Best Practices

Driving Startup Growth With Cold Outreach: Use Cases And Best Practices

In a cruel world of startups, you either grow or you die. And this often means trying every trick in the book, including the less popular methods like cold outreach.

The road from a small startup to a sustainable business is a bumpy one. And it invariably goes through growth. To survive the first five years (which only half of all companies do) and get profitable, your startup needs to grow at a proper pace. 

A bootstrapped startup, we’ve been through the ups and downs of business growth. We’ve tried different tactics and experimented with dozens of approaches. But there’s one method — the one that is usually off-radar for most startups — which, however, has been particularly useful on our road to sustainable growth as a company. It’s cold outreach.

In this article, we will explore the 5 cold emailing use cases as well as share some pro tips on how to make it work for your startup.

An introduction to cold outreach

Before we dive into the details, I want to explain what I mean by “cold outreach” and how it works in a nutshell. So, let’s start with that.

What is a cold email anyway?

Who hasn’t heard about cold calling? This notorious telemarketing tactic (that many now claim to be dead) has been in widespread use for the last few decades. 

A cold call was usually initiated by a sales rep who, out of a blue sky, reached out to a potential buyer via phone and tried to talk them into purchasing their product or service.

However, things have changed as email and social networks became the dominant means for business communication.

Cold outreach is a modern twist to the traditional outbound sales tactic which, however, has certain differences:

  • Modern-day cold outreach focuses on the quality of prospects rather than their quantity. Instead of mass emailing thousands of random contacts from a list you’ve bought online, more sales teams hand-pick the right prospects based on their buyer personas.
  • Personalization is everything! One size fits all approach with a generic call script doesn’t work anymore – you need to tailor your messaging and follow-up strategy to the specific audience you are targeting.
  • It doesn’t rely on a single outreach channel, i.e. voice calls, anymore. The “triple touch” approach, including phone, email, and LinkedIn, is now widely used for prospecting (with chats and AI bots expected to follow soon). In fact, using three or more channels in your campaign can result in a 287% higher purchase rate.

Cold outreach: a perfect addition to your startup growth strategy or a waste of time?

Cold email outreach as a strategy poses a number of challenges for sales reps. First of all, considering that your audience doesn’t know you yet it might be difficult to get their attention. Secondly, in case of email or social media contact, there’s no immediate verbal feedback from your recipients so you can’t alter your approach on the go (as with voice or video calls).

On the other hand, this tactic can offer lots of benefits to a startup, including: 

  • Low investment: If you research the contacts manually, all you need is an email account to get started. The only investment you might want to consider at this stage is a reliable software platform to automate your outreach to some extent.
  • Scalability: Thanks to the automation tools mentioned above, the whole outreach process is very easy to scale. To ramp up your sales, all you need to do is add more contacts to your list or create more campaigns targeting different audience segments.
  • Predictable results: Once you’ve found the right approach, cold outreach can become a pretty reliable source of leads (as you can have several campaigns running in the background non-stop).

Also, cold outreach can be pretty effective. My team knows it firsthand — we’ve been doing it since day one in business. We still have a dedicated SDR team working full-time to attract more high-quality leads.

The efforts have been paying off pretty well: we see on average 60-80% open rate and 10-20% response rate:

Results of cold outreach campaigns

And here’s a snapshot of one of our latest campaigns:

Stats from the latest cold outreach campaign

But the best part about cold outreach is that it is a universal startup growth tool — sales prospecting is only one area of application for this tactic. There are other ways to use it, from marketing to recruitment and networking. So, let’s take a closer look at each one of these use cases.

5 ways cold email outreach can drive your startup growth

There are many aspects of healthy startup growth: from increasing the number of customers and revenue to scaling the team and product portfolio or launching in other markets. 

And, while there are dozens of tactics to explore, only one of them can be used to tackle most of the growth aspects — it’s cold outreach.

Here are some of the ways cold outreach can come in handy when growing your startup

Sales development

Outbound sales represent the default use case for cold outreach for a number of reasons we’ve mentioned above. When you need to ramp up your startup sales, proactively reaching out to the prospects might be the only way to quickly get some leads into your pipeline. 

