Note: If you want the eight email templates I used for my automated campaign, click here to get access to the templates!
What if getting new clients for your agency or consultancy was as simple as pushing a button?
Ok, ok nothing is that easy but how about if getting conversations with new prospects and closing deals was a simple, repeatable process that you could turn on and off like a faucet without having to put in a ton of manual labor upfront.
Imagine waking up in the morning, deciding you want to add a few clients to your portfolio and make more money that month, you click a few buttons, and in a few hours, you have several messages in your inbox from people who are interested in giving you money.
Every Agency and Freelancer’s Number One Problem
Unfortunately, getting new clients is one of the biggest challenges that agencies face. According to a study by Hubspot, 60% of agencies say that their biggest pain point is finding new clients.
When asked what’s preventing their agency from growing as quickly as they would like, 55% said that they need more sales and/or marketing. It’s obvious that getting clients is the #1 concern for most agencies.
As a freelancer, getting clients is at the top of my list as well. In all honesty, I don’t have a diverse number of ways to get clients. I’m not a content marketer, I don’t know paid ads, and I’m not a great networker either.
But, one thing I am good at is getting sales on the phone and via email. After recently going full-time as a freelancer and working on building my business, I have more time to prospect and getting more clients has become one of the main focuses in my business.
I’ve done lots of cold calling in the past but never to sell content writing services. I feel that cold calling is a better channel for selling digital marketing services rather than just selling content writing.
I have content writing clients that I’ve worked with for years that I’ve never spoken to on the phone so I know that it’s not necessary to speak on the phone to secure these types of clients.
Proof that Cold Email Builds Businesses
In an effort to scale my time and energy my attention went immediately to cold email. Cold email is a viable channel for building businesses of all sizes:
Lauren Lopoch 14x’d her freelance copywriting business with cold email.
Alex Berman of Experiment27 used cold email to build a $400k agency in 30 days.
Ryan Robinson generated $110,500+ in 2017 for his freelance business using cold email. Ryan’s popular blog is also a big reason why he’s been able to grow a six-figure freelance business.
One of his strategies is featuring prospects on his own blog and then reaching out to let them know about their feature. If you’re looking to grow a large blog or business, check out his guide, 10 Steps: How to Start a Blog and Make Money in 2018 (The Ultimate Guide).
What’s Stopping You From Getting Results With Cold Email
So, we know that cold email, done properly, works. But, there are some roadblocks to getting good results
Sending out targeted, well-written emails takes time. Finding the right prospect, doing research, crafting the right email, etc.
Copywriting and Targeting
You have to send the email to the right person and your email copy has to pique their curiosity enough to get them to reply to your message.
People’s inboxes are getting slammed these days. The fight for attention is brutal. According to DMR, In 2018 the average office worker sends out 31 emails and receives 94 every day.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying that the fortune is in the follow-up. It’s true. According to Marketing Donut, it takes at least five follow up attempts after initial contact before a customer says yes. They also found that 92% of salespeople give up after no number 4 meaning only eight percent of people asking for the sale a fifth time. This infers that 8% of salespeople are closing 8-% of sales. Following up is mandatory if you want to make sales.
But, if you’re sending out a large amount of email to new prospects every day the number of follow up emails you’re sending can add up quick. No one wants to spend their whole day stuck in their inbox.
But, what if you could use automation to scale cold email? Instead of sending out manual, personalized emails one by one you could send personalized emails with automated follow up. If you’re interested in getting the results of a great cold email campaign without a ton of manual work, keep reading.
Very Important: Please Read
For this experiment, I decided to send short emails and use automation instead of manually sending emails and personalizing them. There are a lot of people who crush it by spending more time on their campaigns and I know for a fact that more personalized and targeted emails get better open and response rates but they also take longer to create and send.
I wanted to see how quickly I could put together a winning campaign instead of sending out personalized cold emails manually. What works best is figuring out what works for you and your business. Test out both methods and see what you like best. Now, back to the case study.
The Three Apps You Need to Create an Automated Email Lead Gen System
I wanted to get advice on an unrelated business problem so I booked a consulting call with Kai Davis through Clarity.fm – an online platform for getting business advice from experts via a phone call. Kai helps consultants get more clients without spending more on marketing.
