Best practices for sending sales outreach emails

In 2014, author Shane Snow set out to conduct a cold email experiment.

He gathered up the names and email addresses of 1,000 VP and C-Suite business executives from companies listed on the Fortune 500 and the Inc. 500 and sent the entire group an unsolicited message.

His ask was simple: to share a few thoughts in response to a question posed about the process of cold emailing. Snow did everything you’re supposed to do, testing subject lines, message length, the specific wording of the ask and more to increase responses.

In the end, of the 1,000 messages sent, 293 bounced. Roughly 45 percent of the remaining 707 messages were opened… and just 12 people bothered to reply.

Sound similar to the results of your sales outreach email campaigns? Let’s take a closer look at Snow’s experiment, as well as broader best practices for sending cold messages that you can apply to your emails.

Campaign Personalization: The Missing Piece

Ultimately, in his dissection of the experiment for Fast Company, Snow attributes his low response rate to one primary issue: a lack of personalization and specificity in his messages.

Snow states:

“Tactics for optimizing sales emails are well and good, but they’re not as important as personalized research and sender/sendee fit. Important people may be busy, but the same principles for winning their trust and attention apply to the most to least busy person you’re emailing. Be personal, and do your homework.”

What does this level of personalization look like in practice? And how can you apply it to your sales outreach emails? Here are a few practical suggestions:

Do Your Homework

It doesn’t matter how effective your email copy is. If you’re sending to the wrong person, you’re never going to get the results you want.

Research ahead of time to ensure you’re reaching out to the right person at a given company, but then take it a step further. Dig around to better understand each prospect’s personality. Do they like jokes? Do they prefer flattery? The more you can find, the better.

Warm Up Your Contacts

So now, you have a list of potential sales contacts to message. It’s time to start emailing, right?

Not so fast. Before you even think about hitting the “Send” button, make an effort to connect professionally before reaching out.

Depending on where and how your prospect engages, this might take the form of:

  • Sending a personal message via social media
  • Commenting on, liking, sharing or retweeting their social updates
  • Emailing a compliment directly (for example, “I loved your latest guest post on [Site X]. It really helped me [learn to do something].”)
  • Connecting at an in-person networking event or meetup
  • Mentioning their work in your blog content (ideally, in a positive manner)

Be sincere, not manipulative. The result will be that you’re never emailing cold prospects again. Instead, you’re reaching out to connections who already know you, your brand and what you stand for.

Prove Your “Why”

Tucker Max, in a contribution to the Harvard Business Review, shares an interesting aspect of the human psyche that anyone sending cold email should know: “Research shows that people are far more motivated to help others when they feel uniquely qualified to do so.”

Leverage this effect in your sales outreach messages by explaining why exactly you’re reaching out to the recipient. What makes you think that they - specifically, rather than generally - will benefit from your offer?

Don’t overcomplicate this. A single sentence, stating something like, “I thought of you immediately because of your participation in [X event],” will suffice.

Use Smart Automation

With sales outreach emailing, there’s a fine line to walk. On the one hand, the more personalized you can make your messages, the more likely they are to be successful. But on the other, spending more time on personalization means sending out fewer emails - and that can lower your success rate.

The solution is to find the right balance using smart cold email automation tools. Look specifically for programs that let you work off proven templates, but that allow for high levels of customization on an individual level. You’ll save time over manually writing every message, while still allowing for the kind of personalization that gets results.

Test, Test and Test Again

Ultimately, as with so many marketing and sales tactics, success with cold email outreach comes down to monitoring the performance of your messages and iterating accordingly.

Depending on the email marketing tool you use, you may have A/B split testing capabilities built in. If not, you can still benefit from testing by gathering your own qualitative and quantitative insights into what’s working.

  • What do my highest- and lowest-performing email subject lines have in common?
  • What are the average lengths of my highest- and lowest-performing emails, respectively?
  • What are their various CTAs?
  • Am I having more success with some buyer personas than others?
  • Am I using specific language across my highest-performing emails? My lowest?

Answer these questions based on your results. Then, test the changes you believe will improve them (maybe save your highest-priority prospects for later in your campaign, until you’ve had a chance to make these adjustments). Sales outreach success can be as simple as that.

What other techniques have you found helpful for improving the performance of your cold sales messages? Leave me a note below sharing your thoughts:

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