B2B Prospecting for Agencies: How to Plan and Run Cold Outreach at Scale
Cold outreach has long been the bread and butter for many lead generation agencies. Correctly used, this tactic can offer a consistent and reliable source of warm, qualified leads to deliver to your customers.
Whether you’re only planning to implement cold outreach for your agency or feel like your campaigns are not reaching their full potential, it’s a good idea to learn from your peers who have aced it.
This post, part of the series featuring first-hand experience of our trusted partners, will give you a peek behind the curtain of planning and running cold outreach as an agency.
Getting started: Frequent cold outreach mistakes to avoid
Before we get down to business and consider the key steps for setting up your cold outreach campaign, let’s talk about the common pitfalls most agencies face in the process (or suffer from afterward).
So we asked our first expert, Suren Arora, to share his list of cold emailing don’ts.
"These are some of the common mistakes I see people make while setting up their campaigns:
- Not reviewing emails for spelling and other grammatical errors, placeholder/variable settings before sending them.
- Sending emails too frequently, not spacing them out far enough.
- Sending too many emails in a day.
- Sending the same generic messaging to a large audience (lack of personalization).
- Reaching out to too many prospects from the same company (if you must do this, do not reach out to more than 2 or 3 people from an organization per day).
- Using too many links in your email.
- Using too heavy or too many images in your outreach emails.
- Using uncommon/spammy TLDs (domain extensions).
- Being too salesy with emails, and only highlighting your product or service rather than focusing on relationship building, relevance, and explaining how you can help solve a prospect’s actual problem.
- Not considering mobile users while drafting your emails. Use short paragraphs, email copy, and subject lines. Longer subject lines get trimmed off on mobile devices and longer emails are hard to skim/scan. Mobile user attention spans are especially short.
- Not A/B testing subject lines, and body copy, and optimizing accordingly them based on your target audience.
- Not following up with your prospects. People are often not immediately interested, making it necessary to follow up to get them on a call).
- Relying on data from untrusted sources – data even from trusted sources like ZoomInfo and Apollo may not be up to date at times. So be sure to use a quality email validation service to verify the email address and clean up any bits of information about the prospects that will be used in outreach. Clean data is immensely valuable as you can reuse it time and again – of course after doing a thorough QA and reverifying the validity of the data.
- Not blacklisting the companies that you have already booked a call with.
- Not being creative with their outreach. Including elements like personalized videos and images help boost engagement and tend to generate more engagement then generic, text-based emails.
- Including a shortened link in your emails like the ones from bit.ly, which are considered spammy.
- Ramping up the sending volume too fast and not using warmup for the sending domains."
Technical Director, SSC Digital
With this in mind, you can plan your campaigns to avoid falling into the common traps, starting with deliverability.
Ensure your email deliverability
A less talked about aspect of cold outreach – email deliverability – is also one of the most dangerous mistakes you can make, especially when setting up and running campaigns on behalf of your clients.
There are several common deliverability pitfalls, from lack of proper authentication to ramping up your outreach too soon. Either way, you put the client’s domain reputation at risk of getting flagged as spam or even blacklisted. Needless to say that this will also impact any other email activity they may be doing internally (even if using related domains).
Luckily, there are tools and tactics successful agencies adopt to address this challenge, as explained by our next expert guest, Geoff Cersoli.
"Nothing feels worse than putting in all of the hard work required to build a cold email outreach campaign, only to have your emails drop right into your prospects’ spam folder. That’s why Lead Zeppelin makes email warm-up an integral part of our campaign process.
Warming up your clients’ sending emails not only improves results, it helps show your client that guarding their domain’s sending reputation is important to your agency. It’s a win for both campaign efficacy and client experience.
When warming up a client’s email, we’re certain to have their email signature in place prior to starting. We also create templates that include any links and/or images that will be used in the actual campaign. The closer the warm-up is to the actual emails, we’ve noticed, the better the campaign performs.
We’ve also learned the importance of explaining to the client how email warm-up works. It’s easy to forget that the client is not a lead generation expert and will need additional explanation around warm-ups and how they appear in their inbox and sent folder. We highly recommend taking 10 minutes with your client to help them set up the inbox rules. That ensures the warm-up begins with minimal friction.
The bottom line is that starting your email warm-ups 2-3 weeks prior to launching a campaign will do wonders. Even if your client’s email address is mature, use Reply.io’s “Reputation Protection” tool. It’s a no-brainer that improves results and strengthens client relationships."
Managing Director, LeadZeppelin
In other words, email deliverability and proper warm-up is vital to lead generation agencies using multiple domains and accounts to run their campaigns at scale. Losing the client’s domain due to the deliverability issues can cost a lot more than any warm-up tool.
Build, maintain, and repair your sender reputation automatically with Reply’s Email Warm-Up tool.
