September 25, 2020

Is Outbound Email Your Path to Hockey Stick Growth?

SaaS Insights

Cold emails helped Zenefits and Rippling achieve unicorn growth in no time. So by now you should be asking yourself how to replicate that in some way

It is quite impressive to hear Matt Epstein talk. He holds the record for the fastest growing SaaS of all time, Zenefits (from 0 to $4B). But the foundations of it can’t look simpler when he talks about them. In a 2015 interview, he said: “All I did for the first three months was A/B tested emails”. How is that possible?

Well, if you advance in the interview, you realise Epstein was doing far more than writing emails from time to time. Apparently, he sat in his bedroom for eighteen hours a day, testing little tiny word changes. And eventually, he realised that he started getting “an astronomically high response rate”.

And then, something special happened: Matt Epstein just got a repeatable and scalable way to find leads at a very low cost. In other ways, a magic formula to sell his product, Zenefits. Then he went on to hire a bunch of SDRs to scale his model effectively. And guess what: it worked. Twice. After Zenefits, Epstein went to replicate the model to another software company, Rippling (0 to $1.3B).

Cold emails helped Zenefits and Rippling achieve unicorn growth in no time. So by now you should be asking yourself how to replicate that in some way. And you may think that is just a Silicon Valley thing for garage founders. But that is not true. Oh, no. There are definitely some ideas you can successfully apply to your business, regardless of how mature your business is.

We warn you: outbound email marketing is not as easy, but deserves a try

Everyone can write an email. True. But that has nothing to do with what we are talking about. Because the objective is not to write cool emails but to set up a highly optimised outbound emailing machine. And that requires a method, the right tools and a lot of people who know how to do it effectively. And just to warn you, many established firms fail to get results, then blame email for being unsexy and proceed to close the campaign. And you would think: what a missed chance! Well, that’s right. There is no other way to see it.

However, for those who believe that their outbound email campaigns didn’t succeed because of the channel, check out these stats from Neil Patel’s blog:

  • 95% of consumers use email.
  • 61% of emails are opened on smart devices.
  • For every dollar spent, there is an average return of $44.25.

If those stats mean something to you, keep reading to know how to get good at outbound emailing. And we warn you: it is not a short process nor an easy one. But definitely one that deserves a thoughtful try.

13 tips to succeed at your outbound email campaigns

  1. Track everything: this is absolutely essential from the very beginning. Otherwise, when working with large databases it is impossible to know accurately what formula works best for you. And that is the whole purpose of outbound email: to optimise, optimise and further optimise.
  2. Spend time on the subject: it doesn’t matter how much time you put into writing a perfect body if the email never gets opened. Put yourself into your leads’ shoes.
  3. Personalise as much as you can, it is demonstrated that generates more engagement. Do it also on the subject. An interesting way to achieve a higher degree of personality is by smart targeting. It is easier to make an email sound compelling to “HR directors of fintech startups of 50-100 employees in the UK” than “startup execs in Europe”. Don’t worry, you will have time to target more people as you go. Always personalise.
  4. Get your “hook” right: your first sentence is for the lead to read the second. Get it right if you want to get that click!
    Structure your body: it is a priority to always show what is the pain and why your solution is the most amazing one in the world.
    Write as you talk: don’t use jargon and business terms. That makes people want to run away from you.
  5. The shorter the better. An email must be effortless to read, and that means making it very short. A good way to do so is to try to transmit one idea per email. But remember: long enough to structure your body coherently.
  6. Add a CTA: it might seem silly, but you would be surprised to know how many people don’t include a call to action in cold emails. It can be anything: a link to a blog post, a fancy button, an ebook attachment...
  7. Avoid Spam: no one looks with interest in the spam inboxes. And it’s very simple for you to unintentionally end up there. What we advice: never include more than two links nor more than two “spam” words. Check out this free tool to know how “spammy” your emails are.
  8. Start slowly: Google will penalise you if you go from sending an average of 10 emails per day to 500. It will immediately categorise you as spam. So build your campaigns slowly, with patience.
    A/B test: if you don’t A/B test in outbound email, you are missing a big chance to improve your rates, and probably the whole point of it. Always A/B test!
  9. Follow ups: your leads need to feel comfortable and well treated. Don’t expect to get a meeting on the first email. Be patient and constant. Always.
  10. Never drop the lead on the first “no”: instead of dropping the lead for fear of sounding rude, ask kindly why your product isn’t interesting for them. You might get a turn of events, or even learn something for future campaigns.

Once you figure out how you get the best responses, which is what all this list is for, then you will be ready to scale it as fast as you can and pursue that hockey growth stick.

Also, even though outbound email is great, don’t put all your time into it. Nor into one single channel. It is important that you impact your leads with a call, a LinkedIn message, an inbound post on social media… But don’t expect to get sales just from emails.

And lastly, is cold emailing legal?

Even though a lot of people are doubting this, the answer is a clear yes. It is completely legal under the latest GDPR and CAN-SPAM regulations. However, as in all the marketing activities, you are bound to several common-sense rules. These are:

  1. Avoid deceptive subject lines. In other words, fraudulent click-baiting
  2. Provide a clear opportunity to opt-out or unsubscribe
  3. Be clear and honest about who you are
  4. Have the intention to provide clear value to that specific person: you need to be able to demonstrate that your product may be of some utility to the person in question.
  5. Ensure your prospecting is reasonably targeted and appropriate. Don’t randomise your email lists.
  6. Regularly cleanse and maintain your database
  7. Prepare an informative reply for (GDPR) complaints and questions.

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This post was inspired by questions provided by people like you. We love receiving new and interesting questions that help us think about data in new ways.  If you found this post interesting and have other questions that you’d like us to help answer, drop us a line at

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