An effective email outreach program can be a game changer for any B2B business, but with so much information out there about the “best” subject lines or message templates and the “most accurate” data providers, how do you know if you are making good decisions?
As we’ve sent hundreds of thousands of emails for our clients and our own campaigns, we’ve found that while templates and data providers are critical, there are a few things many people overlook that just may be more important to the overall success of your cold email campaigns.
We’ve created this guide to provide some insight into all the things we’ve found to be really important and give you some questions you should be asking yourself(or your email outreach agency) before, during and after your campaigns.
Before You Launch Your Email Outreach Program
The most important decisions will all be made BEFORE you send your first email. There’s a lot of work related to how you set up and build your campaign. The decisions you make during this phase can mean you will are building a consistent, long-term lead source or setting yourself up for a big setback a few months down the line. Let’s start with the basics:
Did you create a detailed target profile?
Before you venture out into the email outreach world, you must define your ideal target profile. The more specific your target audience, the more likely you will be able to create messaging that resonates with their needs.
Your target company profile should include things like industry of your target prospects, ideal company size(either in revenue or number of employees), locations that you want to target or exclude and technology requirements, i.e. does your ideal company prospect use Quickbooks or Salesforce. Also, it’s good practice to start with a list of specific companies you can use as good examples that fit your profile. If you have a list of current clients, you will likely want to exclude them from your search.
Once you have the company profile in place, you need to identify the contact person you will ideally be connecting with at your prospective companies. You will need to identify departments or seniority levels, at the least. Ideally, you will have specific titles or will be looking for people that are new in their roles or have certain number of years in the organization. If you get really specific(and go multi-platform for your search) you can include people that are in certain groups on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Is your content speaking to your target prospect?
Do you know what problems your prospect is facing every day when trying to do their job? What would they look for when evaluating the success of a project or service you would offer them? How do you make their lives easier? These are questions you should have in mind when crafting your content.
Always position your message around how you can help them or how their life will be after you help them. Don’t waste your time talking about your business. Focus on how your business will help.
Does your content utilize personalization?
People like to see their name (insert stat on personalization data). Using your prospect’s name, title, company name and any other relevant data throughout your campaigns will likely significantly improve your results. However, make sure you don’t overuse personalization tags or use them in an unnatural way.
Best practices dictate that you should use their first name in the greeting, i.e. Dear [firstname]. If you have the prospect’s title or company name, you can use it to help them understand more about why you are messaging them, specifically, i.e. “I think my company can help [companyname] save more money” There are a lot of creative ways to use personalization to improve open rates and response rates, just make sure you send test emails to yourself to make sure things are displaying the way you expect.
Are you using the right email outreach tool?
First thing’s first – email outreach and marketing emails are two different things. You can not use a tool designed to send your monthly newsletters or “email blasts” to your lists for email outreach. Email outreach requires a tool specifically designed to mimic 1 to 1 email sending. This means the tool needs to send each email as if you were manually sending an email to each person on your list. It’s a different process than batch sending to your lists of clients or leads in Mailchimp, Hubspot or ActiveCampaign.
When choosing a tool, there are some important things to understand and critical features you should look for. First, understand that you will be connecting your(or your sales reps) email addresses to the platform. The system will be sending email on your behalf, so the email will show up in your Sent folder. Also, the responses will come into your inbox. This includes, in most cases, out of office replies and bounce notification emails in addition to the legitimate replies from prospects.
When looking for features, basic functionality should include ability to easily connect your email addresses, ability to build campaigns with unique content and target lists, ability to A/B test subject lines and content, personalization functionality and reporting with ability to track open and click through rates. Also, it’s nice to be able to customize sequence delivery timelines and/or days and hours for deliverability. Many platforms will allow you to respond to messages from within their platform, but you can also respond in the email inbox itself. Finally, having the ability to export data or automate pushing data into your CRM or tracking document is a huge benefit.
Should you use your real email address or create new ones?
