So I almost didn’t write this blog post. Mainly because while it’s great to share tips with our readers, there’s always a few things you hold back. You know what I mean, your secret sauce. The tactics that seem to always work. The reason your customers choose you over your competition.
Sure, we continue to see a ton of success with the typical methods of outreach (digital ads, SEO, PR), but there is a new marketing tactic that has emerged for B2B companies that continues to produce high quality leads in a predictable fashion.
It’s called email lead generation, and YES, it’s different from email marketing.
So why should you care?
It’s tough to argue with email lead generation’s results so I’ll share some with you:
- Average open rate is 42% compared to email marketing’s average open rate of 21%.
- You can send hyper-targeted content to your ideal recipients that aren’t in your contacts list (compared to digital ads where you can’t control who clicks on an ad).
- You can scale your outreach to mimic a large sales staff doing outbound emails/calls, without the additional overhead/drama/baggage (lol, I speak from experience).
- Email lead generation conforms to GDPR & CCPA guidelines.
Email lead generation versus email marketing
So what is the difference between the two? Simply put, email marketing targets the email addresses of contacts you have. Email lead generation targets the emails of contacts you do not have.
More specifically, email lead generation allows us to target business people by title, industry, company size, and geography (to name a few). We then create a sequence of pre-written emails and schedule their delivery dates to their target audience over time. You’ve probably received emails like these before and wondered if they actually work because if you’re like me, I don’t respond to spam emails! At least this was my initial thought when we first discovered the platform we use to manage the email lead generation campaigns.
Why is it so effective?
Regardless of how someone becomes a customer (referral, sales, ad, SEO, etc.), B2B-focused businesses always communicate with their clients via email. So when you target someone specific like SVPs of credit unions within the Western US with 200 or more employees, the subject line and content of this email outreach can be very targeted to the recipient, leading to high open and conversion rates.
Guide to email lead generation
This form of outreach has been a closely guarded secret for us because it not only produces results but it has also been very difficult to scale as a service. It actually took almost a year to build and refine our technical and outreach processes, which I’ll share with you (without wincing), below. Feel free to click on each section:
- Set up platform: targeting & pricing tier
- Write email sequence and variants
- Setting up email configurations
- Add a UTM tag to track referral traffic to website
- Develop backend email process to remove unsub’s & add net new’s
- Set up CRM to track leads (if no CRM then Pipedrive is great)
- Launch campaign
- Optimize performance with new audience segments and email copy
- Create feedback loop with digital ads
- Monitor campaign KPIs on each platform
1. Set up platform: targeting & pricing tier
There are a handful of platforms that can handle email lead generation, but none are as robust and feature-laden as Apollo.io. With over 250 million B2B and B2C contacts, Apollo stands out not just because of their data but they also have a robust email marketing platform that seamlessly populates any email lead generation campaign.
Apollo’s targeting capabilities are what originally drew us to the platform and they’ve added to them over this last year. You can filter your recipients based on their name, title,company, location, company size, industry, owner, and revenue. For example, we recently created a campaign for a medical college that expanded to multiple states. The goal was to contact HR Directors and managers within hospitals and medical facilities to create new students and future job placements. After setting up the targeting below, the campaign had over 17,600 contacts.
Another favorite feature is Apollo’s integration with Indeed, the employment platform. This allows you to align your product or service with companies trying to hire full-time talent. For example, if you offer fractional CFO consulting services, you can target companies that are using Indeed to find a full-time CFO, to convey your offer.
Although their pricing tiers range from $0 to “talk to sales” which is their enterprise offering, you should make sure the tier you choose has the following three features:
- No email sequence limit: an email sequence refers to the number of emails that are prewritten and scheduled to deliver to your target audience (see more on email sequences, below). Campaigns that have two or less scheduled emails do not perform as well as campaigns with three to five emails.
- No daily sending limit: it’s important to be able to send at least 400 emails per day to quickly gain actionable data. This may sound like a lot of emails if you’ve never managed this kind of outreach, but we’ve found it’s a great place to start to push the law of averages in your favor.
- A/B test email copy: the ability to A/B test email copy is invaluable because it allows you to identify your top-performing subject lines and copy, then split-test them to improve the results.
So we recommend the Professional tier at $99/month which has all these features and is best positioned to accommodate your outreach as you have success.
2. Write email sequence and variants
Writing sequenced emails is nothing new. Chances are if you have over 5,000 contacts, you or your company has written them in the past. For example, a basic sequence begins with email 1, then if a recipient doesn’t open it, your prewritten email 2 will automatically be sent to them in four to seven days, then email 3 will be sent in another seven days, then email 4, 5, and so on.
