Hackisition

Julien Le Coupanec“ Do you need help to grow your company? I have seen hundreds of creative ideas to get new customers and to increase retention. Call me on Clarity today and get your answers now. ”

Emailing is definitely a powerful channel to make users come back to your app. Most people check their emails on a daily basis and lots of experiments can be found to take advantage of this behavior. But, can we use emailing as a weapon to reach potential users faster? If so, what are the tricks and the tools to make it happen?

The answer is yes. This tactic is called cold emailing. I will first show you how I managed to get a 42% click rate (which is HUGE) for one of my cold emailing experiment. Then, we will dive into the process and all the best practices that will save you time and increase your impact.

Julien Le Coupanec“ I recently wrote about how you could increase retention by implementing drip campaigns with Autopilot. If your mailing list are growing week over week, it is probably best for you to take a look at this experiment if you did not already. ”

About this Experiment

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The idea is to reach new people who may be interested in reading this blog. This is all about growing a company so startupers seems like the perfect audience to target. We will have to find where they hang out, to guess their email address, to draft an attracting template and to shoot them an email one by one while making sure we avoid to fall into the spambox. Many salesforces at B2B companies use this tactic intensively to reach new prospects.

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The process we will follow to implement our cold email campaign.

Julien Le Coupanec“ Even if Facebook and Linkedin did it perfectly at scale with their invitation program, you should know that sending unsolicited emails to users for a B2C product is completely illegal (for the record, Facebook quickly noticed that when they were talking to men, using a girl referral for their invitation campaigns was key). Recently, the Court even approved a $13 million settlement in LinkedIn lawsuit about this intrusive growth hack (which is basically a joke when we know how profitable this strategy has been for them on the long run). In B2B, this is called prospecting and you obviously can and should think about this strategy.

So let’s get started. As my content was in the early days written in French, I looked for all french startups listed on MyFrenchStartup, F6S and AngelList. Founders can be found inside each page and good for us, their personal Linkedin is available. We will fill a spreadsheet with every link, but are we going to do it by hand? Hell no! Our time is important and we have two smart solutions to overcome this issue.

  • Hire a freelancer on Upwork or Freelancer (the choice is yours, both are great places). Just submit a job offer, look for data entry experts and it should be good.
  • Build a simple spider with PhantomJS/CasperJS to scrape all the links and to display them in a terminal (which I did). It does not take a lot of time when you are used to these tools but if you are not, choose the solution above to go faster.

Once your spreadsheet is ready, it is going to be time to guess the emails and create a new column with them. Here again, two solutions are available.

  • Use EmailHunter or any other similar tools (Anygrowth, SellHack etc.).  In case your spreadsheet is quite big, you can of course hire a virtual assistant on the marketplaces discussed above to avoid using them yourself. The two main problems I have seen with these tools is that the level of confidence is not very high (around 60% from my personal experience) and they are only useful if you are looking for professional email addresses.
  • Hire a data/entry expert to delegate the whole stuff about guessing. (hundreds are listed here). Test a few of them before sticking with one as they are not all perfect to work with. I know some of them who are very reliable so feel free to ask me in the live chat. What you will get at the end is a spreadsheet which includes all the valid email addresses you were working for. This is the option I almost always choose. Email cost varies between $0.13 and $0.30 each and I am confident the base is clean (there is no spamtrap).

Remove the Linkedin column as it is not relevant anymore and install YetAnotherMailMerge (YAMM). This plugin will help us to send one-to-one customized emails through your personal Gmail address, which is the ultimate solution to avoid the spam box.

Julien Le Coupanec“ There are multiple reasons about why your emails can be considered as spam. You are sending your campaign from an SMTP server with a bad reputation, you are using too many spammy keywords (like viagra (Pfizer has a lot of trouble to send emails to customers 😉), sex, buy…), your message has a number of links too high compared to the text it contains (we learned this lesson two years ago) or you are shooting a scraped list with a lot of spamtraps. I will not dive into too much details, it is a full-time job (especially when your domain is blacklisted). The less-risky solution is to use GMail SMTP servers with YAMM. ”

Here is the spreadsheet I got from my freelancer including 2,651 emails of potential readers:

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A basic spreadsheet delivered by a data/entry expert hired on Upwork. Don’t be afraid to ask for a column with the name, the job and all other pieces of information your template could include (or enrich them with Clearbit).

Let’s now draft our emailing template. If you are using YAMM, the email should be available as a draft in Gmail (see this video).  But, before we start, here are the best practices you should follow:

  • People do not have time so avoid writing long emails at all cost. The size of your content should not exceed the length of 3 or 4 tweets or your response rate will be low.
  • Email marketing sucks. Tailor your message, write it in plain-text and avoid images when you can. This should seem like if you were a connection sending him something he desperately need.
  • To improve your click rate, do not add more than one link. One email should aim for one particular action, not several. Do not make the mistake to confuse everyone. If you also ask for a high investment upfront, it might not work (or you will have to segment very precisely and customize the email like crazy).
  • You absolutely have to use a strong referral in the first sentence. Don’t forget that you are coming from nowhere. This is not up to them to figure out why you ended up here or how you found them.
  • Do not let anything to chance: if you are looking to sell him your product, giving a quick demo of your product converts well (this of course depends of your CLV). Make it clear at the end that you are very busy but that you are available as soon as he needs you. You could also put your phone number in your signature and see how it goes.
  • You should come up with a list of titles and test the performance of each of them on your samples. Getting the title right and escaping the spambox are the two most important factors to increase the open rate. If you include your recipient’s name or company in it, the open rate will skyrocket.
  • Avoid every template you can find on Google. Your message must be personalized so this does not make sense.
Julien Le Coupanec“ I will not do it for this experiment but you should always follow up people who did not answer. You usually get more replies to the second and third email than the first one. YAMM is also a great tool but if you are looking to follow up, take a look at take a look at PersistIQ

Here is the mail I sent to each of them.

