Neil Patel

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Here’s Why Your Cold Outreach ROI Sucks (And How to Fix It)


Fewer than 24% of cold-outreach emails get opened.

That means that more than 75% of your cold-outreach emails aren’t actually seen by real people.

So your click-through rates or response rates are likely around the 2-3% mark.

Honestly, that’s terrible.

That’s not a knock on you! That’s the reality for most marketers.

Our customers are already fending off hundreds of emails each day. It’s incredibly tough to break through.

You don’t have time to spin your wheels. You can’t keep plugging away at something that’s not working.

If you want to drive sales or higher response rates, you can’t stick to the same old strategy.

Cold outreach is often seen as a mass-produced process. Most people are OK with losing 97% or more of their leads.

But why? Why on earth would you spend the time collecting leads just to lose them because “that’s how it goes?”

You shouldn’t!

Most cold-outreach ROI sucks. But thankfully, there are multiple ways to increase your success rate.

Today, I’m going to show you how to use personalization, concision, and communicating value without pushing benefits to drive better results.

And that’s just a few of the ways you can be more successful with cold outreach.

So here’s why your cold outreach ROI probably sucks right now and how to fix it.

Why most cold outreach sucks (and how to fix it)

The truth is that cold outreach isn’t dead.

And I don’t think it will be anytime soon, either.

In fact, it works very well if you know what you’re doing.

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Email still can deliver the highest ROI for marketers because it takes less time and effort.

It is the best way to scale your efforts. Technology allows you to customize, personalize, segment, and automate your list with just a few clicks.

Unfortunately, most marketers are doing it wrong.

Cold outreach almost always sucks because it’s too generic. And it’s also excruciatingly boring.

Here’s a perfect example. You tell me if you’d give someone a minute of your precious time if this hit your inbox:

Dear ((name)),

Can I take 15 minutes of your time to tell you about ((my product))?

I think it would help you ___ and ___.

If not, is there anyone else I can speak to?


Boring Marketer

I can almost guarantee you that you wouldn’t respond.

Why? Because nobody needs that product. They don’t care about it.

It seems like they don’t care enough about you, either.

That lifeless, stock-style template doesn’t try to help you at all. It only sets up their own selfish reasons for contacting you.

The first trick is to make people care — if you want them to open your cold emails, that is.

Because email beats social for customer acquisition every day of the week. And you can’t afford to fail.

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There’s no room for error here. You can’t afford to lose people with your generic emails.

Automating your emails dilutes the message. You risk turning people off before you ever get a chance to turn them on. Marketing-wise, of course.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes you should avoid if you want to improve your cold outreach ROI.

Mistake #1. You’re not being sincere

I get tons of cold-outreach emails every day.

I answer over 400 emails a day. So there are at least a dozen cold ones in there somewhere.

Many times, they’re trying to reach out about Quick Sprout, Kissmetrics, Crazy Egg, or my other entrepreneurial efforts.

For example, every day I get messages that start off like this:

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It’s become one of the most popular outreach strategies that don’t work.

It’s not sincere.

Do you actually use Kissmetrics? Are you signed up? Do you interact with the blog? Are you on the email list?

I can verify the answers to most of these questions in about 30 seconds.

And the majority of the time, the answers are all no.

Then, I even feel lied to! It seems disingenuous, and now my feelings are hurt.

It feels like someone is just using a deceitful tactic to cheat their way to the top.

Here’s another email you probably get all the time:

I loved your post on XX, mine is similar! Wanna mention it on your site?

C’mon, seriously? Everyone knows you shouldn’t ask for something without providing value first.

Instead, be sincere! Or better yet, see how you can help me first.

Then I’ll be much more inclined to help you.

If you don’t use a prospect’s tools or services or stay up-to-date with their blog, don’t claim to.

If you are the only one getting value, rework the pitch.

Try something like this instead:

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First, it’s short and to the point.

I can’t stress this enough: Be concise! Busy people answer hundreds of emails each day.

Second, it doesn’t beg the recipient to give you something. They’re not even asking for anything from me!

