Why Your Email Campaigns Fail: 13 Cold Outreach Mistakes

Why Your Email Campaigns Fail: 13 Cold Outreach Mistakes

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It can be hard work getting a cold email campaign right, but it takes a special level of skill to create a truly horrific campaign. You know the ones I’m talking about – emails with zero opens, the kind people just can’t delete quickly enough.

Is your SDR team ruining their sequences with these common mistakes? Maybe not… But after 5+ years of leading my own sales development team, experience tells me that there’s always something that can be improved in your outreach. 

This is exactly why part of my job here at Reply has been to educate our customers about the ways to avoid the most common mistakes when preparing and launching their campaigns, maximize their open and reply rates, and ultimately convert more opportunities and close more deals.

So I’ve decided to put together a list of such mistakes, hoping it will be useful to both seasoned users of our platform and those who are just beginning to consider automating their email outreach. There are also some tips on how to fix these mistakes so you can get even more results from your outbound efforts.

Enjoy!

Hoping to wing it

They say that failing to plan is planning to fail. Well, I’m not exactly sure who ‘they’ are, but they’re definitely right when it comes to email marketing.

The first rule of the bad email club is to assume everything will work out without any effort. Sending random emails to random contacts at a random time is a straight road to the spam folder or worse.

One more preparation step many outreachers tend to skip – whether intentionally or through ignorance – is the legal aspect of cold outreach. The most infamous of these are the rules of the CAN-SPAM act, applying to the USA.

However, many countries have their own version, if you want to ignore those as well. On top of tripping every spam filter from here to Tennessee, you will have the added bonus of actually breaking the law. Public enemy number one, here we come!

So, if you’re not sure where to start with the cold outreach, look up some hands-on guide to learn about the basics. 

Wing it

For example, we have a pretty detailed Cold Outreach Handbook that covers every step of the setup process (+ some proven templates). If you’re looking for a short cheat sheet to always have at hand, get our Cold Outreach Checklist.

Of course, you won’t know for sure which templates or tactics work for your audience until you actually try and see for yourself. But at least you will know some universal rules not to incur the wrath of the cold outreach gods (as well as the authorities).

Emailing everyone

You have a great product or service, something that can help a lot of people. Naturally, you want to shout about it from the rooftops to reach as many people as possible. So you decide to buy any and every unqualified list you can get your hands on. Randomly generate emails if you have to. Send your campaign to every single email you can find.

For one, this is sure to annoy a lot of people. What’s worse, you’re going to get flagged as a spammer and damage your sender reputation, hurting your chances of contacting people who might actually give a damn about what you’re selling in the future.

Then, even if you somehow get through to their inbox, you’ll have wasted a lot of resources for a response rate somewhere south of the gutter.

It all starts with the list. I cannot stress this enough. Before even starting to think about your cold email copy, making sure that you have a high-quality list (or source) of leads is one of the keys to success.

In other words, if, for example, if you sell marketing software having 10k emails of engineering professionals isn’t nearly as efficient as having 1k emails of VPs or of Marketing or Marketing Managers. Segmenting prospects for tailored targeting is a great way to increase the performance of your campaigns

Also, you need to make sure that the contacts in your list are up-to-date and valid, to avoid getting high bounce rate.

Email everyone

If you’re only starting to build a list of contacts to reach out to, spend at least 3-4 hours researching your target audience. What’s even better is having a specific, documented buyer persona – a set of parameters you can apply when sifting through the data source for the right prospects.

Next, build a list of prospective buyers featuring as many details about them as possible. This includes their contacts as well as personal info (you will need this later when you decide to personalize your messages).

Lastly, make sure to verify the contact information to make sure it’s valid and up-to-date.

Use our ICP workbook as a blueprint (plus some useful tips) to develop your own buyer persona from scratch.

Not caring about the subject line enough

Subject lines are your gateways to grabbing the first milliseconds of your audience’s attention, so I strongly believe that you should spend at least as much time creating the perfect subject line as you spend creating the email itself.

While some think that the way to achieve this is to put as much information about the contents of the email in its subject line (which, to be fair, might work in a very limited number of cases), the best way to make it resonate is to use information that’s only relevant (and important) to each particular contact, via variables.

