A Better Way is Here: Can We Now Please Kill the Cold Email?

by Lenwood Ross August 18th, 2020

There’s a problem that most of us aren’t seeing. 

When you can't see a problem, it’s called problem blindness.

Problem blindness is a belief that a negative outcome is natural or inevitable. The challenge with problem blindness is that if we don’t think there’s a problem, we can’t solve it. 

I’ve been talking to high ticket sellers for weeks.

These are people who are the best at what they do. I’ve spoken with junior account executives with millions of dollars in sales and senior account executives with hundreds of millions in sales. 

They all talk about the same two problems. 

  • They can’t get access to their customers.
  • They want more conversations with their customers.

So, why do I think that there’s problem blindness?

Well, I asked those same high performing sellers to describe how they measure success when prospecting. Here’s what was said.

“If I send out 100 emails and get back five responses, that’s a great day for me.” 

That’s remarkable. A rejection rate of 95% is success?

The current state of email marketing reminds me of this public health parable that I read in Dan Heath’s book, Upstream. It goes like this:

You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river. Suddenly you hear a shout from the direction of the water-- a child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore. Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well. Then another struggling child drifts into sight... and another.. and another. The two of you can barely keep up. Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water, seeming to leave you alone. “Where are you going?” you demand. Your friend answers, “I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.”

Death by Ten Thousand Emails

For years now, we’ve been using more and different marketing tactics to attempt to engage with customers. Whether it’s cold calling, email marketing, or content marketing, they are variations of the same theme. 

We need conversations with our prospects to sell—bottom line. 

What’s the behavior that creates a 95% rejection rate? 

Buyers delete. 

Unless that email speaks to their immediate need, they delete it. 

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I get so much email? I love it. Please give me more.”

Fundamentally, we’re deleting emails because it’s become a terrible experience. 

It’s too overwhelming. 

When I open my email, I’m hunting for what I need. Everything else gets deleted.

Am I deleting valuable content? Probably. Do I care? No.

Look at these numbers. 

God help us. 

Thus far, the response to lower open rates has been to send more emails. Why?

Because it is a numbers game, right?

If email is so effective, why do we have to send and receive so many?

All that time and energy wasted with not much to show for it.  

Buying Has Changed

Our collective response to all of this marketing automation has been to hide.  

We use every tactic known to man to evade sellers. We hate to be sold.

Buyers, especially business buyers, search for solutions, whether reading free white papers or talking to experts on social media. 

By the time a business buyer engages with a vendor, the buyer has searched online for a solution and formulated some solution.

If you want to be relevant to buyers, you have to help them frame their problems and create innovative solutions during this search and investigation phases. You must have more conversations earlier in the process.

The Rise of Social Media

While you were deleting emails, social media grew up.

Here’s a fun history of social media from NFX, a venture firm that focuses on marketplace investments. I posted this last week on LinkedIn.

You can see from my post that 1,146 people viewed this interesting image with 24 hours with 34 total engagements. A week later, this post has had over 2,000 views. 

Today, billions of people are on social media every day. Many for several hours a day. They're posting, liking, sharing, and commenting.

The pandemic has only accelerated these market changes. 

Digital media and social products are no longer distractions. They are central to the functioning of society. 

“Social” and “network” is at the core of how we function, and increasingly at the core of how we relate to ourselves and project our identities. - James Currier, Managing Partner at NFX, a seed and series A venture firm based in San Francisco.

At the same time, traditional methods of reaching consumers are failing.

Today, the most effective way to sell is not to sell. 

Instead, it is more effective to spend valuable time shaping our brand, building relationships, and publishing engaging content. 

Through these activities, we create opportunities for conversations. Lots of conversations.

We find that creating a charismatic LinkedIn profile that humanizes you, for example, will make you someone people want to connect with and be willing to engage.

A well-crafted post on LinkedIn could have 500, 1000, 2000, or even 50,000 views with hundreds of engagements. All of that activity raising your profile among your desired audience, compounding the impact of your future engagements as you gain greater visibility. 

Ask yourself, how much time are you spending crafting emails that won’t get opened while your competition is having conversations with your target on social media?

Reframe the Problem

We’ve been focused on emailing so long that we don’t even question whether we should be emailing at all. 

The reality is that the B2B buying journey is getting more complicated.

Our goal should be to raise our profile on LinkedIn. We need to be known by our target long before this process starts. 

We need to build and sustain digital relationships to be top of mind with our target audience throughout the B2B buying process.

We need to learn and develop new behaviors that enable us to have more conversations. 

Conversations with decision-makers, influencers, and saboteurs. Yes, conversations with the saboteurs. You need to influence all of these participants in the B2B buying process to win that sale.

Our best chance to engage with our target accounts at the right time is to be known by them.  

Well known. 

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