We are often asked by our customers “what is a successful follow-up strategy when doing cold outreach?”.
Well, that is a tricky question to answer because there are many factors at play that impact the structure and content of your outreach campaign, including the follow-ups. In this post, I want to address some of the key factors impacting the follow-up strategy. More importantly also why you should follow-up and how to do it right.
Before I break down the follow-up tactics in detail, here’s a list of what I will discuss for reference:
Why you should do follow-ups in your cold outreach campaigns
Follow-ups for different stages – i.e. what type of follow-ups fit which stage of the sales cycle
- Didn’t read
- Read but had no time to answer
- Read but not yet convinced
Different type of follow-ups and when to use them
- The inquiry of fit
- The reminder
- Adding value
- The right contact person?
- The goodbye
- Bad example: the “I see you opened”
Amount of follow-ups
Why you should do follow-ups in your cold outreach campaigns
Looking at the campaigns of our customers we see that between 15 to 40 percent of the prospects convert to a reply.
Not all will respond to the first touchpoint, but we have seen that the responses come throughout the campaign in the subsequent follow-ups. On average you need six touchpoints in the first stage (meaning follow-up before dialogue is established. Half will be above six touchpoints and half will be under.
Although a separate topic on itself, here are is a brief list of why the prospects are not always going to respond to the first touchpoint even though they are interested:
- your message was not clear enough
- your CTA was not convincing enough
- they did not have the time to read your email
- your message did not contain all the information they needed
- they were not convinced yet by your pitch/product
Aside from the reasons listed above lack of interest is the biggest cause of non-responsiveness by the prospect. So if they are not interested in your pitch or product they will just delete the email and not reply. You cannot do much about your prospect not being interested in your product.
It is a fact of sales that only a small percentage of people are going to be interested in your product, and those are the people you want to respond. So in this post, I’ll explore the follow-up tactics targeted towards generating responses from prospects that have interest or have latent interest.
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of follow-ups, let’s breakdown their different stages.
Follow-ups for different stages
There are three main stages for follow-ups in sales:
- follow-up before dialogue is initiated
- follow-up until the demo is set
- follow-up after the demo is given and an opportunity is generated
From the top to the bottom of the outbound sales funnel you have three key stages of following-up.
Stages of follow up
First, you have the follow-ups before a two-way dialogue has started between you and your prospect. So basically the series of follow-ups that constitute your cold outreach campaign up until the point when the recipient responds to you non-negatively.
Next, you have follow-ups after you have established the first contact and you are ready to progress to the next stage which is to set up a time for a call, a meeting, or a demo. That includes all the communication after first response up until an opportunity or an SQL is generated.
At last, you have follow-ups during the opportunity stages, and after the demo, meeting, or discovery call has taken place.
Purpose of following up in different stages
The purpose, topic, frequency, and number of total follow-ups you do are impacted by the stage of the sales cycle in which you are doing the following. For example, during the pre-dialogue stage the focus is to just initiate a dialogue using a variety of follow-up types, ranging from reminders, social proofing messages, updates, goodbye pull-away messages and more.
Between dialogue and call the focus is really to stay on top of the prospect’s mind by sending reminder type follow-ups.
And finally, during the SQL/opportunity stage, the follow-up is done to progress the deal to close and actively seek out barriers/issues to address them with speed. Not appropriately following up at this stage can result in unnecessary delays and loss of MRR. Opportunity stage follow-up is critical in long sales cycle conditions.
Each of these stages requires a different approach and they should not be confused with one another.
I briefly touched on the type of follow-ups and their purpose. In this blog post, I will focus primarily on the first stage, namely the follow-up before dialogue is started.
Every outreach campaign you run should have a purpose or an objective that you want to achieve. Furthermore, every touchpoint in the campaign should also have a part to play in that overarching purpose, so in essence, every touchpoint has its own purpose. Combining the entire sequences of first and follow up touchpoints tells the story of your campaign.
From top to bottom, your objective determines the story, which in turn determines the content, which is divided into follow-ups. Therefore, understanding the objective or the goal is important to sending relevant emails and content to the prospect.
Which type of follow up is used when is also dependent on the behaviour of the prospect in the context of your campaign, which can be that they:
- did not read your message or email
- read but had no time to answer
- read but were not yet convinced
Each of the three conditions requires different follow-up types with different timing. Let’s examine each of them.
Did not read
There are three main possibilities for why a prospect did not read your first email:
- they were too busy
- they were not convinced by the subject line
- the email went into the spam folder
If the prospect did not read the email due to them being too busy, then there is nothing you can do about that other than trying to optimise your sendings to catch them at a free moment.