Do you know their company name? Technologies they might be using? Their boss’s name? Use it!

Don’t underestimate the significance of the subject line.

But don’t think that including variable information will automatically improve your chances of getting noticed. If anything, the subject line should first and foremost sound natural.

That said, I can’t but mention a few of the nastiest tactics used in cold email subject lines.

First, there are the “clickbait” type subjects.

You can’t throw a stick on the internet without hitting a swarm of click-bait headlines. We’ve all seen them. You’ve probably clicked a couple yourself. So if they’re that good at getting people to click, surely they should be part of a successful email campaign?

Use click-bait style subject lines

Quite the opposite. When it comes to emails, click-bait style headlines have been shown to negatively affect open rates. So resist the urge to make your subject line as intriguing as possible. Instead, go with a clear and to-the-point headline for your email. 

Similarly, don’t try to trick your prospects into opening your email with misleading subject lines that start with RE: or FWD:. Those imitate the emails that have been previously replied to or forwarded to a different person. Of course, there’s a chance that a prospect will click it without thinking. But there’s an even bigger chance that your email will head straight to the spam folder right after that. 

Fooling a person it’s not the best way to start a conversation, especially with someone you intend to do business with. Instead, you can follow the proven subject line formulas or implement data-backed insights on how to write better subject lines to come up with your own tactics.

Making it all about you

Every party has that one guy who’ll trap you in a corner and talk about himself all day, from how their first word as a baby was ‘success’ to how they have the highest IQ in the room. The truly dreadful email campaigns follow the same model, except it’s a lot easier to delete an email than escape from a party.

Writing “selfish” cold emails is one of the most common mistakes you might be making. Because there’s no faster way to lose a prospect’s attention in a cold email than to start talking about yourself.

I hate to break it to you… but your prospects don’t care about your company or your amazing product. Like any human being, they are mainly interested in one thing: Themselves.

Let’s look at an example of a selfish cold email (and the tactic to fix it) from Jack Reamer, Emails That Sell).

Example #1 The Selfish Email

Hey Jim,

My name is Jack and I work for EmailsThatsell.com.

We help SaaS companies like {{Competitor1}} and {{Competitor2}} bring in warm leads from Fortune 500 companies, even if they just launched or have a 1 person sales team.

I’d love to get your feedback on our new “LinkedIn Lead Gen Tactic” that’s turning cold prospects into demo-ready leads on autopilot. 

Can I explain how it works?

See how the entire message is focused on my needs? Yuck!

“My name is…”

“We help…”

“I’d love…”

“Can I…”

Demand perfection image

So let’s take the same message, and turn it into a Prospect-Focused Email:

To make sure this next email is all about my prospect, visit their company website and see exactly which kinds of accounts they’re targeting. I’ll find 2 companies that are a perfect fit and call them {{Jim’s Ideal Customer1}} and {{Jim’s Ideal Customer2}}.

Example #2 The Prospect-Focused Email

Landing customer like {{Jim’s Ideal Customer1}}?

Hey Jim,

Nice work hiring {{Company}}’s first salesperson!

Since you’re in growth mode, you might want to try out a new “LinkedIn Lead Gen Tactic” that’s helping similar SaaS companies bring in 40-50 warm leads from companies like {{Jim’s Ideal Customer1}} and {{Jim’s Ideal Customer2}} every month, even with a one-person sales team.

Would you like me to share this quick sales tactic with you?

See what he did there?

Same message in both emails. But one is written “selfishly” and the other is written for the prospect. And there’s a BIG difference when you compare the total positive replies generated.

Ready to start writing Prospect-Focused cold emails? Here’s a useful copywriting hack for you:

Before you write another cold email, repeat after me:

“Prospects don’t care about me or my business.”

“Prospects don’t care about me or my business.”

“Prospects don’t care about me or my business.”

Last tip, delete any sentence that starts with “My name is…” (Prospects can read your signature if they get curious.)

Not personalizing your messages

Most campaigns I’ve seen that have poor response rates have at least one thing in common: They don’t try to resonate with the reader in any significant way. People who created them are trying to cover as many contacts as possible with the same messaging, which inevitably leads to emails that sound generic and unconvincing.

