How I Got A 38,2% Cold Email Reply Rate (And Closed Actual Sales)

(Originally written and published in 2015)

Optimizing your cold email reply rate can have a tremendous impact on your sales.

Most founders & CEOs I speak with, don’t believe that you can generate sales by focusing on cold sales emails. They think that I’m talking about “Mass Email Marketing” or “Mass Email Blasts”, but I’m not.

They also think that they will need to send emails via MailChimp, iContact or other such email tools which are only good for non-cold mailing lists.

So here is what I’ve learnt during the past year, while working with several companies that asked me to scale their sales.

#1 Cold email reply rate vs. open rate

A founder from Austin, Texas told me few days ago that they got a 93% email open rate, but only a 3% cold email reply rate.

Who cares if they opened your sales emails if they won’t reply to you, right?

The email open rate is only relevant for searching for the best subject lines and sending times, which is something that you find out very quickly with the right strategy. Beyond that it’s a useless metric. Or in lean fashion, it’s a “vanity metric”.

A negative reply can be turned upside down and become a warm lead with the right sales process. I do it every day. A no reply can’t be turned into anything. It’s a lost contact.

#2 Cold email outreach requires research

I speak with around 15–20 new founders/owners per week and when I ask them give me 7 characteristics that a company & contact person should have for being the perfect fit for their product or service, they struggle. Even after 50–60 signed customers they have a vague understanding of who they should sell to.

That’s sad as I’ve noticed that for every additional X minutes of extra effort someone puts into researching a company and a person, the more accurate the selection will be and thus the more personalized the message and the higher your cold email reply rate.

And for being able to invest time in researching a company and a person, you need criteria for filtering out those that are not a good fit.

Even if your perceived ideal customer profile is wrong (as your company might be very young), then running cold sales email campaigns with multiple customer segments will surface that in less than 2–3 weeks. It’s what we call “customer development” and it’s necessary to be done at the start.

#3 Smart mail merge is king

I’ve helped founders execute cold sales email campaigns on every vertical you can imagine. Based on my research, the more smart mailmerge fields you use, the better your cold email reply rate will be.

For example, let’s say we want to reach out to John who runs a web design agency that works mainly with retail small businesses in NY.

Non mailmerged cold email:

Hi John,

There is a new tool that helps companies like yours reach their audience online without increasing ad spending.

Are you interested to have a quick call?

Smart mail merged cold email:

Hi John,

There is a new tool that helps [web design agencies] [in NY] reach [owners of retail companies] online without increasing ad spending.

Are you interested to have a quick call?

Which email will have a better reply rate do you think? Obviously the second one.

To do smart mailmerge you need the data, which brings us back to point #2: research your potential customer so that you have enough usable information about them, before you reach out!

If you found this article helpful, please recommend it and share it with others. Thank you :-)

Always learning. 2x founder. 1x VC-backed.

Always learning. 2x founder. 1x VC-backed.