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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistThu, Sep 22, 2016 10 min read

Why Inbound Marketing Demands I Never Reply To Unsolicited Emails

If You Sent Me One, Now You Know Why I Haven’t Responded

Alternatives To Cold Email CampaignsI’m no different than you. I'm going about my day and trying to get my work done when I get an email notification (you know, those annoying pop-up windows that alert you to a new email). The email looks like it’s in response to something I sent, or it might look like it’s from someone who knows me. So I click on the alert.

But it’s not either of those scenarios. It’s an unsolicited email, from someone I don’t know, trying to sell me something I know nothing about and might not even need. Who came up with this tactic? Who decided this was even close to a good idea? It gets much worse, and I’m sure everyone reading this is going to know what I’m talking about.

When I delete the email, I get another one in a day or two, followed by another and another. Each one sounds a little more desperate and attempts to make me feel a little ruder for not responding. Some people even resort to adding animated GIFs of Oprah, Spiderman or some other celebrity. I guess they think this will get my attention and get me to ask to speak with them.

I know marketers ruin everything, but this is ridiculous. If for some reason you have your sales and marketing team executing a similar tactic, here’s why this will never work.

Research study after research study proves that people, and specifically executives, do not respond to cold outreach.

  • Harvard Business Review published an article that stated 90% of C-level executives never respond to any type of cold outreach. This includes calls, emails, mailings, etc.
  • Fast Company did a study and sent cold emails to 1,000 executives. The result was a super-low click-through rate of just 1.7% despite testing on multiple variables.
  • An IDG Research article reported that B2B buyers see only 20% of sales reps as valuable and that buyer engagement is five times more likely when the sales rep adds real value to their buyer journey.

Here’s Why I’ll Never Respond To These

I simply can’t provide any positive energy to this type of tactic. Imagine if a salesperson was calling your cell phone every day for a week. You would want to pick up the phone and ask them to please stop calling you. This email marketing strategy is almost the same thing. It’s a huge distraction and adds no value to my day.

If you’re using tactics like this, it’s killing your brand. I know the names of the companies using these tactics and it makes you look desperate, it makes you look small and it makes me not want to do business with you. It’s doing the exact opposite of what you want your sales process to do. It’s not making me feel safe, it’s not emotionally connecting you with me and it’s not helping me get to know, like and trust you. I’ll say it again — it’s doing you much more harm than good.

Here’s Why I Think People Continue To Use Them

I know it’s easy. Someone writes the sales email series, gives it to all the salespeople and the rest is history. I know in some cases you might have marketing or CRM systems that send these out automatically based on a predetermined schedule. I know this is an extremely inexpensive marketing tactic, so what the heck?

ThinkstockPhotos-506588948.jpgLet’s see how we do. I know that just like cold calling, direct mail and trade shows, it’s a numbers game. Send out 10,000 emails and we’re bound to attract a couple of opportunities, and I bet you do. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut eventually. Anyone doing this can probably point to a person or two that replied to their emails and became a customer. But that doesn’t in any way make this an efficient or effective marketing technique.

There is no way to measure the missed opportunities or the people who you're repelling with your marketing tactic. These may be highly qualified potential prospects who will never do business with you because this is the first experience they have with your company.

Here’s What You Can Do Instead

Look, I know you’re going to continue to do this no matter what I say, so at least you can use these email marketing tips to get better at it. There was one cold email that did get my attention. I did reply to it and I did have a conversation with the sales rep because he offered me something of value before asking me for anything.

No, that value was not a free trial, a demo, a chance to talk to them about their new product or an opportunity to provide feedback to help them make it better. I have a job, and I don’t need to do your job for you. But there are scientific methods for getting the attention of your target prospects via email. has an article on better approaches to cold emails. These messaging models take time and money to create. They’re strategic and well-thought-out. They’re tested and proven. If you want to improve the performance of your email marketing to prospects, invest in a strategic initiative to come up with these stories and stop winging it.

Here are a few of the better email message models that will give you a fighting chance:

  • Before And After – Help them see you understand their situation today and then help them feel what it will be like after you’ve been able to help them. Getting people to feel what their world will be like when their challenges are removed is powerful.
  • Problem, Agitate And Solve – We use this model on websites all the time. We identify a pain point that people relate to, we disrupt their status quo with data on the issues associated with that pain and then attempt to help them solve it.
  • Tell A Story Where Your Prospect Is The Hero – Using proper story technique, tell a compelling emotional story about how your hero (someone like your target prospect) had a specific challenge, overcame that challenge and the reaped the rewards from their success.

Bottom line? Don’t assume you know me, don’t assume I’m interested and don’t assume that just because I fit a profile I’m a prospect for what you’re selling. If you want to know for sure, ask me. Ask me if I have the problem you think I have. Ask me if I want to work on it. It might not be a priority. Give me something that proves you’re smart, you understand my business and you can solve my challenges. Make an attempt to get to know me by asking me a few questions. My time is valuable, so I want to know what to expect if I spend 30 minutes with you or 10 minutes answering your email. Stop being cute and stop being my friend. Start being a smarter marketer.

Start Today Tip – If you’re engaged in these types of tactics, I implore you to hit the pause button and revamp your entire thinking around this type of marketing. Invest the time and money with a strategic marketing company that has scientific data on the way people respond to messaging. Create more response-oriented emails that better fit today’s buyers and apply scientific methodology to your email marketing program. If the data doesn’t support your direction with continuously improving open rates (and, more importantly, click-through rates), keep optimizing it until you see consistent up and to the right data points. That’s inbound marketing.

Square 2 Marketing – Inbound Results Start With ME!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.