The conversation eventually led to getting customers and on that call, he gave me insight into a part of his outbound marketing stack that changed the game for me. First, let’s do a quick rundown of the tech:
Co-founded by Susan Patel, this is an awesome tool that scales cold outreach by not only letting you mail merge your contacts but it also follows up with your prospects unless a certain condition is met like your recipient clicking on a link or replying to your email. This tool saves an enormous amount of time because it essentially lets you “set and forget” your campaign. Well, you can’t exactly forget about it but it will save you from having to do a ton of follow up.
This is an outstanding CRM because it’s incredibly simple. It allows you to stay organized without all the bells and whistles that are in other CRMs. This tool really comes in handy when you’re handling a large volume of email because you can respond to email, create deals, and move deals between stages all within the app. No need to switch back and forth between Gmail and Pipedrive. You can handle everything within Pipedrive.
I try to work with Google products whenever possible. They’re simple, easy to work with, and great for collaboration because just about everyone uses at least one Google product.
G Suite is really useful when you’re cold-emailing because your send limits with a free Gmail account are only 200 emails/day but with a paid G Suite account you can send up to 2,000/day.
I don’t send anywhere near that many (only ~250/day) but it’s nice to know that I can send as much email as I need to without worrying about getting thrown in Google jail, i.e. getting my account suspended for going over my send limits.
How to Get Clients with Automated Cold Email Lead Generation
So, now we’ll get into how the whole system works. Try to stick with me here.
Kai told me how he uses Mailshake to send out cold email campaigns to a list of prospects by linking the Mailshake app to his G Suite Gmail. Gmail is also linked to Pipedrive (called two-way sync) so that all sent and received Gmail messages show up in Pipedrive automatically.
Once someone replies to your email you can go into Pipedrive and manage it, i.e. create a deal, delete the email, etc.
This keeps everything organized and makes dealing with massive amounts of email much easier. Without this setup you would have to send initial and follow up emails out manually, deal with tons of message threads, and keep track of my deals in some other way.
This setup made it incredibly easier to scale outreach. With my framework in place, all that was left to do was write my email sequence, gather my prospects, and start firing off some emails.
Getting Clients – Step by Step
To execute this cold email campaign there are a few things I had to do.
First, I needed to figure out who I would be emailing exactly. There’s a lot of talk online about creating customer personas using demographics and psychographics. Understanding your customer is good practice in sales and marketing but I prefer to follow Dan Noriss’ advice from the book, “Content Machine”.
Dan built a seven-figure business, WP Curve, using content marketing with $0 spent on advertising and he eventually sold it to GoDaddy. He obviously knows content marketing. In the book, he says to make content for a community instead of individual personas.
Although I wasn’t looking to find a community for content marketing purposes, I decided to adapt it to my approach because I was still looking to get my prospects to take action. I decided to contact agencies that offer SEO because they always need content. I’ll get into who I decided to target at the agencies later.
To find the agencies I went to Clutch.co. If you aren’t familiar with Clutch.co, it’s pretty much Yelp for digital agencies.
When it comes to actually getting the data it’s a pretty tedious process but there are lots of tools that can help like LinkedIn Navigator, Hunter, and Find That Lead.
Once you find the data you’ll need to test the emails using something like Mailtester.com, Verifyemailaddress.com, or Email-Checker.com.
You can either find it yourself or pay someone else to do it. I decided to outsource the work. I went over to Fiverr and found a provider that offered an appropriate gig, i.e., I’ll find X number of leads $X. My lead cost ended up being $.20/lead.
When it came to figuring out who to contact I decided to start with directors and managers of Content, SEO, etc. of the agencies.
I figured that those people were in charge of content and content writers so they would be the right ones to target. I got decent results with that. More on that later. But things really kicked up a notch when I decided to do two things.
1. The Waterfall Technique
I found out about the Waterfall Technique by watching Bryan Kreuzberger on an episode of Andrew Warner’s Mixergy show. Bryan Kruzeberger used the Waterfall Technique to win $20 million in business from companies like MasterCard, Bank of America, and Home Depot. So, let’s get into the technique.