Instead, it shoots for sincere and personalized. It strays from the typical cold-email strategy.

And that’s why it’s more likely to work.

Never ask for something in the first email. And never show that you’re only emailing to get something without giving anything in return!

Try out this template from Brian Dean of Backlinko:

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Notice that this example comes off as sincere. It doesn’t ask the recipient for something in exchange for nothing.

Instead, it shows sincerity by discussing a previous article and making a case study out of it.

Then it seals the deal by simply asking if the receiver wants “a heads up” when it’s published, rather than asking for a link.

Or check out this email response I got a while back after sending out a newsletter email for a new blog post:

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Now that’s sincerity! He’s actually subscribed to my email list and actively uses one of my products.

Then he tells me about his latest project that involves converting my infographics into video format. He’s helping me!

And again, he doesn’t ask me for anything except a few seconds of my time to check out the video.

Sincerity wins the day with cold outreach.

Mistake #2. Your emails aren’t personalized

Another big mistake I see in cold-outreach emails is a lack of personalization.

It sounds cliché and ‘marketing speak-esque’ (yes, I just made that up), but it’s true.

Templated emails are always popping up in my inbox. And I bet you’re sick of them, too.

You can spot them in two seconds.

They’re all mass-produced. So they’re meant to take as little time as possible.

While that can work and might get you a 3% click-through rate or response rate, it’s a waste of time.

Why settle for 3%? You can do better.

The typical, non-personalized templates usually look like this:

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And we’ve all become accustomed to it.

It’s almost like banner blindness.

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People see so many ads today that they often ignore them completely. It’s like they’re not even there!

They don’t even register in our brains anymore.

Just look at the reasons why people are starting to block online ads more:

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Some of those reasons are exactly why most people ignore non-personalized cold-outreach emails.

They’re annoying. They’re only interrupting your daily email routine.

Why do you think Gmail added spam filters and started segmenting our inboxes?

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Because people got sick of the mass emails!

They got tired of getting emails meant to blast out to a list of thousands rather than taking the time to care about them as individuals.

And I’m not making this “personalization” stuff up. Check out these facts if you don’t believe me.

Personalized emails improve CTR by an average of 14%. They increase conversions on average by 10%.

That’s average. It’s not a one-time study or the best of the best. The average across the board!

Emails with personalized subject lines get 26% higher open rates on average, too.

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Even the worst emails, like promotional emails about stuff we don’t care about, benefit from higher open and click rates with personalization.

So here are a few ways to step up your personalization and see better returns ASAP.

Go beyond “((First)) ((last))” filters to appear more personalized.

The typical non-personalized email usually just contains inserts for names of the prospect and their company.

But with most email services like MailChimp or Gmass, you can customize almost anything.

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They have custom fields, for example. So you can select your own value to add for each new field.

Your options are nearly limitless!

You can get creative and personalize your emails on a large-scale campaign.

It doesn’t have to take you an hour to personalize emails for every single prospect.

Most email services will allow you to customize the inserts.

Try something like this for your next campaign:

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Use templates to reduce the amount of legwork while still remaining sincere.

The key here is not to lie. Don’t just “template out” blog post titles and tips if you didn’t read the post or implement the action item.

The best part of this strategy is being able to personalize emails while still sending them in batches with your favorite outreach tool.

Here’s what your email will look like:

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And when it’s all filled in, the recipient will get a perfectly-crafted, personalized email despite being sent in large quantities:

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Personalization is crucial. It drives higher open and click-through rates and increases your return on investment.

You’ve just got to get creative with it.

Speaking of creativity, let’s take a look at the next common mistake I see.

Mistake #3. Your emails lack creativity

So you want to reach more prospects? Do you want to land that high-ticket client?

You can’t afford to slip into obscurity. You can’t drift off into the oblivion with the rest of the boring emails.

I have a huge infographic-style contact page on QuickSprout. It pretty much summarizes this topic.

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I get a huge number of emails every day. The weekly totals are almost driving me insane.