Segment your prospect lists for cold outreach
Now that you know what to avoid in your outreach and have taken care of the technical aspects like your email account’s reputation, you can begin your preparations. The first step is to build a list of prospects to contact.
As a lead generation agency, you should already have your sources to collect prospect contacts from – be it trusted data providers, business listings and LinkedIn, or your own database. We’ve already talked about how agencies collect, validate, clean their data.
What’s more important at this point, i.e., when setting up your campaign, is to understand the specific audience segments you want to target. This will give you an idea of how to tailor your outreach for maximum effect.
Here’s what our next expert, Russell Taylor, has to say about this.
"If you are doing cold outreach, segmenting your prospect into highly customized and relevant lists will greatly increase your chances of getting a response.
Below are some proven segmentation techniques to generate new business for your business. These are not "theoretical" tips... we have built and launched sequences for each of these ourselves, and have seen them work for numerous clients.
- Recently Hired C-Suite. Getting in front of senior decision makers during their first 6 months in a new role is a really effective strategy for setting meetings. Our data shows they are 2X more likely to respond to your outreach. You can assume that they have a budget and are looking for solutions to help them ramp up and generate quick performance. Offering to share some research, ideas, or content that a new CXO would find valuable is a great opener, and feels more authentic than pushing for a meeting right away.
- Technology Specific (Shopify / Facebook / AdWords). If you work within a specific technology ecosystem, you can segment your lists by technology/platform and get really specific in your scripts. Each platform comes with strengths and weaknesses, so you will be able to tap into more exact pain points.
- Job Postings. Active job openings for specific positions can be a good indicator that a company has a need. In your scripts you can talk about how your product or service can save them from the risk or expense of a full-time hire. A few job postings sites that you might mine for data are Indeed, LinkedIn, AngelList, Dice, CareerBuilder, and GlassDoor.
- City by City. Even if you work with global or nationwide brands, city specific campaigns work because of the familiarity and authenticity you can build. Start with your own city or the largest metro area near you. Think about what is unique about that city, and what can you mention in the beginning of your script to sound casual and lighthearted.
- Recently Founded. Most companies are going to have a year-founded date associated with them. If you create a campaign targeting founders that have launched within the last year or so, you will be able to customize your outreach scripts to the pain points of a newly founded company.
- Demographics. This strategy is a little more abstract, but can be very powerful if applied in the correct way. Looking at the current employees of a target company can tell you a lot about what stage they are at, and what their priorities are. For example, if a company has a lot of NodeJS engineers on their payroll, you can assume they are building NodeJS applications and can customize your pitch to their current needs.
- Vertical Specific. Another great strategy for producing highly customized copy is to segment your prospect list by product category. You can layer this tactic on top of some of the event-based segments listed above. If you know what industry your prospect is in, you can customize your script by name-dropping similar clients, or speak about specific results you delivered for a similar company."
CEO & Founder, Hello Outbound
Polish your messaging tactics
The next step of the process is coming up with effective messaging for your campaign. This is where the segmentation we’ve covered above comes in handy.
The tactics and specific messaging approaches you choose will depend on a number of factors, including your target audience (as exemplified above) and communication channel (e.g., email or LinkedIn message).
Yet, if there’s one thing that should be front and center of any cold outreach message it’s your value proposition. It can be a carefully crafted pitch with visual explanation of how you can help them solve a specific problem or you can go with a short and straightforward CTA based on a relevant case study, like our next expert, Ryan Matonis.
"The secret here is to simply not overthink it. We really just need to offer relevant results in order to get the prospects interested enough to check out what we did for similar businesses.
Believe it or not, this two-sentence email campaign gets 1-2% interested response rate for almost every client we run it for.
That's it! Check out these stats we just got for a new client using this exact strategy."
Founder and CEO, Lead Engines
As long as you know who you’re targeting and what exactly you’re offering (and how is it relevant to your target), you can experiment with any tactic or approach you want – including the short and sweet messages as in the example above.
If you’re struggling to come up with effective templates to power your multiple outreach campaigns, make use of our Email Assistant to generate unique messages with AI based on the provided contextual information. Or you can copy and customize proven cold email templates you can find online.
Pick the suitable channels for outreach
As in the case of messaging tactics, your choice of channels for outreach will depend on the audience you’re targeting for your customers. Just think about the best way to reach them – is it email, phone, or social media?
There are agencies that specialize in cold calling. They have dedicated call centers to generate leads at scale – and do so pretty well!
Others choose less intrusive and demanding tactics including email and social media channels. Karol Andruszków explains how that works.
"Two key channels any agency can use for high conversion prospecting are emails and LinkedIn.
Are you targeting SMEs? Focus on acing cold emails first. Not every small business is on LinkedIn or Twitter, but everyone has an email inbox.
