This article was originally published in Medium.
You’ve got a lot of competition when it comes to winning your prospect’s attention. Even if your brilliant cold email has slipped past the spam blockers and the user-defined filters, it must still rise through the clutter of your prospect’s inbox and *gulp* actually get opened! Statistically speaking, you’re more like to locate a lost contact lens in the mosh pit at a Slayer concert.
Believe it or not, prospects read your emails more often than you think they do. Open rates are often understated because of all the inbox tracking-blockers in play. So, the question is “why are prospects not responding to you?”
Simple: You’re not delivering them value.
Luckily, I was able to enlist the help of several of my favorite sales gurus and we crowdsourced this list of 41 great value-showing ideas for cold-emailing prospects. Scroll to the end for links to contributing authors. Enjoy!
- First, examine ANY content the prospect has developed, contributed to, presented, or directly published and find an intelligent article that will add to their acumen on the topic. Recommended copy: “I found your comments informative and valuable. Here’s independent validation on their truth: [ARTICLE LINK].”
- Go to Slideshare, search on a term relevant to the prospect’s role (ad fraud, bots, Big Data, etc.), and send them a presentation link with your educated opinion on the topic. Let the prospect know why you think the topic is relevant to their business. Recommended subject line: “Some important data/insights you may not have uncovered yet.”
- Next, head over to Pinterest, search for “infographic + [important topic]” and send the link to it. Recommended subject line: “Compelling facts for your next presentation to the execs straight from a Pinterest link.”
- If the prospect is in leadership at any level, send a link to Simon Sinek’s brilliant Ted Talk: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” with your own perspective on what makes a leader great. Tie it back to your own company’s leadership and your respect for them. Recommended subject line: “My personal thoughts about what makes a great leader.” The phrase “My Personal Thoughts” is about as compelling as the phrase “Dear Diary” — who wouldn’t continue reading? See how far it gets you.
- Get out from behind your desk and go buy/try/participate with your prospect’s product or service — perhaps this weekend. Become a customer! Document the experience with pictures and video. Write a short blog post (with a picture or two) about your experience on your own blog, or your company’s blog. Engage your favorite marketing team member to help you punch it up, then send them the link. Recommended subject line: “[Company Name] Customer Survey research, sample size = 1.” To refer to an earlier comment above, prospects love news from the field. Bonus points if you can incorporate comments from people of all ages about their product’s value.
- Twist on #5, if your prospect’s company sells a B2C product, go to the primary place where your customer’s product is sold and ask a few people who end up in the aisle what they think of the product, the brand, the merchandising of the brand, the presentation of the product, etc. Give away some $5 Starbucks gift cards in exchange for their unvarnished opinion so you can gather more information. Bonus points if you can get a social media release form signed so you can post their comments to your own company’s social media, and extra bonus points for a video!
- Competitive insight idea #1: For B2B sellers, grab a whitepaper from your prospect’s competitor and offer your perspective on why your prospect’s firm offers a better solution. You don’t have to be right, you just have to have a reasonable opinion. Recommended subject line: “[Product Name] is better than [Competitor’s Name]’s [Product Name] and I want to tell you why.” Prospects LOVE to gather releasable user feedback.
- Competitive insight idea #2: Read through recent Twitter, FB, LinkedIn posts from your prospect’s competitor and offer a perspective on their marketing messaging or content strategy (or lack thereof). Send the social post link embedded in a Bit.ly link to track their engagement. (Note, URL shorteners sometimes cause your outbound email to be pushed to a non-priority folder in your prospect’s inbox, so test it out on your own personal email account to see what happens).
- Competitive insight idea #3: Find any recent informed or expert reviews — such as a Gartner, Forrester, or G2 study — of your prospect’s competition and provide your perspective on that competitor’s Achilles heel. Recommended subject line: “Just found this on my quest to find [Competitor Name]’s Achilles heel.”
- Competitive insight idea #4: Search for an appearance of your prospect’s competitor exec team on Youtube. Send the link with a critical review of their comments and content. Keep your comments restricted to the content and message, NOT THE PRESENTER. Recommended subject line: “Their name’s in lights … I found [Competitor Name]’s Presentation on YouTube.” Odds are the prospect didn’t or couldn’t attend the conference you’ve named, but will definitely want to see the video.