Bryan would write separate emails to the CEO, CMO, VP of Marketing, and Director of Marketing. This technique banks on the fact that CEOs love to delegate. The CEOs won’t respond to you’re email but they’ll delegate it out to the right department, i.e., they will forward the email. Your message will move down the ladder like a waterfall and flow to the right person.
You’re using the company’s hierarchy to your advantage. Instead of spending a ton of upfront time trying to reach the decision maker and emailing him or her directly, and probably getting your email deleted, your email will get passed down from the CEO and the person you want to reach has a better chance of responding because they’re getting your email passed down from their boss instead of you directly.
I use a slight variation in that I don’t email several people at each company. I only email one. I’ve found a lot of success using this technique. You save time by not having to find the decision maker and you have a higher probability of getting a reply.
NOTE: If you’re using Mailshake, make sure that you check your campaigns every day. If you get a response to one of your emails that isn’t a direct reply, your campaign will keep going and you may continue to email a company that you’re already in a conversation with.
You don’t want to keep them in your email campaign when you’re already talking to someone else at the company. Instead, you’ll want to pause them or unsubscribe them from your campaign.
2. Niching Down
Number two was to niche myself down. Instead of just offering general content writing services, I tested niching myself down to legal content writing and as a writer that was local to the Chicago area so I had to tweak my messaging just a bit.
My hook was that I am a former law student so I have more knowledge of legal issues than the average freelance writer. For my local pitch, my hook was that I was local to the Chicago area I saw a much better response to my emails once I did this.
Writing and Scheduling the Emails
The next thing I had to do was write and schedule the emails. If there’s one thing I know it’s that the fortune truly is in the follow-up.
Most people will ignore your first attempt at outreach but after several well-crafted follow-ups, you’re much more likely to get their attention and get a reply. After doing some research I came across a few awesome blog posts by Steli Efti at Close.io about writing good follow-up emails:
Master the sales follow-up with this proven formula – Tells you exactly when and how to follow-up for maximum results
How humor affects response rates for follow-up sales emails (we’ve got the data) – How you can use humor to improve response rates.
The winning cold email follow-up game plan – More great info on how to improve your follow-up game
After reading these articles I was able to write and schedule eight emails in Mailshake.
Here was the sequence:
- Initial Emails
- Follow-up 1 day later
- Follow-up 2 days later
- Follow-up 5 days later
- Follow-up 7 days later
- Follow-up 7 days later
- Follow-up 14 days later
- Follow-up 14 days later
Want to get the email templates I used for this campaign? You can get them here
There was no hard and fast rule on when I would send out emails. I wanted to test as much as possible. I did notice that early in the morning and late at night towards the middle of the week did well, i.e., around 5 am local time Tuesday through Thursday. The weekend was also good too – Saturday/Sunday morning and afternoon were also good times.
When I wrote my emails I had one goal. That was to get a reply, i.e. start a conversation. The problem with most cold emails is that they are too long, too detailed, and they ask for too much. Here’s a terrible cold email that was originally published on Jill Konrath’s blog as an example on how not to write a cold email.
Why This Email is Bad:
- Too long – Coming from an unknown sender, this is too long for anyone to read.
- Too “Me” oriented – Immediately goes into how good the sender’s company is. This is a big no-no.
- Too big of an ask – This immediately asks for a phone call. The prospect doesn’t know who you are. No one wants to jump on the phone with a stranger who is trying to sell them.
- Too much, too soon – The sender jumps right into the service offering without the prospect showing any interest.
The goal of a cold email isn’t to sell. The goal is to get the prospect’s attention and get a reply. I even consider “no” a good response because at least I got a definitive answer. The worst response you can get is no response. Here’s the initial email I used:
I even got several compliments on my email series:
Why this email is good:
- It’s short and to the point – People don’t have time to read cold emails all day. Try to keep your email to 2 – 3 sentences. If it can fit on a smartphone screen, you’re good.
