This isn’t clickbait. I honestly think you should stop personalizing ALL of your cold emails at the personal level and instead do it at the company level.
I have data to show that this approach gets 5-30% positive replies and combined with person-level ad targeting from Primer, a 5-10x boost in ad response rates.
But, before we get to the how and why, we need to tell a short story about the eras of cold email and why we’re banging our head on the wall trying to scale cold email, and, if you’re reading this, why you are likely in this position.
Why cold outbound email is so hard for companies
Cold email at scale usually means giving up personalization, which tanks conversion rates.
But at the 1-1 level, we usually don’t know what to say, so reps revert to talking about people’s dogs or what they like to do on the weekend. Both paths suck. Here’s where we’re at today.
- Most companies can only scale (good) cold outbound emails with people
- There is no learning path to get 10x better (besides hiring)
- It’s hard to know what is or isn’t working
- Many sales reps don’t know their product or customers well enough
- Many companies don’t know how to communicate their value to leads
Every company founder starts by throwing spaghetti
No one knows who they sell to at first. It’s their network, their friends and family, friends of that family friend you knew that one time who was at Thanksgiving. ANYONE who will listen to what you have to say, basically.
You end up closing deals with butchers, VPs of marketing, astronauts, and cobblers.
Then, another VP of Marketing buys, a head of Rev Ops buys, and a VP of Growth buys. And, of course, a few heads of operations. So your ideal customer profile (ICP) starts to form organically.
And after some time, it seems like you’re on a roll. You’re selling to mostly the same person, kind of in the same industry, you’ve got a good amount of ARR, and you’ve just raised a few million.
But, you never pause to define or document anything.
Founder-led sales vs. the first sales rep
After the founder has learned which spaghetti sticks to which wall, they hire sales or marketing people, and usually never decode the magic formula for throwing that spaghetti.
They don’t define their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) in any detail, they don’t define the buyer persona (what roles bought), they never document what they tried and didn’t work, and they don’t download their years of industry context for the first marketing or salespeople. Let alone what benefit their current customers have seen.
They say, “here’s your budget” or “here’s your quota” and then expect high-quality leads to rain from above. This is the first seed of the MQL/SQL/SAL/MAL debate (sales/marketing qualified leads).
But, really, there’s no global framework to define a qualified lead, who they are, what problem they are trying to solve, why they need it solved, and how they talk about their problem. And, of course, the sales and marketing team never chats with actual customers before they start to spend time and money getting leads.
This is when the massive trouble starts, because the founder doesn’t realize that their success is a product of:
- Their deep understanding of the market, sometimes decades-long
- A bunch of mental models on who does and doesn’t buy and why
- A nuanced understanding of how to speak to customers in their language
- Their networks and clout in the industry
- What problems they solve for their current customers
But, honestly, the biggest problem is that the founder usually thinks, “If I am doing sales part-time and I hire a full-time person that’s a professional, they have spent their whole career driving leads, so they will be much more successful than me!”
It’s giving a builder a hammer and nails and, without any Blueprint, asking them to build a skyscraper.
So this is how we got here, a founder says to their sales reps, “do what I was doing manually, but do it full time. And, you’re on a quota, so no time to reinvent the wheel… start running… now.”
This is why most of our sales tools are designed to help reps be more effective in the founder-led sales motion. But, we need a new motion. A scaled motion that doesn’t look like spam.
How do we take the 1-1 quality of founder led sales and scale, without throwing people at the problem.
Moving away from the founder-led sales mentality
Since you likely aren’t the founder (listen up harder if you are, you can help), you first need to understand your own product, why people buy, what causes them to buy, what channels they like to buy in, and become an expert on the problem you solve.
You need a process to be able to define the pain of your prospects.
- Define your TAM with tops down and bottoms up analysis
- Decode your existing customer’s buying moments
- Pull in qualitative knowledge from your best rep, your founders, and your customrs
Once you understand who you are selling to, you need to match that knowledge to the market. This is your SUPER power because your first cold email can actually be USEFUL to them. Challenge sale useful.
Focusing on solving a problem
Personalization is a siren song. It sounds so good, who wouldn’t want something personalized? But, when you remove personalization, there’s really only one thing you can do to boost response rates, and that is to do epicly good company targeting. And you do it by matching your model of who your customer is to the pain in the market.
Targeting happens at the company level. When you know if the company is a fit you also often know about how much the company will pay and if they actually need your product. This is not employee count or industry either—that’s nowhere near useful enough.
You can write the best ever email to Jordan, but if Jordan’s company Blueprint doesn’t have the problem you solve or a budget to solve it, who cares if it gets a reply?
