Sales teams need cold email. But cold email is hard. And getting meetings on the back of cold emails is a really tough call. So how do we go about it?
Worldwide the average person receives 116 emails a day, rising 7% year on year. About 55% of those are business emails. And that’s the same number - 55% - who say they don’t open or read emails regularly, whether business or otherwise.
The first challenge you have is to even get prospects to look at your email. When you’re competing with fifty to a hundred others for a prospect’s attention, you need to stand out.
The first thing to consider is timing. If you have data about response rates for emails for an industry, apply them to your cold emails. Keep all the data you can on them so you can mine it later. If you don’t have any data to work off, look at call times for the same industry. When do your prospects pick up the phone?
Sales emails should always be addressed to an actual person, not a catch-all email address within the organization. Don’t send them company-wide, don’t send them to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ or whatever - and don’t feel you have to send them only to one person. If you have the information to go on, send them to whoever is likely to be involved in the decision you’re ultimately going to be asking for.
Who’s It From?
Sending an email from a named account - John@whatever.com rather than Sales@Someco.com - makes it more credible and more human-sounding. You’re reassuring the person who sees it that they’re not getting a robot-generated sales message. And you’re side-stepping the tendency to just scan straight past senders the recipient doesn’t recognize. They know they don’t know Firmco.com, but they might know a Steve or a Jane.
You’ve hooked their attention. And having their attention for long enough for them to read the subject line is the microconversion you’re looking for at this stage.
The difference between being ignored and grabbing the recipient is often the subject line. Before a subject line gets a reader to open the email, it has to get them to see it in the first place. Many people skim read their emails in the morning or whenever they do it, and many will organize their inboxes so emails they consider valuable will go to specific folders in advance. Outlook and Google both provide similar functionality, further reducing your chances of even being seen.
If you’re getting individual attention from your prospects, but they’re using it to flag you as spam, that’s not much of a step up over being totally ignored. How do we get prospects to open emails?
Having been clocked, though, the subject line is the key to getting your email actually read.
The key to this lock is subject line. Variations in the subject line can have radical effects on open rates. That’s been empirically tested and it’s backed by research indicating that about a third of recipients open emails based on subject line alone, with no input from any other factor.
So, what subject lines get your emails opened?
Bryan Kreuzberger, of Breakthrough Email, recommends ‘appropriate person.’ Not using the name of the appropriate person, but actually using that specific phrase. He says it’s the most successful he’s tested, out of ‘literally tens of thousands’ of targeted sales cold emails. More general advice comes from Sujan Patel and Dmitry Dragilev. Good subject lines should:
- Be specific. Mention something about their website, offering or space, as specifically as possible.
- Create value. It’s a microconversion, so offer something!
- Offer a benefit - to the recipient, not the company
- Pique curiosity
- Keep subject lines as short as possible, and preferably lower case. Bryan Harris says his most effective opening line was ‘kissmetrics video blog.’ Says Bryan, ‘That’s it. Three words. The name of the company, blog, video. Really short, really sweet, really to the point.’
Oh, and one more thing: Your email subject line is the thing most likely to set spam filters blaring, so make sure all these spammy words aren’t showing up, and if you think you might have a deliverability issue, check your Sender Score. Test it by sending a dummy email with your intended subject line and content (spam filters track content too) to a friend’s business email address and see what happens.
There are really two kinds of address error: you’re talking to the wrong person, or you’re speaking to the wrong concerns.
1: Your Actual Email Goes To The Wrong Place
If your emails aren’t being delivered to the right person, they’re not being delivered. They’re failing before they even start. How do we fix this?
Finding the right person’s email address starts with finding the right person. You can use Google here - search for the name of the company and the job title(s) you’re looking to send your email to, and you’re likely to find them buried in old press releases, blog posts or even LinkedIn (That’s a great score if it happens, but don’t rely on it.)
For finding email addresses, check out this Yesware blog post that outlines the 10 best tools for finding anyone's contact information.
2: You’re Speaking To The Wrong Concerns
If you address someone at a company with 500 employees, you might ask like this:
‘Can we meet next week for an hour to discuss saving your company $250,000 a year?’
That’s a lot of money. But the person you’re talking to doesn’t get $250,000 a year out of this deal. They do have to find an extra hour in their day, though. In terms of the company’s pain points, you’re right in the bulls-eye. But in terms of the actual person you’re talking to, you’re not even hitting the board. Before you can sell the offering to the company, you have to sell the meeting to the person.
A lot of the time the budgetary issue you’ll run into is time. How do you convince this person to give you, not their company’s precious dollars for your offering, but their own precious time for a meeting to even talk about it?