I’d be willing to bet you and your prospects for cold outreach feel the same.

There are too many emails that take up too much time. All work and no play make Neil a sad boy!

If you want to stand out, you’ll need to get creative with it.

Start by using subject lines to draw people in. The subject line is the biggest factor that determines whether someone’s opening your email or not.

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On top of that, shorter subject lines get better open rates. Remember? Keep it short. Get to the point ASAP.

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Now, you’re tasked with the impossible.

You have to craft the most creative, click-inducing subject line of your life in 30 or fewer characters.

But it’s entirely possible.

Just look at this incredible subject line:

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It’s creative and captures your interest immediately.

It practically forces you to click the email and see what’s going on.

One of my favorite examples comes from Kyle at Proposify. He got a cold-outreach email pitching him a SaaS product:

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This is probably one of the most creative and personalized emails I’ve ever seen.

It’s creative because it shows the tool demoing the prospect’s actual website.

It hits the nail on the head when it comes to creativity and personalizing the recipient’s experience.

But we were talking about subject lines. Because without them, your creative email never gets seen.

So what was the seriously creative subject line to top off that email?

“Magic Goggles”

The product pitched to Kyle is about understanding customer experiences.

So the idea was that you can ‘snoop’ or ‘spy’ on the way people interact on a website.

The subject line is extremely out of the ordinary. But it still fits the description of the content of the email. Perfect.

If you want to stand out, you have to get creative.

One of my favorite ways to enhance creativity in email outreach is using SubjectLine.

It’s a free tool that can help you grade your subject lines before you send them!

To get started, just head to and type in your potential subject:

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I decided to test the subject line “Woah, That’s Epic”:

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It will also instantly give you some actionable insights on how to improve the subject line.

For example, it told me to create more urgency. My creative subject line was too creative and didn’t drive enough urgency to click.

After all, nobody really needs your stuff. Urgency creates that “reason why” inside the prospect’s mind.

It gets them to notice and click.

Got the subject line down?

Now it’s time to work on improving the body of the email.

Step up the creativity of your email content by throwing in custom content like this email HubSpot got:

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The content was extremely creative. It was also a personalized demo for HubSpot.

Instead of the same old email template, Bryan used creativity to develop a demo that would drive interaction through the roof.

So what’s the catch in this case? These examples take a lot of time and energy!

You can’t just copy and paste the same message to a thousand people.

The best cold-outreach attempts stand out because the person sending them went above and beyond the standard norm.

They’re not trying to trick or deceive. They’re offering up real value. They’re trying to help you first before ever asking for anything in return.

What’s the best part about this process?

Anyone can do it!

None of these examples were that special. None required a huge time investment.

It all just comes down to how badly you want it.

Cold email is about effort. You don’t have to pay anything out of pocket.

But it does require ingenuity and persistence.


Fewer than 25% of cold-outreach emails are opened.

And just a few of those people will ever respond or click on anything.

That’s not good news for marketers.

You can’t afford to spend months collecting emails from expensive lead-generation campaigns to lose 97% of them.

Those numbers are absolutely terrible. The ROI on your time is abysmal, to be honest.

I think we seriously need to rethink how we conduct our cold-email outreach.

Instead of just accepting the “fact” that 97% of people won’t respond or click, we should be taking that as a sign that we’re doing something wrong.

That’s ok! Because the first step is always acceptance.

We’re clearly not innovating.

We can’t be happy with the same bad results. So we should stop blindly following the same bad tactics.

We should be moving forward. We should be finding new ways to increase our ROI from cold-email outreach.

Your ROI is being compromised for a few reasons.

You’re not being sincere. You’re making up stuff to extract useful things from people.

And nobody likes that!

Or you could be lacking personalization and creativity. You’re spending almost no time on the outreach, yet expecting to get insane results.

It just won’t happen!

Spend a little more time on your next outreach campaign to perfect your personalization and master a creative pitch.

It will absolutely require more time to craft. But the results will be worth it.

What’s the best tip you’ve seen get the most responses in your cold-outreach efforts?

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