“Many businesses are somewhat lazy when it comes to generating leads. They think along the lines: we’re going to set up a licensed ZoomInfo, export leads, and create templates. But paying 15 to 25 grand per year to ZoomInfo won’t cover your needs in hot leads because it doesn’t work that way.” — says Mike Maximoff, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Belkins.
The issue of cold outreach campaigns is rather tricky and challeging, so Mike and six other B2B sales professionals from Belkins gathered for a virtual roundtable discussion about the trials and options of cold emails.
Having 96,000 hours spent by AMs running B2B outreach campaigns over five years, the Belkins team has amassed a unique hands-on experience they are willing to share in the form of actionable recommendations and tips.
So keeps on Mike, the participants agree: “If you’re not going to put in a lot of effort in generating a list, then probably your competitors are doing the same. So you keep doing the same actions that have brought you a little result. To get more, you should change your sequence of actions.”
The three-part framework for cold outreach
Drawing on the statistics from 72 million B2B outreach emails over the 5-year time, the Belkins team has gathered hard evidence to bolster their insights.
If numbers can be so different across the board, isn’t it frustrating for reps to engage in cold outreach that fails to deliver even a modest ROI? It definitely is. Let’s stop wasting perfectly workable databases and lead lists and ensure we all have the fundamentals in place.
If you segment your audience, personalize emails, avoid sounding like a robot by customizing cold calling scripts, and place your prospects’ needs over your sales pitch, you have grasped the gist of our approach. The three-part framework for cold outreach requires you to identify, engage, and create. We are willing to elaborate on the detail.
Being generic is the ultimate enemy of cold outreach. So Part One of the Outreach Framework starts by giving a comprehensive answer to the question, “Who are my potential customers?” And it’s not the vague “software companies” or “companies that sell real estate services.” You have to be really specific and pinpoint exactly your target audiences:
- What attracts customers to your product?
- What are their needs?
- How does your service address their pain points?
You achieve this by doing an ICP, segmentation, research, and finding contact data.
If you haven’t developed an Ideal Customer Profile yet, that’s the foundation of your future success. An ICP is a looking glass that zooms in only on the customer type – a bullseye customer – that makes sense to target with your resources. To hit the bull’s eye in terms of market success, an ICP usually draws on your database of existing customers. Still, in its essence, it describes an imaginary company’s attributes that include not only the standard ones like demographic, geographic, sociographic, behavioral, and product use data, but also unique characteristics (i.e., hedging experience, subscription-based services, etc., depending on the industry).
When coming up with your ICP, collect data from all the sources (CRM, social platforms, customer interview), write down all the standard and unique attributes, and then distill all your findings into a combination of features and patterns. That’s your ICP for the specific market segment you chose. Now use your ICP to select the exact titles and positions to want to reach out to.
For example, if your ICP is a B2B enterprise SaaS with a 100 to 200 team size based in Europe and a $1M revenue, you can reach out to them to sell your product, get a backlink, invite on your podcast, or write a blog post. Each instance would require a different approach and personalization efforts.
2) Finding contact data
An accurately-defined ICP makes lead search data-driven. Now you know who exactly you need to find. There are several options for finding lead data. Either use technology or delegate finding contact information to third parties.
- Technology use. Numerous tools enable marketers and salespeople to get in touch with leads that fit their ICP. For one, web scraping and email finder tools are indispensable for running cold email campaigns. Lay your hands on Aeroleads, VoilaNorbert, Hunter, Snovio, or Lusha, and you will find people’s email addresses and phone numbers in the companies that fit your ICP. Although email finders and web scraping tools extract data from social media pages and the web, many prefer to use them with LinkedIn Sales Navigator. First, you find leads on LinkedIn, and then you scrape their emails without connecting to them, using a tool of your choice.
A more sophisticated yet pricey approach is to subscribe to a sales intelligence platform like ZoomInfo, Visual Visitor, LeadFeeder, Overloop, UpLead, and many more. These platforms are huge databases with advanced search and filtering features. With a profile of ideal customer behavior at hand, prospecting time will reduce thanks to buyer intent data, website visitor ID, and extensive website analytics features.
