9 Cold Email Case Studies with Great Reply Rates

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Be sure to check out our previous post in this series: Cold Emailing: Best Outbound Sales Automation Tools

Cold e-mailing is hard.

It’s tough to get people’s attention through all the noise that’s out there. On average, we get 147 e-mails a day, only spend significant time answering about 12 of them, and delete 71 e-mails in under 3.2 seconds.

It takes a lot of work to build a successful cold e-mail campaign. You have to:

  • do in-depth research to make sure you’re not just spamming out generic templates
  • make sure your messages are personalized to your specific target
  • manage data entry for your leads
  • send out massive volume to see results

And the truth is, your customers judge you on your ability to sell. So if you have an off day, you not only have to deal with not getting any conversions, but also with the negative judgements from your prospects.

When you’re crafting your cold e-mail campaigns, it can be helpful to know what everyone else is doing to benchmark your own numbers so you know that you’re on the right track.

What’s a good open rate? What’s a good reply rate? What does a good cold e-mail template look like? How many people should you be able to convert to a sales call?

Today, we’ll answer those questions for you. We’ll peel back the curtain on some cold e-mail case studies and discuss which strategies companies used to boost their reply rates and conversions.

Case Study #1: Ambition

Ambition is a software product that helps companies increase employee productivity. They built their platform with millennial employees in mind, and are used by such companies as Lyft, Carbonite, and Continuum.

In this case study, they wrote about how they cold-emailed 578 prospects, got a total of 6 responses, and used follow up e-mails to get 67 additional responses (for a total response rate of about 12.6%).

They ran a six-week campaign, targeted 291 VPs of sales as well as 287 VPs of sales operations, and ended up with a total of 73 new leads.

Check out this graph that is instructive about the overall nature of the campaign as well as cold e-mailing in general:

6 Cold Email Case Studies

Source: Ambition.com

Around half the recipients opened the initial e-mail but zero people replied.

However, with each additional touchpoint, or follow up, more prospects replied to the initial e-mail. Notice that no single e-mail generated more than 18% of the grand total number of leads. In fact, the eighth e-mail generated just as many leads as the second!

According to Ambition, the factor that mattered most here was just pure persistence. By following up constantly with prospects, they were able to skyrocket the number of leads they got versus if they just followed up once like most other sales reps. 

Because they were following up so often, they split the time interval between each e-mail by at least a week:

6 Cold Email Case Studies

Source: Ambition.com

In fact, this was one of the problems we had at Growth Everywhere — there was a lot of manual work involved in keeping track of follow ups, and that was a major point of failure that kept cold e-mail response rates low. Once that was fixed, we saw a 333% increase in response rates!

For prospects, your product isn’t at the center of their world, so if they don’t respond, it’s likely just because they’re busy — not because they’re not interested. The moral of the story is to always follow up more than you think is necessary.

Dive Deeper:
* How to Write a Follow-up Email (That People Actually Respond To)

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Case Study #2: Shane Snow

Shane Snow is the bestselling author of a book called Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success. He wrote the book to outline the process that highly accomplished people throughout history have used to achieve success in a short period of time. He’s also a journalist at Fast Company.

In this post, he wrote about how he explored a cold e-mail strategy for anyone who wanted to connect with important people for mentorship and advice.

To start off, he got the e-mail addresses of the 1,000 busiest business people in America — C and VP level executives from Fortune 500 companies and C level executives from the Inc 500.

The average person gets 147 emails a day, but these execs get significantly more as a result of their status. Shane wanted to see whether he could come up with a strategy to “cut through the noise” in their inbox to grab their attention and get a response from them.

After gathering the e-mail addresses, he wrote a cold e-mail with a simple CTA where he asked them what type of cold e-mail they preferred to receive. Here’s a sample e-mail script he and his team sent out:

Hi [Exec’s First Name],

I’m doing a study on cold emails and want to ask if you could share some thoughts on what differentiates an effective cold email from a bad one?

Your insight will contribute to research I’m conducting to help a lot of people get better at email, which will make the world a little better for us all.

Best,

[name]

He then changed different elements in this “base” e-mail to test out the results when adding in differences. For example, he tested variables like:

  • Subject lines (vague vs specific subject lines)
  • Saying thank you (e-mails with no thank you vs e-mails that said something like “thanks in advance”)
  • Length (short vs long e-mails)
  • Purpose (selfless vs selfish — i.e. he changed the benefit from “your insight will contribute to…make the world a little better for us all” to “it would be great for me and my project”)
  • Request (asking for their knowledge — i.e. “sharing your thoughts” — vs asking for a favor).