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Of course, this email was sent in French and was only translated for the purpose of this article.

You are now ready to send your campaign. If YAMM has been properly configured, it should be available as an add-on for all your spreadsheets. Once, your campaign is sent, a MERGE_STATUS column will appear. It will be updated in real-time with one of the following values: EMAIL_SENT, EMAIL_OPENED or ERROR.

Julien Le Coupanec“ I am not sure how reliable YAMM is to assess when an email is open. I have been in situations when this was clearly wrong. So, don’t take this metric too seriously. ”
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YAMM in action.

Julien Le Coupanec“ The more personalized your email is, the better impression you will make. YAMM is smart and you can add any variable included in a column with the following way: <<column_name>>. ”
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The Merge_status column.


Metrics and Tracking

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There are the four metrics you should usually look at when you send a cold emailing campaign:

  • The opening rate. Mainly useful to assess if you got trapped in the spambox. I am not sure about how reliable YAMM is to track this metric so I will not rely too much on it. Of course, tweaking your email titles is another way to improve it.
  • The click rate. This will be our main KPI. It will be tracked with a goo.gl link hidden behind https://www.hackisition.com/. If we can reach a click rate above 20%, we will conclude this experiment as a victory and optimize the whole process.
  • The response rate. This one is important, especially when you are trying to onboard the recipients to give them a demonstration of your product. This is not our concern here but this metric will help us figure out the relevance and the attractivity of our email.
  • The complaining rate (or unsubscribe rate). Bad segmentation and bad copy unfortunately lead to high complaining rate.

Lesson Learned

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1,100+ startupers out of the 2,651 clicked on the link. As you can see in the first part of the graph, I worked initially on samples including 100 mails before shooting the whole list. This way, I made sure that my final title was efficient so that people do not get confused and get clicking.

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Google Analytics when I shooted the whole list. What was promising is that people were not only visiting the homepage but other articles too. This was an important behavior for me as it helped me understand if the targets were interested by the content.

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40 people coming from this cold email campaign subscribed to the newsletter.

At the end, I reached a click rate above 42%. Not bad for a cold emailing campaign with no follow up. So, let’s take a few minutes to think about what I did right.

  • The name of their company was mentioned in the title and within the message.
  • My email was short with one highlighted blue link (keep it that way, I previously made a test with a green link and click rate decreases).
  • But, more importantly I was using a strong referral in the first few words. They were all french startupers and most of them knew the company where I work (TheFamily). For sure, it helped me to be less intrusive, to create more proximity and to bring more credibility. I was less a stranger and they gave me their attention. Validate yourself the stronger you can, people want to know who is emailing them and who you are is already a first answer.
  • I did not use this trick in this experiment but if you have a mutual connection, that is basically the strongest social proof you can have. Mention her and you will be less a stranger. This is why you mostly get connected to business angels through someone else’s introduction.
  • Ending the email by saying that I would be glad to help them solve a problem they may have also made it more friendly. More than 130 people replied and it took me one entire afternoon to reply individually to everyone. Give them something they want to incentivize the response (in my case it was free advice but I also could have tried to connect them to someone else) and don’t forget to ask if they also know someone who might be interested by what you have to offer (this will increase your K-Factor). In my case, I encourage them to subscribe to the newsletter and they are automatically added to my welcoming drip campaign.
Julien Le Coupanec“ Please, when you are sending this type of campaign, answer every reply in less than 24 hours. I have seen too many growth hackers shift this task for later. At the end, they never do it and it really seems like an intrusive cold emailing campaign. If you are serious, you should even update a second spreadsheet including all the emails who reacted positively. Of course it sounds obvious but only a few entrepreneurs do it right. How many of you are replying to every comment when people write on your Facebook or your Instagram page? SoShape is only startup I know who does it well. ”
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An updated spreadsheet with all the positive reply. I could maybe email them later with exclusive news or to ask for a higher investment.

Of course, not everyone replied in a nice way. I got 2 emails asking to be removed from the hitlist, 2 aggressive replies and one angry tweet. Not bad for a 2,651 emails sent. I have had worse.

Julien Le CoupanecIf you really want to send cold emails, do not hope to have only positive answers. You will get insulted and some recipient might even harass you on Twitter. That is part of the game. Deal with it, answer politely and optimize the system to be more relevant and build a better relationship next time. For the record, we once emailed developers who had their email on their GitHub public profile. It was an incredible fail for us and we got insulted a lot. Unfortunately, developers have a high degree of intolerance for this type of practice so be careful. ”

Feel free to comment below and to share your personal experience with cold emails. You can also ask me for more details or share with me ideas to optimize this experiment.

Thanks to Nada Rifki and Sacha Azoulay for reading drafts of this experiment.

23 y/o College Dropout. Former Growth Hacker at TheFamily. Video Editor at Growth Hacker TV.

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