Setting the Scene
Outbound sales is a living, breathing process. It is unlikely that there will ever be a time when you can just sit back and admire your work. In order to keep up with changing customer demand, emerging technologies, and potential blockers to your success, you need to constantly revisit, analyze, and improve your process.
At Apollo, we’ve adopted the ABE mantra, “Always Be Experimenting.” And while this is a somewhat tired and overwrought trope, it has persisted for so long because there is merit to this method. There are a number of key factors that you should keep in mind as you experiment and revise your approach, some of which include adjusting techniques, confirming the validity of your metrics, avoiding SPAM filters, and choosing the right approach for your business.
The sections below provide more context about some additional strategies you can take to improve your outbound sales process.
ABE: Always Be Experimenting
Sticking with the same outbound strategy for a prolonged period of time is likely to yield diminishing returns. Customer needs and demands change frequently and you need to remain agile to stay ahead of the curve. Here are a few best practices you should consider as you experiment with your outbound sales strategy:
- Test a different combination of targets/segments and messaging every day with a sample size of about 200 contacts.
- Check your metrics/analytics every day.
- If your Open Rate is less than 30%-40%, you may have a problem with your targets or email subject lines.
- If your Interested Rate is less than 0.5%, you may have an issue with your targets or your email messaging.
- Open Rate and Interested Rate are most important to consider when you are looking for incremental improvement
- Tweak your campaign with different messaging as needed or run a new campaign with different targeting and messaging to compare the outcomes.
- Utilize Apollo’s robust Reporting and Dashboards so you can view all of the important information for your Sequences at a glance.
- The Business Performance Overview dashboard comes pre-built with Apollo and is a great starting point.
Ultimately, testing new things every day helps you to learn about your customer base and incrementally improve your overall analytics/data system.
Avoid Getting SPAM Blocked
There is no magic bullet for avoiding SPAM blockers entirely, but there are a few different tactics you can employ to help limit their impact on your outbound email campaigns. If you notice that your email Open Rate has dropped to 10% or lower, SPAM filters are likely blocking your messages before they even reach a contact’s inbox.
Please note, the tips and guidelines below are only meant to serve as best practices and can in no way guarantee that you will eliminate all instances of SPAM blocked emails. SPAM filtering is user-specific—if someone marks an email as spam, their email service provider's spam filtering will update itself to catch similar emails in the future. Two people can receive the same email and encounter different filtering behavior.
The following list provides some additional considerations for email body content:
- Remove Links from the Body of Your Email: SPAM filters look for links, especially in first-contact emails. They also scan your signature for links as well. Make sure you've removed links from your signature as well as in the body of your emails.
- Remove Images from the Body of Your Email: Images or attachments, especially in first-contact emails, can activate SPAM blockers and cause bounces. Remove these assets and stick to text. Save your images and attachments for Step 3 or later in your sequence once you've sent a few other emails. As with links, even images in your signature can cause issues.
- Don't Apply Special Formatting to Your Text: Simply put, SPAM blockers scan for formatted text. Avoid using different colors, fonts, bolding, italicization, and underlining.
- Keep Your Paragraphs Concise: Lengthy content can activate SPAM blockers or even cause bounces. Keep your wording simple and to the point.
- Avoid Words that Trigger SPAM Filters: SPAM filters have evolved considerably in the past few years, and as such, there isn't a shortlist of words to avoid. In general, try to communicate in a professional, personable way and avoid words and phrases that sound suspicious, urgent, or needy. This HubSpot article provides a comprehensive list of words or phrases that you should avoid. As a best practice, ask yourself if the email you intend to send is one you would want to receive yourself.
- A/B Test Your Messaging: Always test out your messaging to find what results in the highest engagement. You can A/B test in Apollo to try multiple versions of a similar message. If you find one version is blocked at a higher rate, you can look at the differences in your messaging to try to understand the cause.
- Include an Unsubscribe Link in Your Email Signature: Apollo allows you to use whatever text/phrase you'd prefer in an opt-out link and automatically adds the link with your signature on all of the emails you send through the platform. Research shows that recipients are far more likely to use an unsubscribe link instead of marking your emails as SPAM. Marking your emails as SPAM can affect your overall sending reputation and is, therefore, a much worse outcome.
