Many people falsely believe that the secret to success with cold email is to nail the initial email. They believe they just need to write a message that’s so interesting and so compelling that recipients have no choice but to click through or respond.
And yes, if you nail your initial email, that’s great, but this is leaving you with a very small margin for error. If anything is off — the timing, the subject line, the messaging — your email will get you nothing but crickets.
That’s why follow-ups are the most important part of any cold email campaign.
Why Following Up Is So Important
Follow up is important for several reasons:
Most people don’t respond right away.
When people get a cold email in their inbox, they almost never respond to it.
Most of the successes in a cold email campaign only happen after multiple outreach attempts.
According to one study, it takes an average of 2 emails to get to a 12% reply-rate and 3 emails to get to a 15-16% reply-rate. Less than half of all responses come from the first email. In other words, if you don’t follow up at all, you’ll miss out on more than half your potential deals.
Multiple emails give you multiple chances.
It’s also worth noting that sending multiple emails to a prospect gives you multiple chances for success.
How many times have you been unsure about your subject line or messaging?
If you send multiple follow-ups, you don’t have to choose. Your subsequent emails can capitalize on different wording, different tones, and different offers.
If your prospect didn’t like your first email for whatever reason, they may love your second or third email.
The more you follow up, the more you can experiment with the same list.
Brand familiarity increases over time.
People become familiar with your brand as they’re exposed to it, and ultimately, they’ll come to like it and trust it more. This stems from a psychological phenomenon known as the mere exposure effect.
If someone sees your email and recognizes your name, even if they don’t know where they remember it from, you’re more likely to get a positive response. This doesn’t mean that a person who receives 20 emails from you will suddenly start liking your brand, but a few follow-ups can increase perceptions of trust in most of your audience.
A follow up can make or break a “maybe.”
If someone is on the fence about responding, your method of follow up can make or break that maybe.
A good follow up is often all it takes to push a maybe to respond. But on the flip side, a bad follow up (or no follow up at all) can make them never respond.
Building the Perfect Follow-Up
If a good follow can set you up for an easy-win, and a bad one can stop your deal dead in its tracks, then let’s look at what it takes to build the perfect follow-up email sequence.
Step 1: Setting Your Follow-Up Goals
The first step to improving your follow-up strategy is to consider your goals.
What are you hoping to achieve with your follow-up emails that you aren’t currently seeing?
Opens/read: This represents the number of people who open your message after receiving it.
Replies: This represents the number of people who reply to your message directly.
Clicks/email traffic: This represents the number of people who click a link from your email.
Total conversions: This represents the number of email recipients who eventually buy your product (or otherwise convert).
Which of these metrics are most important to you?
Is your current follow-up strategy achieving some, but not others? What could be holding you back?
Knowing what your goals are is essential for creating an effective follow-up cadence.
Step 2: Frequency
How many follow up emails should you send?
If you send too few, you may be giving up on your lead too early. If you send too many, you’ll end up annoying them and/or wasting your time.
According to several studies, response rates tend to increase consistently through the first few rounds of emails. Of course, the exact number varies from industry-to-industry and from brand-to-brand, but you should count on sending at least three follow-up messages and no more than seven.
But it’s also a good idea to stay plugged into your industry. Chances are, you get quite a few cold emails as well. Keep an eye on how many follow-ups you’re receiving from other people in your niche. That can help you determine what may be industry-standard for your niche.
Step 3: Timing
The timing of your follow-up is extremely important. You want to follow up with people who are still considering your offer or who have forgotten about it, not people getting ready to respond. That’s a quick way to annoy people and get angry, unsubscribe emails.
Generally speaking, you should wait at least 48 hours from the time of your initial email before sending a follow-up. This gives your prospect plenty of time to see your email and mull things over without waiting too long to send another message.
From there, consider sending follow-ups every 2-4 days until you get a response.
Step 4: Content
The content of your follow-up email is probably what most people focus on, and for good reason. So, let’s get a little deeper here.
Write a perfect subject line.
The subject line is arguably the most important element since it will determine whether your email ever gets opened.
You want to write something catchy that will stand out in the inbox. Then use your subsequent follow-ups to experiment. After all, if you’re following up again, the last subject line probably didn’t land with that customer.
Ideally, you want a subject line that’s only a few words long. According to Campaign Monitor, the ideal subject line is shorter than 41 characters.
Here’s a great discussion in the Sales Hacker Community that goes deep into crafting the perfect subject line: “What’s your secret to crafting catchy subject lines?”
Some salespeople begin to get aggressive or less patient as they follow up, but this can kill the potential of your deal.
Instead, remain perfectly polite in every one of your messages.
Remember that there’s a person on the other end of your message, and you don’t know what things may be going on in their life that kept them from responding to your last email. So, always be polite and patient — you’re the one making an ask of them after all.
Although you don’t want to be aggressive, it’s a good idea to become increasingly direct with each follow-up.
Don’t waste your time or your recipient’s time with long messages or ones that attempt to mask your intentions.
Be friendly and personal.
People tend to be much more responsive to messages that seem both friendly and personal.
Your content should seem like it was written specifically for this individual and not broadly mass-marketed. it should be warm and inviting.
If you write sincerely, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Increase the value of your offer.
As you send more follow-up emails, you should increase the appeal of your offer in one way or another.
In some cases, that means offering a discounted price. In others, it means including additional content or another kind of value.
Your first email may not have been good enough or unique enough to incentivize action, so this is your chance to build on that original offer.
Become more specific.
Many email strategies start out with an ambiguous or vague email teasing a potential deal. But as you follow up, you should gradually become more specific.
Come out with your offer, and explain how your recipient could benefit from it.
Experimentation is important in your follow-up strategy. You can’t be sure what your recipients will respond to. So, mix up the length and style of your follow-ups.
Shorter emails are faster and more appropriate for busy recipients, while longer emails may give you more time to explain your offer and your position.
Additionally, consider experimenting with style. Segment your list, and use different approaches for different segments.
For example, you could be more humorous with one segment and more serious with another. Then figure out which group gave you a better response rate overall, and use that to inform your next send.
Different prospects will appreciate different things, so try different strategies until something sticks.
Measurement and Analysis
Measurement and analysis are probably the two most important things for any email campaign. But they are especially important for fine-tuning follow-up emails.
So, after instituting your new strategic changes, make sure you spend time measuring and analyzing your results. Track everything: opens, click-through, replies, bounce rate, everything you can get your hands on.
Track these stats for every email you send and for your campaign as a whole.
Find out how many emails it takes on average to get a reply.
Are some of your follow-ups performing better than others?
The more data you track here, the better you’ll be able to make positive changes in the future.
Never Stop Improving
Once you master the art of following up, your cold email campaign will start to become much more successful.
But never become complacent. Keep tweaking your strategy as you learn more. If you keep adapting as you glean new information, you’ll eventually see the results you want.