In the startups Reddit I was reading a question I’ve heard (variations of) many times before. “Cold-emailing potential customers is pretty much free; shouldn’t we be doing this? And what’s the best way to?”

You can check out the thread (and my short-answer, and some other great comments) here!

Should you send cold emails?

Short answer? No.

Email providers (gmail, aol, yahoo, hotmail, etc.) track companies that are sending emails and assigning a sender reputation score to them. If you have a good sender reputation, whenever you send emails to one of their users, there is a good chance they will place you in the customers inbox. If you have a poor sender reputation, there is a much lower chance that your email will be placed in their inbox. Your email may go straight to junk, or in some circumstances get rejected entirely and not even make it to the junk/spam folder.

Email providers can tell if its the first time you’ve emailed someone before, or if you’ve been emailing them for a while.

When one of these providers sees lots of emails coming out from a your company with nearly identical content and sending it to people you’ve never emailed before, they’re going to lower your sender reputation score.

The more often you practice cold emailing, the lower your sender reputation score will go, and the less likely you are to be able to actually reach prospects.

So yes– cold emailing people from purchased/leased lists may get you an occasional sale at the beginning, its a short-term win with a very hefty long-term price to pay. You are ruining your company’s ability to message much better prospects down the road who have a much better chance to buy.

While cold emailing may seem like a good idea for the small handful of quick wins…

When you go to send to people who probably would buy…



What should you do instead?

It’s important to have the ability to push a button and generate leads, especially in the early stages of a company where building momentum is essential.

Building an email list of people who have opted in to your hearing from your brand has long-term value and can contribute quick wins as well; and is a much better choice than cold emailing.

While the specifics on how to do this depends a lot on what type of business you have, consider some of the following:

  • Paid social media advertising directing customers to a “give us your email and we’ll provide you with a hefty discount” landing page.
  • Build out a referral program for existing or past customers, rewarding them, and their referral, after the first purchase. Make capturing the referred person’s contact information part of the process.
  • Depending on your business type, there may be some kind of lead-generation service available; where you hire professionals to pitch your product to potential customer, and pass along their contact information. If you sell a low-cost item, this probably isn’t a good option, but if you’re average profit from each customer is in the $1000+ range this may be a way to go.
  • Print and direct mail advertising campaigns. While the cost per contact is much higher than email, depending on who your potential customer is, there may be lists available of addresses and prospects who would be a good fit.

If you insist on cold emailing…

If you’ve read some of the above comments, and you’re still thinking cold emailing is a good choice, there are some ideas to maximize the value and minimize the long-term damage to your brand’s sender reputation.

  • Be hyper vigilant to remove complaints and bounces: Most email tools will monitor bounces (when an email server doesn’t allow your email through to its intended recipient) as well as spam complaints. Be extremely careful to never email someone who has bounced (both soft and hard bounced) in the past. Keep them in your database just flagged as unsubscribed.
  • Remove people from your cold emailing list if they go more than 2-3 messages without opening up an email, or more than 6-8 without clicking on an email. Some email tools may offer the ability to set these thresholds automatically, or it may require a little work to figure out how to do this.
  • Keep purchased emails separate from customers and prospects who have willingly given you their email. You want to be able to treat the two lists separately, both from an email behavior perspective, as well as with more rigorous cleaning rules
  • Throttle email sends to purchase lists. If there are 5,000 people on a purchased list, instead of sending 5,000 messages all at once, break the list up into groups of 1,000 or less, and stagger the sends.

Cold emailing is rarely a good idea, and, if done at all should be kept to a minimum. Over time, email is often one of businesses most profitable and valuable channels of communicating with past and future customers, and setting yourself up for long-term success is more valuable than a few quick wins usually.


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