Here’s a quick summary of the results he saw out of the 1,000 e-mails sent to high level executives from Fortune 500 and Inc 500 companies:

  • 293 e-mails bounced
  • 45.5% open rate (this was exceptionally good, since according to Mailchimp, the open rate for most business-related e-mails is barely over 20%)
  • short, vague subject lines (i.e. “quick question”) got 51.2% opens while longer, specific subject lines got slightly less opens at 48.8% — interestingly enough, the reply rate on the “quick question” subject line was around double that of the longer subject line.

However, according to the case study, the previously mentioned variables (i.e. subject lines, length, purpose, etc.) played a much lower role in determining the results than expected — only 1.7% of those who received Shane’s e-mails actually responded.

Shane came to the conclusion that the one thing he could have implemented in the study which would have made all the difference in terms of bumping up his reply rates was personalization. He wrote: 

“With the right subject line, it’s not inherently harder to get a busy executive to click on your email than someone else. The important part is making the content speak to the question, ‘why me?'”

Case Study #3: Jake Jorgovan

Jake Jorgovan is a creative strategist who helps consulting companies win dream clients. He wrote in this post how he was able to generate $12,030 just through cold email — including some Fortune 500 clients.

According to Jake, there are two different ways you can approach cold e-mailing.

  • The “quantity” approach — if you e-mail enough prospects, then you will inevitably land a sale. The only thing that matters here is playing the numbers game: send enough e-mails and you'll probably close some deals. Shane Snow’s cold e-mail campaign of getting a 1.7% reply rate is a good example of this.
  • The “quality” approach — focus on sending out fewer pitches, but make them top notch. For example, you might pick around 20-25 dream customers who you would do anything to get.

Once you define your approach, Jake suggests that you create at least one high-quality case study. The case study should show a portfolio piece that you’re proud of, feature a raving testimonial, and outline three major things:

  1. the situation the client was in
  2. the solution that you provided
  3. the end result for the client

Then you should choose your specific target audience. Ideally, this target audience should be similar to the customer you helped in your case study. For example, if you’re reaching out to dentists, then you should have a case study where you helped a dentist. If you’re reaching out to a Fortune 500 tech company, you should have a case study where you helped a tech company.

It’s a psychological fact that people believe that they’re special and that their situation is unique. Because of that, they want solutions that feel like a “tailored fit” for them. If you worked with a tech company, you might be able to use those same fundamentals to help dentists, but dentists won’t feel like you can help them unless you show them that you’ve already worked with dentists.

Next, Jake writes that you need to find a list of prospects. The ideal place to look for this kind of information is in sales or trade organization directories for the industry that you’re in.

Finally, it’s time to write an e-mail that actually gets responses. Here’s an e-mail script that landed Jake a $4,250 client:

[Prospect names],

Recently I came across [Company name] in the [Directory where I found their information] and I wanted to reach out. My name is Jake Jorgovan and recently I finished up a website design project for [case study client] and wanted to reach out to similar companies.

When I came across the [Client's website], I noticed [review of 2-3 things that I found wrong with the client’s website]. With the [case study client], we were able to build a professional site and get it up and running in under three weeks. Their site is mobile friendly and extremely easy for anyone at the company to update.

If you are interested in rebuilding your website, please let me know and we would be more than happy to help you out. Also, I have attached a case study for [Case study client] with a raving testimonial from the owner of the company.

Thank you [Prospect name] and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jake Jorgovan

According to Jake, the most important part of the e-mail is in the second paragraph where you list the 2-3 things you found regarding the client’s site/product/service that you feel you can fix. If you’re writing blanket statements that don’t feel tailored to the prospect’s specific situation, your response rates go down.

Jake also sends follow up e-mails 7-10 days after the initial inquiry. Here’s a sample e-mail script he uses for this:

[Prospect name],

I wanted to send a quick follow up to see if you received my e-mail from last week in regards to your new website design. Please let me know if you are interested and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jake Jorgovan

Much like the Ambition case study, Jake was surprised to find that many prospects responded to the second e-mail after ignoring the first.

Learn More: 4 Reasons Why You Should Be Pushing Email Marketing

Case Study #4: LeadFuze

LeadFuze is a lead generation product that helps salespeople quickly gather contact information of prospects and automatically send personalized e-mails. They’ve been used by companies like Bidsketch and CrazyEgg.

Justin McGill, the founder LeadFuze, used cold e-mail to grow his company’s revenue to $30k/month in 12 months.

As a first step, he used his own software to find leads and build out his outbound campaign. Here’s how he used the search feature within LeadFuze to find the e-mail addresses for his target audience:

6 Cold Email Case Studies

Source: Pagely

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