Predictable Revenue cold email Q&A featuring Mailshake’s Sujan Patel

Collin Stewart, CEO

5 September 2018

And now for something completely different.

On The Predictable Revenue Podcast, our CEO and co-founder Collin Stewart gets to interview sales leaders from across North America about how they scale their respective companies.

But in this Q&A session with Sujan Patel, co-founder of email outreach platform Mailshake, we turn the microphone around a little bit. In this wide-ranging chat, originally recorded for a recent webinar, Collin and Sujan answer probing questions from webinar registrants…and each other.

The following discussion has been edited for length and clarity. If you want to listen to the entire webinar, head over here.

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What’s the right strategy for cold outreach? What outputs are you expecting to see from a campaign that one SDR is running?

Sujan: Ultimately, my gauge is whether people are opening, responding, and booking meetings. If I’m getting opens only, I’m losing people. So, in that case I’m looking at copy to see what’s wrong with it, and where I can improve.

If I’m getting opens and replies, then something is off on the booking end of things. Maybe, in a situation like that, I would look into using a tool such as Calendly to help get the booking right then and there.

But, ultimately, it comes down to who you are going after. If you’re selling tractors, you’re likely talking to farmers, or farm repair professionals. Understand that market, and look at what your competitors are doing. How are they connecting with that market? Is it outbound sales? Or, door to door? Figure out who you are selling to, and what makes them tick.

Collin: That is a great point. If you are selling farm equipment, or a more traditional business, than you have to take a lot of the sales content out there with a grain of salt. It’s just not an apples to apples comparison. Sales content written by companies that build sales products, will have a lot of data on open rates and replies, but what does that mean to the person selling farm equipment? On the other hand, if you’re running a campaign to restaurants for Uber, you’re going to get a bonkers response rate.

So, you have to understand who you’re talking to, first and foremost, when you’re sifting through all of the content that’s out there. The best copy you can use on a customer is their own. So, if you’re selling to farmers, talk to farmers. That’s how you will resonate. Your opportunity to nail your email is very small, so make the most of it. Make sure it reflects the person that is reading it.

What’s your take on personalization in your outreach? How much is too much? And, of course, how much is just right?

Collin: I think there are two approaches: the first is you go all in and write something that is super personalized. This method will take you a lot of time, and most likely represents your top1% of accounts. For these accounts, you’ll likely have a reference customer ready to go as well. This is a much higher touch strategy too – it’s not just phone calls, and it’s not just emails. It’s everything. We call it the kitchen sink at Predictable Revenue.

For everybody else, and we’re always testing a lot of tactics, we have found that personalizing into the job role works well. And you can do this at scale. A good way to visualize this is to think of the levels of personalization you can leverage. The first is to an entire industry. That is fairly easy to do. The next level down from that is a buyer persona. Again, not a specific person, but a general role. You write to that persona. The next level down from that is the company. And, finally, you have a direct individual.

The sweet spot will vary for every single company out there. There is no silver bullet. You have to test, test, test.

Sujan: Personalization at the persona level is an area I like to play with because it is scalable. At my company, my role is Chief Marketing Officer. So, you know I’m interested in hiring, marketing, and conferences – there are things that the role, in general, is interested in. If you target me as an individual, I’m interested in skydiving and motorcycles. That will take you a bit of time to learn about me. But, how do you learn that for the people who sell tractors? That could be much harder. But you can still learn the persona level, and prospect to it.

What’s an appropriate open rate for a campaign?

Collin: I think with open rates, in my experience, anywhere between 20% – 40% is good. If you’re getting below 10%, you probably have a deliverability issue. If your open rates are somewhere in between, you probably need to test your subject line.

Sujan: Somewhere in the area of 3% – 10% range for response rate is acceptable. Anything below that, you have room to improve. Usually, the biggest culprit for low response rates is that you don’t have a clear Call to Action, or you have a big ask in your email. For example, you are asking someone to hop on a call with you in 30 minutes.

Collin: I think you’ve hit on something very important here, Sujan, and that is the clarity of the Call to Action. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen multiple questions in a cold email. Which question do you want the prospect to answer? That can be very confusing for people.

Sujan: Never forget what you want the person to do. Yes, you want the prospect to read the thing. But, is that the only outcome you want? That’s the critical piece: you want your clear Call to Action to articulate what you want. Use the paragraph design to your advantage too. Have your Call to Action visible. I think of an email as a well-designed landing page, where all the design elements direct you the Call to action.

Collin: That’s interesting. I think of a cold email as a conversation.  A very strange, chopped up conversation. If I were to meet you in a bar, I would engage you. I wouldn’t just say ‘hi, I’m Predictable Revenue, I do this.’ You have to get to the point, but come across as a human. And, you don’t have to ask to meet tomorrow.

One tactic that has been super powerful for us has been what we call “Insightful Questions.” An example of that is “do you use Salesforce?” That’s an easy question to answer, but it tells us something important, and it makes it easier to follow up. And once you’ve had some back and forth, then you can get to your Call to Action. It won’t work for every campaign, but if you are struggling with response rates, this is a tactic to employ. 

Let’s talk a little bit about deliverability. This is a huge issue to consider in outbound sales.

