What I learned from Sam Parr about cold outreach

Sam Parr isn’t that big of a deal. But still, when he shared his screen it showed almost a thousand unread emails and hundreds of Twitter notifications. So this is what you’re competing with if you want to connect with people like him. It’s a noisy world out there.

Hence all three steps in the cold outreach process are essential:

  • You have make sure that people recognize your face when they open your message.
  • You have to package your message the right way.
  • You have to follow up.

This is what Sam talks about in his “Cold Email Lecture”. Here’s what I learned.

Outreach as a skill

It’s one of these things that seems completely obvious once you’ve grasped it: Yes, cold outreach is a skill that you can learn and it’s probably one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

Sam attributes much of his success to his cold outreach skills.

There’s no reason why I would doubt that. In the four months since I started my learning experiment, I’ve already experiences several times what big of a different a small outreach attempt can make.

For example, I tagged Andrew Wilkinson in one of my tweets, he retweeted it, and this led to at least 20+ sales of Product Explorer.

We live in incredibly times. You can reach any person - the biggest superstars, the wealthiest CEOs, the smartest thinkers - even if you’re a nobody.

And often, all it takes is a short email. Or two. Or three. Or Four. (More on that later.)

This was unthinkable in the past and probably will again be impossible in the future. But right now, it’s possible and you’re missing out if you’re not using it to your advantage.

“Stalking” as a strategy

Effective cold outreach begins long before you start typing the message. At the very least scan the social media profiles of the person you want to contact.

What is she currently interesting in? Is there something she complaims about you could potentially help with?

Additionally, like at least a few of her tweets (or Facebook post, LinkedIn posts, etc.) and possibly write a comment, if you can think of one that adds value.

This serves two purposes:

  • You collect information that will allow you to write a personalized message.
  • You’ll not appear as a total stranger since they’ve seen your face before. The key to make this strategy work is to use the same profile picture across all social platforms and also in your email account.

The person you’re reaching out probably won’t be able to remember where exactly they’ve seen your face before. But this doesn’t matter since all that counts is that you appear as a somewhat familiar face.

Think about it this way. If a total stranger approaches you on the street and asks for something, chances are high that you’ll ignore him. (At least this is the case here in Germany, where I live.) But if you’ve seen the person before, say, in you university classes, you’ll probably take the time to help him.

“It’s much harder to turn down someone you know than a stranger.”

Ideally, you engage with their content for a while before you reach out via email. But even if you want to write an email right now, it makes sense to spend at least five minutes on their social media profiles.

The modern networking funnel typically works like this:

  • You start liking someone’s content.
  • You start writing comments.
  • They start replying.
  • They start commenting on your content.
  • You reach out via email.
  • You connect via video chat.
  • You get invited to their house for breakfast. Or at least that’s what happened after Sam reached out to Lance Armstrong.

Always be knocking on doors

Cold outreach works best if you don’t treat it as a something that you do for a few hours each week but as a mode of being. It has to become second nature. This, of course, directly ties into what we’ve just discussed.

Start by making a conscious effort to knock on people’s virtual doors every single day. (But please, don’t knock on the same door every day. Use some common sense.)

For example, when Sam signs up for a new service, he sends the CEO a short DM saying: “hey - i just signed up for COMPANY NAME”. That’s it. Maybe the CEO will reply with an emoji. Maybe she won’t reply at all. But all that counts is that she’s seen his face so that he’ll not appear as a total stranger when he sends an email.

When he found an error on Tim Ferriss’ website, he immediately sent him an email that said: “hey, just so you know there’s a small error on your website. Everything else looks good.” Or when someone he wants to connect with mentions a question in his email newsletter, he takes the time to write a short but thoughtful reply.

He’s not asking for anything in these kind of replies. He’s just trying to be helpful wherever he can.

Analytical people like me always want a plan, a step-by-step list. But cold outreach works best if it’s as organic as possible. Hence, you have to learn to spot opportunities to informally get in contact with people before you connect with them in more serious ways.

At least for an introvert like me this is hard work. But it’s slowly getting better and I’m actually starting to have fun.

