When trying to get our first customers, we’ve all tried cold emails. It’s definitely a smart first move and a cheap alternative to ads, but it’s not easy to get it right.

For me, the most difficult part was how little information available was out there to learn. I went through endless podcasts, blog posts and ebooks before my first campaign went out, but it wasn’t easy to get to actionable insights.

It seems that this is because of three simple reasons:

  1. Content to sell: most of the content available is marketing/sells oriented. People are trying to sell your product or service, educating your audience is not their top priority.
  2. Poor specificity: each company and use case is different, so what works for one company may not work for the next.
  3. Cold emailing is a really long process: lots of little things can ruin your open rate (or your domain rep). So most guides focus on some parts of the process, not all of it.

With all this in mind I decided to put together this short guide with all the things I’ve learned this past year of perfecting Palabra’s cold outreach process. It goes from email setup, to prospecting and copy.

This guide is specific for B2B SaaS companies, and most useful for founders with little to no experience in email marketing. We’ve used it to get to SMBs, Startups and some bigger companies, but not for enterprise (although I think it can work for enterprise sales as well).

For the past 6 months we’ve sent 7630 emails, got an average of 30% open rate and 1% reply rate. After perfecting this process, our last sequences got a 55 to 70% open rate and 5 to 9% reply rate. Here’s how we got there.

TL;DR. Or what you really really need to know

Now let’s dive into every stage of the cold emailing process.

1. Email setup 📨

The first step towards getting prospects from cold outreach is getting your email address ready.

As I said, don’t ever use your own domain for cold outreach. No matter how well written and relevant your content is, at least some people will mark your emails as spam. So go ahead and buy a domain.

The first option we went with was pau@palabra.xyz (instead of pau@palabra.io). This didn’t really work for two reasons:

  1. We didn’t warm up the account first (more on that in a bit)
  2. Email providers may recognise your domain if it’s really similar to one that already has a damaged reputation (like ours did).

Matt Wolach, a great sales coach I worked with, suggested changing the domain name, not just the suffix. Adding a word related to your business can make your domain much more trustworthy, and is read as a brand new domain by email providers. We went with pau@palabraflows.com.

Now, to be read as a real email address, your account needs to be “warmed up”. This basically means interacting with other people, sending and receiving emails, getting clicks and opens to your messages.

I’m not sure how much warming up needs to be done to make sure you get into inbox, but I have some good news: bots can do it for you.

There are plenty of tools to warm up email addresses. My recommendation: Warmup Inbox and it’s been working great.

Keep in mind it will take a couple of weeks for your address to warm up. I think buying a domain and warming up your address should be the first thing you do if you’re thinking about trying cold outreach.

Go ahead, buy your domain, the rest of this article will wait for you here.

2. Prospecting 🔎

Now the next thing you should do is get that contact list you’ll send emails to.

I think prospecting should be the next step because it requires you to ask a lot of questions to yourself: about your users, ideal buyers, value props and differentiators. You can use all of this information later on your email copy, while talking to leads, and even for demos.

The best part of cold emailing is how targeted it can get. You should pick a few characteristics your ideal buyers have in common, and then address the exact pains your tool can solve.

Research

One of the recommendations that I read online says that you should ask your customers to find out what do they like about your tool? What are they using it for? How were they solving your problems before purchasing your solution?

The problem I had is that I didn’t have many customers to ask questions to. So I started by getting into interviews.

I reached out to our closer circle: startups from our city, from our accelerator, or common investors. I asked for 20 minutes of their time and offered to buy them a virtual coffee.

This is what I found:

If, like me, you don’t have a customer base to research from, I suggest having a first campaign to ask prospects for interviews. Here’s a nice post on Indie Hackers that could get you there.

Creating your contact list

Once you know who you’re going after, you need to find their email addresses.

There are plenty of ways to do this. LinkedIn search + Hunter.io to get addresses is one of the cheapest ones, but it requires some manual work. You could of course use web scrapers if you’re going after specific companies.

For us, since we didn’t have a short list of companies but rather a list of characteristics, it made more sense to use a prospecting tool.

The best cost effective one I found is Apollo.io. They have a huge database with LinkedIn profiles, company data and email addresses. It allows you to filter their database with company or contact information. And they even have their own solution to automate email sequences.

I suggest getting contacts in batches of 200 to 400 contacts and reach out each week. It should be more than 100 since cold outreach is a numbers game (most people won’t even read your emails). And it should be small enough so you can run various tests and iterate every week without running out of ideal prospects too soon.

Validate emails

The problem with prospecting is that sometimes email addresses aren’t correct. They might be outdated, be a wild guess, or be inactive for some reason.

Please invest a few dollars in an email validation tool. If you don’t, bounced emails will damage your reputation, and you’ll have to repeat the domain buying and address warming process again.