- Outsourcing. Sales outsourcing is big. You can outsource your lead generation altogether and save time, but be careful who you partner with. It’s not just buying an inaccurate email list from a shady vendor who has already sold it to a dozen other miserable businesses. These days, sales teams realize that buying lists from vendors with questionable data collection methods is more time-consuming in terms of data enrichment than partnering with reputable lead generation agencies. Whether you hook up with an agency or a freelancer platform like UpWork, choose only those who work with your ICP and customize lead search for you. Otherwise, you will have problems because your email service provider’s Terms of Service explicitly require you not to email to contacts who didn’t permit you to get in touch with them. Not to mention spam traps and damaged email reputation.
Now, you have your ICP and a list of lead data. But you won’t personalize each email on the list, right? You can, but it’s too time-consuming. List segmentation is your savior! Slice your list by age, gender, job title, industry, seniority level, past purchases, buyer intent, or geographical location. Speed up your cold emailing process by using templates for each narrow segment of your audience. Although this recommendation sounds like the most obvious one as we all segment lead lists, it makes all the difference.
For example, you segment your list by ten criteria and adjust your pitch accordingly. As a result, you have ten email sequences that will play out better than one generic one that doesn’t distinguish between titles, software use, website visits, and so on. Slice your lead list finely, and you will hit the bull’s eye.
At this point, you decide on how to reach out to the contacts you want to establish a connection with. Alex Sribnyi, Managing Director with Belkins, talks about two options.
In Option One, you start low in the company you are looking to work with. Technical titles know what you’re talking about and know these types of services and products you want to offer. but if this option is of little use, then try Option Two and reach out to C-level executives and Operations. Cold emailing executives is tough too because decision-makers can be not on the same page as to what you have to offer, and they often forward you to technical people. So it’s a closed circle you’re trying to play around with.
Before you dip your topes in personalization, extensive research is needed. Researching your prospects involves checking out their company’s online presence. Roam their websites and landing pages, flick through their latest updates on LinkedIn and Twitter (if any), and familiarize yourself with the company’s annual revenue and the prospect’s recent job change (or any other change). It takes loads of time to check each lead manually.
However, that amount of work is exactly what grants success to your subsequent cold email and cold calling outreach campaigns. Having more prospects doesn’t automatically mean more deals. But getting personalization right will drive better customer outcomes. Automate lead research using sales automation platforms, such as Segment, Certona, Autoklose, RichRelevance, etc.
Lead research is hard work, but think about the average conversion. If 100 personalized emails give you the exact conversion that 200 automated emails do, the choice is up to you.
At this stage, you’re answering the question, “How can I engage my potential customers the best way?” In pursuing higher email marketing engagement, you continue the quest against generic messages, and the anti-genericism quest translates into real life as value over the pitch. However, no matter how polished your cold outreach templates and scripts are, you can’t achieve incredible engagement if your deliverability rates are low. So let’s look in detail at each aspect of the engagement.
1) Email deliverability
If your team size allows it, assign fixing spam issues to a technical crew. On the other hand, a sales team also can keep your lead lists updated and clean, which is Step One for high email deliverability rates.
Suppose your sales team is in charge of both cold outreach and email deliverability issues. In this case, they need to know the industry’s best methods that will boost your deliverability and email performance. Use these tips to prevent your messages from going to recipients’ spam folders.
- Clean your contact lists regularly. Every 90 to 120 days, revise your lead lists. There’s no sense in keeping contacts on your list that haven’t replied/clicked/opened your message in 90 days or longer. You’re dropping the deliverability rate and signaling your ESP that you don’t care about dead addresses, just like bots do. Conversely, ESPs see your deliverability and CTRs going up simply because you do list cleaning.
- Monitor your feedback loops. Even if you use double opt-in, it doesn’t mean your subscribers won’t want to unsubscribe at some point. Let them do it. Remove users from contacts lists immediately after they request it through spam button clicks. Also, keep the "unsubscribe" button readily available for users. Make it easier to unsubscribe than to click “send to spam.”
