A new tech stack for cold email outreach is taking shape

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Armies of business development reps and sales development reps (popularly known as BDRs and SDRs) reach out across the globe every day, trying to drum up business for B2B companies.

It’s a popular tactic among SaaS vendors, in particular, especially smaller vendors that lack a sizable advertising budget. Their BDRs and SDRs — or agencies they hire to fill that role — run cold outbound plays using phone calls, email and social media (usually LinkedIn), most often with the goal of booking demos or introductory meetings.

According to research from GTM Partners, 86% of B2B companies are using an outbound strategy, which it defines more broadly as a combination of account-based marketing (ABM) and selling, and the use of content hubs and SDRs. More than half (59%) say they will increase their investment in outbound strategies, while 25% say they will maintain their investment.

If you’re not a fan of the cold outreach strategy, you might question its economics. Paying a team of reps carries a cost. And to increase the efficiency of the team, businesses need to invest in data and tools to help reps find the right prospects and scale their outreach.

Detractors of cold outreach will also cite its somewhat spammy nature as intrusive and a poor customer experience for people who receive the outreach. It’s still true in many cases that too many cold outreach attempts are irrelevant and poorly targeted.

If the message is delivered through bulk email outreach, businesses risk running afoul of the bulk email regulations put in place by email providers like Google and Yahoo.

The ethics and effectiveness of cold outreach are a story for another day. In this article, we’re going to focus on how the traditional BDR/SDR strategy is being impacted by new tools, including artificial intelligence, which allow companies to:

  • Conduct better research prior to cold outbound.
  • Scale their outreach.
  • Protect their email domains and sender reputations in the process. 

Perhaps most importantly for the bottom line, businesses are now running their cold outreach strategy with fewer people than they used under the traditional BDR/SDR playbook. The number of tools currently available in this space and the functionality they provide make this possible.   

The actual steps used to conduct cold outreach remain much the same as they were a few years back. Reps need to:

  • Source data on companies and prospects interested in the product or service.
  • Enrich the data to add information like email addresses and phone numbers. 
  • Clean the data to check for accuracy.
  • Send the messages.

Cold outreach relies on stacks, not solutions

A number of vendors now offer tools to help sales and marketing teams complete these steps. After having conversations with people who conduct cold outreach and reviewing countless LinkedIn posts on the topic, it’s become clear these teams employ a variety of tools to complete these steps, taking the best feature of one tool and the best from another to create a stack. They are less likely, it appears, to use one or two comprehensive vendors to work across the steps they need to complete.

That means a vendor capable of both enriching data and cleaning email lists might only be used for one of those tasks. The same goes for sales engagement tools that supply data help with both sending and tracking messages. 

Each team mixes and matches tools to build its own stack in a way they think best serves their needs.

These are the tools most often mentioned in conversations with teams using AI and data to scale their cold outreach. This is not a complete list of the tools available in this space. 

Dig deeper: Navigating new spam policies: A guide to effective cold email outreach

Any type of sales outreach begins with research. Making the most of outbound efforts requires a list of target accounts. The list could be based on revenue, employee headcount, installed technologies or other attributes. The goal is to identify the companies most likely to be a fit for the product or service being offered.

There are a number of tools available to help with this research. 

  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator remains a popular option for identifying target companies, but it’s not easy to extract the data from LinkedIn.
  • Apollo.io plays a central role in many cold outreach stacks today because it’s a source of company and personal data, but it’s also a platform for sending emails.  
  • Other sources to help identify accounts include Owler, BuiltWith (a source of technographic data), Harmonic (which specializes in startups) and Crunchbase.

With a list of target accounts in hand, the next step of the cold outreach playbook helps uncover contact information for people working at the target companies. Finding information on job roles, email addresses and phone numbers is always a challenge. 

Fortunately, data sources to help find this information abound today. But buyer beware, the prices and accuracy of the information can vary greatly from one vendor to another. 

  • Clay is one the most-discussed data enrichment vendors among cold outreach professionals. Clay provides access to numerous data sources, including built-in sources and bring-your-own data sources. Users can set up a “waterfall” approach to data enrichment, telling Clay which sources to try first, then second and so on. Clay also helps compose outreach emails with artificial intelligence. 
  • Apollo.io provides contact-level data as well.
  • Cognism is a popular source of contact-level data in Europe, in particular. 
  • Other data enrichment vendors include Seamless.ai, LeadIQ, Lusha and ZoomInfo. 

Dig deeper: Redefining ‘leads’ in B2B: Why data enrichment is key for lead gen

Armed with a list of contacts at target accounts, many BDRs and SDRs might be itching to start sending messages. Not so fast.

With email providers like Google and Yahoo cracking down on bulk email senders, the ability of companies to land any outbound emails in the inbox is put at risk. Bounced emails have a negative impact on deliverability.

Using software to clean your list and avoid bounces will help protect the sender reputation. Among the options here are Datagma, Dropcontact, Findymail and (once again) Apollo.io.

Avoiding the penalties email providers can levy on bulk senders requires its own strategy. Today, cold outreach requires multiple email accounts and addresses, warming up IP addresses before using them to send emails, email validation tools and more. 

Among the vendors being used to send cold email outreach are Smartlead and Instantly.ai. The aptly named Cold Email Infrastructure is also a player in this space. 

For those wishing to conduct cold outreach via direct messages on LinkedIn, HeyReach helps scale that process.

Where AI fits into cold outreach strategies

A number of the tools being used to build cold outreach stacks use artificial intelligence in some capacity. But going back to early 2023, shortly after the debut of ChatGPT, AI was already playing a role in reshaping cold email outreach.

Generative AI made it easier for reps to write their outreach emails, a process that was time consuming for many reps. With AI, reps could scale their content creation, adhere to character or word limits, infuse personalization and more, in just a fraction of the time it took them months earlier. 

AI brought true scale to cold outreach. It’s likely not a coincidence that bulk email restrictions followed in short order. 

The future of cold email outreach

Expect cold email outreach to remain a part of the GTM playbook for B2B vendors. The tools discussed above, and others like them, will continue to improve the economics of cold outreach, improving scale while requiring fewer people.

Bulk email restrictions will continue to evolve as well, setting us up for a cat-and-mouse game that’s not unlike the relationship between SEO professionals and search engines. 

What remains to be seen is who can stay one step ahead. 

Dig deeper: AI-powered cold email: A nightmare in the making?

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About the author

Mike Pastore

Mike Pastore has spent nearly three decades in B2B marketing, as an editor, writer, and marketer. He first wrote about marketing in 1998 for internet.com (later Jupitermedia). He then worked with marketers at some of the best-known brands in B2B tech creating content for marketing campaigns at both Jupitermedia and QuinStreet. Prior to joining Third Door Media as the Editorial Director of the MarTech website, he led demand generation at B2B media company TechnologyAdvice.