I use the email validator tool Reply.io has integrated. It marks as risky or invalid at least 30% of our Apollo database, and we delete those contacts to make sure our emails get to real inboxes.

Other good email validation tools I’ve tried are Zerobounce and Verifalia.

3. Content & copy 📝

Alright so you’ve got your contact list and you’re ready to start shooting emails. Please don’t type “cold email templates” on Google search. Please don’t.

When trying to write my first cold emails, I looked into articles and ebooks suggesting email copy to get opens. I had a lot of inspiration from those articles, but of course none worked as a recipe. I had to create my own campaigns and test my subject lines, follow ups, and CTAs.

And I’ll tell you how you can do so too.

One of the most useful blog posts I read online was Cloutly’s guide for B2B Cold campaigns. Lachlan used LinkedIn for prospecting and Lemlist for sending out his campaigns. He did some serious research and personalization, and that got him an impressive 42% reply rate (remember how excited I was about getting from 1% to 9% replies?).

I still use some of Lachlan’s suggestions, although a lot of things he said didn’t really work for my business. The most important difference between what he wrote and what worked for Palabra is personalization.

Lachlan started every email with a personalized first line, to start with the right foot. I tried doing so, but since I had other problems in my campaigns, the open rate was too low for personalization to make sense.

So I decided to focus on their pains, not themselves. This is a good move because you don’t need to spend too much time looking into each prospect (which makes the 400 weekly prospecting much easier). I only use {{Name}} and {{Company}} fields as personalization when I first reach out.

I then look into each prospect carefully after they reply (when they become leads). This made it much easier to focus on potential customers rather than people who might not have time to go through my carefully written pieces.

Here are some tips on email copy I learned:

My cold email templates

Here’s my best performing cold email campaign.

Day 1:

Day 4:

Day 8:

Notice every email has an opt out link, and that I don’t mention the name of my company until the very last email.

This has got me great replies even from people who didn’t need our solution right now. I think setting the tone as non salesy and getting right to the point with the pain we solve is what made it work.

Hope it helps you create your own campaign!

💡 Last thoughts

Direct outreach was really helpful to get our first customers for Palabra. It allowed me to get into quick conversations with prospects, and even if most of those didn’t end in sales I learned A LOT from each and every one of them.

I’d say the most difficult thing about cold emailing is how many little things can go wrong. As I’m writing this, I found our open rate dropped down from 60% to 5% overnight. It might be because of our domain reputation, so I’ll look into it and let you know how I fix it.

The other good thing about cold emailing is that it helped me solve our top of funnel interaction with prospects. After people reply to cold emails I usually get into conversations with them to find if they’re a good fit for our solution. And about 40% of those leads agree to jump on a demo call with me.

Perfecting each stage of our funnel is an ongoing task we might never finish, but getting at least one of these working allowed me to focus on closing more sales.

Changing small parts of your content, prospecting or follow up messages is key to success. Make sure to track what changes you do each week, and see how that impacts your metrics. Open, reply, and lead to demo rate should keep increasing the more you iterate on your process.

Would love to hear your thoughts and your experience cold emailing. Feel free to shoot me a cold email at pau@palabra.io, and make sure to subscribe to the Founder’s guide series if you’d like to keep learning with us.

Happy emailing!

Hi, I’m Paula, co-founder of Palabra.

I’ve been working on Palabra full time since July 2020, and have lost track of how many things I’ve learned since then.

Being a first time founder is like getting into an MBA but instead of getting grades you get to epically fail everyday trying to get your business going. It has also been the best job I’ve ever had, allowing me to work alongside great people, meet founders from all over the world and test growth ideas without asking anyone’s permission.

Since I wasn’t keeping track of every lesson learned, I never tried to share any of my insights before. I thought there was more than enough content marketing out there trying to sell solutions to founders, and didn’t feel creating more was worth the effort.

But recently I was at a sales demo and got asked about our Marketing channels. I described to a fellow founder the entire process of cold outreach and demo I had going on, and found I had a lot of valuable information I’d been gathering for the past year.

I decided to create a short guide on cold emails and present it on a 20 min chat with this guy. It allowed him to get started on cold outreach without making the same mistakes I had, and that saved him at least 2 months of googling and going nowhere.

Founders should be teaching each other everything we learn. It’s tough out there, many things could go wrong. And no one knows the struggle better than we do.

That’s why I decided to start this series (and a newsletter along it). Introducing: A Founder’s Guide.

A Founder’s Guide will be my notebook and textbook on every lesson I learn while growing Palabra. I will share notes on sales, marketing, management and decision making.

It aims to help out early stage companies tackle some of the obstacles they might find along the way.

Hope it helps you grow your business as much as it’s been helping me.

Happy hustling,

Pau