- Show value and spark curiosity – Briefly let your prospect know what’s in it for them and build in a little curiosity to get them to ask for more. You don’t want to give away the farm in the first email. Keep them guessing just enough to make them hit the reply button.
- Give them an out – Make it easy for them to say “yes” or “no”. In the email, I explicitly state how the prospect should respond to the email if they want to move forward or if they want to stop receiving emails. They don’t even have to think about what they should say next (this is good).
I agree that personalized emails have a much better chance of getting a response but for this campaign, I was really going for speed and efficiency. If I was selling a higher priced service, or to a larger organization, I would have given more thought to making my emails more personalized.
Also, humor works well 🙂
Following Up Is Non-Negotiable
The topic of follow up deserves it’s own post altogether. Follow up isn’t just good practice. It’s vital to your email campaigns. If you don’t follow up, you won’t sell.
Tools like Mailshake are great for automatic follow up on ice cold prospects but once someone engages with your email, it’s your turn to manually take over and show some salesmanship. Most cold email information on the web is just about the initial email template but your follow up game will have to tight (great) to win deals.
You’re going to have to wade through tons of email during this process. This part requires a lot of heavy lifting. You’re essentially panning for gold – sifting through mountains of sand to find your gold.
Some will be flakes and others will be nuggets. What you do at this point can make or break all the work you have done up till now so you want to make sure you get it right. There are four types of responses you will get to your emails:
- No response
- Go to hell or No thanks
Remove these from your campaign at the end of the day so that you don’t email them again. No need to clog up your inbox with bounce messages.
There’s nothing you can really do with no responses. The best thing you can do with these people is to save them in an excel sheet and put them in a new campaign with a different angle in about six months or target someone else at the company.
Go to Hell or No Thanks
You’ll need some thick skin when you execute mass email campaigns because you’re going to get some venom thrown back at you.
Just make sure to take them out of your campaign, move on, and don’t sweat it. But don’t forget to take a screenshot of the email so you can put it in your next blog post 🙂
Other people will just say no thanks. This is fine. Just make sure to take them out of your campaign and let them know that they have been removed.
This is where the money is. You need to respond very carefully here. The main principle is you want to give enough information to pique interest and not dive too deep in the beginning. People are automatically looking to put you in a box and label you.
You want to avoid that as much as possible. Think of your email exchange as needing to have several different stages. They need to know who you are, that you can do what you say you can do, how the process works, your pricing, etc.
You’ll notice that after answering tons of emails you will get the same type of questions over and over again. For example, for this campaign my prospects wanted to know three different things:
- Portfolio – They wanted to see examples of my work
- Price – They wanted to know how much things cost
- Process – They wanted to know what my process was for completing assignments and turning things in
The best advice here is to figure out your sales process and help your prospects check each box as the move along. Don’t jump the gun and give them all the info about your offer before they ask for it. Guide them through each step.
If you have a good about page, people won’t need to ask you who you are because they will just go to your website and read about you. Make sure to end your about page with a good call to action!
The Phone: Where Deals are Won or Lost
I had to close some of my deals on the phone. Phone sales is way too big of a topic to fully cover in this post.
But, if you’ve had an extended email exchange with someone and they want to talk to you on the phone, it most likely means that they are interested but they just want to speak with you so they can make sure you are a real person and check off a few more boxes.
Be confident, stay loose, and make sure you close the deal, i.e. work out the next steps before the call is over. Get some type of commitment, even if it just means that you lock down a date that you will follow up with them. Don’t leave the call without setting clear expectations.
The Results of My Campaign
Here were the results of my email campaign:
Number of email batches – 5
Number of Prospects – 783
Emails sent – 3,579
Bounces – 99 (13%)
Opens – 1,914 (53%)
Replies – 188 (24%)
New Customers – 10
If you’re looking to start your own cold email campaigns, here are some things to consider:
This is fishing, not hunting. You’re trying to find people who have a problem that you can solve. You aren’t going to “convince” anyone to work with you.
You have to find people that have the pain and then your job is to remove any objections they may have. Find people who are looking for a solution. Out of every campaign, you’ll get people who are so happy that you contacted them because they’ve been waiting to relieve this pain.
