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Case Study | Jul 8
Dann Albright on August 17, 2018 (last modified on July 3, 2020) • 14 minute read
Email prospecting is alive and well.
And it works. It’s challenging, but when you do it right, it can get you a lot of new business.
That’s why so many salespeople told us they still send prospecting emails. And some of them send a lot. Almost 20% of our (29) respondents send more than 50 prospecting emails every day:
Those companies don’t represent the average. In fact, most send less than 25 per day. But we were surprised to see just how many businesses send out this volume of prospecting emails.
At this high volume of sends, you might think these salespeople aren’t finding a whole lot of success. But the next statistic puts paid to that thought. Over a third have response rates of 9–12% and another third notch over 17%:
Those are decent response rates. So we’re taking the advice we heard seriously. We got a ton of suggestions from our respondents, so let’s dive in with the biggest one.
If you could sum up all the responses to this question, the overwhelming answer would be simple: personalize your prospecting emails. More respondents brought up this factor than anything else.
It sounds simple, but many salespeople are hesitant to put in the time personalization requires. demandDrive marketing director AJ Alonzo told us why: “it’s time-consuming, and sales is a numbers game. The more personal you get the longer it takes, and that means fewer accounts touched.”
Even so, it remains a very effective tactic for getting responses to prospecting emails.
demandDrive looks at prospects’ LinkedIn profiles, Twitter profiles, and company bios to find not just personal connections, but an understanding of the priorities of the company.
“It’s all well and good if you know someone loves Great Dane Puppies (and you absolutely include it in the email), but knowing whether your solution aligns with a current priority is much more impactful. Open up with something personal to keep them engaged, and then hit them with a really strong and tailored value proposition.”
It’s important to give this information more than a cursory glance. Fahad Shoukat, VP of business development and partnerships at Skiplist, told us about an important connection that he made:
“I wanted to connect with a high-level contact at a major financial firm. I could include some relevant industry trends, but they already know that stuff. After some more research, I found out that this person hosts a podcast on innovation. Essentially, the emails [I sent] were all about his podcast.”
Did it work? Yes. The prospect responded the next day.
There are all sorts of ways you can personalize your emails. “You could be congratulating them on a recent achievement or you can discuss a topic they find interesting,” says Mark Krenn, founder of Coastal Creative. Similarly, Carly Fauth from Money Crashers recommends, “[T]o look up the lead on LinkedIn and find out something that they just accomplished at their job or possibly an event in their career. Then make the subject line of the email something to do with that event, such as a quick congratulations.”
Personalization goes beyond finding a few things that you have in common with your prospect. “Don’t be afraid to give away value,” says Tyler Pigott, principal at Lone Fir Creative. Give them some ideas on how they could improve—ideas they could hire you to implement or simply take and do themselves.
“If they don’t work with you immediately, you’ll get a response and likely will come back around if you are patient.”
All this personalization might seem overwhelming at first. Yes, it will take more time and effort. But in the end, it will pay off. According to LeadFuze‘s founder Justin McGill, “The deeper the personalization, the higher [likelihood] you get a response.”
Besides personalizing as much as possible, our marketers also suggested keeping your email short. (I’m sure you can see how this starts to make things difficult.)
James Pollard of The Advisor Coach has repeatedly tested long and short emails . . . and he’s never had a test where long emails were more effective than short ones.
“When people get an email from someone they don’t know, they aren’t going to invest much time in it. They’re going to scan it.” Which is why he recommends emails of five sentences or less.
Maddy Osman, SEO content strategist at The Blogsmith, agrees:
“The best way to be effective with email marketing is to get to the point as soon as possible. Spend a little time telling the customer about you and your company but don’t waste time making it clear why you’re emailing them and why your solution is relevant to them.”
OnePitch founding partner Jered Martin provided some practical advice on keeping your email short. “Bullets work very well and are easy to digest,” he says. “We also have found success highlighting the specific value points (i.e., FREE, SAVES TIME, etc.).”
