Do you give up on your cold outreach after one email? Most don't follow up. The best cold email sequences gracefully persist. But you cannot persist without a strong message sequence. Hence, developing a strong follow up sequence is necessary. 

What is a cold email sequence?

Cold email sequences, for sales reps and business owners, provoke conversations with potential customers -- people being sent messages in B2B or B2C contexts. You may be using:

  • email (only)
  • LinkedIn + email
  • calling + email + LinkedIn
  • direct mail + any combo of the above

Sequencing messages usually involves automation... sending a series of automated or semi-automated messages. You may use full scale sales engagement software or inbox reminder tools which prompt the sender.

However, lately, automated sending and personalization software create more problems than they solve.

Customers are pushing back.

How long should an email sequence be?

This depends on a handful of factors. Beware of anyone claiming a simple answer -- without taking time to understand your specific situation.

Cold outreach email sequences can range from 3 or 4 to as many as 18 follow up attempts.

Decision factors you'll need to weigh include:

  • Number of targets you're calling on in a week, month or year
  • The ACV (Average Contract Value) and deal close time
  • How saturated the target market is with inbound cold email

For example, if you have 2000 contacts to call on this year your follow up sequence will likely be longer than someone who has 200 contacts to reach out to. Risk tolerance factors in also. Sending a larger number of follow ups in your sequence usually makes sense when your AVC and deal close time is lower.

There are various factors. These are just a few. Remember: Risk increases when a sequence becomes longer. Because it increases chances of being marked spam.

However, with a strong initial provocation (message #1) you can reduce this risk. More on this shortly.

How long to delay between emails

This depends on your specific challenge. There is no best answer. Beware of those offering silver bullets or averages.

The (time) delay between email messages in your sequence will need to be determined by you, not some smart blogger 🙂

This goal in mind consider using email tools (we use) like MixMax which aggregates data on your sending activity. Choose an email automation tool able to track when most messages have the best open and response rates... which days of week, which times, etc.

best cold email sequence

You may of heard of the Agoge email sequence or template... as seen below... as if it is a panacea. Be warned: It's not. It may, however, be a good starting point. 

The rest requires iterative testing of your outbound message sequences. 

agoge email sequence template

Considering Agoge integrates phone, social and email (as compared to email only) it may serve a purpose. Our members report such integration is effective.

However, "it depends" once again... on industry sector and the same above factors.

Some of our outreach Academy members start more conversations with email only follow up sequences.

Beware of adding value

Beware: You may not want to add value in a cold email sequence. I've seen examples where "value" creates big problems.

"Here's the problem with emails today, they lack value," says Jim Keenan of A Sales Guy Inc. who argues for adding value.

"If you don't think email needs to offer value, then you are probably one of the perpetrators of horrific emails. Emails must offer value,” he says.

However, our Academy members are living proof: Cold email sequences not offering value tend to earn far more response.

Look, I know. You may believe email sequence messages need to appear credible by prospects.

Not always true either.

Trying to add value (and be seen as credible) too soon can sabotage replies.

Why clients reject sequences of 'value'

Let's challenge the belief -- customers are waiting around for value to land in their inbox. Once they see value, they'll engage. 

Mr. Keenan makes a compelling argument for what many believe to be the number one, Golden cold email best practice.

Your sequenced emails, he says, must offer value, “Because you're asking for something.” A meeting.

“I'm regularly bombarded with horrific emails, almost always asking for 15 or 30 minutes of my time. These emails offer nothing of value and just clutter my inbox. I delete them as fast as I can,” says Mr. Keenan.

“Why should someone open your email or give you 15 minutes of their time if there is no value in it for them? They shouldn't and they won't.”

But what if your cold email avoided asking for a meeting?

What if asking for meetings and striving to deliver value tends to create resistance?

The role of curiosity

Increasingly, clients open emails based on curiosity about what's inside the email -- not anticipation of value.

Cold sales outreach is not marketing.

For example, consider how people opt in to receive value-laden marketing newsletters. However, people don't choose to get cold emails.

This is one of the most important differences between the two.

Cold emails arrive without context. This is often the first time prospects are hearing from you. You haven't yet earned their trust, attention or request to provide anything.

Sales outreach is different.

There is no expectation of value. In fact, there's an increasing annoyance to being bombarded with what sellers think is valuable (but is often not).