With strategic targeting, all you have to do is describe why you targeted that company to the lead and ask them if you got it right. It’s taking what insight you already have from your customers and bringing that to the company you know is in the same situation.
Think about the last time you got a cold email, was it about the problem you had in your business? Was it about what’s changed recently and a problem that exists in your company and how their product related to that problem? Probably not.
The last email you got was probably about THEM (the company prospecting you), not YOU. And if it was about you, it was literally about you and not about your company. It’s hard to scale sales at the person level, but it’s totally possible to do it at the company level.
That means no more emails about the person’s dog, favorite hobby, college mascot, or favorite fruit. No more emails about working in the software industry in California. No more emails about “Did you get my email?,” no more games of attention, no more begging or GIFs or misspelled words or videos.
Instead, it’s about describing the company research you did, ideally coming in with insight from your existing customers, and asking the prospect if you got it right.
How to do company-level targeting and what data to use
Company level targeting focuses on the pain the company is in and insights can be derived from so many different public data sources:
- Blueprint’s jobs data
- Insights tab on LinkedIn Sales Navigator
- BuiltWith data
- SimilarWeb (free from their Chrome extension)
- G2 Crowd
- Harmonic (amazing funding and headcount data)
- Brickstack (bespoke website intelligence data)
- Sonar (signal based audiences)
Pro-tip: Get money from SignalFire and they can help you!
But these are just raw materials. Sometimes, when people see the structures that companies make on top of these data sources, they want to use the same structures for their business, but this would be a mistake. Copying the tactic doesn’t work; it’s best to decode the strategy with your team.
Even though tons of companies are attempting to do this, it’s a much better idea to use this data and build your own mental model as to why domain X can benefit much more than domain Y. Use these raw ingredients to build a story about your company and the pain you solve for your leads.
Don’t deploy growth hacks or tactics, it won’t work
The key thing to remember is that this system should come from your customer insights and what’s happening in their business.
Now you could use a tool like PredictLeads to watch for news signals and shoot off an email when that intent signal occurs. That looks like this:
Saw you just installed Mixpanel and thought you might be evaluating website tracking tools… want to try out my analytics tool?
But this is a tactic and tactics have shelf lives as they are very easy to copy, aren’t about your unique value, and eventually, when more people send this email, it becomes less useful over time as others copy the tactic. This is why you see a lot of data providers, but not too many unique insight providers— because your insight should be much different than mine.
What a great outbound strategy looks like based on a unique customer insight
So, what does this look like in practice? Here’s what it might look like for my company Blueprint:
Congrats on recently joining as the first head of rev ops at Zwizzle. I bookmarked what looked to be your job description a few months ago and saw that you’re going to be building the outbound engine from scratch? With only 1 SDR, no discernable web traffic I could see, and no marketing track installed on your site… it looks like you’re starting from scratch?
But, your job should be easier as I saw the testimonials section on your site and companies with product-market fit usually have a better time with outbound.
When Twipple was in your same shoes they too started hiring SDRs (it looks like you have 10 SDR job openings) and they had to let go of half of them in the first 6 months because they didn’t drive pipeline.
Then they hired us and their remaining 5 SDRs drove 10x pipeline in the first 3 months… all while never writing emails or identifying accounts to target.
Want to know how Twipple did it?
The reason an email like this gets better with more investment in the model is based on Blueprint’s expertise, our knowledge, our customer’s case studies, and patterns we see in the market… so our insight isn’t easily exportable to another business.
Even if my competitors copy the “observations,” they can’t copy the insight provided by one of our customers. And the better I can mine my existing customers for insights and match that for the data, the better my outbound system gets.
Putting everything together
If you want to decode your buyers buying experience to scale sales that work, here’s what this process looks like in a nutshell.
- Download your existing customer’s insights and value they get from using your product (cheat and use our download sheet)
- Define the key insights that come from your customer base of using us vs. their default state
- Work with vendors to gather observations at scale
- Use those observations to find companies that match existing customers patterns
- Describe the insights you’ve now mapped back to the lead
For the example above, the insight is “Startups just reaching product-market fit often overhire SDRs, which makes a bad outbound strategy worse.” So we need to find “startups just reaching product-market fit” that is “hiring an inordinate number of SDRs.”
You could use my company Blueprint to identify those hiring SDRs, and glean the current outbound strategy from job descriptions. Then work with Brickstack to narrow down those with the recent product-market fit, perhaps by analyzing who has a customers page, but less mature resources and help center indicating they have customers but haven’t fleshed out their entire strategy.
Your observations will be different because your insights are different. If you’re doing this right, you should be able to bubble up your top accounts AND the best messaging for them at the end of this exercise. And the more you build a pipeline for extracting what your customers learn with your product, the more insights you’ll gain, leading to repeating the steps above for greater results.