- Deactivate Click Tracking: Click tracking manipulates links in emails, which SPAM filters can sometimes detect. Disable this feature if you're having issues by deactivating it in each user's profile. For additional information, please see the "Click Tracking in Apollo" article.
- Deactivate Open Tracking: The same technology for open and click tracking is usually very sensitive to filters in email servers. This makes them more susceptible to SPAM blockers. If this is something you've struggled with and you have followed the instructions provided above as best practice, you may want to consider disabling open tracking. For additional information, please see the "Open Tracking Overview" article.
Google has a great guide available on their Gmail Help site called “Prevent mail to Gmail users from being blocked or sent to spam." Consider reviewing this if you plan to email Gmail users. We also have extensive technical documentation on the Knowledge Base to provide you with details and techniques to avoid email servers flagging your emails as SPAM or harming your domain reputation.
- Avoid SPAM Filters
- Set Up Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) to Authenticate Your Emails
- Set Up Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) to Authenticate Your Email
- Set Up Sender Policy Framework (SPF) Records to Authorize Your Emails
Warm Up Your Domain
There may be many different reasons why you move to a new email domain, but all of them require you to build credibility and “warm-up” your domain before you can send out emails en masse.
Email delivery services such as Google and Microsoft always monitor the rate at which their users send messages in order to prevent spammers from abusing their services. While they have traditionally only looked at the number of messages their users send per hour and per day, many services are now looking at how many messages users send per minute as well.
For example, Google Suite's hard limits are 400 emails per hour and 2000 emails per rolling 24-hour period. This means they never allow any of their users to send more than that number of emails via an individual mailbox.
Domain warming helps you to establish a sending reputation for a domain that is brand new or has not been used to send email in a long time. This process requires you to start with a lower volume of sent emails and gradually increase that volume at each interval (whether that’s a day or a week). To do this, send a reasonable volume of emails with a low amount of bounces and SPAM complaints. Over time, you will develop a better reputation with your email service provider and you can send a higher volume of emails without having your account rate limited or suspended.
If you are rate limited or suspended by your email service provider, it means that you've sent too much bad content or too many emails per day or hour. You should immediately lower your sending limits in Apollo, edit the content of any emails you're sending that received a high rate of SPAM complaints, and follow any further instructions given by your email provider to get back in their good graces.
Use Alternate Domains and Employ White Labeling
Setting up multiple domains for your outbound sales outreach helps to reduce the load on your primary mail server. It also helps to preserve your domain reputation when you need to send a higher volume of emails than your ESP allows.
For example, Apollo may send emails from one of the following servers for the same outreach campaign:
White labeling your domain improves your deliverability and Email Service Provider (ESP) reputation. A Sender Policy Framework (SPF) lets you specify the mail servers that you authorize to send emails for your domain and helps to prevent against domain spoofing. This helps your recipients (and more specifically, their ESP) identify potential phishing or fraudulent messages that appear to come from your company. DomainKeys Identified Mail Standard (DKIM) is a similar security measure that helps to prevent spammers from impersonating your domain when they reach out to your prospects. You can configure DKIM in your domain provider’s DNS settings to sign your emails with a unique signature that allows a recipient’s server to verify that the sender is really you and that the message was not altered after you sent it.
The information you need to configure SPF, DMARC, and DKIM is specifically related to your own domain and is not in any way related to Apollo. Apollo doesn't have email servers so all emails are sent directly from your email provider. Instructions to configure SPF, DMARC, and DKIM vary by domain provider. You should contact your domain provider directly to obtain this information and receive any support that you need.
Start With A Lower Daily Volume and Gradually Ramp Up
Sending limits for emails may seem counter-intuitive to your goals, but the limits set in Apollo help protect your email accounts. Whether you send through Apollo or not, your email provider limits the number of emails that you can send if they suspect you of spamming large amounts of people that you don't know.
Please note, the daily/hourly limits monitored by your email provider include all emails from the mailbox and through other connected tools (like Apollo). If you send a high volume of emails from your email client, you should lower your limits in Apollo.
Whenever you start a new campaign that includes any kind of A/B testing, you should start with a lower daily volume. After you have data to support your targeting and messaging (typically, Interested Rates that are higher than 0.5% and ideally greater than 1%), you can consider increasing email volume and including more contacts in your outreach.
Generally, in the Apollo platform, we advise that you stick with the default mailbox setting of 400 emails per day and 100 per hour. If you want to increase the sending limits, you should do so gradually.