The good news is that even the laziest SDRs can make their emails sound a bit more tailored and humane with personalization variables.

On the flip side, if you’re serious about getting prospects to reply to your cold emails, throwing in a few {{FirstName}} and {{CompanyName}} variables won’t cut it.

So what kind of personalization should you include?

Ignore personalisation.

For starters, try adding some more advanced variables for {{City}}, {{Industry}}, {{Interests}}, {{Features}}, {{Similarities}} so your email “fits” each prospect like a hand-written note. Even a single properly used variable can make a difference, but successful campaigns take this personalization further, segmenting the prospects and personalizing based on a wide range of criteria, from geographic location through to job title.

Then, if you want to get fancy, consider including a unique email intro sentence and/or a custom P.S. Yes, this sounds like a lot of work. But the results you can get from putting in a bit more effort will be totally worth it!

So, if you’re looking for simple action points to add more personalization to your emails, here are a few ideas:

  • find commonality, so that you can segment leads into multiple campaigns,
  • do some extra research to get more details that you can use as custom variables,
  • write short custom snippets for each contact.

Take 100 prospects and write them a personal intro sentence. I recommend writing 1 genuine compliment about their product or company in the intro sentence. Something like, “Congrats on getting 80 5-star ratings on G2Crowd” can work nicely.

Then, press send and monitor your reply rates 🙂

People like to receive emails that are tailored for them, even if they are part of a campaign sent to thousands. However, if you want your campaign to sink, avoid any trace of personalization.

Going for the sale too soon

Who wouldn’t want a working “Buy Now” button in their cold emails? Because the purpose of a cold email is to get the prospect to buy from you, right?

Wrong. B2B sales don’t work like that.

Nobody likes a pushy salesperson, someone who gets in your face, ignores everything you say, and pressures you into buying the most expensive item that doesn’t even meet your needs. That is why asking prospects for too much in your cold email is a common blunder for many outbound campaigns. 

Sell sell sell image

So, if you want more replies, the first and easiest change you can make is to dial back your Call-to-Action. The more you ask of your prospect, the lower your response rate will be. For example, easy, low-commitment CTAs like “Any interest?” will have a higher reply rate than high-commitment CTAs like, “Book a 45-minute Demo”.

The fix: Instead of asking for a demo, think about your cold emails as a powerful way to start a dialogue. In other words, instead of asking for the meeting right away, try easier-to-reply CTA’s like:

  • “Is this worth looking into?”
  • “Is XYZ a priority for you this quarter?”
  • “Reply YES and I’ll send it over”
  • “Would you be open to a quick 10-minute chat next week?”

Yet, be careful, on the flip side of this is another cold outreach mistake – using weak CTAs or no CTA at all.

Here are some examples to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

  • I can share more if you’re interested. Let me know!
  • If you want to talk, I have availability this week.
  • You’ll see the PDF attached. Hope it helps!

In other words, weak CTA’s are easy to ignore. These are subtle, really subtle. They frustrate and confuse your reader, finishing off your email with no direction. For maximum effect and to annoy as many readers as possible you might as well leave your last sentence unfinished, kinda like...

Don’t do that. Your CTA is the final chord of your cold email. Make sure it resonates with the reader and leads to the desired action. To make it easier for you, here’s some inspo on how to end your email like a pro.

Not putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes

So let’s imagine you’ve nailed the first steps, having compiled a high-quality lead list, segmented into different campaigns, with highly personalized emails with perfect subject lines, and strong CTAs. You're all set, right?

Wrong. With all the above things done correctly, there’s still a chance for failure.

The best way to see this is to ask yourself: "Am I writing an email that I myself would read through to the end?"

I love acronyms

And it blows my mind how many campaigns don’t pass this test. The reason is usually the same: having grabbed the attention of the reader with the subject line, people are then frantically trying to cram as much useful (from their perspective) information into the first email, with the rest of the follow-ups sounding approximately the same: “Hey, did you read my previous email?”

We believe that the best approach for cold emailing is to keep it short and to the point, offering a bit of value on every step of the campaign, and not just in the first message, while still making the reader want to reach out to you for more details.

