A Beginner's Guide to Follow Ups: When, Why, How (many)

After much pain and suffering, you’ve managed to send your first email. Congratulations!
So you sit back and wait for a response.

And wait…

You’re constantly clicking ‘refresh’ on your inbox, but there’s nothing. You start to imagine a long bleak future where robots have taken over, the Matrix is a reality, and you still haven’t had a response to your email.

Sending emails is a tricky business. Whether you’re sending a cold outbound email to new prospects or carrying out a inbound campaign to your warm list, trying to find the right words is hard work. When you go through all that work of finding the right prospect and crafting the perfect email to get nothing in return…

It’s depressing.

It only gets worse when you’re waiting for a response with the potential to change your life, whether that’s to your email applying for a new job or trying to attract investment for your business. Even if you’re reaching out to a list of potential leads or email subscribers, a low response rate means you’re wasting your time and resources.

There is a solution.

It’s a ‘secret’ that almost everyone knows, but few actually use. If you do use it though, you can expect to dramatically increase your reply rates.

Follow-ups.

As important as sending that initial email is, it is unlikely to be enough by itself. For an email campaign to be successful, you need to follow-up. With this beginner’s guide, we’ll answer all your questions about following up on your emails, including:

  • Why you need to build follow-ups into every email campaign you send
  • What goes into a successful follow-up email
  • When you should start sending follow-up emails
  • How many follow-up emails you need to send

And much more.
Once you’ve finished with this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to plan your first follow-up campaign and start benefiting from the higher reply rates that’ll come with it.

Why follow-up emails aren’t optional

There’s usually a lot of hesitancy and pushback to sending follow-up emails. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to bother people. It’s one thing to send one single email, but surely if they wanted to respond, they would have. Shouldn’t we just respect that?

Look at your own inbox—unless you’re some kind of Inbox Zero ninja, it’s likely you have a couple of thousand messages sitting there. Back in 2013, Pando reported 20 percent of inboxes had a staggering 21,000+ emails in them.

I doubt that figure has gone down since then.

Ask yourself, what are those messages doing there? Why don’t you just delete them all? On some level, right or wrong, you feel those emails are valuable (if not, do yourself a favor and delete them all right now). You’ve decided you want to read or act on those emails at some point in the future.

Unfortunately, more emails come into your inbox every day, competing for your attention and pushing those existing emails further into the basement of your inbox, cluttering up the place until you’re driven to declare email bankruptcy.

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest sending more emails as the answer to this particular problem, but it is. With the current state of inboxes, it takes more than one email to get someone’s attention. I’m even aware of people who assume that if they haven’t been sent multiple follow-ups, then the original email couldn’t have been important to begin with.

If you believe that your original email was worth sending, then it’s worth sending a follow-up.

But won’t people get annoyed?

When you follow-up, you’re reminding people about you and asking them to take action. Hopefully, that’ll be reading and responding positively to your original email.

However, they might also click the unsubscribe link or write a snooty response asking you to never email them again.

That’s a real possibility.

It’s also something you shouldn’t be afraid of.

Your follow-up email is there to get them off the fence and to make a decision, one way or another. I’d rather have someone unsubscribe from my email list than do nothing. Motivating your prospects to take action, any action, is key.

Of course, I’d rather people respond to my email so they can benefit from it, but the first step in successful follow-ups is getting away from that mindset that’s scared of bothering people. Take a look at the results for one of Reply’s campaigns:

We’re still seeing a small percentage of people, people who hadn’t replied to the first four attempts, positively respond to the fifth email.

Those positive replies could be your next big customer, the recruiter from your dream company, or the investor who’ll help your business grow.

Follow-ups are essential to get the most from your email campaign.

Who should you be following up with?

As I’ve said earlier, I firmly believe that if it’s worth emailing someone, it’s worth following up with them.

However, if the idea of following up on every email seems like too much, you can prioritize your follow-ups.

Here are a couple of criteria you could keep an eye out for.