And again, we come back to the idea of adding value. “The most effective tip for sending prospecting emails is to keep your message short and offer something that is actually valuable to your unique prospect,” says Avery Moodie, team success manager at BriteBee.
Of course, balancing personalization, brevity, and value isn’t easy. But that’s the what you’ll have to do to get more responses to your prospecting emails.
Even when you nail this combination, you may still find that your email gets dismissed as “another cold email.” People are busy, and it’s usually pretty clear when you’re trying to sell them something.
Connecting with warm leads is going to get you a lot more success.
“[L]leverage social media to build a relationship with your prospect first,” says Tamara Wilson, PR consultant at Mappleseed. “You’re more likely to get a welcoming reply if you’re connected and engaging (when relevant) with their posts on social media.”
Hire Learning uses similar tactics to warm up leads before pitching. Their “hyper-targeted social media campaigns” make sure that leads already know their name when they get the email.
One respondent even suggested going further and recruiting an industry influencer to help you get your foot in the door. Says DevriX founder Mario Peshev, “Find an influencer in every corresponding industry and make a deal for them to help you with your outreach. Open rates will be to the roof and response rates will be worth it.”
When you’re getting started with prospecting, effectively following up can be one of the hardest parts of the process. It feels rude at first, and sometimes doesn’t pay any dividends. But salespeople who have found success with email prospecting always recommend a solid follow-up strategy.
“Sometimes a prospect doesn’t respond until our 4th or 5th email,” says Brandon Kidd, president of Folsom Creative. By the time you’re sending your fourth email, you may worry that you’re irritating your prospect.
But it’s important to remember that people are busy. And emails get lost in inboxes.
This is especially true in the B2B world, says Jawfish Digital founder Cody Slingerland. His agency often follows up with a prospect over the course of six months before closing a deal. He also recommends using email automation software like Boomerang, Gmelius, or Vocus.
Not only does it make your job easier, but it ensures that you don’t miss out on an important follow-up.
Senior digital marketing strategist Shannon Howard shared some interesting advice that she’s learned in emailing prospects for Overit:
“In my experience, it’s best to send the first email on a day they’re probably going to see it (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) and follow up on Monday at noon. Not sure what’s so magical about Mondays, honestly, but works like a charm!”
Nate Masterson, founder of Maple Holistics, uses a different follow-up strategy: “follow up within 24 hours, because 90% of prospecting emails get answered the day you send them out.”
Prospects won’t respond to your email if they don’t open it. So you need to get past the first barrier with a great subject line.
Jackie Tihanyi, digital marketing specialist at Fisher Unitech, recommends a single strategy: asking questions.
“The most effective strategy we’ve used is to ask a question within the subject line. We ask questions that are straightforward and easy to reply to. The goal is to make the prospect see the benefit in responding.”
Don’t make the answer too obvious, either; adding a bit of suspense is great for increasing opens.
Mostly Blogging‘s Janice Wald gave two examples of headlines that have a similar effect: “Per Your Request” and “Quick Question.” (She’s careful to note that you shouldn’t use “Per Your Request” unless the prospect actually requested your email.)
People like to help, she says, and saying “quick” in the subject line makes it clear that they won’t need to spend a ton of time doing it.
Robert O’Brien of GuidedChoice uses a different strategy. He gave the example of pitching bloggers on an article at his website. The article is about Harry Markowitz’s Modern Portfolio Theory. Instead of using “Harry Markowitz” or “Modern Portfolio Theory” as the subject line, though, he suggests one of these:
These subject lines better explain the value of what’s in the email, and are more likely to get people to click.
(Editor’s note: if you want to find more advice on writing great subject lines, check out our roundup of expert advice on the topic.)
Creating urgency is a tried and true marketing tactic. And 9Sail‘s junior SEO analyst Bryan Pattman says that it works with email, too. “The most effective tip that we have been deploying is creating a sense of urgency to fix a problem that the prospective client has in the first sentence of the email.”