One of the worst tactics to use in cold outreach is asking for too much. This might not be about a sale per se, just a favor, but if you don’t offer anything of value in return, why should I even care?

This is where my favorite acronym comes in: WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.

What’s the benefit to reading on, clicking through, taking action?

The truth is nobody actually cares, and your readers will quickly lose any interest they had. That is unless you can give them a reason to care – an undisputed benefit, immediate value, some food for thought, or something more practical, e.g. a discount, freebie, or gift card.

Not following up (enough)

Fact: There’s evidence that people need to hear from you seven times before it makes an impact. And if people don’t know who you are, they’re not going to buy.

In a typical SaaS cold email campaign, 66% of replies happen after the 1st email. And about 20% of all replies happen after the 3rd email.

What’s the lesson here? You’re leaving money on the table if you don’t follow up 4+ times.

But don’t worry, you’ll be in good company. Turns out that 44% of salespeople give up after just one attempt. Do the same and you’re guaranteed to miss out on more sales.

So, why would some of us still hesitate to send that follow-up email? We’re afraid that people will get upset if we contact them too much. So we settle with a 3-step email campaign (at most) and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, other SaaS companies are getting positive replies on the 12th follow-up email! Still not convinced? Check out the stats behind one of our campaigns:

7 sales blunders: Reply screenshot

See that? 24 out of the 138 replies came in after the 3rd email! (17%) 

Okay. Now that you’re ready to level up your follow-up game, here’s what to do:

  1. Acknowledge that some prospects WILL send you rejection emails. Don’t panic, rejection is simply part of the sales game.
  2. Track your positive replies to determine how effective your follow-ups are.
  3. Add plenty of time between your 3rd, 4th, and 5th follow-up. 120 hours is a good start.
  4. Create follow-up emails for your sequence until you have at least 5 total follow-ups. Hint: Mention a new benefit and call to action in each follow-up email. 

As with the CTAs, there’s also the reverse side of the coin – one thing that can be worth than forgetting to follow up on the prospect is bombarding them with emails without mercy.

Don’t follow up

Annoying your prospects by showing up every time they open their inbox will irritate even those who may originally have been interested in your product and have them racing to block your emails.

There’s a fine balance to be had between giving up immediately and overwhelming your potential customers, where you connect and engage without becoming a nuisance. To guarantee you miss that middle ground, aim for one of the extremes.

Sending your emails at the wrong time

Let me ask you a question. How many emails do you see in your inbox when you start your computer in the morning? What if it’s Monday morning? 

If you’re like most busy professionals, there will be dozens if not hundreds of emails – newsletters, promotional messages, and cold emails. As a result, most of those messages will only catch a quick glimpse before disappearing forever in the depth of your trash folder.

On the other hand, most people will pay attention to an email that lands in their inbox during office hours. The notification will appear on the screen inevitably drawing the attention of the recipient.

What’s more, our research shows one very specific trend. People tend to dedicate some time to correspondence in the morning whilst ignoring emails in the afternoon. So, use this information wisely 😏.

sequence timing report

Yet, this gets a bit more complicated when all of your prospects are located across different time zones. Here’s a quick hack for you: to increase your response rate by up to 43% take advantage of the handy feature that allows you to tailor your sending schedule to the prospect’s time zone (based on the corresponding field in the prospect card).

Focusing on just one channel

Remember what they say about putting all eggs in one basket? This rule also applies to cold outreach. While it’s true that email is the go-to business communication medium, by limiting yourself to it alone you’re leaving money on the table.

Just look at the breakdown of the demos booked by channel our team has put together. This means if you’re running email-only automated campaigns, you might be missing out on at least 40% of the opportunities.

booked demos by channel

On the other hand, getting creative with manual, hyper-personalized emails containing video or even text messages (apply with caution!) will drive an additional 15% of demos.

So instead of sending endless emails, try to stir things up a bit and throw a couple of other touchpoints in between. For example, I like to start a sequence with LinkedIn interaction – profile view or connection request – to give my message some context and put a face to the name in my email.  

Check out some of our most successful multichannel sequence templates for inspiration.

Yet, there’s also a way multichannel outreach can actually backfire. For example, if you send your message across several channels (email, LinkedIn, etc.) at the same time. And by that, I mean simultaneously. This will not only overwhelm but also irritate your prospect, making them even less likely to respond. 

