Cold emails are a necessary evil to many B2B technology businesses. You don’t particularly want to send them – you don’t really want any cold anything – but you have to reach out to new prospects, and unsolicited emails let you get a foot in the door.
Except they don’t. While you’re using cold emails to reach out to people, those very cold emails are killing your deliverability. More and more of your emails are destined for the spam folder. When your outreach makes it impossible to reach people, you’re pulling on the handle – and pushing on the door. It doesn’t make sense. There has to be a better way.
Why Do Cold Emails Kill Deliverability?
In a word, spam.
Spam is as old as the Internet, as old as email. (The first ever spam, in case you’re interested, was sent across ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet, in 1978. It was all caps, unsolicited and hated by its recipients.) But sending email is relatively cheap and there are billions of active email accounts. So even minute open and click-through rates make sense – if you don’t care about your reputation.
For the rest of us, especially in B2B, it’s a different game altogether. Going into spam folders means open and click-through rates nosedive and you’re sharing folder space with hucksters and worse – not good company for your brand. Over time, governments have acted to regulate the tidal wave of questionable medical procedures, dubious investment opportunities and gold-plated offers from overseas royalty. In the USA, the relevant legislation is CAN-SPAM (2003).
- Legally you can send unsolicited emails
- You have to provide an opt-out that doesn’t require the recipient to provide any more information than their email address and opt-out preference
- To opt out, it must be necessary only to send an email or visit a single web page. No further steps may be required.
So Cold Emailing Is Perfectly Legal. What’s The Problem?
The law might not object to your cold emails. But even before they’re seen by a single person there are several factors that can slash deliverability and choke off access to prospects. What comes between you and your prospects’ inboxes?
You’re On A Blacklist
Blacklists work by recognizing your ISP and comparing it to known spammers, so you could just be sending emails from the wrong address. The content might be fine: you’ll still be blocked. Popular blacklists include:
Spamcop adds ISPs to its list based on the ratio of spam complaints to total email sent. IP addresses can be added and removed several times even in the same 24 hour period as your email/spam ratio fluctuates.
Spamhaus is a free blacklist that’s used by both ISPs and corporate networks all over the world. It also runs ROKSO, the Register of Known Spam Operators, which lists spammers who have been terminated three or more times by ISPs.
You’re Hitting A Spam Filter
People hate spam a lot worse than the government does. So email clients come with spam filters. Gmail, Outlook, and every other major email client use spam filtering to keep their users’ inboxes anatomy-enhancing-pill-free. This is what your cold emails are going to fall foul of. The filtering is based on content.
There’s a list of known spammy subject line terms, and many filters will scan the whole email and penalize spammy-looking content throughout the email. It happens on a per-email basis, so it’s less of a worry than blacklisting but you still need to exercise caution. It all feeds into deliverability scores.
You’re Getting ‘Custom Blocked’
Custom blockers are the ‘perfect storm’ of email deliverability problems. A custom blocker will use its own code to assign your email a certain number of ‘spam points’ – based on content, subject, ISP and anything else the owner feels like. Tip the balance and your email goes into the spam folder – if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, your email gets bounced back.
There are two types of email bounce: hard bounce and soft bounce.
- Soft bounce is when there’s a temporary problem at the other end: full inbox (it happens!), unavailable server, that kind of thing. Soft bounce doesn’t have any effect on deliverability. But…
- Hard bounce does affect deliverability. Hard bounce is when an email gets bounced because the address doesn’t exist or is blocked.
The number you really need to know if you’re going to send emails is sender score. It’s like a credit score for your emails. Too low and your emails will bounce off spam detectors – and further reduce your Sender Score. The way down is a vicious circle.
It’s also important to realize that your Sender Score, like your Credit Score, is going to be looked at differently by different email servers. Several metrics are used to calculate your sender score. There’s an excellent breakdown of the factors behind sender score calculations here, courtesy of ReturnPath. Check where your score currently stands – and make sure you’re not on a blacklist!
What you really need to know about your sender score is that, like a credit score, it might be looked at differently in different places – but it will get looked at every place. It’s effectively your passport if it’s good – and a door slammed in your face if it sucks. And unsolicited emails are a great way to hammer your sender score into the dust.