Yet what makes writing email sequences (dare I say) fun on Apollo is that it’s almost like managing Google Ads:
Every Google ad campaign begins with a variety of ads often targeting the same (or similar keywords). Over time the data reveals the best and worst performing ads, and optimizations to the ads are made. This gradually becomes a feedback loop as your ads begin to outperform your competition.
So it’s a similar approach on Apollo considering how robust the targeting can be. We’re managing some campaigns that are sending 1,500 emails a day so imagine the amount of actionable data we get! This allows us to create A/B variants for every email in a sequence to test the subject lines, the copy, and CTAs (call to actions). The winning emails emerge pretty quickly allowing us to run further tests on what converts into potential customers and what causes people to unsubscribe.
This approach to email lead generation has produced a 42% open rate across all of our campaigns which is double the average open rate for email marketing.
Btw, because this is considered email marketing you must conform to the FTC's email marketing guidelines and always include an option for your recipients to unsubscribe.
3. Setting up email configurations
A word of caution: you do not want your domain to be flagged as spam! :)
So before you sign up for Apollo, set your targeting, and email 1,500 people on Day one, you MUST first set up the proper bulk email sending environment. This involves setting up a new email with a subdomain and a high volume IP infrastructure that runs in parallel to your primary email.
For example, if your primary email is firstname.lastname@example.org, you would create a new email with a subdomain like email@example.com for your Apollo outreach. This new email will need a dedicated IP address to ensure that your email lead generation replies can go to your designated inbox. For many of our clients, we also forward any response from their new email address to their primary email inbox.
On the technical side, here is how we set up an Apollo campaign:
- Utilize Sendgrid SMTP with dedicated IPs configured for high volume sending
- SPF, DKIM & strict DMARC policies
- Even for large accounts we develop a daily warm up schedule for the new email and over a few weeks we work up to the desired daily send volume
4. Add a UTM tag to track referral traffic to the website
Many of our clients utilize an email signature at the bottom of their Apollo email that includes a link to their website. So we recommend adding a UTM tag to your website link to help you better-track where this traffic goes on your website. For example, let’s assume 20% of the people that open your emails also go to your website. A UTM tag will allow you to more effectively track your referred traffic. With data like this, you can see trends emerge like the most popular web pages they click on and how long they stay on each page. This insight can then be reflected in new email copy and even new landing pages can be developed to further convert this traffic.
5. Develop backend email process to remove unsub’s & add net new’s
This kind of scaled outreach has become a game-changer for many companies because it simulates having the outreach power of a sales department, with a fraction of the overhead. But keep in mind whether you’re sending 40 emails per day or 2,000 emails per day, there is no way to avoid having some people ask to be removed from your list. So to comply with Federal email marketing laws, they must be actively removed from your outreach list.
At the same time, Apollo is always adding thousands of new contacts to their database and any new audience matches should also be added to your existing email lead generation campaigns.
So the best way to ensure that your email outreach complies with Federal laws and that you’re concurrently growing the number of contacts within your campaigns is by building an internal process. Specifically, you should designate an employee to monitor your daily responses and to remove any person that requests to be taken off the outreach list. This employee should also monitor Apollo every week to add any new contacts (net new’s) that match your target audience.
If your business is in scale mode, instead of hiring an employee you can consider using a virtual assistant to monitor your email outreach and audience lists.
6. Set up CRM to track leads (if no CRM then Pipedrive is great)
Many companies make a mistake with email lead generation by starting their campaign without establishing how they’ll follow up with the leads. We made this mistake, also! Then the next thing we knew we had a ton of leads and not the best idea of where they were in the buyer journey.
It’s usually a matter of resource allocation: many businesses are used to testing new customer acquisition channels by limiting the amount of resources they devote to each one. Yet in the case of email lead generation, you should count on getting new leads so you must connect your efforts to your CRM (customer relationship management) software before the campaign begins.
In case you don’t have a CRM in place, we’re big fans of Pipedrive. It allows you to create visual sales pipelines that are customizable and there’s no cap on the number of contacts you input (sorry Hubspot!). It starts with a free trial and then goes to $18 or $33 a month.
Whatever you do, do not skip this step. We’ve had clients where we’ve created hundreds of leads but only a handful converted. Then after asking them a lot of questions we discovered they weren’t using a CRM at all! Instead, they’d just respond to an interested lead and move on to the next thing in their day. No follow up at all! So if you’re going to invest in email lead generation, make sure you have a follow-up system in place to manage all the leads created.