If they saw your subject line and were not amused or were not interested in it, then they probably just deleted the email without opening it. So next time try a more relevant subject line.
The worst case scenario is if your email got into their spam folder, which can happen due to various reasons described in depth in a previous post about email deliverability.
A way to deal with the ‘did not read’ scenario is to paraphrase the content of the first email. Keep the core relatively the same (basically retelling the same part of the story but change the wording), change the subject line, and the first 25 to 30 characters of your email text significantly.
There is a decent chance that the person will read the previous email after reading the second so you don’t want to appear like you just copied it due to it showing a lack of professionalism.
Read but did not have time to answer
If the prospect read the first message/email but had no time to answer because they were too busy, then there is not much you can do besides try to regain their attention, so stay on top of their mind. One way is to try another kind of follow-up type (except the ones that end the campaign, e.g. a goodbye/breakaway email).
Changing the approach of the email can not only clarify how you can help the prospect immensely but it can also trigger them to answer if they can relate better to the message.
You can also make it easy for them to answer by giving them a multiple choice or a yes or no question. If they are not answering you because they are busy, then make it possible for them to answer in a very quick way.
Read but is not yet convinced
Let’s now examine how to deal with prospects that did read your email but that are not yet convinced to reply yes or no to your call to action.
The ideal path is to continue the story you initiated in the previous email.
Now keep in mind that you are somewhat limited to the amount of content that you can share in the message before the prospect stops reading (people are busy). Therefore, you have to be very selective about the information you choose to send.
Here is a reliable way to decide what is the right amount of content to share: you want to give them just enough to help them but not too much that makes them suffer from information overload.
Tip: You can do the following exercise while training to write messages which contain the right amount of important information. Firstly, write everything important and relevant down in your message, then remove everything which is not absolutely necessary. What is left is going to be the content of your message.
When creating content, one thing you have to keep in mind is that it needs to be valuable for the prospect. Furthermore, the value should be extractable without having to follow the call to action, meaning the message itself should be valuable as a standalone.
Here are a few good examples of valuable content:
- a written report showing certain trends that give insights to the prospect about their pains
- a case study with a customer that provides social proof
- an ebook going more in-depth in a mentioned subject
Anything that adds to the previous email/message and shows the next chapter is golden.
The objective is to take the prospect into the next step of the journey so that they grow their interest for your knowledge and potentially agree to hop on a call with you.
Different types of follow-ups and when to use them
After deciding on the story you want to convey throughout your campaign follow-ups, the next step is to start writing each email individually to form the sequence.
You will come up with your own ideas depending on the market or industry you are targeting, but here are the most common examples of follow-ups in B2B email campaigns to give a nudge in the right direction:
- the inquiry of fit
- the reminder
- adding value
- the right contact person
- the goodbye/breakaway
- the “I see you opened” (note: this one should be avoided)
Let’s break them down one by one.
The inquiry of fit
Even though typically the ‘inquiry of fit’ touchpoint is used as the first in the campaign, it can be partially repeated inside any other follow up type. Very useful at any stage to verify if there is any fit between their needs and your product. It can be introduced in any part of the email, but it commonly appears in the CTA when the sender asks to schedule a meeting.
e.g.: “Having stated the points above, if you resonate with any of them, would you like to plan a call next week to discuss xyz?”
Applicable to: all emails; all situations
The reminder is a very versatile follow-up type that serves as a way to reconnect with the recipient on the main topic of the reach out. If done professionally and without being pushy it will successfully keep you fresh in the mind of the prospect. The reminder usually refers back to the previous message and brings up the same points and arguments, with some adjustments.
Do note that the reminder should not sound/read like a nag. Every follow-up you do needs to be valuable on its own.
e.g.: “I’m messaging you to see what are your thoughts on the pain points I shared in the previous message and if you identified with any of them. What we have seen is that ABC is amongst the top strategies to deal with issue XYZ.”
Applicable to: from the 2nd to the last follow-up; best against read but not yet convinced and didn’t read
Every email you send to prospects should be adding value to the conversation and the adding value type follow-up really drives the point home. Think here about a more practical increase in value, the inclusion of links to detailed articles or videos that will help your prospect understand their own needs better.
e.g.: “At our company, we believe that the best way to show you the value of our product is to share the experience of our customers, so here is a customer story exhibiting the impact we had in their growth.”
Applicable to: from the 2nd to the last follow-up; all situations
The right contact person
When you have thrown everything you could at the prospect, yet you feel that you are pushing it too far with the follow-ups, you can send one last email that takes the weight off the shoulders of the recipient.