- Competitive insight idea #5: Did your prospect’s competitor break a new ad campaign? Try to break down the messaging strategy and offer a perspective on how it hits or misses with its intended target. Head down to your marketing department and get their thoughts. Provide as many links back to the appropriate ads on YouTube, or their specific page on Moat.com, as possible. Recommended subject line: “[Competitor Name] launched a new branding campaign, have you seen it?”
- Competitive insight idea #6: Carefully scan the quarterly financial filings of your prospect’s competitive set. Look for mentions where the leadership team is “lowering guidance” on future earnings, or explanations of how internal/pressures may affect revenue or profitability. Offer an opinion on how your prospect can exploit their competitor’s headwinds. Recommended subject line: “[Prospect Name] has an opportunity to share its differentiation.”
- Competitive insight idea #7: Sign up for your prospect’s competitor’s email/newsletter/ or loyalty program. How do they make you feel as a customer? Is their content timely and relevant? Do they recognize your personal preferences? Share your honest feedback good or bad so they’re likely to respond. Recommended subject line: “My personal CX journey with [Competitor Name].”
- Competitive insight idea #8: Scan the web for comments made by the prospect’s precise counterpart at one of their competitors. Ask them if they agree with the comments. Recommended subject line: “[Counterpart Name] at [Competitor Name] had this to say about [important category topic], would you agree?”
- Competitive insight idea #9: Snip the latest negative feedback post about the prospect’s primary competitor. Send the link to it in an email. Recommended subject line: “[Competitor Name] is in hot water with [Commenter Name]… Can you convert them to your tribe?”
- Competitive insight idea #10: Watch your physical mailbox religiously — Is your prospect’s competitor reaching out to you with relevant and timely direct mail messaging? What mistakes are they making? Document inconsistencies, incorrect names, faulty assumptions about you based on old/bad data. Answer this problem with your company’s solution. Recommended subject line: “[Prospect or Competitor’s Name]’s Direct Mail piece ended up in my snail-mail box today — Let me share what I think.”
- Scour the prospect’s personal LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc. for a point of commonality. Ice-climbing? Yak-herding? Wine-tasting? Send a link to a picture of you engaging in that activity and mention how you came to give it a try. Recommended subject line: “When I first tried [Common Interest] I was hooked.” It’s no surprise to anyone that people are more willing to engage with perfect strangers about their hobbies than their careers.
- Review personal recommendations on the prospect’s LinkedIn profile and look for consistent themes. Do the recommenders comment on the prospect’s strategic mindset? Are they Analytical? Are they a good listener? Search for a relevant book on Amazon about how to continuously improve that skill, and make the connection. Recommended subject line: “Your colleagues say you’re [XYZ trait], here’s a book I recommend.” Just make sure you feel good about recommending the book, AND that you feel comfortable promoting a book link on Amazon.
- Watch LinkedIn carefully for news about the prospect’s career advancement. Were they recently promoted? Win an award? Earn a new certification? Here’s a gimme: Recognize their wins! This may not exactly be the email they respond to, but your recognition will stick with them: “I noticed your recent [achievement] — Congrats!” … or… “I see where you’ve been named [award or designation], here’s an e-pat on the back!” Also, here’s something I learned the hard way: Keep your exclamation points to a minimum. Multiple exclamation points in succession set off spam alerts.
- More over, watch LinkedIn carefully for news about the prospect’s company achievements and recognize those wins as well. Most people will accept as much credit as they’re offered when their company excels. Recommended subject line: “I imagine you gave a helping hand in this achievement.” Be sure to include the article link as the first thing they see upon opening up the email so they have immediate context.
- Look broadly at the category your prospect works in. Find the *primary* source for category insights and pull a handful of them that you can “drip” to the prospect over 3–4 emails. Will overall industry or category volume contract or expand? Are there new entrants quickly gathering more than their fair share? Offer an opinion on how to capitalize on trends. Recommended subject line: “[Prospect’s Category Name]’s category insights #X of Y” where “X” is the email # of the current order, and “Y” is the total number of the emails in the drip sequence. Including “#1” indicates there might be more coming, and any other number after that suggests that there were insights that came before that your prospect might have missed. George Lucas’ strategy behind releasing Star Wars’ first movie as “Episode #4” created wonder and curiosity.