This is a very common question we get from our new or prospective clients. With all email marketing or sales initiatives there is always a risk or getting a negative email sender reputation or winding up on a dreaded blacklist. The last thing you want to happen is to launch an email outreach campaign to help lots of other businesses only to end up hurting your own by having your email deliverability destroyed.
For many of our clients, we reduce this risk drastically by creating completely separate domains with all new email addresses which are used for the campaigns we run for them.This way, their primary domains are never used in the campaign, and if one of these domains is blacklisted(worst case scenario), we can create a new one and start fresh. Because of the conservative nature of our email warm up and managing of daily volume, none of our clients have ever been blacklisted(knock on wood), but this strategy further reduces risk. Another benefit of this method is to keep this campaign completely separate from other lead gen efforts which may help in reporting.
Some of our clients did not want to go that route, and instead, have opted to use their primary email. This keeps everything in one inbox that they are already using every day, and they find it easier to follow up with interested prospects. One note here – they also have to sift through the auto-replies and bounce notifications. The bounces shouldn’t be very frequent, but auto-replies can be fairly significant around holiday times.
How are you finding your data?
There are A LOT of options out there to find B2B lead data. Beware: they are not all created equally. This topic can get very lengthy so for this piece we are only going to discuss some of the most important considerations.
First and foremost, understand how your data source is finding the data you will be using. If you are using a 3rd party data provider, get them to explain the process they use to obtain and verify their data. How often do they update the data. What are your restrictions for using the data.
Second, understand that depending on your needs, it might be best(and cheapest) to use multiple data sources pulled together to get the information you need. This is especially true if you have technology requirements. You can likely find a large list of Company data that use your required technology and then find contacts at those companies from a 2nd provider for cheaper than going to a single solution that will do that for you.
Third, understand that B2B data has a high turnover in today’s world. Anywhere between 20-40% of data turns over each QUARTER. This means a list built on January 1 will be 20-40% invalid by April 1. It’s just the nature of our fast-paced world. People change jobs, companies go out of business, etc. Know it, and plan for it.
Are you taking any steps to ensure the quality of your data?
Because of our third point above, it’s imperative that you are using some type of process to validate and verify the accuracy of the email addresses you are using. There are lots of tools out there that do this, and many data providers are incorporating this technology into their databases at some level. Basically, they should be pinging each email address to make sure it comes back as a valid address.
This step will significantly impact your deliverability and open rates. If you send to a high percentage of invalid emails addresses, email servers will easily identify you as a SPAM sender. Your deliverability and open rates will drop significantly as you will be in the SPAM folder.
Do you have a plan for how you will handle the leads?
Ok, so you’ve got your target, messaging content and list in order and you are ready to launch your first email outreach campaign. So what will you do when one of your prospects responds requesting a demo? You’d be surprised how often this part is overlooked. We recommend you document this process out just as you would for a lead that fills out a form on your site(you do that right?). You should have basic response templates for expected responses and know what you are trying to accomplish with your new leads.
Another important thing to realize is you will likely receive comments like, “I’m not the right person for this. You should contact my boss Jane Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.” These are great warm intros, and you need to expect them and have a process to address them efficiently.
Have you done all the set-up to make sure you are prepared to keep your data organized?
Do you have a CRM? Do you manage your leads in your CRM? If so, it will make a lot of sense to get these new leads into your CRM as quickly and efficiently as possible. Ideally, this would involve automation that sends them over with the click of a button.
If you manage sales reps, you may also want to set up a lead tracker that automatically sends all the warm leads from your campaign into one Google sheet or similar spreadsheet. This way there is a simple checks and balances mechanism in place to make sure no leads are overlooked and understand how they are moving through the pipeline. We do this for our clients and many of them make notes here so we can understand which leads are more frequently producing better results. We can then use this to make strategic edits when gathering new data.
Ongoing Email Outreach Campaign Maintenance
Ok, so you’ve got a good plan, and you made sound decisions when building out your campaign. Now, you will need to shift gears so you can manage the responses and leads to get maximum return from your email outreach efforts.
Understanding the Numbers – Response Rates and Volume Expectations
Before you begin an email outreach program, it’s important to have a general understanding of what’s going to be happening from a volume standpoint. Results can vary greatly based on your target audience and messaging, but there are a few general guidelines you can expect as minimum response expectations.
