The "Art" and "Science" of Cold Outbound
Whenever we begin a new engagement with a client, we typically explain to them that our work will span both the "art" and the "science" of cold outbound. The science consists of a relatively simple, but disciplined, commitment to A/B testing to answer questions with honest experiments. How this interacts with the art of the process goes beyond simply writing good emails. It is also critical to know what a prospect's response really means.
Our work with one of our clients, a promising seed-stage Real Estate technology company, made this very clear recently. In their case, we found that nearly one quarter of the responses we received to our campaigns were some iteration of the question "What is this?" This may seem like a death sentence, but is actually not all that uncommon (or even bad) for an innovative startup: If every prospect understood right away exactly what you were doing, it's likely that someone else would have already built your company.
Further, "What is this?" provides helpful instructions. At a basic level, it tells us that we need to explain the product differently. For this client, that meant adding product screenshots to the emails, a move that immediately doubled response and meeting rates.
Another response that seems like a throwaway but is actually quite instructive is "I don't have time." One client we worked with sells into schools. Especially amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, the administrators they were selling to probably didn't have a lot of time! Nevertheless, a lot of responses of that nature provided for us a new value proposition to explore: Easy setup. It turns out that the barrier to switching in this case was not cost or complexity, but simply the perceived challenge of onboarding a new platform.
Finally, there is one response that everyone hates, but we find is indicative that we are on the right track: The dreaded "Thank you, but I'm not interested." This never makes anyone feel good, and "Yes, sign me up!" is certainly preferable, but for an early-stage company, "Thank you, but I'm not interested" is a strong signal that prospective customers understand your offering. Sometimes, that is itself enough to celebrate.
Sometimes customers come out and tell you exactly what they mean. Usually, this isn't the case. Either way, developing an intuition to understand why someone responded the way that they did ensures that even negative responses don't go to waste.