The trouble with cold outreach
Too much of online prospecting/sales is about reaching out to strangers or acquaintances who have not signaled their interest in your work.
"But based on their profile they might be interested, so I should reach out to them."
Most of the time, this feels to the recipient like spam.
Most spam is obvious to me before I even open it. The less obvious ones (where I need to open the email and read to realize it’s spam) are written by a copywriter or other marketing expert.
They try to get my attention by…
1) Either saying they’ve made a private video about my website, and what should be changed or…
2) They say they have studied my recent email newsletters and they have key tips to increase my conversion rate.
I’m looking at one right now that has this as the subject line:
You have a problem
…and in the email he goes on to say he studied my marketing “funnel” and says he’s found problems with it. (Apparently, he didn’t even bother to visit the most popular page on my site, my best articles about authentic marketing, which links to an article explaining why I don’t like marketing funnels!)
I’m not interested in whatever they’re pitching, because if they are spamming me like this with totally cold outreach, it means either their existing or past clients haven’t been referring them business, or they don’t care enough about content as ministry to be posting useful stuff out there that gets inbound leads.
Sometimes, I get people inviting me into their “free” FB group (which is also where they sell their stuff) and usually, to get into the group, I would have to give them my email address:
"Hello George. This is not a sales message. It's an invitation to my group. Hi, I am...."
No, sorry. It is a veiled sales message. It’s spam.
Sometimes, people will hear me on a podcast, and then email me to pitch their service. I don't respond most of the time, or if I do, I respond with a short but polite decline.
It makes me wonder – if they thought it was ok to cold pitch like this, what does that say about their social discernment? It makes me want to steer clear of them. I hope they reflect and adjust... as I have as well… because I, too, used to do some cold outreach.
What kind of clients?
If you do actually get clients through cold outreach, I wonder what kind of mindset they’re in at this time, that makes them susceptible to saying Yes to a stranger who pitches them, no matter how clever or caring you appear to be.
One who is open to a relationship with someone who cold-pitches them, is also open to that kind of relationship with other cold marketers.
Therefore, the client you get in this way, will probably not be sustainable: they’ll be signing up for (many) other things soon, since they are susceptible to cold marketing.
The few exceptions
I can think only of a few times when cold outreach is fine. Basically, when you are offering real value to that other person, with genuinely no strings attached, and not as a strategy to get them as a client, it could be a good thing to do.
For example, I appreciate being invited to be interviewed on podcasts. I don’t always say yes, because the audience has to be the right fit. But if that person seems to understand and really value my content and wants their audience to find out about it, then it’s a welcome cold outreach.
Another example, quite rare but always welcome, is if someone wants to share my products (online courses) with their audience (assuming the right fit), even if they want to do it as an affiliate so they can receive commissions, it is a clear win-win for me.
These exceptions are rare! Instead, when we want more clients, I recommend warm outreach…
Alternatives to cold outreach
- Create and distribute good content and people will reach out to you. (Also known as "inbound marketing".)
- Be of genuine support to others (in groups, or simply in comments of public posts), also known as "netcaring". This gets people curious about you and your work, and they will check out your profile or website.
- Ask for an introduction via a mutually-trusted contact.
These are warm outreach methods that work.
Basically, the opposite of cold calls is “warm” calls – reaching out to your existing network with an offer that you feel is a genuine win for them – because you're taking a moment to think about that person and the needs they have.
Why does cold outreach still happen?
Just like any other method, cold outreach does “work” for a few people.
Because it seems like a shortcut to getting clients (since there are unlimited numbers of people you can reach out to!), it can feel tempting to try it.
But along the way, you turn off a lot more people, many of whom could have been ideal clients or referral sources, if you had instead used one of the warm methods described above.
Plus, it’s a bad use of time and energy, when you could have instead been using warm outreach, such as content creation, that has the side (and real!) benefit of growing yourself professionally and creatively, too.
May there be less cold outreach in the world, and more content-as-ministry, netcaring, and overall, genuine caring for our connections.