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Follow-Up Email Strategy for Cold Outreach (Based on 12K Cold Emails We Sent Last Year)

11 May 2022 by

Year and year again, email marketing has proven itself to be the king of marketing channels in terms of ROI and user preference. There's no denying, though, that it’s a competitive space and inboxes are more crowded than ever. 

The total number of business and consumer emails is set to touch 333 billion in 2022 - a lot of noise in an already deafening space. Meanwhile, the cold email open rate remains at around 24 percent and the response rates are a low 8.5 percent

So if you’re sending your prospects just one measly cold outreach email, it’s like whispering to someone who’s got noise-canceling headphones on.

On the other hand, follow-ups might be more useful than we give them credit for. They contribute to a large chunk of sales: 80 percent of sales happen after the fifth follow-up. But not a lot of salespeople stick around to find out.

percentage of people who give up after hearing no in their sales job

Source: Marketing Donut

A staggering 92 percent of them have already bowed out by the time of the fifth follow-up, missing out on a lot of opportunities.

Last year, with Hunter’s link-building outreach team we sent 12K cold outreach emails with an average conversion rate of 14 percent. And no, we did not send five follow-ups. 

We preferred to err on the side of caution, and sent two. And out of the 800 backlinks we built, 217 backlinks - a little over 25 percent - came from sending those two follow-up emails. 

So it’s evident that follow-ups are a worthwhile strategy to pursue while cold-emailing.

Tips for winning follow-up cold email outreach strategy 

Let’s make one thing very clear. We’re not asking you to go all out and blast follow-ups at your prospects till you start landing in spam folders. What you should consider, however, is building a strategy that involves well-timed, value-adding, and personalized emails that actually have a chance of being read. 

That’s what we did when we sent more than 12K cold emails in 2021. And here’s what we learned:

Make sure you are reaching the right person

A lot of emails get sent to people who either have no business reading them, or no interest, or both. Say you want to write a guest post for a website. While you’re reaching out to the company, you target the wrong person and diligently email their backend developer instead of their content strategist. 

You find out, three emails too late, that you’ve made a completely avoidable mistake. One that could have been prevented with a quick Google or LinkedIn search followed by a visit to their company’s website.

Emailing an irrelevant recipient has consequences. You could end up in spam and hurt your sender reputation. Or come across as lazy or desperate. 

Not to mention, miss out on making any real headway in connecting with the company.

So the first thing you need to do when you’re doing cold outreach is to look up your prospects and their business. 

You can also go the extra mile and try connecting with a prospect on social media - LinkedIn or Twitter is usually a good bet. Share something they’ve written and tag them, or comment on their post. 

Now when you cold email them, your name might ring a bell, and increase your chances of getting a response. 

But before you email them, verify their address. 

Hunter email address verifier

That’ll tell you if the email address you found is still functional. Their company could have moved to a new website, or they could have moved on from their company. Hunter's Email Verifier reduces it to a quick, one-step process that can save you a lot of grief later. 

Timing is crucial

Don't be that person. You know, the one who wants to know why someone hasn't replied to their email in the five minutes since they sent it. 

Also, don't be that other person. The one who keeps on sending emails to someone who's shown no inclination to reply. At least, not if their lack of response to the last twenty emails is anything to go by. 

Deciding how many days to wait before you follow-up with someone, and how often to do it, is tricky terrain. Send it too soon and risk coming across as pushy? 

Or send it too late and lose the benefit of instant recall from your previous email? You're going to have to learn the hard way - by running campaigns and analyzing data so you can figure out what works best for you. 

You can't just replicate someone else's strategy and expect it to get you the same results. But if a starting point is what you want, here's what we did:

For our campaigns, we usually space out our emails by three days. So if the initial email was sent out on T, the first follow-up email is sent out on T+3, the second follow-up 3 days after that, so on T+6. And that's it. 

Two follow-ups, that's all we send. 

Email follow up schedule

You can see the results of our recent guest post outreach campaign in the screenshot above. The goal was to get in touch with the editor and negotiate relevant guest post topics. 

Since editors are pretty busy and constantly bombed with dozen of guest post requests per day, there is a high chance that your initial email will get lost in their inboxes. We only get 10 replies from the first email, while getting 17 replies after two follow-ups. As you can see, without following up, we would miss a lot of opportunities. 

If you're in a more competitive industry with little scope for differentiation, or if you're just starting out, it doesn't hurt to be a bit more tenacious. 

Keep the follow-up in the same thread as the initial email

Global email volume is growing steadily each year. But an Adobe survey revealed that the time spent by office-goers on work email actually declined by 51 minutes in 2021, and now averages two and a half hours per day. 

Minutes spent each week checking email

Source: Adobe

That means two things: 1. Chances are that your prospects will give your first cold (however brilliant, creative, and important) email a miss to read emails from people they actually know. 

2. When they read your second, third, or subsequent follow-up email, it might be the first time they’re hearing from you. 

If your follow-up email isn't a continuation of the thread from your original email and all it says is, “Hey, just wanted to know if you’ve had some time to consider my offer. I’d love to set up a meeting if you have any questions”, that could leave a major gap in communication. 