Don’t be like us. When we initially discovered this new client acquisition channel, we rushed to implement it, skipping most of the steps above. And we lost out on a ton of revenue by failing to follow up with our leads in an effective way.
7. Launch campaign
So assuming you’ve gone through this guide and have set up the platform and targeting, written your email sequences, set your email configurations, created UTM tags, developed your unsub/net new process, and set up your CRM to track leads, congratulations, you’re ready to launch your campaign!
When launching a new email sequence, we always take a conservative route to ‘warm up’ the domain. Specifically, even though you’ve taken the steps to build a higher send environment with a service like Sendgrid, this doesn’t completely mitigate all risk. So if the goal is to send 400 emails a day (for example), we’ll start the campaign by sending 15-30 emails per day. Then over a few weeks we’ll slowly increase this number.
8. Optimize performance with new audience segments and email copy
The biggest difference between email lead generation and email marketing might be this step. Assuming you’ve run an email marketing campaign in the past, you’re limited in the size of your campaign because you only send emails to your past/existing customers. This can really limit your rate of optimization because data must accumulate to be statistically significant.
On the other hand, with email lead generation, you can target a much larger audience with sequenced emails and get data much faster. For example, in many of our campaigns we initially develop two to three variants for emails 1 and 2 that adjust the subject line, the copy, and the CTA. So based on sending 500 emails a day, we’ll usually have actionable data within one month. This allows us to create new variants every month with the goal of increasing the open rates, conversion rates, and generated sales.
In addition to optimizing campaign performance, your data becomes invaluable when defining new audience segments. Many of our campaigns have a narrow focus when they start (1-3 titles, 1 industry, limited geographic targets). Yet with more data, it’s much easier to target new audiences with custom email copy. As we expand our outreach this often involves creating new landing pages for these new audience segments. And the best part is, by using UTMs you can track the effectiveness of these new targeted campaigns on the email side by monitoring things like the open rate, reply rate, interest rate, and conversion rate). Concurrently, you can also track how well this referred traffic converts on your website by looking at things like time on page, engagement, phone calls generated, and web forms submitted.
9. Create feedback loop with digital ads
So this is where things get fun: we’ll often export our audience emails from Apollo and upload them as a targeting parameter within LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google. This allows us to create brand awareness before we send an audience any sequenced email campaign. We also update the messaging to convey value to our audiences while they’re in our sequences. Lastly, all good things must come to an end so when an email sequence has run its course, we can retarget these audiences to remain top-of-mind. This creates a feedback loop that ensures a higher level of success for future outreach.
It should come as no surprise that when you integrate a target/retarget digital ads campaign, your email lead generation KPIs improve…actually, they ALWAYS improve.
This success is due to two things: multi-channel (yet crazy-specific) outreach at scale and developing creative around the pain points of your audiences. We’ve found this step to be where many companies miss an opportunity by focusing on what they do well, instead of the issues their target audiences are facing.
10. Monitor campaign KPIs on each platform
This cross platform outreach approach will only work if you’re committed to establishing KPIs (key performance indicators) to track and optimize their performance. This applies to the metrics developed for email lead generation and any ad platforms you utilize.
A word of encouragement: you don’t need to initially track 50 KPIs. There are metrics like sales or phone calls that will always be at the top of the list. But after identifying obvious metrics, resist the urge to add a ton more KPIs. Almost every marketing campaign starts like this and the next thing you know, you’re spending hours every week montorring and interpreting the data.
Instead, just start by identifying two to three relevant KPIs and manage your campaign’s performance to those. Remember, this is a marathon not a race. So you’ll have plenty of time to add more metrics based on performance and your goals.
Ok, so there it is. Like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I’ve reluctantly handed you the keys to the Ferrari. Just make sure to NOT go all in at once.
To get started, set Apollo up, connect your CRM to track leads, then write/launch a simple 2-3 email sequence. Then for the first couple weeks, sit back and let the data come in. Once you’ve got enough sends (at least 3,000) refer back to the steps above to optimize your email content, targets, CRM tracking, UTMs, and lead scoring. After two months of optimization, your retargeting list should be large enough (at least 1,000) to trigger ads. So create KPIs for email lead generation and your digital ad campaign and establish a weekly meeting with your marketing team to optimize both campaigns based on performance.
By the way, don’t expect these new leads to convert as quickly as your organic or referred leads. Too often companies give up on email lead generation because the sales cycles are usually longer so they assume it's not working. So you must recognize this kind of outreach as being higher up in the sales funnel and be more patient with conversions.
Bottom line, if you’re a B2B company trying to create more leads, email lead generation is a proven way to fill up your sales funnel.