Most business owners are no stranger to cold outreach. No matter which side of the much-debated marketing tactic you most find yourself on, it will likely come to no surprise that 91.5% of outreach messages are ignored by their recipient. With statistics like this, you might find yourself wondering if there is any way to boost your chances of a coveted response.
And since today’s marketers are sliding into email inboxes, texts, and even DMs, it’s likely you might feel unsure about what messages to send and where to send them.
Therefore, we thought there was no better way to understand what makes decision makers respond to cold outreach than going to the source. Below, we interviewed five founders on what actually gets them to open a cold outreach message and, with the right message, whether you can actually reach them outside of their email inbox.
Do your research beforehand
One way to make sure any cold emails and messages fall flat is by sending them to the wrong people. Let’s say you run a video streaming platform made specifically for educators. If you begin by reaching out to every teacher you know, you’re wasting time by sending your message to people who might not even be relevant to you.
You’ll want to start by narrowing down your outreach to those who could really benefit from the brand you’re building. For you, this might only be superintendents in school districts with a high technology budget. Steph Hon, founder of the buildable travel container brand Cadence, shared that the cold outreach message she almost never opens is the one “that doesn't tell me what it does for me.”
With this in mind, your research should also include how you provide value to your specific audience. Ask yourself questions like:
- What does my target audience value?
- What problem is my target audience trying to solve?
- How does my product/service solve this problem for them?
- How does my product/service compare to other solutions?
By having a strong understanding of who your target audience is and what they value will help you write much stronger cold outreach copy. You should also consider where your target audience is hanging out. If you’re looking to contact journalists who might get your new athleisure brand in the press, Twitter might be your best bet. If you want to work with Gen-Z founders with a strong social media presence, you might find more success in their TikTok or Instagram DMs.
Building your network from scratch
Phoebe Dobbs, founder of growth and content strategy agency Buro155, begins her outreach by writing down a list of all of the companies and people she wants to work with within the next year or two. Next, she compiles a list of individuals she could connect with who have links with the first list. If you already narrowed down your target audience, you can comb through Linkedin or social media channels like Instagram and Twitter and see who could possibly be a strong connection for you to have in the future.
“Let’s say your dream is to work at Nike and you are a photographer,” Phoebe said. “I would start looking at the agencies that Nike works with in your industry or in your area. Start connecting with interns, other photographers, and with the founder at that agency. And then you're just that much closer to getting to work with your dream client.”
Building a strong network from the start can help you build credibility, foster relationships with potential clients, and get yourself closer to business opportunities you currently feel are out of reach.
Personalize your messages
Now that you know who you’re going to contact and why, it’s time to start writing. According to Backlinko’s study of 12 million outreach messages, emails with a personalized message receive a response 32.7% more often. Within your message, you should use what you learned about your audience and their values to speak directly to their unique desires and pain points.
“Getting a CEO to respond to a cold email is very difficult. I get hundreds of emails a day, and I don't even have time to respond to all of the important ones, said Ed Stevens, CEO and founder of virtual meeting platform Scoot. “The one thing that will get me to open and click is if the email connects with a pain point I have. Short emails with tips are interesting, too. But if the tips are not useful, then they don't get me to do anything. The more value you give me up front, the more likely I will be to pay attention.”
With this in mind, you might try to give a slice of what you offer away for free within your email.
If you are an SEO blogger looking for clients, you might type up a list of personalized, search engine optimized blog ideas and send them to a dozen different potential connections in an email like this:
I just came across your blog and I really enjoyed your recent piece on [subject of blog post]. I’m an SEO blogger and based on trends in your industry and [how you, the expert, compiled this list of specific blog titles], I think the following blog topics would perform well for your business:
[Insert blog titles]
I recently helped [insert brand name] bring 15,000 new hits to their website with just three blog posts. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about these blog topics or just chat about what has and hasn’t been working for [business name]’s blog.
Founders aren’t interested in being insulted into product interest either. If Hon could say anything to the people sending her cold outreach messages she would say, “Stop with the crazy subject lines, the insults, the spelling errors, and weird compliments around high school successes.”
With a social media message, you need to be more careful about not sounding too salesy. Starting with an authentic compliment, sharing the value you provide, and establishing your expertise is key. The same SEO blogger could message an influencer with a blog with an Instagram DM like this:
I just found your blog after coming across [blog title]. Your writing style is really compelling and I loved [a specific detail in the blog]. I recently worked with [another blogger] where I wrote a few SEO-informed guest posts for their blog. We were able to bring in [number] new views to her site with just three posts.
If you’d ever be interested in adding more quality blog posts from someone who specializes in [their niche], I would love to chat. [Your name]
The basics of a strong cold outreach message
When writing any message, try to keep things concise. Stevens shared: “I probably respond to 1 in 10,000 cold emails. Get to the business value quickly, and don't joke around. I'm never in the mood to be entertained when I am combing through hundreds of emails.”