For example, I’ve had an SDR reach out on email and LinkedIn simultaneously with the exact same message. This tactic has definitely drawn my attention, but it also confused the hell out of me. So instead of thinking about where I am supposed to respond (replying to just one message while leaving the other one without a response would be odd), I ended up ignoring both.

Believe me, your prospects have enough messages across all inboxes and platforms, so don’t add more. Send your follow-ups step by step, keeping the delay between them at least a couple of hours.

Failing to make sense of your metrics

It’s pretty common for SDRs to focus on response rates with their campaign reports. After all, it’s how you get new leads! All you need is replies, right?

Not really. There are more stats to keep an eye on, just like there are some metrics that can influence one another.

For example, every SDR knows that your cold email campaigns should have more than 50% open rate (ideally, it’s between 60-85%). If you’re getting fewer opens, the first thing you might want to change is your subject line, which makes sense. 

Assume everything works just fine

Yet, your open rate can be directly tied to your deliverability. If your email fails to reach the inbox, how can you expect someone to open it?

Of course, email deliverability is a topic worth its own post, but here are a few easy steps you can take right away to get a healthy open rate:

  1. Run some tests to pinpoint the issues that need to be addressed.
  2. Double-check your email account setup and authentication.
  3. Validate your contact list to weed out invalid email addresses and keep your bounce rate below 5%.
  4. Build or improve your reputation by sending emails to your existing contacts or automate the whole process with Reply’s Email Warm-Up tool.
  5. Check your email copy for spam words, broken links, and HTML code.

There are more aspects that can influence your delivery rate, including email engagement. Yet, this should be enough to get the ball rolling.

Follow our checklist to make friends with spam filters and ensure top deliverability for your outreach emails.

Not continuously improving your campaign

So your outreach campaign is all set and running smoothly on autopilot. You can kick back, grab a coffee, and relax watching the replies trickle in, right?

Not really. Cold outreach isn’t something you can set and forget. Even if you think your campaign is perfect, there’s always room for improvement.

One of the ways to make sure you’re getting the highest open and reply rates possible is to continuously A/B test your messages. Experienced SDRs regularly check and refine every part of their email, from the subject line through to the sign-off to find the best option.

Besides A/B testing your sales engagement platform (Reply included) will give you a bevy of rich analytics and actionable data (like detailed prospect activity) that you can use to spot hot leads earlier and close your deals more efficiently.

You can read a million and one articles on sabotaging your email campaign, but your audience is specific to you. Every industry is different and every business is unique. So you need to keep an eye on your results and be ready to do some tweaking from time to time.

Not doing outbound

Of all the mistakes listed here, the worst one you can make is not doing outbound. Unless, of course, you already have too many leads to handle.

Why? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some inbound leads. They can be easier to close and come in on autopilot once you have a strong inbound channel set up. But do you expect 100% of your customers to find you first?

Or if there’s a segment of your market that you’d like to crack, outbound can help you reach them before they become aware of your solution.

Best case: You’re capturing leads using a nice balance between outbound sales AND inbound marketing.

“Oh, so you’re saying outbound has zero negative consequences! Yeah! Let’s send all the emails!!”

Not so fast. Every time you reach out to a cold lead, your reputation is at stake. If you don’t respect opt-outs, or if you send terrible salesy outbound messages, it could backfire on you. Solution: Do it in-house or work with a trusted lead generation agency that’s aligned with your brand.

Wrap up

If you’re determined to wreck your email campaign, there are plenty of ways to do so. The above-mentioned mistakes are just some of the most common ones. But the list can go on and on: 

  • ignoring responses (even the positive ones!)
  • making obvious mistakes (like misspelling the prospect’s name)
  • sending generic scripts (especially in response to a positive response)
  • sending an email/message in a wrong language
  • reaching out to the same person again (despite the previous negative answer)

If, however, you want to create a successful email campaign, it’s going to take some effort.

Hopefully this post will help you navigate the pitfalls and successfully launch your outreach campaign. If you need a bit more assistance, sign up with Reply and ask our dedicated Customer Success team walk you through every step of the process.

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