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What Sales Leaders need to know about Cold Email Automation in 2023 featured image

What Sales Leaders Need To Know About Cold Email Automation in 2023

There has been a massive rise in sales and cold email automation over the last 5 years. 

This is a good thing. Any opportunities to make the sales process more efficient should be welcomed.

I’m sure you can sense the “but” coming. 

Sales automation is also damaging the sales profession and creates a more difficult selling environment. This is true for cold outreach. 

In the early days of email automation, you could build a sequence and get lots of bites from prospects. It was a dream. Unfortunately, as the technology has become more accessible it’s diluted its potency.

Now prospects are receiving an average of 50 cold approaches per week, so only the very best approaches cut through all of the noise. 

Prospects can detect automated emails.

This technology has also created a bigger problem. Since the adoption of GDPR in 2018, companies using automated emails as a cold outreach method have accumulated opt-outs into their CRM. Sending generic emails has resulted in many prospects going onto do not contact lists for email and telephone.

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I recently spoke to a sales leader in a large tech company based in the US. His team had 95 target accounts. Each account was worth £1m+ annually to them. As they planned their approach, they discovered that 22 of those decision-makers had already unsubscribed from their cold email sequences in the past.

22 prospects they can’t email unless they ignore GDPR.

As we automate, we lose the ability to craft messages based on each prospect. It results in vanilla messages, spouting marketing propaganda making the opt-outs pile up.

We’re told in many circles that sales is a numbers game. This is then used to justify hitting up prospects in volume to get a return. This is a scraping the barrel approach.

Sales is a qualitative numbers game, not a quantitative numbers game. It’s about getting the best return on the investment from your sales teams.

The current stat for automated cold outreach is that for every 100 prospects, you need to send 4 emails to get 3 positive responses.

But is that really a successful outcome?

So, why do we still love it?

Companies love automated cold outreach because despite the poor success rate (less than 2% email to deal ratio), 2% could still make you a lot of money. A campaign could be 1% successful and still hit the revenue objective.

But that’s a very short term way of looking at things.

What happens six months down the road when you’ve got 23% of your prospects on an opt-out list?

If you make £1m of new sales with a campaign which has a 98% failure rate, do you care?

Well, you should.

At the end of the day, we want an effective sales team. We want the biggest result with the most efficient process. Many of the cold outreach automations are the most efficient process but they produce the lowest result.

What’s the alternative?

We have to ask ourselves, if cold email automation is the future, why do companies need SDRs? Surely we can hire a copywriter for emails and have a team of closers to do the calls. Well, believe it or not, many companies are going that way.

However, it will prove to be a mistake. The noise in our prospects email inbox is not getting any quieter and they are not suddenly starting to paying attention to emails.

As I speak to many large sales organisations, I find they have a big enough job trying to get responses from clients, let alone prospects.

So, we have to do something different, something that will mean we aren’t ignored and we aren’t building up a list of prospects we can’t talk to.

I was working with a client where the marketing department was driving cold outreach. They crafted a sequence and asked me to review it. I deleted 75% of the content and sent back my recommendations. The client declined my edits and chose to go with their original draft.

Guess what happened?


The following year we worked on the campaign, this time I proposed a multi-channel engagement using LinkedIn and email with very little automation.

We created frameworks for the sales reps and proposed for them to do it for themselves using social selling and it went down like a lead balloon.

There was resistance from the sales team and the marketing team did not want to let go of it.

The argument from sales was “it’s a lot of work – social selling is for small businesses” and it was clear marketing wanted to control it.

I was fighting a losing battle, but I pushed the decision up a level and got it through.

We piloted with a small group of reps who were enthusiastic. Social Selling is a totally different skill-set from classic sales. There is auditory or visual feedback and it’s trickier to engage prospects.

Typically, it takes a sales rep 90-days to adapt from a cold calling environment to a digital or social environment. You find that their first instinct is to try and attempt a cold call via email or LinkedIn. That doesn’t work. You also find that new methods need massive management support, otherwise sales teams will not take a new initiative seriously.

So, in 3 months of piloting the new method, we lost 3 members of the group.

Regardless, we closed 11 new clients – deals done – annual value £850k.

We had proposals in for 3 more worth £273k.

Following this, the client extended the pilot and increased the participants back to 15.

They closed – deals done £11m of business.

Why so much resistance to social selling?

Let’s be honest for a moment, cold calling can feel productive. If you spend 5 hours a day dialling, each call feels like real effort and work. There is a sense of achievement from making 80 calls a day, even if you don’t speak to anyone. There is a feeling of working hard for a deal. That’s why we feel good after getting a bite from a call.

Pre-pandemic, a rep would have to call a prospect 8 times before they could reach them. Now with remote work, no DDIs and mobile phone filtering, it’s more like 18 calls.

What does this have to do with social selling?

Each one of those calls is a tick box. A task which has been done.

Engaging with prospects on LinkedIn doesn’t have that same feeling.

It also doesn’t feel like it is contributing to the sales process.

But there is the mistake.

How we feel about something versus the impact it has.

If I’m trying to reach a C-level decision maker, whichever way I approach them, I’m going to have multiple attempts. It might be 4-5 emails or 8-10 calls.

It’s unlikely to be successful in getting a sales conversation on the first attempt.

The ONLY way I get a sales conversation on the first attempt is with prospects where I have already met or had a common point of reference or contact.

Then I can usually book a meeting on the first try.

Now, suddenly social selling makes sense right?

We build a common point of reference, we meet them digitally before we try to line up that call.

Social Selling is not about ‘soft selling’ it’s a relationship building exercise to improve the qualitative numbers game of a sales team.

Cold email isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t a patch on a hybrid process done by a sales person, who can tailor the message, build the bridges and open a door for opportunities.

In 2023, cold email automation will get more popular.

As a result, that numbers game will have to step up to another level.

Or you go a different way….


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