Keeping things concise doesn’t mean your message only needs to be one or two sentences. Two to three short paragraphs is usually the sweet spot, but make sure you’re cutting the fluff and that every word serves a purpose.
Hon found that each of the cold outreach messages she responded to were “short and heartfelt and [the sender] had worked with a brand [she knows].”
If you run a tech company that offers local two-day delivery from small businesses within a 50-mile radius, you might send an email like this to a local small business:
[Share how you came across their store]. You have a really great collection of [specific products].
I run an app called Apple A Day, which provides local two-day delivery from small businesses to local customers. [How your business provides them value.] I’d love to see if you’d be interested in getting your store on our site.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share this study we conducted with 50 small businesses on how they compete with chain stores and online retailers like Amazon. [Local store names] are a few local stores who already have their products on our site.
Hope to talk soon,
Sticking with the same scenario, this business owner could easily–and potentially more successfully–contact these local small businesses through social media. They might start by following the desired client and fostering a relationship with a few weeks of comments, story replies, and likes. Then, they could follow-up with a DM like this:
We already have a few businesses in the area you might know like [tag businesses] on the app and I think [business name] would make a great addition. Would love to chat over the phone or email to see if we could be of service.
Hope to talk soon. [Your name].
Using cold outreach on social media like Linkedin, Twitter, & Instagram
Phoebe Dobbs often finds herself on the receiving end of cold outreach sales emails, but rarely on the sending end. This is because she’s mastered the art of warming up a lead before she tries to sell to them.
In 2020, Phoebe found someone on LinkedIn that she wanted to connect with. “I didn't have a particular goal. I didn't want to work for that company. I just thought she worked for a cool company,” Phoebe says.
They also had a few things in common, including a mutual connection. So Phoebe sent her this message:
Super random BUT I saw you’re a Brit in Amsterdam and used to work at [company name]. I know [mutual connection] a little (think that’s how I found you!). I’m also a Londoner in Amsterdam and wondered if you’d want to go for a coffee walk one day?”
They responded, got a coffee, and she ended up becoming one of Phoebe's good friends. Then, one year later when she was working for an American agency, she messaged Phoebe saying they’d love to have her on as a freelance strategist. Phoebe landed a few thousand dollars’ worth of work for them over the span of a couple of weeks.
Phoebe has been able to replicate this outreach strategy multiple times for speaking gigs and mentorship opportunities by sending personalized, clearly communicated messages that often contain a snappy introduction, a common connection, and/or a compliment.
Most importantly, Phoebe shared “I’m not asking for anything in the outset. Instead of ‘Can you help me with this?’ it’s ‘I would love to hear more about you and your career. Let’s grab a coffee sometime.’”
Erifili Gounari, Founder & CEO at The Z Link, Forbes 30 Under 30 pick, and LinkedIn Top Voice 2023, likes to use Twitter as a way to connect with journalists and writers she admires. She said that she has received multiple press mentions “just from DMing one journalist on Twitter one day in 2020.” All the articles positioned her and her Gen Z marketing agency as experts in their field and even brought her potential clients.
You can try out a few casual outreach messages on Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok like these:
“Hi [Name]! I recently came across your profile and I loved your post on [post topic]. I noticed that you’re connected with [mutual connection] and that you’re also living in [city name]. I would love to grab a coffee and chat about [what you have in common] if you have any free afternoons this month.”
Finally, Dodds shared that “you have to play the long game and build genuine relationships. Half of the people that I reached out to have become good friends. We help each other as much as we can. We send each other interesting opportunities.”
Make sure to follow up
If you don’t get a response the first time, try again. Ambition conducted a study where they analyzed 578 cold outreach emails. They only received six responses through one outreach attempt, but got sixty-seven more responses from further follow up emails. That being said, don’t overdo it.
“When I get repeated emails in a short period of time, I don't respond. And then I mark them as spam, too,” shared Stevens. A short and sweet follow up email might look something like this:
I reached out a few days ago about [subject matter]. Would love to talk more about [benefit you’re providing to the company] or answer any questions you might have.
With social media, something short and sweet like this would work:
I saw you read my message about [subject matter]. I would love to answer any questions you might have about [benefit you’re providing to the company] if you have a free moment this week.
Worth keeping in mind: Multichannel cold reach
Most accounts on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have their read receipts turned on. If you see that the business still hasn’t read your message, you can try commenting on one of their posts saying that you sent them a DM before sending them another message.
We've outlined a few approaches to cold outreach across multiple channels, but the common thread across all of these communications is personalization, creativity, and authenticity. Ensuring that each are present in healthy doses will put you in the best position for success.