Sujan: Spam filters look out for short tracking links (Bitly links), as well as super long tracking links. Think about when you get a marketing email from Macy’s, how many links are in their emails? One good way of avoiding the spam filter is just doing the exact opposite of what a company like Macy’s does.

Another important thing to consider is the language you use. Don’t use dollar signs, using all caps in subject lines, or keep reusing the same copy. You will get caught in spam filters. You need to personalize at scale in these cases, so make sure to change 10% or 15% or your copy. And, finally, be very careful about copying an email template because by the time an email template is shared, it has been used and abused.

Collin: This is super important, as deliverability affects everyone. Spam filters have been evolving dramatically. Google’s spam filters look for engagement and reputation now. So, do you have a reputation for sending high quality email, and do people engage with what you send out? If you are continuing to send the same template, you run the risk of doing semi-permanent damage to your domain as someone who send lower quality emails.

Sujan: One way to solve for this is to aim to get a response in your first email. And, don’t forget about your signature. Use your signature to build social proof. Show your prospects via your signature that you are an expert, and that will increase the likelihood of engagement on that first email.

What’s your strategy for A/B testing?

Sujan: I always start with an A/B test. If I have 1,000 people in a list, 250 emails will be tested with two different subject lines, as well as two completely different emails. The winning one will then be refined from there. So, the first test is really about what gets a good open rate, and then we start testing for replies.

Collin: I agree. The only thing we do a bit differently is acknowledging that reply rates can be negative. We can get a 10% response rate, but everybody is asking you to leave them alone. So, keep an eye out for positive response rates and see what messages generated those.

Have either of you found LinkedIn Sales Navigator useful? And, what is your experience with InMails?

Collin: I’m a big fan of LinkedIn Sales Navigator. I hate InMails, I don’t want to give LinkedIn any more money than I already do. So, I build a big list in Sales Nav, connect with a bunch of people, and as soon as people accept, I fire them the note I wanted to send. We have found this very useful for prospecting, and for talent. We used this method to hire our VP of Sales, and the two hires we made before that.

Sujan: The other thing to consider is engaging with prospects, after you connect. Engage with some of their content, and then message them. LinkedIn is doing a much better job with their feed, so use that your advantage.

What are your best practices for building a target list? And, where do you get the contact information from?

Sujan: There are so many tools. Pulling from LinkedIn, and using Sales Navigator works well. Also, I’m biased and really love Norbert. I have not had very much success buying lists, however. What are your thoughts, Collin?

Collin: There are certain cases where buying lists can work. DiscoverOrg, if you are targeting people or companies in the engineering space, is really good. They go crazy deep. But, they are a much larger investment.

I think it comes down to who you are targeting. I think one of the best ways to build a list is on LinkedIn. You can really drill down, and there are all types of boolean searches you can do. I’m a big fan of starting there, and then using tools like Norbert for the contact information. It’s really the cleanest way.

(Editor’s note: we chatted with Cole Fox, Bregal Sagemount’s Portfolio Operations Lead, about various tips and tricks for LinkedIn prospecting. You can listen to the discussion here, or read about it here). 

Sujan: Another thing to add here is the importance of scrubbing your list. For example, if you search CEOs in San Francisco, you are probably going to get a bunch of names you do not want to bother pitching. Tools won’t do the scrubbing, so make sure you look at the prospects in the list you’re building.

Is there a different cold email strategy when the industry you sell to is a slow adopting industry?

Sujan: The short answer is yes, absolutely. You should be educating. And you need content because you have to convince them to make a change.

Collin: I completely agree. You need content. Case studies are a huge piece of collateral, for instance. In some industries there is a much, much higher burden of proof that you are going to have to overcome. And, don’t talk about technology. Focus on the pain, and how you can help your market.

How do you craft a good subject line?

Sujan: I write 25 different subject lines. Most of those are pretty bad, but I weed out the bad stuff. Somewhere down the road, you start getting stuff you can work with.

The framework I use for writing emails is called the AIDA framework: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. This is copywriting 101. But, of course, there are many frameworks, so my suggestion is to choose one and work with it and see what kind of results you get.

How long does it take for a company just getting into outbound sales to get traction?

Collin: This is a great question. Honestly, it takes between 12 – 18 months. This is the timeframe for actually getting something valuable out of outbound. In the early days, you will see some responses and booked meetings, but keep in mind, when you’re building an SDR team you are building something brand new. It will take you three months to get your messaging worked out. It will take you another three months to get your process fine tuned. Beyond that, it will take about two sales cycles to start seeing results. And, we’re not even factoring in hiring the right people. This process takes time.

I think the area where most companies go wrong with outbound is that the meetings they book don’t go anywhere. Often, that is the result of reps not knowing that outbound meetings are a very different beast than inbound. They are so different, you almost want to have a different rep on your outbound meetings. Remember, you adding something into a prospect’s schedules that they weren’t expecting. You don’t know where they are in their buying cycles.

How many emails are your SDRs sending per day? And, how many emails per account?

Sujan: What are your sales goals? Is it 5,000 customers? Are you a self-service product? I think the smaller the amount you can send per day, the better. You will have a deliverability issue at some point.

Collin: Depending on how deep your are going with your personalization, I think 25 – 50 net new emails per day is good. If you are going with a more persona-based approach, 100 –150 net new emails per day is good spot. If you are hitting your response rates, that will give you a lot to work with.