Start with value. Again, think about the address: seek to offer value directly to the person you’re emailing, not their company. So find out what they like or care about, or address them in terms of their work responsibilities and talk about how you can solve a personal pain point that actually affects them. Remember, it’s not what you can do for the company - it’s what you can do for me. If the benefit accrues to the company, but the work lands on me, I’m that much less inclined to arrange a meeting with you.
If you regularly use cold emails for prospecting, A/B test them. Most of them will be fairly similar, so even though you might not be pumping out the volume a marketing firm would, you’re still hitting numbers where it’s worthwhile testing changes in copy, design, and timing to see what gets better results.
If you do get a response, your work is just beginning. Managing that response is key to moving to a meeting when 80% of leads will require 5 to 12 touches to buy. Moving from the first cold email to a relationship that can turn into a sale requires more than just sending a bunch of emails. That’s assuming you even get a response...
Average cold email response rates are under 1%. We got this far. But there’s still nothing happening. Why? Because while we managed to appeal to prospects enough to read the email - and that’s a triumph in itself - they never answered. How do we get prospects to respond?
Often the thing that’s stopping them from responding is that the sender only read half this post: a killer subject line optimized by A/B testing and with a dramatically over-par open rate doesn’t actually address the prospect or contains weak, spammy copy. The same process prospects used to their email inboxes is replicated in the email itself: it’s going to get skim-read, with little real interest earned yet; again, we’re looking for a microconversion.
We want to sell the email body with the subject line, then sell the meeting with the email body. So if you know your emails are getting opened and read but there’s no response, maybe you’re talking to the wrong people, or maybe you need to look to your copy.
You’ve got about eight seconds to sell the reader on whatever action you want them to take. If what you want is to have them respond and set up a meeting or even a phone call, make that the focus of your email. Don’t email people War and Peace, they’re not going to read it. Cold email copy should be short and value packed - try to fit the whole thing into 8 seconds’ worth of reading aloud. And don’t ask a bunch of questions.
Think of your call to action like a road sign: make it big, make it clear and make it point in one direction.
They Respond, But Their Answer Is A Firm No
Awesome. Your prospect got back to you. Give yourself a high five. (Don’t: it looks crazy dumb.) But when they replied, what did they say?
And that points up a huge problem in our whole sales training ethos. Any half-decent sales rep has a few objection handling tricks up their sleeve. But they start objection-handling… after dialogue with the prospect has begun. Busy prospects start objecting before that process can begin. So how do we start the process of handling objections right in our first communications with prospects?
The most common ‘no’ you’ll get will fall into one of these categories:
- We already work with one of your competitors.
- What you’re offering isn’t a priority right now
- Can you email me some more information?
- We’re not interested in this.
All of these would be familiar to any sales rep, but the context in which they’re appearing, right at the beginning of an email-based dialogue, makes them unique and many reps are nonplussed (if they even get this far!).
If you get ‘we work with a competitor,’ change the parameters: re-orient the terms of your offer. If you can offer complementary functionality to your competitor, then position yourself as the missing piece. If you were selling for Intercom and your prospect is already using Salesforce, you’d trumpet your integrations and point out how the two together cover even more bases. (In a way, they’ve qualified themselves by saying they’re already using a competitor: in this scenario, you don’t have to convince them of the value of using a CRM.)
If you get a ‘not a priority’ objection, reorient the discussion not by taking a different angle but by zooming out. About 50% of leads aren’t ready to buy today, but will be one day. Zooming out to a 10,000 ft view of the situation keeps you in the conversation by steering away from uncomfortable areas of discussion.
Ian Adams recommends a three-part approach to the ‘email me some stuff’ objection:
- Bridge the Gap
- Ask Again
What he’s trying to do is take the moment when an objection is raised and turn it into part of an ongoing conversation where you actually move around to agreement anyway. There’s a great example of how to do that here.
Finally, if you just get ‘we’re not interested,’ try to figure out why. Talk to the prospect, offer help, address pain points, stay on topic and consider using content to help move them toward sales readiness in followups.
If you’re sending emails out blind into the ether, you have no idea which of these things has happened - because you have no tracking.
If you don’t get a response, you know you didn’t get a response. But as to whether your email was read, shuffled off into a spam folder, or suffered some other fate, you don’t know - if you don’t track your emails. Email tracking comes as part of several tools including the free but un-detailed Streak for Chrome and, at the other end of the scale, tools like SideKick and Yesware that will tell you about what device was used, when, for how long and any other metric you can imagine.
Yesware offers real-time analytics, while Sidekick sends reports instead.
Cold email is tough, no doubt. But it can deliver in spades. From the first moment your prospect sees your email in their inbox, it has to be talking directly to them delivering value to them and addressing their personal pain points. Do that, though, and you can see a big bump in responses, and reap the reward in calls and meetings, and finally in sales numbers.