Keep in mind these numbers are based on number of individuals contacted, not number of emails sent i.e. 1000 people in a campaign with 3 emails would be a total of 3000 potential emails. These figures are based on the 1000 people number.
- Total response rate will likely be between 15-50% for most campaigns. This includes positive(I want to talk), neutral(I’m not the right person) and negative(I’m not interested) replies.
- Positive response rates typically fall between 1-5%. It can go higher with really dialed in targeting and messaging, but most of our clients fall within these ranges no matter what they are offering. Not all positive responses equal a new client, this means they at least wanted more information, a demo, a sales call, etc.
- Neutral response rates will likely be 3-10%. These are people that are passing you on to someone else or don’t have authority to make the decision. It’s not a no, but not a yes either.
- Negative response rates make up the majority of most campaigns and typically fall in the 10-40% range. If you’re audience is very email-responsive, you could get 100-400 “NO’s” per 1000 people you contact.
- Out of Offices and Bounce notifications can be significant based on your target and time of year you are running your campaign.
The large number of overall responses can be daunting for someone that has to do everything on their own while managing other aspects of their company. It’s important to understand that you will get GOOD leads(10-50 per 1000 people you contact, ideally), but there is work involved. This is one reason people turn to companies like Spark Outbound. We can help them manage some aspects of this or handle all of the initial responses.
What about auto-replies?
Ahhh, the auto-reply. Do some people ever work? But seriously, these automated vacation reminders play a critical role in the email outreach world. Most cold email tools are designed to stop sending emails to an individual contact when they respond. This works great for everyone who responds with a positive, negative or neutral response as it ensures they don’t continue to receive any of the follow-up messages.
However, if the system sees an auto-response and pauses the campaign, you could potentially miss out on several other messages that person should receive. Cold email systems handle this differently, so this is a case by case scenario, but our system allows us to manually set a restart date for that contact. This means is their auto-response states that they will be out of the office until the 20th, we can manually tell the system to restart their campaign on the 21st. This way they won’t receive repeat messages while they are out of the office, and they will drop back into the campaign once they are back at work.
The importance of follow-up sequences
You need to send each person more than one email to have an effective cold email campaign. Unless you have a specific strategy where you are prioritizing different statistics like open rates rather than leads(this means you are an advanced email outreacher), you will likely see that email 1 of your sequence only delivers a small percentage of your positive responses.
Emails 2-5+ will also deliver a significant percentage of your positive responses. For many of our clients, email 2 delivers the most responses of any message. This is primarily because of our message strategy, but it can also simply be because the person sees the persistence and takes the time to actually read what you said in email 1.
There’s a fine line between the appropriate number of follow-ups and too many. We generally send a prospect between 3-6 total emails space out between 3-6 weeks depending on how many total emails are in the campaign. We have, of course, seen stats from others that send 8-10 messages to one person, but we have not seen the same success in that scenario.
How do I handle bounces?
No matter how much effort you put into your list prep, you will likely have SOME bounces. Don’t let this discourage you unless it becomes a significant percentage of people contacted each day. If this happens, it might be pointing to a bigger problem like being blacklisted.
Assuming it’s just normal activity caused by list turnover, or the occasional super-charged corporate SPAM filter, you will just need to take a few actions to make sure you are keeping yourself in the best possible position to avoid this from happening again.
You could unsubscribe the contact to make sure they aren’t contacted again. This will make sure you don’t accidentally upload them to a new campaign and send again as they will be blocked. However, this throws off your unsubscribe stats and you won’t have the full picture to analyze your targeting and data.
You could delete them from your list, but this doesn’t do anything to prevent you from reuploading them to a new campaign. You also may lose some data depending on how your system works.
We have an option to mark the prospect as STOPPED in our software, and this is what we do. This way they do not receive any more emails in the campaign. We also have a fail-safe feature that will identify them as a duplicate in any new campaigns so we don’t reupload them and send again. We could also export all stopped contacts from every completed campaign and add them to a client’s suppression list.
