Over years of launching projects as a solopreneur, without much of a budget, I've used cold email a lot to get traction or customers for my projects and freelancing work.
As a B2B company, you should 100% try cold emails to acquire your first users.
This post summarizes everything I learned about cold email, what worked and what didn't, and a step by step guide to get your first customers without having an audience or spending a penny.
There won't be any automation in this guide (except a little bit to find email addresses), you'll have to do everything manually, that's what I did (and still do).
Step 0 : Creating your email addresses
We're sending cold emails so we need an email address. I personally create 2 different email addresses :
The reason I do that is because I like to send cold emails from both addresses and then pick the one that performs better.
Depending on who you're emailing, they might be more responsive to an email from a personal gmail address.
This is especially true if you're planning to approach prospects to recruit them as early adopters and not just selling your product. The gmail address helps drive home the point that "I'm just starting out".
Step 1 : Identifying your perfect customer by elimination
If you're just starting out, you probably don't have a clear idea of who your perfect customer is. In fact, your first goal should be to identify who that customer is and where can you find more like him.
To do that, I proceed by elimination. I start by making a list of who MIGHT be my perfect customer, and after sending a few emails to every target listed, I can usually identify which targets are easier to reach out to and get replies, and which ones convert better.
- Start by copying this google sheet to your account.
- Add your targets to the Target Overview table (bloggers,CRM software companies, Influencers…).
- Create a new table for every target using the Single Target Template table.
About the Target Overview Table : Since we're doing everything manually, and sending a lot of emails, it eventually gets hard to track the reply rate and conversion rate. You can however just use approximative values based on your own judgement like : Very low, Low, Neutral, High, Very High.
About the Single Target Table : Don't worry about filling the target table for now, we'll get back to it later.
Step 2 : Creating your cold email templates
Let's start by getting a common misconception out of the way : There is no such thing as the best cold email template. You will never have a single template that works for all your projects and acquisition campaigns.
Different templates work for different targets and different products. It's on you to figure out which templates may work better.
- Visit the cold email template database to choose from 100+ email templates.
- Pick 3 to 5 templates, make sure every template works for all your targets and avoid using different templates for different targets if you can, it'll make it easier to track performance of templates in the future.
- Pick or write a sequence of 3 simple follow up emails to use with all your email templates. We won't be measuring the performance of follow up emails, it adds another layer of complexity and is not worth it at first.
- Write 3 to 5 email subjects to fit the templates you've chosen. Again, try to come up with subjects that work with all your email templates.
- Assign a name or number to reference each of your selected templates and subjects and store them somewhere ( I use Trello, but you can just store each one in a text file on your computer ). The template and subject names will be used to identify the best performing ones later on.
Step 3 : Collecting prospects
It's time to fill those single target tables we created.
I recommend starting with 15 – 20 prospects for each target table at first.
The idea is not to find out who your perfect customer is after sending 1000 cold emails, instead the idea is to identify and eliminate the bad targets first, while at the same time identifying which email templates, subject lines and sender address performs better, so that when your target list is more "targeted", you know how to approach them and which tools to use.
- Start by adding 10 rows of the website column to every single target table. Use Google & Linkedin to find the name of your target. It can be the CEO, CTO, Chief Happy Officer… It depends of your product & objective.
- Install the Hunter.io sheet extension to automate the email prospecting part. (It's free for 50 requests per month and should get you started. There are other tools out there if you run out of credits.)
- You may have to replace some rows if you can't find any good emails.
Step 4 : Eliminate 50% of everything
It's time to start sending those emails to your prospects.
At this stage, it's all about learning as much as you can about everything related to your targets & your cold email process. A simple goal to set for yourself is : Eliminate 50% of your targets, 50% of our email templates and subject lines.
Depending on your preference, you can either start sending 3 – 5 emails per target table per day, or send all emails in a target table in a day. Personally, I like the second option as it allows me to eliminate targets after 4 days ( assuming my follow sequence lasts 4 days or less ), it also keeps tracking simple, I don't have to keep switching between google sheet tables.
- Pick a prospect on your target table.
- Pick a subject line, an email template and a sender address (gmail or domain email)
- Send the email
- Increment the email count column by 1.
- Update your follow up date ( When to send the next follow up email )
- Start your follow up sequence if the prospect does not reply after 1 day.
- After sending an email from your follow up sequence, increment the email count column, and update the follow up date for the next email in the sequence.
- When the prospect replies, you can add a YES to the replied column and stop the follow up sequence.
At this point, your job is to turn a reply into a conversion. Depending on what a conversion represents for you, you may have to get on a call with your prospect, send him more material, or just get some feedback.
By the end of the interaction, you can mark the prospect as converted or not, as well as add notes about your interaction.
I use the notes column exclusively to add actionable tips on how to better approach the current target. Avoid cramming too much in there, limit your notes to the immediately practical insights only.
After going through all your prospects across all tables, you should have enough data to eliminate at least 50% of your targets, as well as 50% of your email templates and subject lines.
If you manage to have at least 10 good conversations with different prospects, you'll learn more about your product as well.
Step 5 : Decide what's next
Since this is a data driven approach, what's next depends on what you've learned in the previous step, as well as your conversion rate, the feedback you received, and most importantly your perspective on the project and the cold email approach after processing all the data you've accumulated.
From my experience, there seems to be a limited number of outcomes. I'll start with the worst ones and move on to the best :
- You only get a few replies across targets : If you sent more than 50 emails and followed up with all of them. This is usually an indicator that something else is wrong, most likely your value proposition. Time to review everything and decide if you want to email a different set of targets, try a different marketing approach, or pivot to a different offer or project.
- You realize cold email or outbound sales is not the right channel for your product : In that case, it's time to review your acquisition strategy. But at least, you now have the confidence to invest in a different strategy like content marketing where it may take time and resources to implement and see results.
- You get enough replies but very few or no conversions. : This is a tough one but you should have a reasonable explanation based on your interactions with prospects. If you don't, it might be a good idea to ask your prospects why they haven't converted. Once you have that answer, fix the problem, and email the same prospects to tell them about it and try to change the original outcome to a better one.
- One or more targets are responsive to your emails and a few of them have a converted : Congratulations! You now know who you should sell to, how to find them, how to pitch your product via cold email and get replies, and how to turn replies into conversions. It may be a good idea to scale up this framework by hiring a VA.
I've gone through all these outcomes at least once, and although some can be disappointing, they generally allow me to take my next decision with more confidence and less fear of missing out ( i.e : when deciding to move on to a different project ).
Don't hesitate if you've any questions, would love to help!