- Show your ESP that you care. ESPs are now equipped with the power of AI and carefully looking for commonalities. If they see a sender using the same domain, the same email template, and a low engagement rate to the bargain, they will identify said sender as a bot and flag it as spam. So, taking care of engagement, you ensure killer deliverability for your messages.
- Use anti-spam technology. Help your team with technology. First, you can use spam filter software that searches your email copy for spam before sending it out. Second, ensure that your cold outreach emails don't go to spam because you forgot to warm up your new mailbox. Use a warm-up and email deliverability tool for spam fix, email performance monitoring, and content analysis.
- Get concerned with relevance and value. Relevance and value are more decisive for deliverability than spam words. ESPs don’t rely as heavily on looking at spam words like free, pharmaceutical names, etc. They decide whether you’re a spamming bot or not based on your recipients’ interaction with your messages (Did they put it in the spam folder? Did they forward it to their peers? Did they reply? Did they click through it and immediately deleted it?). The more engagement you get, the higher your sender reputation is.
2) Cold outreach
When you want to bring value to your prospects, you start adopting customer-centric thinking. Regardless of which cold outreach method you use, shifting from me-centric thinking to you-centric thinking will do wonders for your sales performance. When you reach out to prospects with you-centric message, your personalization efforts fall in line, and you easily lead with value.
- Walk in their shoes. There are many metaphors to reflect the urgency of looking at the world through the eyes of others. The business world is just like that. You won’t attract new contacts to get interested in the world of your products and services if you fail to demonstrate your familiarity with their world. Me-me-me salespeople have low conversion rates.
But if you clearly understand who the person on the other end of the screen is, you will find precise language and post relevant content that will speak up to their pain points. Whereas an ICP describes the profile of ideal customer behavior, buyer personas are incredibly helpful in informing comprehensive psychographic data that help craft cold outreach templates and scripts.
- Immediately grab their attention. Neither cold emailing nor cold calling gives you time to waste on useless generic greetings and vague propositions. Start a conversation with an exciting piece of information. That’s what personalization is for.
When we took on a coaching platform for real estate agents, we were able to dig up the information about the number of agents within the brokerage. We used it in email copy: “Hey, since you’re having this and this amount of agents, it’s most probably hard to track.” So that was one of the variables.” That’s the beginning of a possibly fruitful connection right there.
Alisa Rassadina, an account manager at Belkins.
- Bring value right away. If you start a conversation saying how gorgeous your tool/solution is and describe its great features, that's not valuable for a prospect yet. They don't know you, and you have no foundation to build on. Showing value for them is one of the ways to create a connection. Use your company’s value proposition to understand leads’ challenges and problems better.
Yuriy elaborates, “Make your template or script look familiar to the prospect. Use industry-specific vocabulary. Bring value right away.” So, don't brag about the product's awesome features like a showoff. Go a long way and describe the value they get if they use the solution you offer.
- Leave pitching for the next time. Cold outreach attempts to establish contact with an unknown prospect, a total stranger. Focus on being empathetic, concise, and valuable. In practice, it usually means that you drop a personalized remark, introduce your company, explain the value you want the prospect to get from the contact with you, and that’s it for the first time. The point is to show that you can be of help to them.
- Test each line. “Make sure the copy is sweet and personalized, especially the subject line. Run AB tests on the subject lines and pick the best performing one,” says Yuriy about cold email outreach. But the same refers to cold calling scripts too. Use your automation software to compare response rates with different call opening lines.
Now, to the specific tips for cold email outreach. No one is keen to get flooded with boring emails. But busy people get them all the time. If you don’t want your cold emails getting ignored, make each element work and catch a prospect’s attention.
- “From” line. Experts recommend using personal names in the “From” line. A company name is less inviting to open, according to statistics. “That’s weird,” a sales rep can think to herself upon seeing an email from the corporate giant, but if she receives an email from “Erik from Microsoft”, she is more likely to open it. Your email will look more genuine if your “From” name matches your email address. Also, use a business email account with your company’s custom domain name rather than generic Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL. Free popular ESPs sound amateurish.