We spoke with Justine Jordan from Litmus about this issue over email. ‘In a nutshell,’ she said, ‘cold outreach over email is a deliverability “worst” practice.’
Got it. So what should we do instead?
‘Permission and opt-in is the best way to earn whitelisting and protect your company’s deliverability.’
Sounds good. Seth Godin says, ‘Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.’ Granted, he’s talking about marketing, not sales – but the same holds true. If you want to keep your deliverability and your reputation, don’t send cold emails. Earn permission first.
How To Earn Permission
‘My advice to the modern sales team would be to find creative ways to earn permission from prospects instead focusing on how to get around deliverability problems and navigating the world of spam compliance.’
Start With Your List – Is It Clean?
By clean, I mean – are there any non-responsive email addresses on there? Some of these could be spam traps, used by email clients to figure out if you’re a spammer or not. Email these addresses regularly and watch your deliverability score nosedive – or scrub them from your list and see the benefits. You can check response rates and scrub those email addresses that never respond, or use email tracking and eliminate any address that doesn’t open emails.
Put An Unsubscribe Link In There!
The law says you have to put an unsubscribe link in your email. But there’s an advantage to be had from being more courteous than the law requires: make it really easy to unsubscribe and anyone who doesn’t want to hear from you, won’t.
Reach Out For Permission
For B2B sales, one of the most effective points of contact is LinkedIn. That’s great because it gives you the chance to build some rapport with the prospect before you trespass on their Outlook or Gmail inbox: reach out over LinkedIn and strike up a relationship.
Make your InMail your first touch – and don’t go for the big sell. You wouldn’t ‘show up and throw up’ on the phone: don’t InMail people War and Peace, and don’t ask them for the moon on a stick either. Pique their interest and seek permission to move the conversation through to email.
Offer collateral in the form of valuable content – remember if they’re qualified they’ll be reading and watching relevant content anyway; on average they’ll be 60% of the way to purchase before they talk to a sales rep.
Ask To Be Whitelisted – Or At Least, Unspammed
When you’re emailing someone who’s given you permission – someone who’s actually looking forward to getting your email, even – their email client still has to OK it. Otherwise you’re back with the spammers in the junk folder. Hotmail is especially bad for this. When you get someone’s permission to move to email, ask to be put on their trusted sender list if they’re a Hotmail user.
While it’s possible to whitelist email addresses and groups in Gmail, it requires several operations and the reality is that while established contacts might click the cog and poke around in Gmail’s innards for you, new prospects probably won’t. So just ask them to check their spam folder for your email, and move it if it’s in there. Once you’ve moved an email once, Gmail’s pretty good at OKing the same IP from then on.
Use A Human Name
Using a ‘from’ email address with a generic name – email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org – increases the likelihood that you’ll be funneled into spam. Using a human name means you’re more likely to be in the inbox. You’re also more likely to get that email opened: people build relationships with people, not organizations, so your prospect will be looking out for you, not your company.
Put An Opt-In In Your First Email
Even if you have permission already, ask people to opt in again. To sweeten the deal, tie this to content, offering a video or whitepaper as collateral. This double opt-in gives you a killer list of pre-qualified, engaged leads, boosting your deliverability and making sure that your sales emails are landing in front of people who are actually interested in your offering.
Single opt-ins are associated with spam complaints, which is why marketers are increasingly moving to double opt-in as standard. Remember, you’re going to be sending multiple sales emails – probably at least 6 – and you want to maximize engagement and deliverability both.
Use Content To Get Permission
‘Drive inbound leads, and then get permission to email.’
Use inbound methods to gain permission to send your sales emails. Using marketing tactics like putting content front and center, asking for email addresses in return for access to collateral content and then reaching out to those people via email, increases the likelihood that your email will land in front of someone receptive, who already has some idea what you do and has shown an interest in it – and it will boost your long-term deliverability score too.
If this sounds like it’s blurring the line between marketing and sales, that’s right – it is. But when both departments are operating in the same environment, constrained by the same regulations and facing the same struggles, it makes sense to move closer together.
About the Author: Richard Bayston is a freelance blogger and copywriter covering tech, digital marketing and content strategy for SMBs. I’ve also been known to write on health and fitness. Find out more: Richard@RBCopywriting.com or @RBCopywriting. The rest of my time is spent arguing amicably with my wife and Googling the answers.
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