Don’t think of it as getting them to say “yes”. Think of it as removing every single objection they have until “yes” is the most logical response. Make it a no-brainer.
Timing is a huge factor. You can’t optimize having good timing though. All you can do is keep doing outreach.
Using templated responses
As mentioned earlier, After working my way through tons of email I started to notice patterns to responses. Pipedrive has a template feature which lets you respond to emails with a templated response.
This was a huge timesaver because I was able to throw in a template and make a few small edits instead of writing an email from scratch. Of course, you can always copy and paste a templated email from anywhere but Pipedrive made it super convenient – which I love.
Closing on the phone and using a foot in the door offer
When you’re on the phone close the deal with a foot in the door offer. Give them a risk-free offer, instead of a high ticket one, just to get to the next step.
Take a small step instead of a leap just so you can gain trust, show your skills, and win additional business.
Making a small ask
Don’t give away the farm as soon as you get a positive response from someone. When someone responds it doesn’t mean that they are ready to buy immediately.
If they have a question, answer it and keep the conversation going. They most likely want a little more info. Give them what they need to get to the next step of the sales process.
Like I mentioned earlier, the more you email, the “luckier” you get.
What Didn’t Work
Emailing the decision maker directly
Emailing the CEO and using the waterfall technique worked much better than emailing a department or decision maker directly.
Some of the lead lists I got back from my lead generator were full of bad emails and the wrong types of companies. I would do a better job at cleaning these lists in the future.
Leaving campaigns on “auto-pilot”
These automated email campaigns aren’t 100% set-it-and-forget-it. Just like a farmer needs to attend to his crops every day, you’ll want to spend time checking over your email campaigns doing things like cleaning your inbox, updating your CRM, responding to people, removing bad data, etc.
What I Will Do Next Time
More personalization using mail merge tokens and niche down
I may try using more mail merge personalization in future campaigns. To do this I would segment my lists to keep things organized and to make sure that my messaging stays more targeted. Niching down worked better for me in this case study so I will definitely want to explore that further.
Send more emails
I got busy with the work that I won during these campaigns and I paused them so I could catch up on my work. DON’T DO THIS! No matter what you should keep your campaigns running so you can keep your pipeline full.
You have to continually, mail, test, split test, optimize, etc. to keep your funnel full. Your pipeline is a direct reflection of your past 30 days of activity. Pausing your campaigns will set you back and can lead to a down month.
Do The Math
Before my next set of campaigns I will look at my metrics and tie my revenue to activity, i.e. I will break things down and figure out how much each outbound email is worth to me. That way I can figure out how many people I need to email to hit my revenue goals.
Clean My Lists
In any batch of cold email prospects, you’re bound to get some emails that are fake, no longer valid, or otherwise non-existent. Getting hard bounces from emails can hurt your domain reputation and email deliverability rate.
For a cold email campaign to be effective you need to keep as many emails out of the spam box as possible. I’ll make sure to clean my lists using a service like Neverbounce the next time I fire up a campaign. Neverbounce verifies and cleans your email lists to improve your email deliverability.
Split Test My Campaigns
I will definitely try split testing my campaigns in the future. I’ll start with optimizing for opens, then replies, and finally, appointments set. This will improve my conversion rate meaning that I will get better results from sending out the same amount of email.
Sell More Expensive Services
To improve ROI I will start pitching more expensive services. If I sell products at a higher price point I will get a better return on my time spent working on a campaign.
My average order value was low ($100 – $125 per 1,000-word article) so I spent less time on personalization. If you’re selling more expensive services or selling to larger companies then I would for sure spend more time on personalization. I’m looking for the low-hanging fruit on a short sales cycle with my emails.
At the end of the day, I consider the campaign a success because I was ROI positive (over 2,061%). I learned a lot from the campaigns and will definitely use what I learned in my next campaigns.
If you’re looking to drum up quick business from new customers you’ll be hard-pressed to find a much better way than cold outreach via email or phone.
I hope this case study was valuable to you and feel free to ask me any questions you may have about the process. You can reach me at @jddropout on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.