Your task is to maximize the chance of getting in front of the prospect. So pay special attention to:
- Subject line – The less salesy, the better. Don't follow headlines in newsletters. B2C is different from B2B. Instead, try to provoke curiosity. We once ran an A/B test: Some first step cold messages had a regular title and others "[Bla bla, Here should be the title]. The second one had a 38% higher open rate.
- Preheader – these are the first few words of the email that are visible from the inbox. The preheader works closely with the subject line: Think of them together and consider what words will intensify the effect you want to create with the title.
- CTA – make it as simple to execute as possible. Instead of having the recipient call or write back to you, ask them to send you back a response containing just 1 character:
1 – Not interested
2 – I’m busy, contact me next month
3 – We can talk. Send me a link to your calendar.
The most effective social media for B2B marketing is used by professionals to connect with other professionals. It is on this portal that they are most likely to respond to business proposals.
First, try to expand your network. The more common connections you have with your prospects, the greater the chance that they’ll accept your network invitation.
When they accept, wait 1-2 days and contact them. It's not an email – the message needs to be shorter.
The preheader must be personalized and intrigue the recipient. Think about what words will provoke him/her to open the message.
If the prospect doesn't respond, send them follow-ups. Our research confirms that a campaign on LinkedIn should have at least 3-4 follow-ups.
Pro tip: Unitize your website/landing pages/blog
Whether you generate leads through mailing or social media, always send prospects a link to your website, blog, or landing page with your first message. They must be able to find all the helpful information there. If they can’t, fix that.
Our research confirms redirecting prospects to a conversion-optimized landing page is the most effective lead generation strategy. Use your website/blog to showcase internal information, data, and findings in the field you specialize in. Regularly posting such content will help position you as an industry leader and build credibility."
CEO, Concept21 and BOWWE
But if you’re looking to scale your cold outreach efforts and improve your results, you should be using all of the available channels, including phone calls, social media (LinkedIn), direct messaging (SMS or WhatsApp), and more.
The order of the steps as well as their number in this case will be highly specific to the audience you’re targeting and the purpose of the outreach in general (inbound vs outbound, etc.).
For your inspiration, here are two examples of outbound multichannel sequences – with different pace and intensity – we’ve been running successfully.
There are more sequence templates to copy and customize, by the way.
My recommendation is to mix and match different types of touchpoints while keeping an eye on your metrics. This is the only way to figure out what works for each customer and their target audiences.
Analyze your metrics
The last step in the cold outreach cycle is to make sense of your performance data and make informed decisions to optimize your campaigns accordingly.
We all know the key metrics to scrutinize: delivery/bounce rate, open and reply rates along with the possible breakdown of the latter into “interested/not interested” based on certain contextual markers.
Yet, every agency might implement additional metrics to keep an eye on. Case in point is the opinion shared by our next expert, Jack Reamer.
"Here are 2 reasons why most sales outreach campaigns fail:
1) Your emails don’t get opened enough
2) Your list doesn’t care enough
That’s it. Really.
So let’s unpack each problem. This will tell you 2 metrics you should be worrying about when doing sales outreach for your agency.
Metric #1: # Of Daily Replies
First, are you getting enough opens this week? You might say, “Yeah. I just keep it simple and monitor my open rate.”
Caution: your open rates can change drastically overnight. Which means your AVERAGE open rate could be a healthy 48% – while, in fact, the last 100 emails sent could have actually had a 4% open rate.
That’s why I focus on my # of daily replies. Why? If I start a consistent number of prospects on my campaign every day, I know I can expect a consistent (and slightly increasing) number of replies each day. So if my # of daily replies suddenly drops – this tells me there’s most likely a deliverability issue I need to fix pronto.
Metric #2: Positive Reply Rate
Did you build a list that REALLY cares about the problem your agency solves (and has a budget and the authority to pay for it)? You can only know this by examining the positive reply rate of each campaign segment.
So I study the Positive Reply Rate for each segment to help me figure out which list is most profitable… and about 2x a month, I cut a segment and test a new one so we keep learning and improving results."
Yet, if you use channels outside of email, it might get more complicated to extract and make sense of the data. A potential solution to this problem is the dedicated dashboards providing the reports on the sequence by channel.
For example, here’s an example of what a LinkedIn dashboard might look like.
As an agency, you also need complete transparency into what each one of your team members has been up to – across different sequences and channels. This is where a team performance dashboard might come in handy offering better visibility for managers and customers alike.
With the corresponding permissions, you can see how each of your employees perform and act on this information.
Looking for a solution to scale cold outreach for your agency? Let us show you how Reply can help 🙌
As an agency, you can’t expect to find a silver bullet – a single approach you can apply to generate leads for each customer, regardless of their business model, industry, or target audience. Yet, you can develop your own set of best practices and proven tactics to follow in your sequences.
You can do so through trial and error or you can learn from your peers and implement their advice in your processes.
Hopefully, this post can serve as a source of inspiration for you and provide some actionable tips to level up your cold outreach.
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