And even if a prospect churns, you can still use cold outreach as a way to source first-hand market knowledge and validate your product. After all, asking for advice or feedback is a much better cold email marketing strategy than pitching your product right away (we will get to that later).

Networking 

Your network is arguably the most important business asset. Aside from bringing in more leads through the word of mouth (which is one of the most powerful marketing tactics), you can use it to connect with fellow startup owners.

From seeking mentorship or expert advice, inquiring about cross-promotion opportunities or inviting them to your affiliate program to building long-term strategic partnerships with other businesses, there are many ways networking outreach can help your startup grow. Also, unlike sales outreach, networking emails tend to have a higher success rate (up to 96% according to Hubspot).

Marketing

Apart from networking, you should also consider establishing connections with media or reputable industry resources. Whether it’s a new product launch, exciting partnership, or simply a startup story that is worth sharing, cold emailing is a great way to spread the word and get some press coverage.

Cold email outreach can also be used as an effective link building tactic. If your content is noteworthy, i.e. unique, insightful, and valuable, other websites will be happy to share it (or at least link to it in their publications, which is still great for SEO).

Recruiting 

Getting the right people to work on your startup is just as important as building a solid sales pipeline. However, staffing a startup can be a real challenge, especially if you need to build a team from scratch. 

Cold outreach can become your secret startup recruitment weapon, whether you’re looking for the best engineers or trying to attract experienced co-founders (just like we did). After all, people who are not actively looking for a job might still consider your offer if you use an effective recruiting email that resonates with them.

Fundraising

If you’re going to reach out to perfect candidates and potential business partners, why not try sending cold emails to investors as well? This use case isn’t too different from the previous ones — it takes the right person and the right message that you send at the right time but there’s also a chance to raise some startup funding.

Even if they don’t fund your startup, they might share some advice, refer you to other investors, or even become your advisor which is still an amazing result. In any case, it’s better than sitting around and waiting for the investors to come around.

How to make your cold emails work: a hands-on manual

While cold outreach isn’t rocket science, it still takes certain preparations to get started and reach the desired outcomes. Here are the most important aspects of the cold outreach campaign setup and some proven tactics to make it work.

Getting started with cold outreach

  1. Build a list. There are two ways to do that:
    • manually hand-pick the best prospects using email finder tools like Name2Email
    • use trusted B2B databases like ZoomInfo or Uplead for bulk contact extraction.
  2. Ensure proper tech setup. This includes email domain warm-up, authentication, and deliverability testing to make sure that your messages will reach the prospects’ inboxes and not get flagged as spam. Also, it’s a great idea to employ outreach automation tools (e.g. Reply) to streamline the whole process.
  3. Craft a perfect message. Once you’ve set up your infrastructure, you can go on and put your pitch together (we’ll get to that). And don’t forget about the follow-ups!
  4. Pick the right timing. It is also important to pick the right day and time for each step in your outreach sequence. Start with the proven “mid-week, mid-day” approach or get creative and experiment with different timing options to see what works best with your audience.
  5. Come up with a solid follow-up strategy. This includes the timing, frequency, outreach channels, as well as messaging. For the best results, don’t focus on a single channel, e.g. email, — use a mix of automated and manual touches across email, phone, and social media.

That’s pretty much it. Once you’re done with the preparations, you can launch your campaign.

However, this doesn’t mean you should sit there and wait for the leads to start coming in. Track your metrics, try to understand what works and what doesn’t, iterate and improve your strategy.

The anatomy of a perfect cold sales email (including proven templates)

Getting your message right across to the prospects is arguably the most challenging part of the whole outreach process. To make sure your cold emails hit the target, follow the proven framework when crafting your message. 