He also added that one of the ways that his company increases responses is to offer two different solutions for the problem. You might offer an expensive and an affordable solution, or a simple and comprehensive option. “We have seen an increase in responses by using this tactic and it leads to more follow up emails and face-to-face meetings,” says Pattman.
Two respondents mentioned tactics that are great for getting your message to people reading email on their phones. “In a mobile-first world, you have less time to grab people,” said Mavens & Moguls founder Paige Arnof-Fenn. “[A]ttention spans are shorter than ever.”
How does she recommend dealing with that shortened attention span? Video. “The more video and rich content the better.”
V. Michael Santoro, co-founder of Vaetas, said the same thing. But Vaetas uses a tool that they developed in-house for recording personalized videos and interactive calls to action. Recipients click or tap in the email and the video plays in the browser window.
They also distribute these videos via text message, InMail, and Facebook Messenger.
And it works. Vaetas’ conversions went from 2% for a standard cold email to 38% using video. Follow-up videos convert at a jaw-dropping 99%.
It might take some time and effort to incorporate video into your prospecting emails. But there’s no doubt that it can revolutionize your outreach.
Okay, so you’ve caught your prospect’s attention with a great subject line, personalization, and a concise message. Now you have to get them to take action.
“If you want to get a reply when sending a prospecting email, I recommend you finish the email with a question the recipient will strongly want to answer,” says Jonathan Aufray, co-founder of Growth Hackers.
He gave a few examples of questions that are NOT likely to work:
Instead, he recommends including one of the benefits of your product or service in the question. If your product helps employees be more productive, he says, try a question like “Do you want your team to be more productive?” or “Making your employees be more productive sounds interesting, right?”
George Schildge, CEO of Matrix Marketing Group, recommends using a more visual approach. He likes to include a call-to-action button to catch people’s attention.
And he gave us three points to keep in mind:
With these three criteria, your CTA will stand out and be unmissable.
Theresa Nguyen from More Time More You takes it a step further by offering a gift. Not just any gift. She tailors the gift to the person she’s emailing. “People love it when you make it about them! I like to first make sure I know something particularly interesting about the person and I tell them I am reaching out to them because of it. To do that well, I first get familiar with what they have been up to lately.”
Then, she offers a gift as a way to get them onto a call. “I offer them something of value that will help them succeed. It can be a product or tool. If they truly see the ‘gift’ as valuable to them, they respond. I then suggest they should give me a call so I can send it to them. This gives me an opportunity to talk to them over the phone and build trust and rapport.” When I am in communication with them, I ask if it’s ok to text them after they receive the gift. Most people say yes. They usually are very appreciative of the thoughtfulness and happy to share their opinion afterwards. ”
When you’re prospecting via email, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being “salesy.” You want your recipient to know how valuable your product or service is, to address their concerns, impart a sense of urgency, and do all sorts of other things in each message.
But Jennifer Lux, marketing strategist at SmartBug Media, cautions against it. “[A]pproach prospects by telling a story about your shared struggles and how you overcame them,” she says.
“When your prospect truly feels that you understand . . . and [that you] want to help them overcome a major pain point, they are more likely to engage in a discussion, not a sales call.”
Colibri‘s Andrew McLoughlin simplifies it even more: “[B]e sure that you’re coming across as someone that a potential client would actually enjoy talking to.”
That’s a lot of advice. Incorporating it all into your email prospecting campaign will take some thought. But it will absolutely help.
It’s important, though, to not forget the basics. Steve Pritchard from Anglo Liners pointed out that if you send your email to the wrong people, you’re not going to get anything useful. Which is why mass email campaigns so often find little success.
“If your services solve a particular problem or issue, you should look for people who are encountering the same issue issue, and target them with your email campaigns. This is more likely to be successful than just targeting a specified demographic.”
Good Millennial‘s creative director Brandon Scott Roye gave advice that will be familiar to anyone who’s done some professional networking in the past: build relationships and offer to help people. Partnerships will evolve naturally out of that.
What do you do to increase the response rate to your prospecting emails? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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