Our approach to email marketing was absolutely critical in getting us our first 500 customers, although it’s become a less important aspect of our customer acquisition strategy over time. But before the benefits of content, SEO, and our brand started to kick in I’d say email prospecting was a critical activity for us—it certainly opened the door with most of our early customers and I’d estimate something like 25% of our first 100 customer were directly attributable to email prospecting.
The approach that I’ve leveraged since the get-go has remained unchanged.
First, I hired a freelancer off of Upwork who consistently monitor sites where prospective customers hang out—for us this is AngelList, ProductHunt, Betalist, and other similar sites where founders announce that they are launching new products. The freelancer then uses Hunter.io to verify the email address of the founder and adds their company and contact details to a Google Sheet.
Second, I use Zapier to automatically send an email to new leads that are added to the Google Sheet. These emails are sent directly from my personal Gmail account, which is important because the emails look like a 1-on-1 email sent directly from me.
Finally, the email is templated and pulls in some degree of personalization—the founder's name and company name, as well as where I first heard about their company.
This workflow is effective, inexpensive, and allows me to send a few hundred emails each month in seconds.
The anatomy of our email approach
The automated prospecting email that is sent by Zapier can be found below. There are a few key components here that make this email effective.
First, the personalization and the email being sent directly from my Gmail account make the user more likely to engage—there’s nothing here to suggest that they are receiving a mass email.
Second, by calling out where I came across their company I build some credibility and relevance—they likely just launched on Product Hunt or added a company profile on AngelList, so they're sort of conditioned to think “Yeah, I did just do that!”
Third, I’m offering them tools that they will inevitably need… while also appealing to reason in pointing out that the status quo of integrating 5-10 software tools isn’t terribly “lean”—something most bootstrapped founders are concerned with.
Fourth, the line about being a Stripe Verified partner builds some degree of credibility, while also signaling that Outseta already works with other tools they are likely to use.
Finally, I end with an open ended question—I’m being respectful in asking for permission to send them more information, but I’m also prompting them to respond directly. That’s ultimately what I’m looking for—permission to engage!
The email copy aside, there are two other aspects that have made this approach really successful for us.
I don’t send follow up emails...
Probably the most interesting thing about our approach to email prospecting is that I don’t send any follow up emails unless the prospect asks me to. I get about a 40% response rate on these emails, some of which simply say “No thanks” but most of which say “Sure, send along some more information.”
If I am given the green light to follow up, here’s what I typically write back.
I know any sales person well versed in email sequences would tell my I’m nuts not to send an automated series of emails to follow up with prospects with regularity, but again, what I’m after here is building a brand that stands for something. I hate being on the end of automated, cold email outreach so I simply don’t do it to prospects beyond one introductory email. If they don’t respond, I’m respecting them by not showing up in their email inbox again.
And for those that do respond, this follow up email has proven to be irresistible. The “Sales Pitch” page that I link to is quite unique and gives them access to a bunch of materials that they can use to assess whether Outseta is right for them on their own terms. Our unique approach to sales often piques their curiosity.
But in saying “you won’t hear from me again unless you reach out to me” I’m showing a respect for their inbox that almost no other companies do. It is extraordinarily rare that prospects that receive this email don’t reach back out to me… treat people the way that you’d want to be treated!
The value of email prospecting doesn’t always have to be attributable sales
I’m the first to tell you that email prospecting did bring us directly attributable sales, especially early on. But as I’ve continued to send these campaigns I’ve also realized their value in a few other ways.
I think the big one is just brand awareness—by sending these emails consistently over several years, a huge percentage of founders that have launched SaaS businesses have been introduced to Outseta in some capacity. Even if they didn’t engage with me directly, they came across our brand name so it’s more familiar when they see it again in their travels online. When I first starting sending these emails, nobody had heard of Outseta. Today, I’d estimate that something like 25%-40% of recipients mention that they’ve heard of Outseta before.
Finally, I think email prospecting is also hugely valuable just in building relationships. There have been tons of founders that I’ve connected with where Outseta wasn’t a good fit for their project but I was able to help them in some way.
Maybe they asked for product feedback. Maybe they asked me a marketing question. Maybe they introduced me to a founder building a complimentary product.
The value of these happening may not be directly measurable, but there’s undeniable value in making new connections within your industry. Email prospecting—done respectfully—is a great tool way to do that.
Hire freelancers to build your lead lists on a site like Upwork or Fivver.
Even automated emails can be personalized and must be hyper relevant to the recipient.
Don’t be afraid to flip commonly accepted best practices on their heads—our sales pitch page demonstrates our unique approach to sales, and telling prospects we won’t follow up with them unless they reach out actually drives more engagement!
Consider the brand implications of sending cold email.