reaching out to people who CARE about your message. Are you helping them solve their #1 problem?
- Improve the relevancy of the email by adding a contextual statement followed up by a deductive statement.
- Don't be too "Sales-y"
- END EVERY F*CKING EMAIL WITH A QUESTION???? :)
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