In previous posts, we wrote about the prospecting and cold emails. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worth trying. So now that you’re convinced and want to give it a shot, what’s next? How do you build a lead database and get started with targeted email marketing?
Below is our process. But before we get started, a word to the wise: summarizing the process in a short blog post might deceive you into thinking this is an easy task. While straightforward, the process is neither easy nor fast. It should be handled with utmost care to avoid mistakes that might hurt your startup for years to come: being marked as spam, being perceived negatively by your audience, and wasting a lot of time and money. You should consult a pro before deciding whether you want to DIY. (Blue Seedling is here and happy to chat.)
Getting started with outbound email marketing – our process
1) Define your ICP: Ideal Customer Profile. Who are you going after? Start with a basic profile that includes:
- Function – e.g. marketing, customer service
- Seniority – e.g. VP and above
- Company attributes – size, industry, location, technologies used. For example, Canadian furniture companies with over 1000 employees using Shopify.
Here’s a sample basic template for your first ICP. Over time, as you get to know your customers better, you will refine your ICP based on market and competitor research and client interviews. Initially though, start with your intuition or an informed guess.
2) Build a lead database that matches your ICP. So now you know your ICP is junior Java developers in large banks in England. How do you find them? And their contact details?
Two steps: Building a company list, then building a list of leads within these companies. For both parts, there are many ways to go about it, here are the main ones:
- On your own: Using tools like Crunchbase, BuiltWith, or SimilarWeb for building the company list, and LinkedIn for adding your existing connections and finding new ones
- Partly on your own: By managing a team of freelancers on sites like Upwork or Fiverr
- Using dedicated tools, like discover.org or zoominfo
- Buying lists from vendors like Cloudlead, Uplead, Leadiro (must be coupled with email address validation tools to make sure the lists are “clean”).
- Inbound lead generation channels like your website + content marketing
- Online advertising (when appropriate)
Each source has advantages and disadvantages (see the table below). Combining multiple sources improves coverage and accuracy, and reduces your average CPL (Cost per Lead).
Channels for building a lead database: pros and cons
|Building lists on your own||High quality, as you control the process.|
Direct $ cost is low.
|Huge time investment, slow process.|
Low coverage as you don’t have access to all data sources.
|Building lists by managing a team of freelancers (Upwork, Fiverr)||High quality, as you control the process.|
Medium $ cost – you can be selective when picking freelancers, and they get better over time. Fewer middlemen.
|Time-consuming and involves managing a large team.|
|Building lists with dedicated tools (discover.org, zoominfo)||Fast. You’ll get a database of thousands of ICP leads within hours.||Expensive.|
Quality and coverage vary and depend on the tool and the ICP.
|Buying lists from lead vendors (Cloudlead, Uplead, Leadiro)||Faster than building lists. Get hundreds or thousands of new leads every week. (However, finding the right vendor might take time)||More expensive than building on your own. Priced by lead so you can decide how much to invest.|
Quality and coverage vary widely. You will need to actively manage the vendor to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
|Inbound lead generation (website, content)||Lower $ investment than the list building / buying methods.|
Warmer leads, since they actively opted-in.
|Content production is hard, expensive, and time consuming.|
Database creation will take a long time, and not all leads will match your ICP.
|Online advertising||May be cost-effective for SMB lead generation through certain channels.||So many, especially for Enterprise ICP.|
|Conferences||Accuracy is high, good matches with your ICP.|
Access to leads otherwise not accessible.
In-person connections result in very warm leads.
|Very high CPL.|
Scale is too low and getting to a Building a large database via conferences will take too long.
3) Engage with your new audience through a series of emails. After you have an initial database with a few thousands leads (might be less or even way less, depending on your ICP), we recommend sending an initial series of 3-4 emails over 2-3 weeks, with content (yours and others’), and your sales pitch. The goal will be getting meetings or demos. However, it’s equally important to track other engagement metrics, like open rate, CTR, responses, and unsubscribe rate. If your leads read your emails, click the links, respond, but don’t necessarily schedule meetings, don’t be discouraged. One of our clients had very senior leads (C-level and VPs) open and click multiple emails in the series. They didn’t set up meetings, but they were definitely aware of the company by the end of the series, and likely viewed it in a positive light. More here.
The key is to keep communicating with the leads (see the next item), and provide them with quality content. When they’re ready to buy, you’ll be top of mind, and they’ll take a meeting.
End the campaign with an opt-in email. Tell your leads you’ll keep sending them interesting, educational content, and remind them they can always opt-out.
Relevant tools at this stage: Outreach, reply.io, Salesloft. We don’t recommend using email marketing or sales automation tools like Hubspot, Mailchimp, or Marketo. They work best for large-scale campaigns for leads who opted into your database.
In addition, just because you have thousands of leads in your database doesn’t mean you have to email them all at once. In fact, the opposite is true. Start small by experimenting with a couple of hundreds of leads per week. Closely monitor deliverability and email engagement rates (especially unsubscribes), and expand the pool if everything looks good. It’s also a good idea to segment your audience by function, geography, vertical etc. and tailor your messaging accordingly. No need to go crazy with micro-segments; these general dimensions are enough at this stage.
4) Add the leads to your marketing database and continue communicating with them on a regular basis. After the cold series ends, add your leads to your general marketing database or email marketing tool (Marketo, Hubspot, Mailchimp etc). Continue nurturing them with newsletters, event invites (webinars, conferences), and content. We recommended emailing at least twice a month, even more if you have new content more frequently. It’s important to maintain a low ratio of sales content to educational content — say one sales-y email for every 4-5 content emails. Consider connecting with your leads on social media as well (especially LinkedIn), so they continue reading your content there.
The bottom line
The overall process of building a lead database is pretty simple. What eventually determines success are the details. Which content should you send? How many leads to target with each campaign? Should you segment? How much should you pay per lead? Which email tool should you use?
Mistakes might cost you many wasted months and dollars, and your reputation. Taking time to thoughtfully build and interact with your audience will pay off in terms of brand perception, and customer acquisition. This is a significant time investment, especially if this is your first time, but well worth it.
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You’re the best
Thanks so much to Ran Oelgiesser, Co-Founder and CEO of RightBound, for providing valuable feedback on this post. If you’re a startup doing outbound email marketing, I recommend checking them out as a trusted tool that can help with segmentation, tracking, optimization, and running outreach campaigns.
And thanks to El-ad David Amir, CEO and Co-Founder at Astrolabe Diagnostics, for his thoughtful feedback. Check them out as an exception to the rule—they’re the rare example of a small startup doing outbound marketing right, in-house.