- Find a conference at which your prospect’s company did NOT sponsor/present. Find and introduce yourself to the person who handles booking speakers for that event and asks about the process to apply. Link up with that person and invest in developing a relationship. Send the application info to your prospect, recommend a topic they should speak about, and then offer to introduce them to your new friend. The recommended subject line “May I recommend you to speak at [Conference X]? Happy to make an intro to the speaker’s list curator.”
- Take the time to establish/keep a blog about your views on the industry. (Medium is a great choice as your vehicle). Send the link to your posts to your prospects with relevant reasons why they should view it. Invite their comments. When they respond, be sure to “like” their comments or likes and thank them for their interest. Encourage their friends and contacts to connect and share.
- Do you have a personal list of life-hacks or tech-hacks that improve your personal/professional productivity? Honestly, who doesn’t like hacks? Share a summary of several of them with your prospect. Recommended subject line: “There are lots of ways I can save you some time.” If you have a talk track that emphasizes how your product or service will save them time, end your email with a link to content. Here’s a gimme: Check out Textexpander.com — this tool creates text snippets by analyzing what you type. Phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that you find yourself writing over and over can be replaced with 4–5 letter abbreviations that will expand into text in any other application.
- This idea may only be effective with certain prospects, but get some co-workers to volunteer to shoot a video short with you. Topic: Real reactions & honest feedback to their company’s OR their competitor’s products. Limit it to 3 minutes and be sure to inject some appropriate humor. Prospects LOVE “kitchen wisdom.” Recommended subject line: “[Prospect first name], our office tried [Product Name] and recorded our reactions just for you.”
- Write a review on the prospect’s service or product on one of the many review sites across the web. Wait until you’ve achieved a reasonable reaction from the audience at large so that you have a few raw numbers to share and then tell the story (with links) to your prospect. Recommended subject line: “Stats don’t lie — check out the stir I’ve started up.”
- Become a trend-watcher; develop a point of view on how industry trends may impact your prospect’s business for better or for worse, and then recommend a way you can help your client capitalize on that momentum. Recommended subject line: “Here’s something I discovered that may impact [Prospect Company Name’s] business.” If you’re in retail, start here: www.trendwatching.com.
- Spend some time absorbing the bold points of view put forth on Medium.com. The best content doesn’t necessarily have to come from brilliant journalists… sometimes it’s your colleagues who lead the way. Share the intriguing (but relevant) stuff with your prospect. Recommended subject line: “Saw this article today and it prompted me to think about [Prospect Company]’s approach to your customer set.”
- Recognize how the introductions of new technologies will affect consumer awareness, trial, and purchase frequency. Will “Internet of Things — IoT” affect CPG radically? Will Blockchain ever change the way we book travel? Does Augmented Reality have a role in Shopper Marketing? Share your perspective with your prospect, and source any supporting data. Even if you’re wrong, you will be respected for presenting an opinion. Of course, you might just hit on something they’ve been thinking about for months!
- B2B Sellers who call on sales/revenue generation leaders: Add Quotable.com to your regular reading list. Quotable is Salesforce’s curated business content “portal.” They work with notable, famous, or highly qualified writers who offer their perspectives on the business of sales and marketing. There are bound to be insights you can capture to start new conversations when cold-emailing prospects.
- Sign up for Owler.com: No matter who or where your prospect is, their company is likely tracked by Owler, and a treasure trove of insights and conversation-starters exists there to created talking points and hooks for your emails. It’s also a great source for competitive insights. Best of all it’s free!
- If your prospect cares about how consumer use of the internet and media, in general, might affect their business, one of the best shares you can make is Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report, most recently published in late May 2018. But don’t just forward the link and say, “Here!” Think about how to play it out. Refer to a data point on a specific slide number and bring it to life. Recommended subject line: “[Prospect Company Name] leverages mobile — I see this demographic change in mobile usage as important information for your team.” Note: It’s my understanding (from a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article) that Mary Meeker is leaving Kleiner Perkins, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether we’ll see another update in the spring of 2019.