Here is one of such follow-up examples I recently received:

Some marketers recommend using a new subject line and starting afresh for follow-ups, but sending follow-ups in the same thread has an obvious advantage. It helps your prospects keep track of all the communication you’ve had or attempted to have with them. Maybe the first couple of emails you sent them didn’t quite get the angle right, but the third one hit the bullseye. Or maybe they were just too busy and never got around to reading your earlier emails. But you’ve got their attention now, maybe even their interest. The problem is, they know too little about you and what you offer. And how many of them can you reasonably expect to go looking for your original email in their overflowing inbox?

Adding follow-ups to the same thread is not just organized and efficient for you, but it’s also more convenient for your prospects. And when you help them reach out to you more easily, you help yourself. 

Keep it short and on-point

Another benefit of including your follow-up email in the same thread as your initial email is that you can skip those fake-cheerful, salesperson-y openers in your follow-ups. As much as you may want to ask prospects how their weekend was, and then proceed to tell them all about the Pizza Fridays you have at your company, we suggest you leave it out of your email. 

Cut out the excess from your email copy and focus on the value you can add to your message. 

Include a brief reminder of what you’re offering. If you’d talked about their company’s pain points earlier, your follow-up can give them an inkling of how you can help or a suggestion.

You can add value not just by saying the right things, but also by not saying the wrong ones. Or the unnecessary ones. 

It shows your recipients that you value time - both theirs and yours. Trying to stick to somewhere between ½ and ¼ the length of your initial email is a good rule of thumb.

A good example is this compact follow-up that is bright, short and to-the-point.  

One last thing to keep in mind while writing follow-up emails: Don’t be overly pushy. 

Here is a great example on how to benefit from follow-ups without being too pushy - you can just ask to be redirected to someone else in the company that they could speak to. 

Hunter-email-example

Source: Hunter

It takes an ‘I’m on your side’ approach that wins brownie points for being understanding. It also throws in a short pitch of the product to jog the prospect’s memory. 

They're a bunch of tools that help to optimize email copy, and make sure that you spend time more talking to your prospects and less time drafting repetitive emails (e.g. Hunter Campaigns for cold outreach automation, HubSpot’s Email Builder to turn most repetitive sales emails into templates, etc).

Include a powerful call to action (CTA)

Take a look at this follow-up email from an SEO service provider. And it's CTA.

Hunter cold email outreach example

That's nice of them to say. But help with what? Because my printer keeps acting up. And today's Wordle is making my brain hurt. 

Narrow down the help areas a bit before you send that follow-up email. Apply the same logic to the reverse - what you want from the person you’re emailing. 

It’s not an uncommon sight to see “Would love to hear your thoughts” tacked on at the bottom of a lengthy introductory email that goes on and on about a company the prospect has never heard of. Again, thoughts on what? 

Ask yourself this - why would anyone respond to broad, sweeping statements like these when they don’t even know what’s expected of them? 

Instead of cold emails asking for general feedback, thoughts or advice, talk about getting their ideas on a specific feature. Asking a pointed question, with a yes/no answer or options, is more likely to be answered. 

Also, the more relevant your question to their domain, the more chances you have of getting their attention. 

Hunter cold email outreach strategy example

This follow-up email cuts straight to the chase. No rambling opener, just a personalized pitch along with a reinforcement of their product benefits. 

And to top it all, a clear CTA in the form of a question that, at the very least, gets you nodding your head in response.

When you’re zeroing in on the CTA to use for a particular prospect, keep in mind their intent and positioning in the sales funnel. If they are close to the top, you'll have to tailor your message to their needs and possibly offer some kind of collateral. 

If they've been visiting your website quite often and opening your emails, you can consider sending them a calendar link to set up a meeting. 

Conclusion

We’ve already established that a single B2B cold email is not going to get you the campaign success you’re aiming for. So while follow-ups look like a great option to get your stats up, there are a bunch of other factors that you need to pay attention to, like:

Make your pitch personalized and relevant. Research is key here. Put thought, consideration, and effort into your follow-up email to make it as personalized as possible. 

Images, videos, and mentioning the company or personal achievements - are all great ways to spruce up your copy. 

Timing your emails right. Sending out follow-up emails too soon can make it seem as though you don’t respect their time. Give your prospects a reasonable amount of time to go over your email, consider it, and maybe even discuss it with a colleague before they reply. 

And even if you’re selling the elixir of life, do not flag your email as urgent.

Not harping on about the same things. In other words, switch up the content of your emails. If you’d sent them a plain-text mail the first time around, you can send them an image this time. 

Maybe an interactive quiz to help them understand how you can help. And with each follow-up you send, make it easier for them to respond, not harder. Keep your questions simple and your CTAs razor-sharp to encourage them to write back.

Even with all these tips, it'll be a while before you've determined the optimal number of follow-ups to send, when to send emails, and what to put in them. But aim for balance in your campaigns. 

With perseverance and a whole lot of testing, you’ll see the pay-offs soon.


 Irina Maltseva
By Irina Maltseva

Irina is the Head of Marketing at Hunter. She enjoys working on inbound and product marketing strategies. In her spare time, she entertains her cat Persie and collects airline miles.


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