They’re a high-value prospect. Was your email sent to your dream employer, client, or life-partner? While I don’t recommend relying on email to find your true love, if there’s a lot riding on an email, then following up is a no-brainer.

They’ve shown interest. How you can tell if someone’s interested if they haven’t responded? The right email software (such as Reply) will show you metrics for each email you send, including opens. If someone has opened your email more than once, that’s a clear indication they’re interested in what you have to say. Other indicators would be interactions on social media, such as checking out your LinkedIn profile.

On the other hand, don’t be a spammer. If someone has responded and asked you to stop emailing them, then stop. Not only are you legally required to do so under CAN-SPAM laws, but it’s the right and decent thing to do.

Again, using email automation software like Reply can help by automatically removing people who’ve replied from future follow-ups, as well as handling any unsubscription requests.

Don’t be that jerk who keeps pestering people who are never going to be interested.

Different types of follow-ups

Hopefully, you’re now ready to get started with your follow-up emails. But what does a successful follow-up email actually look like?

There are a number of different approaches you can take, with some more effective than others.

Did you see this?

Short and sweet, drawing attention back to the original email used to be our favored approach. However, things have changed a lot since then.

Hi {First Name}, Have you seen my previous email?

and

Have you had a chance to check my previous email?

used to be enough, but they simply don’t work as well anymore. While it’s okay to use them as the very last follow-up, I wouldn’t recommend them for more than that.

One more thing…

I used to love watching Columbo as a kid. The detective would always be questioning the killer, and just when the killer thought he’d managed to throw him off the scent, Columbo would say “Just one more thing…”

On the surface, it was a throwaway comment. In reality, it was key to the whole crime, Columbo’s secret weapon that exposed the killer’s dastardly plot.

While it’s generally a good idea to not use your email campaign to confront potential murderers, you can use Columbo’s tactic to get results from your follow-up. Art of Emails shows how Luke from Pest Pro App used this method to follow-up with Life Hacker.

He started off by offering Life Hacker a free content-upgrade (an infographic), then followed up with this message:

Hey Patrick,

Were you interested in that infographic I mentioned? I forgot to post the link within it.

You can find that here: {infographic link}

Regards,
Luke

For this kind of follow-up, the message doubles down on the original. Rather than simply drawing attention to the first email, offering them ‘one more thing’ of value, something that’ll convince them to get in touch.

The Zig Zag

If your first approach hasn’t worked, if your prospect has opened your email but not replied, then maybe it’s time to try a different approach. This might mean highlighting a different reason they should be interested in what you’re offering; is there another feature/benefit that might grab their interest?

Alternatively, you might try a different call-to-action (CTA). If your first email finished with an invitation to jump on a call, then you could follow-up in the same thread with something else:

Hi {FirstName},

I thought you might find this guide on {solving relevant problem} helpful. You can download it here: {content link}.

If at first you don’t succeed, try something else! A different approach could be what connects with the prospect and persuades them to reply.

Scheduling your follow-ups

First things first: don’t make the mistake of believing you’ll remember when to follow-up all by yourself.

From personal experience, even if an email is extremely important, if I haven’t scheduled my follow-ups in advance I will forget. Even if it’s just writing a note on your calendar or to-do list, you need a reliable method to schedule your follow-ups.

If you’re setting up a reminder, make it specific. A recurring task in your calendar to ‘follow-up’ is a start, but if you’re in the middle of multiple email campaigns it’s easy for someone to fall through the cracks.

Don’t: ‘Remember to follow-up’

Do: ‘Follow-up with {Prospect1} and {Prospect2} on the {SpecificDate}.

A better method is to automate the sequence from start to finish. When you set up a campaign in Reply, whether you’re using one of our templates or starting from scratch, it’s simple to add follow-up steps to go out on set days until you receive a reply (when they automatically stop).

The follow-up framework

Now that you have a method of scheduling your follow-ups, you need to work out how many to send and when you’ll be sending them. How many are too many? How soon is too soon?