Whichever way you will proceed, understand the methodology and do it every time. A clean list is a happy list.
A/B Testing Subject Lines and Copy
When testing in marketing, it’s always good practice to limit variables. Because of this, we A/B test subject lines first to get the open rates up, and we use the same content no matter the subject line. Once we have good data on the open rates and can make adjustments, we start testing content to try to drive more conversions(positive responses).
We always try to use personalization in both the subject lines and the body of the email. More personalization or better implementation of personalization can often times result in more responses as the recipient feels that you are typing the message specifically for them. However, this takes a little creativity to master. You may have to try several variations over time to get to the “best” version.
Also, never forget, sometimes your offering is a miss with your market. In some cases, no personalization or magical email copy will make people want something they don’t need. You may need to reevaluate how you are presenting your offering. A good indicator for this is a high open rate on your emails and either a very high negative response rate or a very low overall response rate. I.e. they see what you’re saying, and they ain’t buying.
How to keep the momentum going
Whew….If you’re still with me, we’ve put a lot of work into this campaign. So are you ready for next month? Did you forget about next month? We’ve got to keep this train rolling if this is going to become a consistent lead generation source for your business. So what does this mean?
Primarily, we need to keep the flow of fresh contacts high continuously. We need more people receiving email 1 every day. Of course, we also need people receiving email 2, 3, 4, 5, etc every day as well. So don’t stop prospecting.
In addition, we need to be evaluating subject line performance and messaging performance so we can make informed decisions to adjust the campaign so we can improve performance.
Don’t forget you can also test out new target prospects or introduce new service lines as the focus of your content. Over time, you can go back to the people you’ve already contacted with fresh, and important updates you needed to let them know about.
Whatever you do, don’t stop now!(Unless you can’t handle the leads, then start hiring more sales people.)
Evaluating Email Outreach Results
Once your campaigns are firing, you will want to know how your results are stacking up. Understanding the structure of your campaigns and remaining patient until they have matured will be key here, and there are a few main areas you should be focusing on.
Which metrics are most important?
There are four key metrics we use to constantly evaluate the performance of our campaigns. They are, in logical order:
- Open rate – if people aren’t opening the emails, it will be very hard for them to respond to the emails.
- Click thru rate – We always include links to our client’s website in the email signature. People who are not sure if they should respond can check out our client by visiting their website. This shows an “engaged open” because the person clearly read and engaged with the email content.
- Total Response Rate – We are getting closer to the goal with all responses. Whether positive, negative or neutral responses mean people are opening the email and willing to share feedback. Neutral and negative responses can help us learn more about our targeting and messaging even though they don’t result in a conversion.
- Positive Response Rate – This is what we’re here for. A contact has responded that they are interested. We have “sparked” a conversation – see what I did there?
As a campaign matures we evaluate all these metrics to identify where we need to improve.
When do I evaluate results for a campaign?
Typically, we evaluate constantly. However, we are looking at different metrics at different parts of the campaign. We look at Open Rate from day 1. We want to make sure there is nothing wrong with deliverability, so we need to check opens constantly to identify any anomalies. Click thru rate in the beginning of a campaign is also a good indicator that the audience will likely be engaged.
Response rate is a bit trickier as we want to see some responses in the first week of any campaign, but we know we must be patient as we have to get contacts into emails 2-6 to be able to start predicting total results. At the end of the day, until the campaign is nearing completion, you will not know total results.
How to track results beyond initial email outreach
We track results from each campaign through our sales funnel by adding tags and notes. Companies use so many different CRM systems with their sales teams that it’s impossible to give a standard one-size-fits-all explanation, but this is our system:
When a prospect’s response is marked as a Positive Response in our email outreach system, it is automatically added as a contact and a “Deal” in our CRM. The lead source for the deal is added as “Email Outreach” and the deal is titled the campaign name the contact was associated with. As long as the contact is an active deal, we know where they came from. They then are guided through our normal sales process – Discovery Call, Presentation, Proposal, Won and On-boarding.