- Subject line. There is no need to waste subject lines with the generic “Exclusive Deal Alert” or “5 Ways To Improve Your Life.” The problem isn’t even with spam-triggering words like (cash, incredible deal, miracle, free, etc.). As we remarked earlier, ESPs don’t rely as heavily on looking at content and won’t flag your email as spam if you use ‘free’ in the subject line. But your response and click-through rates will radically drop if you include misleading and over-the-top wording. Again, personalization is king now. Experiment with subject lines but try something simple. Sarah Hicks from Predictable Revenue told Mike at the Belkins Growth Podcast (S2E3) that she used the same subject line for several years, “I saw your comment on outbound marketing.” And it works because it’s personalization at its best.
- First line. Keep in mind that all email apps and desktop mail clients now show the first sentence of the messages in the recipient’s inbox. That’s another opportunity to catch a prospect’s attention (if you blew your chances with previous email elements) or keep the spark of interest you have ignited with the subject line. So, don’t open up raving about your company and product. Hook their attention with a tidbit about their recent job change, software upgrade, award received at a competition, or whatever the god of personalization allowed you to find out about your prospects. Keep within reasonable limits and avoid coming across as a stalker.
- Body of an email. Develop your narrative in the body. Alex talks about his personalized emails, “We reached out to health care professionals and used the name, phase and stage of the clinical trial. So we crafted the copy like, “Hey, we’ve just seen that your clinical trial NCT 911 is now in its final phase, so you’re probably thinking about commercialization of the drug once it’s approved. Here’s what we can suggest…”
According to statistics, email marketing is now Number One in terms of ROI and effectiveness in the sales process. Email allows marketers and reps to engage with their audiences on a higher level. However, we shouldn’t forget that digital transformation is not uniform. Yes, now we all have smartphones, but many B2B clients don’t bother replying or checking cold emails at all. That’s why using the phone can be a legit marketing channel specifically for your target audience. Your ICP should tell you all about the best communication channels to reach out to your best leads.
Part Three of the cold outreach framework aims to marry data and practice. When open and click-through rates are good, keep leading with value. You have caught prospects’ attention. Now, ask yourself, “What opportunity and value can I create for my potential customers?” And using all the information you have, create the optimal number of email sequences to keep showing the opportunities you can unlock for prospects with the product or service.
1) Make the right offer
If you don’t do a sales pitch right in the first cold email and get it all right, the odds are that leads are open to an offer. The way you approach it somewhat depends on the industry you’re in. Sports and Entertainment are more casual and relaxed. So you can record a video and add it to your second or third email to show your face (people trust face-to-face communication more). Banking and Government Administration are more conservative regarding appearances and formalities. It’s not a reason to write long formal letters but keep that in mind when crafting an email template.
2) Don’t be reluctant to follow up properly
No one makes a deal after just one cold email in the business world, so following up is mandatory. Typically, it takes three to eight touches to convert a deal, and for some, at least three-four follow-ups are required for a lead to respond.
- Following up is simple. You don’t need to come up with something pretentious. Write something to the effect, “Hey, did you have the chance to check what I’ve sent to you?” or “Did you share with your colleagues what’s their feedback.” Alex says, “It just gives you more space to personalize your follow-ups, and that’s really good for the conversion.” A relevant case study is a great pretext to follow up.
B2B sales challenges abound, but so are solutions
Mike sums up, “Use this cold emailing strategy as the basis of your outreach. If you set up your email marketing process and get qualified appointments from it, it’s working. Start simple and then add more channels and touches – LinkedIn, advertising, guest blogging – to increase your sales pipeline conversion rates.”
The bottom line is that your cold outreach is the sum total of your inbound, your brand, your PR, digital footprint, your website, your business, your value, and all that will reflect in your campaign results. Whatever you do, you definitely can do outreach.
But think in terms of conversions. If your efforts bring you insignificant results, think about outsourcing and partnering with those who are long-time professionals in running cold outreach.