Previously at Reply, we would send 3-4 follow-ups after the first cold email. Now we send around 6-7 follow-ups. The result? We still see positive responses even after the 7th follow-up.

Here’s the exact framework we’ve found gets the best results:

  • Write the best email template for your first email to the prospect. We’ll add social proof, highlight value, add personalization, and more.
  • Choose a powerful subject line. Our results show subjects of 3-7 words have the best results. Currently, we use either ‘{Company} <> Reply.io’ or ‘Reply.io for {Company Name}’, which gets us a very healthy 70%+ open rate (Check out our guide on subject lines for more tips).
  • Send the first 3-4 follow-ups in the same email thread. We don’t want to overwhelm their inbox with new emails, so our follow-ups will refer them to the very first email or add more value to show how Reply can help them.

Here’s the schedule we currently use:

Day 1

1st Email

Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

1st
Follow-up

Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9

2nd
Follow-up

Day 10
Day 11
Day 12

3rd
Follow-up

Day 13
Day 14
Day 15
Day 16
Day 17
Day 18
Day 19
Day 20
Day 21

4th
Follow-up

  • After that we send three more emails in a new thread (in case they’ve forgotten about us) two month after the first email:
Day 45

5th
Follow-up

Day 46
Day 47
Day 48

6th
Follow-up

Day 49
Day 50
Day 51

7th
Follow-up

  • What about the time of day you send your follow-ups? The good news is we’ve found that whatever time works best for your first email also works just as well for your follow-ups. In our case, we know our ideal customer is statistically more likely to open their emails more on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. As a result, we’ll send the first email on a Tuesday or Wednesday (as the first email is the priority. Then the first follow-up will be sent on Friday, at the same time of day.

    Of course, this varies by industry, so we highly recommend you carry out your own testing to see what works best for your audience. There are some industries where even Saturdays or Sundays have better results than workdays.

Tips for better follow-ups

We’ve covered a lot of the theory and background on sending follow-ups, from why they’re so important to how often you should send them. If you’re still wondering how to write the perfect follow-up, here are six tips to improve your next campaign:

  • Keep them short. Your follow-ups should definitely be shorter than your first email. Try and keep it to 2-3 sentences.
  • Use personalization. Personalization is just as important in your follow-up emails. Never send generic emails.
  • Use social proof. We’ll include relevant variables and snippets in our templates to demonstrate we can help our prospects. If we’re emailing a marketing agency, we’ll use “marketing and advertising” as the {Industry} variable and find two similar companies:
    • Reply helps our customers in {Industry} industry, such as {Similar Company n.1} and {Similar Company n.2}
  • Combine different call-to-actions. Don’t try and force your prospect to book a call/demo (or worse, purchase/buy/subscribe on every single follow-up). Try a different CTA for better results:
    • Let’s talk,
    • Check out this pdf,
    • Check out a resource or a link etc.
  • Make your follow-ups about the prospect. Your email should revolve around the person receiving the email. Make them the focus, not your product/service, and they’ll be more likely to respond.
  • Add value in every single follow up. When you send something like “Have you seen my previous email,” they’ll simply mark your emails as spam. When you add value though, even if they don’t reply to your email, they’ll remember you and your company.

To get you started, here’s an example of a follow-up we use at Reply:

Hi {FirstName},

As {Standardized Job Title}, I thought you would find value with this {Content Type}, {Content Description}.

We see ourselves as an effective sales acceleration platform for {Industry} related companies like {Company} to scale email outreach while keeping communication warm and personal.

I’d be happy to explain how it works. Looking forward to hearing back from you.

Conclusion

Follow-up emails can be daunting, but sending effective follow-ups is the quickest way to stand out and out-perform your competitors who are only sending one solitary email.

By scheduling your emails properly and writing personalized follow-ups that add value, you’ll instantly improve your reply rates and engage with more of your prospects.

All these templates (and 30 more) are available in Reply and can be added to your campaign with just one click. Sign up and try them out for free with your 14-day trial.