Namely, here are some essential elements of such an email you should include:

  • Short and clear subject line: The first thing your prospect sees when your email lands in their inbox, it can either make or break your whole cold email marketing campaign. In fact, 47% of recipients will make the decision to open the message and 69% of them will report it as spam based on the subject line alone.
  • Personalized intro for each prospect: Personalization is the cornerstone of an effective outreach campaign. By including a customized intro, you make your email look like it’s been sent to this prospect exclusively, with their problems and needs in mind. This can significantly boost both the click-through and response rates as well as your ROI.
  • Value proposition: There are multiple ways to add value with your emails — e.g. from providing a spot-on solution to the prospect’s problems to including relevant content or personalized offer. Just make sure it doesn’t look selfish or too salesy.
  • Call to action: The key here is to be very clear with your request and make it as easy as possible to do what you’re asking for. If it’s a call appointment — include a link to your calendar or offer a specific timeslot. If it’s a business inquiry, make it a yes/no question. 

Here’s an example of a cold sales email template we’ve used at Reply:

Growing your sales team?

Hi {FirstName},

I’m reaching out to you because I noticed that you are expanding your sales team at {Company}. I assume, as a {ProspectTitle}, you want your company’s sales to grow as well, so would you like an idea of boosting {Company}’s email outreach activities?

Reply is designed for sales teams and helps them to grow their pipeline by using our platform to double their number of conversations with right-fit accounts and contacts by automating sales communications with existing and prospective clients while keeping them warm and personal.

Are you available for a 10-minute call to see how we could help {Company}’s sales team?

And here are the results we’ve seen from this email:

Stats from the cold email template above

This is only one example of effective cold email templates. You can use it as an inspiration and tailor to the specifics of your business and audience needs. For example, instead of hiring intent, you can refer to the technology they are using, recent acquisitions, locations they operate in, or even the person’s individual interests.

The DOs and DON’Ts of a successful cold outreach campaign

Lastly, it is important to address a common concern regarding cold outreach. Many people avoid this tactic due to certain bias attached to it. Indeed, cold email outreach is often viewed as aggressive or annoying. But it doesn’t have to be that way! 

You can make your outreach effective and build lasting relationships with the prospect as long as you focus on the following aspects:

  • Targeting: Do your homework and get to know your audience first. Having a clear understanding of who your prospects are will help you come up with an effective engagement strategy.
  • Personalization: Avoid sounding generic at all costs and always make sure your offer is relevant and interesting to the people you address. Be it a simple {FirstName} variable in the intro or 100% custom message for each prospect, personalization is vital.
  • Value: Before you ask for anything, offer value first. As mentioned above, there are many ways to do that, from including a clearly communicated solution to the prospect’s problem to sharing interesting and insightful content.

On top of that, there are some common mistakes you need to avoid at all costs, including:

  • Misleading subject lines: They might slightly increase your open rate at first, yet, they also can get you flagged for spam. Needless to say how bad such a strategy can be for your brand image, and you definitely can’t expect to make a sale by lying to your prospects.
  • Giving up after just one follow-up: This is the most common (and most harmful) cold outreach mistake most businesses make. If you are afraid to come off as annoying, rethink your strategy but don’t underestimate the power of follow-ups. Each contact with the prospect increases your chances to hear back from them.
  • Pitching: Another typical fear that many SDRs have is to come off as too aggressive or salesy in your cold emails. The best way to avoid this is to refrain from pitching your product in the first email. Focus on establishing a connection instead.

Ignore cold outreach at your own peril

To pin down everything that has been said above:

  • Cold emailing is an extremely multi-purpose growth tactic that is, however, often overlooked by startups.
  • It CAN be effective, but only if done right — following best practices and proven tactics is a must if you want to reach your goals with cold outreach.
  • Despite that, this tactic also offers room for experiments. A/B testing is a great way to see which approaches have the best outcomes and improve your tactic.

If you are still hesitant to try cold email marketing, start small: reach out to 100 prospects, pitch your content to 10 online resources, contact at least one related business to inquire about partnerships. This won’t take too much of your time but can help you see what business opportunities you might be missing out on.

After all, the only way to grow your startup is through trial and error.

Rimma Sytnik

Rimma is a Senior Digital Marketer at Reply.io with 4+ years of experience. She's experienced in email & messenger marketing, on-page SEO and link building.

email growth sales