- Say it with pictures, and wrap it in your branding. Send a link to a recent public presentation you gave (or your company gave) and refer specifically to a key slide with an important and informative graphic. When the prospect follows the link, they’ll find themselves ensnared in your presentation. Recommended subject line: “I share secrets to winning new customers on the slide [X]” where slide X includes your precise recommendations. NOTE: Attaching files sometimes routes your inbound email into a non-priority inbox category, depending on the email system your prospect is using, and that’s not where you want your cold email to end up. It’s best to use G-Docs or Dropbox to park your files and share them out with standard links.
- Send in your marketing VP. Ask your VP to write an invitation to your prospects to submit comments for an upcoming blog post or article that the VP, or the content marketing team, are preparing. You’d be amazed how fast they reply. Some prospects have tight rules and regulations on speaking, writing, or social posting, so be sensitive to that.
- Personalize, personalize, personalize. Make sure they know that the email you’re sending is not some canned email that you’ve sent to 100 other prospects. Make it personal by being personal and relatable. If Pete is your prospect and you want to mention something you found on his LinkedIn profile that you have in common with him, use his name and mention that “thing” in the subject line. It’s hard for an approach like that to appear canned/automated.
- Refer to someone in the prospect’s team who you’ve spoken to and referred you to them. “Based on my discussion with Wendy, she felt I should reach out to you personally” is a very effective attention-getter. As a rule, I try to mention (or “drop”) 2–3 names of relevant co-workers to my prospect while in conversation, and then I ask for their permission to mention their name in my email outreach later on. Sometimes, the prospect will simply agree to make the introduction right then and there. Other times, the prospect may share guidance on the timing of your outreach, and what you should or shouldn’t say.
- Start your email with a provocative statement: “If I know that I can improve your marketing performance by 5x, is there any reason why we shouldn’t talk?” Bonus points if you can refer to a case study (or two!) that describes how you achieved that huge rate of improvement for other clients.
- Has someone ever replied to something you wrote with “TLDR”? It’s an acronym for “Too Long, Didn’t Read.” If you’ve read this far into this article, you’re probably ready to shout out “TLDR!” Long-form content has its place, but long-form emails sent cold to new prospects are rarely ever read. In my own cold outreach, I try to keep my emails to 5 sentences maximum, with a call-to-action to schedule a discovery chat serving as the final sentence. It’s rare that a cold prospect will agree to meet face-to-face with a salesperson early in a cold email campaign, so start by offering a quick phone call. Additionally, use an e-calendar service. Calendly.com is my go-to. The free version is feature-packed and does the trick for most. The benefit is that you allow your prospect to find, click, and book a time that works for BOTH of you.
- You don’t always have to be the sender. If you can identify a mutual contact that has a great relationship with your prospect, write an email and ask if they’d send it on your behalf as an introduction. As a rule, if you want someone to make an introduction for you, have the note itself ready so they can cut and paste it, or simply forward it along to the prospect’s inbox. Bonus points for doing both!
- Don’t rely on email alone. Send a handwritten note, leave a voicemail or send a package with an article or book inside. Follow up that initial correspondence with a “hope you received my package….” email, and reinforce the value you want to communicate.
- Lastly, be sure that you have enough context about the prospect’s pain points and business challenges. Are they having trouble breaking into a specific market? Are they having trouble scaling budgets or proving out the effectiveness or return on investment? There’s no better way to show value than to demonstrate the homework you’ve done on their business.
We’re just scratching the surface with this monster list, so watch this space for #42 and beyond. Share your comments and suggestions with me here. I would love to hear what you do when cold-emailing prospects!
Big thanks to the crowdsourcing sales gurus who volunteered their thoughts, edits, and insights. They include Dave Warfield, Dan Nasharr, Kevin Hicks, Dave Simon, Clayton Baum, and Eileen McKay. There were many folks invited and involved, so let me know if I have inadvertently left your name off this list.