- Daily Limit: Increase by no more than 100 each week until you reach 1500 emails/day. You should never go beyond this limit if you're linked to a regular business mailbox.
- Hourly Limit: Increase by no more than 20 each week until you reach 400 emails/hour. Never go beyond 400 emails/hour if you're linked to a regular business mailbox.
Use Custom Tracking Subdomains
A Tracking Domain is a secondary (or sub) domain name related to your original domain. It allows Apollo to redirect a tracking pixel added to emails to track opens, clicks, and unsubscribes.
Tracking pixels are often flagged as SPAM. To improve the delivery rates for the emails you send through Apollo, you can set up a custom Tracking Subdomain. This can be a somewhat technical process and is best undertaken by someone like an IT professional who understands the intricacies involved in the process.
For more details about how to set up a tracking subdomain, check out our “Set Up a Custom Tracking Subdomain (URL)” article.
Integrate Third-Party Tools Like Sendgrid/Mailgun
Tools like Sendgrid and Mailgun allow you to send a higher volume of emails that can bypass the regular sending limits imposed by major email providers. These kinds of tools help to take some of the pressure off of you when you are considering domain reputation and are warming up your domain.
More specifically, SendGrid allows you to send up to 6000 emails per day and 500 emails per hour. If you plan to send a high volume of emails each day, a tool like Sendgrid or Mailgun is extremely beneficial.
For more information about Apollo’s integration with Sendgrid, check out the “Set Up Apollo's Integration with SendGrid” article.
High Volume vs. High Touch
Different types of customers require different levels of interaction to close deals. It’s important to consider the amount of manual effort you will need to take with each customer. You should then weigh that level of involvement and time against the contract value of a particular customer.
A few of the approaches you may consider, in order of lowest touch to highest touch:
- Automatic emails only
- Automatic and manual emails
- Automatic and manual emails and phone calls
Before you decide on the right approach for your company, consider all of the factors below as you design your outbound sales process.
Consider the Size of Your ICP Segment
Sales teams can vary just as much as individual customers. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. Ultimately, you should take a look at size and bandwidth and choose the approach that makes the most sense for your team.
It goes without saying that higher touch often yields better results because you can personalize each touchpoint for each contact to best suit their needs. However, this may not always be possible, especially when you’re working with hundreds or thousands of potential contacts in a segment.
As a rule of thumb, if you’ve got a large segment with hundreds of prospects, using a more automated approach may work best for you—especially if you have a small team with limited resources. If your segment ends up on the smaller side (fewer than 100 contacts), as time permits, you may want to incorporate more manual emails into your strategy. People respond better to things that feel like they are worth their time. Highly individualized messaging can go a long way in bridging this gap.
Consider Your Deal Economics
The size and popularity of a prospect account may ultimately play into your outbound sales strategy. Typically, larger businesses mean higher potential contract values, but more manual engagement.
Does your business have a particular strategy for the type of companies you go after? Are you more focused on smaller, faster to close deals or does your business rely on large scale deals that may take months to close?
If you’re primarily focused on closing larger deals, you can expect more manual, hands on interactions with your prospects, while smaller deals may allow for more automization. You may want to send manual emails or follow up with phone calls for higher-value deals and other scenarios that may necessitate it.
Consider How “Hard to Get” Your Audience May Be
Fortune 500 companies (and other large scale companies) are very much a part of the public sphere and receive a large influx of marketing emails every single day. A SVP-Level contact at a Fortunate 500 company is a lot less likely to open (and even less likely to respond) a mass email that is not entirely tailored to their pain points and needs.
On the flip side, a manager at an SMB is unlikely to receive as many marketing emails. They may also be more likely to open one that is not entirely tailored to their pain points and needs.
Keep in mind, you might need to evolve your strategy as you go. Analyze your results on a daily basis to find new patterns to improve your outreach. These are not hard and fast rules. You will need to observe the specific trends of your business to make the most informed decision for your sales strategy.
Wrap It Up
Now that you’ve learned lots of techniques to shape your outbound sales strategy, it’s time to get out there and start building your own from the ground up. Remember, this is always going to be a work in progress—techniques that worked for you last year, last month, or even yesterday may not work tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate and restrategize every step of the way. Data is your friend. Keeping a close eye on it will help you to stay ahead of the trends and shifts in your customer segments.