Crafting outreach messages the right way

Sam recommends the AIDA formula for outreach messages. It’s an idea that’s commonly used in the copywriting world to craft sales letters. But since cold outreach messages are also a form of sales letter, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work here as well.

AIDA stands for:

  • Attention. The first thing you have to do is grap the person’s attention. People are busy and it’s much easier to delete your message than to read it. Hence you have to make sure that the subject line and the first sentence grap the reader’s attention. The best message is useless if it never gets opened.

    Sam recommends to reference something from their social accounts in the subject line, to make sure you grab their attention. For example, when someone tweets “I hate salesforce” he quotes the tweet in the subject line and comments with something like “- I have the answer for you”.

    There are also hacks like using an empty subject line or starting the subject line with “RE:” to make it look like the message is a reply email. (Sam uses the empty subject line trick all the time but doesn’t recommend the “RE:” trick, even though it’s very effective.)

  • Interest. Immediately after grabbing someone’s attention, you have to make sure they keep on reading. You do this by providing something interesting like, for example, an interesting fact or use-case.

    To keep the reader interested, Sam recommends to use bullet points that list interesting facts and make it cristal clear how they can benefit.

    For example, when he’s inviting someone to his conference, he mentions:

    • there are 500 participants,
    • they can use the conference to advertise open roles at their company,
    • they will get a lot of publicity because important magazines have written about the conference in the past,
    • and it’ll be fun since there will be a dinner where they’ll be able to connect with important people.

      But he’s not mentioning how much they would help him or the people at the conference. In Sam’s words:

“It’s only about how my offering will help them.”

  • Desire. The next step is to gently steer the reader’s attention towards the offer you’re about to make. You have to make sure that when you make the offer, they’ll actually want it. Hence, make them desire what you’re about to offer by describing or showing how their life is much better or how the task at hand is much simpler with your product.

    Write something like: “On average our users are able to write emails 7.2 times faster with our app”. In this part of the email, it’s also smart to do some name-dropping. If anyone the person you’re reaching out to is using your tool or service, mention it here.

  • Action. Lastly, you ask for one specific action. Make sure that it stands out in some way, for example, by using a separated paragraph. And make it easy for them to say yes. You don’t want them to think too hard.

    Write something like: “So what do you think … can we count you in?”.

    Sam loves easy commitments. The person just has to say yes and he’ll handle all the rest.

    He recommends to use the PS of the email to make it even easier for the person he’s reaching out to. In the conference example, he would write something like: “PS: we don’t have to worry about topics for another few months. i just want to confirm that you can speak.”

    In fact, Sam points out that the PS is often the most eye catching part of the email. So it makes sense to use it to put in a personal touch (i.e. demonstrate that the email is not automated) or make it easier for them to say yes.

Google for AIDA formula. There are many great examples freely available.

Sam also shared a few general writing tips:

Follow up!

Sam calls the follow up the most important part of the outreach process. When someone doesn’t reply, it does not necessarily mean they’re not interested. Most people are simply too busy and forget your email before they find the time to reply.

He mentions that he often doesn’t reply until he’s received four emails from someone.

“If you see someone on the side of the road holding their thumb out, trying to get a ride because their car broke down, you’re not likely to stop. But if you see someone on the side of the road pushing their car, people are likely to get out and help push. People like people who do stuff.”

And even if the person clearly states that she’s not interested, make sure to stay in touch. Ask for feedback and then show them that you’re making progress. Let them know that you adressed their objection or implemented the feature they asked for. This way you’ll get buy-in. (Also one of Nathan Latka’s favorite tricks.)

Let’s practice

I tried to reach out to Sam after the launch of Product Explorer. After all, it was inspired by a My First Million episode and they have similar database at Trends. He replied briefly but never took a proper look at the project.

Now I’ll try it again, using all the tips he mentioned in the lecture. So the follow-up to this article will be a case-study about how it went.

Here’s a sketch of my sophisticated plan.

Written on November 20, 2020
P.S. I'm now on Twitter too if you'd like to follow my adventures. Alternatively you can enter your email address below and I will send you occasionally a short email whenever I publish something new.