Let me know if this describes your outbound marketing program: You send a bunch of cold e-mails, maybe the right amount, maybe too many. You get a smattering of opens, a trickle of clicks, and a few conversions.

Most of the time, you're disappointed with the results, and what's more, you have nothing to tell you why those results are disappointing. Thus, there's no way to fix the problem, and so you repeat the same cycle over and over again because you're afraid of losing the anemic conversions you're getting. 

All the while, your customer-acquisition costs are increasing, and so you're also afraid of losing money on almost every customer you convert.

This is the empty promise of cold  e-mail marketing.

The Cold E-mail Myth

Can cold e-mail campaigns help you target a market?

I'm not a marketing expert. That's not my angle. But I have brought a ton of new products to new markets, so I have insight into what it takes to establish a beachhead in a target market. 

Recently, I walked an entrepreneur through identifying his startup's ideal customer profile

His reasoning was solid. If he could target the customer persona that felt the most pain from the problem he was solving, he'd have a much easier path to: 

  • Converting those customers,

  • Creating market penetration,

  • Establishing traction in a target market, and

  • Collecting a bunch of market share early.

He wanted to run a cold email campaign, something a lot of entrepreneurs use as a shortcut to reach those coveted milestones. However, unlike most entrepreneurs who take this shortcut, he didn't see it as a path to instant market share, he wanted to use the results of the campaign just to identify his ideal customer profile. 

But that's the very reason why cold emailing fails to make every entrepreneur successful. It's the empty promise that cold e-mails will help you narrow your market. Cold e-mails don't help you target a market. They help you accelerate sales within a target market.

Why Some Companies Rarely Miss Their Target

One of the reasons why cold emailing gets overused too early is because we've all been on the other side of those e-mails. Even the e-mails that don't get caught in the spam filter are still pretty bad, and we're convinced we can do better. 

But rather than consider the crappiness of the pitch, consider instead the misread on the positioning. 

Chances are good that the business spam that makes it to your inbox contains an offer you would never, ever find useful, let alone valuable. You're getting that email because your email address got sold to some unlucky company who paid for a list of prospects that weren't even close to their target market.

That's not how cold email works. 

I'm going to bet that when you get those spammy e-mails, they're not from well-known, successful, Fortune 500 companies. They're usually from new or struggling companies. Why is it that the successful companies rarely miss their target, and the struggling companies miss like a blindfolded archer? 

Is it because successful companies don't cold email? No, successful companies cold email all the time. Is it because they can buy better lists? Eh, maybe, but it's not the root cause. 

The 200-20-2 Sales Strategy

There are CEOs and sales leaders I know whose job it is to take the reins of a sales organization at a new or struggling company and create a multiple on sales. They swear by the classic "200 cold calls, 20 demos, 2 closes per day" sales strategy. 

They set up pods--each with a leader, a couple of caller/emailers, and a couple demo folks, and they run the operation until they hit their numbers, adding pods as they go. A lot of companies work this way, there are just some that are more mercenary about it than others, and some that are better at it than others.

But they all have one thing in common. They don't send a single cold email until they've perfected their product positioning, honed their sales pitch, and determined their target market. Once they do that, they accelerate their numbers game, sending cheap e-mails, conducting slightly less expensive demos, and then quickly closing the customers who fall to the bottom of the funnel.

The key to cold emailing is to maximize the number of conversions and minimize the cost to acquire.

Product, Position, and Pitch

The advice I gave the entrepreneur was that he didn't need an expensive and arbitrary cold email campaign. Yet. Start with some initial assumptions about the customer persona--who the customer is. Then do a good bit of market research: Talk to those prospects about the problem and the solution. This would help you: 

  • Create a product that more directly addresses the problem,

  • Determine where their product fits in the marketplace by identifying who feels the most pain from that problem, and

  • Speak directly to that customer about how the product solves the problem. 

Once all of that falls into place, then it's time to cold email a market that is feeling the pain of a problem your product can solve, using language that gets right to the point and opens wallets. Then it's the same kind of numbers game, but now those numbers are much more in your favor.