Blog/How to convert a cold email intro into a qualified lead

RightHello’s sales team just signed the 100th client [April, 2015 – BM]. It took us 12 months of hard work and we had fun helping our clients (Thank you all!). We’ve learned a lot during the process and I want to share some of the things that helped us get here – a set of guidelines for qualifying leads generated from cold email campaigns.

I will be talking about converting initial responses to deals – getting them is a totally different story (covered in detail in our articles).

Let’s start with general rules.

If you want to have qualified leads – be the fastest to respond

When I get a positive response from a cold email, I try to respond in less than 5 minutes. Why?

These statistics from Harvard Business Review will blow your mind:

Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.

Basically, you just managed to get somebody’s attention, and you can lose it forever if you don’t respond for 24 hours. 

When you’re running an active cold email campaign, keep your inbox open and turn on e-mail notifications on your smartphone – you’ll respond quickly even during lunch hours and when you’re out of office.

E-mail templates help a lot to speed things up – keep them in the cloud (Google Drive, or “drafts” that wait in your email account to just add an address and send) so that you can access them from any device.You’ll find a template of mine below.

Short-term goal: schedule a call

The easiest way to qualify a lead is to talk with the client. Pitch the idea, ask questions to truly understand them, build a relationship and provide value based on what they tell you they need.

From my experience, if I don’t have a meaningful call when I’ve already exchanged 5 e-mails with someone, there is 95% probability they will not buy anything from me. So, from your first email you should start indicating that you want to set-up a call. It’s the main way to get a qualified lead.

When you have an initial positive response – follow up, A LOT

Anyone can spam people with follow-ups – the hard part is to provide value with each message. It`s really difficult to follow up 10 times in the course of 2 months with different pitches, value propositions, context or content every time.

If you feel like a stalker doing it – here is how to avoid that.

Speed things up

If your client says to contact him in 10 days to get her decision, you shouldn’t just agree. Why not 3 days? Some people have a real reason – and you’ll be better off if you know it. Some will realise they’re procrastinating – and you’ll be better off after speeding up the process.

Handling the first response

Running hundreds of cold email campaigns we see that almost every initial response can be divided into four groups – positive answer, soft positive, referral and negative. Here’s how we handle each of those situations.

  • Positive – interest and time

You’ve got a positive when somebody gives you a straightforward “let’s talk” or asks for details. Since my e-mails have a CTA to set up a call, the positives I receive usually indicate that my prospect is interested in having a skype. There will be hundreds of different positive responses and your mission is to keep them engaged enough to convert into a skype call/phone call/meeting. Most of the times my response looks like this:

Hello {first name},

Thank you for responding, it was… [something about their response – sweet, nice, “I’m glad to see that you’re interested”]

I`d love to have a skype call with you sometime soon. My skype handle is bartosz.majewski897. Can you tell me what’s yours? Which one of these 3 slots would suit you?

13.00 – 13.20 on Monday 6.04.2015
9.00 – 9.20 on Tuesday 7.04.2015
11.00 – 11.20 on Wednesday 8.04.2015

Feel free to propose another slot if you’re busy then.

You don’t want to be viciously exchanging emails in hope to find a time to talk. Propose 3-4 time slots or use a scheduling tool like Calendly. Also, doublecheck what timezone your prospect is in.

  • “Not the right moment” positive

You will get a lot of people who tell you that they are somehow interested, but it’s not the right time. Your mission here is to get an exact date when you can come back to them. Depending on a context, I ask:

When is a good time to follow up with you? Also, do you mind if in a meantime I send you some relevant article or materials concerning outbound sales?

If you can’t get an exact date, follow-up when you have something interesting to show. For example, we added a new, interesting feature. Or I have a new case study or piece of content to show them. To manage those I have a tab in my CRM called “Follow up when case study” and “follow up when feature”.

Also, do not leave them hanging in the meantime. Follow them on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn. Drop them a line with an article (yours or not), case study or a conference nearby them. If you don`t let them forget about you, the ROI of the campaign will be dramatically greater than without that kind of long term approach. Of course remember to update those “Long positives” into your CRM (we use pipedrive). It’s easy to forget when you have 50 of those in your pipeline – more about pipeline management.

  • Referral

The third wildly underestimated group of respondents are the wrong people to talk to. If someone tells you that he isn’t responsible for making a decision to buy your product/service – thank them and ask if they could referr you to the right person. 

That way you get a good introduction to the decision maker you are looking for.

  • Responding to negatives

The worst thing you can do after getting a negative is not responding at all. Always thank them and wish them a great day. Someone just showed interest in your e-mail so you should be grateful. Even if not out of courtesy, then just for business reasons. If you are sending hundreds of cold e-mails to markets you operate on, the chance of encountering that person again is really big.

Sometimes it`s good to ask for feedback – why your prospect is not interested. We had several cases of converting negative responses into deals just by keeping the conversation alive.

Congratulations, you just managed to schedule a first sales call with your potential customer

First call is all about qualifying the lead, you have to reach a “No”,”Yes” or “Not now” ASAP. Of course it’s also about selling your product, but you know how that’s done.

Remember that getting a big fat “NO” fast will set you free to pursue deals which can actually convert. You want to avoid wasting time and resources on deals that won’t convert. One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is not asking the right questions fast, and working on a deal that has no chance of closing. It’s killing qualified lead idea.

I use simple BANT Approach:

  • Budget – do they have enough money to buy?
  • Authority – can he/she make a purchase decision on their own?
  • Need – do they have a need that the product or service in question can fulfill?
  • Timescale – do they have a specific time when they wish to make their purchase?

There is no magic here – just remember to finish the first meeting having answered all the above questions.

An important case arises here – what to do if a lead is not fully BANT qualified? It’s pretty common, in cold email campaigns (check: how to write a good introduction emails) they usually are the right people to talk to, so they have the authority. In inbound they tend to have better timescale – if they didn’t want to buy, they wouldn’t have filled out a form on your website. The rest varies a lot though. A simple rule of thumb that we use is:

  • If there’s no Budget – in 90% of these cases nothing will help. Your chances increase if you know someone willing to invest in their company, or you can work for equity in special cases. Ask when their situation will change and follow up at that time. If nothing indicates an incoming chnage, it’s time to move on.
  • If there’s no Authority – earn an introduction to a decision maker or drop this lead if you have any others to work with. If you don’t – consider switching jobs / having a serious conversation with your sales development department (the guys looking for potential clients), because you won’t be able to convert low quality leads at enough scale to achieve good performance.
  • If there’s no need – If you do your job right, by the time you meet they should now if they really need your solution. Disqualify them, ask for a referral and add their addresses to your newsletter.
  • If they are not ready to at the moment – ask them when they are ready and keep providing value (Follow up!) until they buy at their own schedule. Manage them, nurture them, care about them.

You have to qualify lead as soon as possible. You can even do some of it (Authority) before the 1st call. The rest must be done during your first conversation over the phone. Don`t procrastinate and qualify leads relentlessly. This way you will be able to focus on potential clients, without wasting time on cold and not qualified leads.

Now you’re left with qualified leads to go after. They have a need, budget, authority to give you a green light and they can do it soon. Now you have all the fuel you need to make your quota. Go and add value where it’s needed!

Why stop here? Learn how to squeeze the most out of your first sales call with a client:

Preparation is to key to effective calls with new clients
How to run your first sales call
What do you have to do after the call