Bottom line: "Offering value" or "making deposits first" has a dangerous goal in mind: Earning a meeting.

Instead, consider earning a conversation. Allow a meeting to be chosen by the customer. Or not.

Compelling a customer to meet by smothering them with value -- without their having established a need to -- is an outdated, ineffective practice.

Do this instead

Instead, learn a method to help the customer feel a need to develop a desire to meet.

Want more meetings with decision-makers? Stop requesting them. I dare you. Instead, start provoking discussions, piquing curiosity.

Avoid giving-and-giving... adding value and clearly presenting offers. Instead, consider provoking.

Be un-clear. And super short.

“The offer is what you are offering or giving the reader. Yes! I said giving. If you're not offering the reader anything, why should they open it, read it, respond or even agree to what you're asking for?” asks Mr. Keenan.

Answer: Because you've sent a message provoking their curiosity.

Not because you offered clear, compelling value.

This is sales, not marketing. AVOID writing like a marketer. Start earning more response.

Update your belief system.

Stand out & provoke curiosity

Effective cold email sequences consist of messages containing:

  • research or observation about the prospect (the relevancy piece)
  • fewer than 5 sentences (short, able to be read on a smart device & responded to in less than 30 seconds)
  • a provocative, non-biased question in place of a call to action (yes, calls to action are also poisonous)

Recently, we were working with Susan, a seasoned Manpower rep (selling staffing solutions). She has 35 years of experience. But lately, she isn't getting enough conversations started with F500 clients. We've transformed her communications technique.

Here's one of the provocations we developed. NOTE: This is a practice, not a template!

Noticing you need an AE in Denver. What would cause you to examine different ways to recruit sales talent?

No pitching. No adding value.

Just a quip from a seller who's breaking the mold. Disrupting the pattern (clients are used to seeing) is the key. Her message is...

  • Short (stands out),
  • showing she's done homework on the prospect (relevancy) and
  • asks a question that avoids making prospects feel vulnerable to a pitch when responding (it's not a "hook").

Instead, the question asks only to open a discussion about the status quo. This is an advanced mental trigger technique called a "facilitative question."

Not a template!

STOP: Before you run out and try to copy Susan's approach beware.

This is one of many options which may (or may NOT) work for you... depending on 5-7 factors.

There are other (often better) options. Especially when creating a series of follow-up messages. This is a practice, NOT a template!

Update your belief system

This isn't my opinion. Our colleagues and students are earning more meetings by not asking for them. By not smothering customers with value -- marketing style.

It's more effective to provoke curiosity about an issue, idea or claim which may lead to (justify) customers requesting to meet.

It's effective based on our collective experience. Frankly, I'm tired of people talking about adding value when it doesn't work!

Mr. Keenan makes the argument we hear so often.

“To get your buyers and prospects to open your emails you need to craft an email that compels the buyer to open it, (your first ask) read it, (your second ask) then respond (your third ask) and then agree to your request for a meeting or demo or whatever you're ultimately asking for (your fourth ask).”

In a marketing context, yes. Sales is different. Update your belief system to a sales context.

When sales people try to get meetings by providing value, and proving themselves credible, they often fail.

“What's the point of sending a cold email if you're not going to ask for anything,” argues Mr. Keenan. “The key is to make sure the ask is clear; 15-minutes of time and introduction to the CEO agreeing to 30-minute demo, etc. These are clear asks.”

Yes. These are clear. But they are HUGE asks.

They are also premature. They presume interest has been established.

These asks are being asked by rank amateur sales people. They don't appreciate what you now do. Separate out from them.

Get. Permission. First. Stop pushing for meetings. Start provoking conversations. We can show you how! Join us in the Academy

What's your experience? I'm open to your criticisms of ours in comments below.

In 1999, I co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc. where I helped secure 2 rounds of funding and built the sales team. I've been selling for over 2 decades.

After this stint, I returned to what was then Molander & Associates Inc. In recent years we re-branded to Communications Edge Inc., a member-driven laboratory of sorts. We study, invent and test better ways to communicate -- specializing in serving sales and marketing professionals.

I'm a coach and creator of the Spark Selling™ communication methodology—a curiosity-driven way to start and advance conversations. When I'm not working you'll find me hiking, fishing, gardening and investing time in my family.

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