New business is tough. Yes, I’m stating the obvious, I know. But it is tougher than it has ever been for ad agencies and marketing consultancies. Prospects largely block tried-and-true tactics, using multiple barriers to avoid talking to people trying to sell them something. Sadly, that is how most prospects perceive agencies—as just another bunch of vendors. Getting through with a cold call is especially difficult. Voicemail alone has made cold calling virtually impossible, but add the rise of procurement departments, mobile call blocking, and changes to client marketing department hierarchies. All of these have given rise to another tactic: cold emails.
Today, ad agencies contend with so much competition that pitches and basic contact do not work well. This is partly why agencies rely so heavily on referrals and getting more business from existing clients to maintain a regular flow of work and new projects. But overreliance on referrals can lead to a dangerously thin new business pipeline. Agencies with too few viable prospects in development risk taking a big hit if even a single good client decides you are replaceable.
Historically, new business has been something smaller agencies pursue only when they must. Blame too few people to dedicate time to full-time new business pursuit. There are so many other important things agency owners and managers have to (and prefer to) spend their time doing. This is also why too few agencies take time to build relationships that would make warm calling more effective.
That may be why more and more agencies have turned to email for new business cold contact.
Cutting Through Email Clutter
Here are some email statistics to consider:
- The average business user receives as many as 120 emails daily.
- Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind colleague recommendations and industry-specific thought leaders.
- 86 percent of professionals prefer email for business communications; 73 percent of millennials prefer email over all other forms of business communications.
- Text-based emails get better click-through rates; in fact Hubspot reports that as images in emails increase, click-through rates drop. Related, 63 percent of email users now open their email on mobile devices.
- Ten separate marketing studies identify Tuesday as the best day to send business emails, with 11 a.m. having the highest click-through rate.
- Personalization matters: do your research and send correctly-addressed, targeted emails. Naming the contact in your subject header improves open rates, but relevant offers/content boost click-throughs.
Major email marketing firms have identified four factors in successful cold emails: identifying intent; evaluating fit; choosing the right channel (it may not be email); and personalizing the message.
People show intent—that they may be in the market for a solution you offer—in multiple ways:
- Visit a website.
- Read specific content or topics.
- Connect via social media.
- Provide an email address to download a white paper or subscribe to e-newsletter.
- Announce hiring effort.
- Increase ad spending.
- Lose employees to competitors.
These indicators are the same ones new business developers have watched through decades of new business hunting. The agencies most successful in winning new business know the triggers that indicate an opportunity, and become very good at exploiting these entrees to make contact with desirable prospects.
Build a list of intent triggers, and start watching for those in your “A” prospects. For casual contacts, always qualify the prospect before moving to the next step.
Qualifying a prospect who has shown intent is a step agencies should never skip. Do they fit your criteria as being worth pursuing? Do they have money to spend? Are they in need of services you can provide? Have you the capability to provide those services? How familiar are you with their industry or category? Draw up a list of qualifying questions and always check prospects against your qualification criteria.
Grade the prospects on a 1-10 scale; don’t waste time pursuing clients that fall below 70-80. New business pursuit is expensive and you should focus on the best opportunities—those you are most likely to be able to win.
When you know where a prospect sits in the consideration stage, you can select a channel or tactic appropriate for that stage of the prospect’s purchase journey. Some prospects will have already moved beyond a cold email stage, and are more likely to respond to direct messaging, an introductory offer, a demonstration, a free trial, etc. Tag people’s behaviors or actions for where they fit in the purchase journey, and prepare materials and procedures for responding to prospects at each stage of the purchase journey.
Prepping your message to connect with and motivate a prospect to respond involves personalizing the message. No, we don’t mean just accurately spelling the contact name, or getting their title correct on a form email. You need to speak to what they are interested in, and offer them an idea or suggestion relevant to an issue or goal. That means it is essential to do your research and figure out the most motivating strategy for that individual. The message must be relevant, or it will end up in the junk folder.
Having made the offer, it is very important to follow up. The greatest sin in new business is failing to press for a meeting. Follow a cold email with a second email. Follow a phone call with an email or another call. Send a letter or customized direct mail piece (yes, snail mail should be a possible tactic). Offer free reports or white papers related to your pitch and relevant to the prospect’s situation or need. Pursue, pursue, pursue.
Use a good contact management program to track contacts, build a profile of the contact, and spot triggers and pain points you might use as a lever to gain a meeting.
Nine Best Cold Email Approaches
As you write your email templates, test these strategies. Different people respond in different ways to how messages are constructed, which offers they act upon, and what generates their interest.
- Before-After-Bridge (BAB) – Here’s where you are; imagine where you’ll be if we solve this problem; here’s how to get there. Bridging the problem/solution is a tried and true sales approach, because it exploits human behavioral psychology—people respond to pleasure and pain. BAB highlights the pleasure of a successful resolution. Your email should describe the prospect’s current problem. Discuss how much better things will be if that problem goes away. Then lay out your idea for how you can fix the problem.
- Problem-Agitate-Solve – Very similar to BAB, this tweaks the formula by focusing not on the rosy outcome of a solved problem, but the risks inherent in not solving it.
- But You Are Free – Asking a prospect to take an action, but then giving them permission to decline, actually doubles the chances they will say “yes.”
- Star-Chain-Hook – Begin with a Big Idea. Support the idea with facts, sources, reasons and benefits. Wrap up with a call to action, often tied to a trial or first-time discount.
- Attention, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA) – Grab the prospect’s attention. Personalize the message with a reason to engage. Increase desire by naming people/companies that have already used your services. Ask for a response.
- Star-Story-Solution – Focus on a main character (you, the prospect or the product). Tell your/their/the product’s story. Highlight how you scored a win. Readers will experience emotions similar to those they would encounter if it were their experience.
- The Reader’s Digest Model – Fact-packed, concise, specific, few adjectives, arouse curiosity.
- The 3-B Plan – Brevity: keep it short. Blunt: Get to the point. Basic: Keep it simple. This approach spells out who you are and what you want from the prospect; then it gives a reason why they should respond.
- Praise-Picture-Push (3Ps) – Give the prospect a boost; social rewards stimulate the brain the same way cash rewards do. Explain cause and effect to build trust and support the argument. Tell them what they’ll get if they respond—but not everything. A little mystery excites curiosity.
Remember that two factors influence all marketing responses: relevance and whether the person is ready to buy.
Here are a few more cold email tips:
- Limit the message to 3-4 sentences.
- Always include a single call to action.
- Craft compelling subject lines – Say who you are, be clear about having met, not met before, mention the problem you can solve or name-drop competitors.
- Let them know you read their website/content, know their industry, are attuned to breaking news, etc.
- BE RELEVANT. If you want their time, you need to speak to what is top of THEIR minds, not yours.