Ask them if they are the relevant person to discuss the topic with, and if not, ask them to kindly connect you with the relevant person. Do not use this type of follow-up too early as it will expose your content to scrutiny for targeting prospects who you yourself do not believe to be most relevant.
e.g.:“…However, I totally understand that you might not be the right person to talk about this. If that is the case could you kindly connect me with the right decision maker?”
Applicable to: last follow-up; best against did not read and read but had no time to answer
Another typical last follow-up is the goodbye, a breakaway message, expressing that you respect that they don’t want to talk due to being very busy so you just want to give them an easy out. Basically, a quick one-two word reply from their side or even selecting an option from a list.
e.g.: “I respect that you are not interested to engage in a dialogue. So I thought I could provide you an easy way to reply. Should you feel inclined to do so:
a) I am not interested
b) This is not a good time, check back later
c) I have not had the chance to read your previous emails
d) I have read them but I have not had the chance to formulate a reply”
Applicable to: last follow-up; all situations
A bad example: the “I see you opened”
The “I see you opened” is a very tricky strategy that can prove unsettling to the recipient due to privacy reasons. It can look like you are rushing the prospect and not allowing them to show interest at their own pace. More often than not, this tactic has a negative impact on your company’s reputation and doesn’t accomplish the number one priority which is to bring more value to the recipient.
The only situation in which the ‘I see you opened’ might work is if you offered value in the previous emails and they downloaded/opened the content you shared, which would indicate some sort of interest from their part.
Applicable to: only if the last follow-up was value added; best against read but not yet convinced
Amount of follow-ups
In order to find the right amount of follow-ups, you have to start analyzing the temperament of your target market. For example, the amount of cold outreach noise will usually determine how pushy you need to be in the number of follow-ups and the interval in between them.
The number of follow-ups should equate the typical number of contact points before an opportunity is generated. This can vary depending on two main factors:
- target country
- target industry
In regards to the target country, it depends mostly on the business culture prevalent, but generally speaking, the right amount is three to four times in Europe and six to eight times in the US.
The better strategy is to really get to know your target audience in order to find the right amount of follow-ups. For example, it is important to show your perseverance and tenacity, however, it is not good to abuse in the number of follow-ups in typically very sensitive places like Western Europe (ex: Germany) because people tend to reply to emails the day they receive them and give everybody a chance.
Conversely, if you look at countries or markets where cold outreach is more prominent they are a little bit desensitized to incoming cold messages so they tend to ignore them. There you would want to be a little bit more tenacious without being rude at the cost of damaging your reputation in that market. For example, we have customers that have had a campaign where most of the replies came only after the fourth follow-up.
The first thing to note is that the interval in between follow-ups is highly impacted by the number of follow-ups when considering the temperament of the industry you are targeting. Most of the times, these variables are correlated. The more follow-ups you insert the longer waiting periods you’ll want to not over saturate the prospect’s inbox.
You can get away with sending five emails to an industry that normally receives three if the break in between is long enough. For example, with a three-day break in between emails you could send five to eight in the US, but only three in Europe. However, if you would wait five days then eight days then 10 days then two weeks then one month between emails, then you might be able to send five to six in Europe. The key is to give the person the time to forget you momentarily. If you’re too aggressive and send eight emails in one week, even the most desensitised recipients would get annoyed.
A general recommendation is to have a three-day delay between emails for your campaigns while adjusting the number of follow-ups depending on the country.
In this article, I analyzed the basics of follow-ups and how to implement them in your campaigns so that you can maximize your results with cold outreach. Here are the main takeaways from this post.
Follow-ups for different stages – there are three stages of follow-ups, the before dialogue, the first contact to demo setup, the post demo
Why you should do follow-ups in your cold outreach campaigns – a lot of decision makers only reply after the second or third email because you need multiple messages to complete your story
Follow-ups structure – decide on a story and take the prospect through it; here are some contingencies for three different realities:
didn’t read the email – any follow-up works
read but had no time to answer – try a similar email with some parts changed
read but not yet convinced – move on to the next type of follow-up to complete the story
Different type of follow-ups and when to use them
The inquiry of fit – understand if there is a possibility for a partnership
The reminder – email them focusing on the same problem/solution dynamic
Adding value – help them learn with a link to a piece of content
The right contact person – works as the last email to try to speak to someone else
The goodbye – give clear choices repliable with a letter or number
Bad example: the “I see you opened” – mentioning that you know they read the email is not advised
Amount of follow-ups – two to three in Europe, five to eight in the US, it all depends on the target’s temperament
Time spacing – a safe bet would be to wait three days in between emails and adjust the number of follow-ups according to the target’s temperament
Follow-ups are essential for a successful cold outreach campaign but can be hard to set up properly at first. However, armed with this information we hope you’ll avoid the main mistakes and be on your way to creating a great follow-up sequence.