Here are some tips you can apply to both Cold Outreach and Paid Digital Ad Campaigns that may help you get more response. Sean based this info off of projects he is currently working on with clients, as well as discussions with past guests.
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Hello Websites.ca Podcast audience. This is Sean Corbett with Websites.ca Marketing. This month, I’m not going to be joined by any guests. I’m just going to run you through a few strategies that are working really well for me right now, but they have actually been brought up to me and originated with some of our past guests, so you’re still getting the knowledge and the experience of some of these experts. They’re just not going to be on today to tell you about them. Rather, I’m going to sort of report to you what we’ve found out when we’ve worked through some of these strategies.
We’re going to talk about two lead strategies, online lead strategies, that are working right now. I dare say they’d probably work anytime you try them, but they’re something that we’ve been workshopping currently and have been turning out pretty good. So for the first strategy I want to talk about, the easiest way to bring it up is basically to call to mind that Groucho Marx joke, which is essentially, “I don’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” Okay, so let’s keep that in mind for a second. That’s kind of a universal human psychology.
This is also based on a Robert Cialdini principle. He’s that guy that studied the psychology of persuasion that you can further a relationship, especially a new relationship, by asking for a small favor or a favor that’s easily rendered. But you’re positioning it and framing it as asking for a favor. Okay. So this particular strategy applies to cold outreach, that could be over the phone. In the case that I’m going to tell you about, it was over email, cold email.
And this was used for a startup. This startup sells big ticket items. And essentially when they developed their service, there were really only a few thousand potential clients in the entire country that they could give that service to, that would be qualified for that service. Now, this service, it was kind of like, it’s like EnviroTech model. The service is something that, in theory, everyone or anyone in their niche could use, and basically next to nobody was taking advantage of yet.
However, they had tested sending out some cold emails, doing some outreach phone calls, and the response was very low. And so one of their principals came to me. We often work together on figuring these marketing problems out, sometimes just for fun, just to compare notes. And we tried to brainstorm a bunch of what wasn’t working, what could we change to make this cold outreach campaign a little bit more effective? One thing they did have is they knew the contact details of all their decision makers. So it wasn’t like we had to hunt for decision makers. We didn’t have to ask for decision makers. We didn’t have to find out what their contact details were. They list their email and phone numbers online. It’s not perfect. Sometimes the information’s outdated by a few months or something, or if somebody changes jobs. This is not the type of niche where someone runs to the internet to immediately update their information.
But the fact of the matter is they probably could have just taken all those names and put them in an automation if they wanted to get really lazy. And what we were trying to do is brainstorm what issues were they running into? They had such a good offer. And the offer was really good, and it required almost next to nothing from these clients to get started. So what were the issues with people not responding, and how could we tweak this to make it a really effective pitch for the future in case this guy wanted to hire employees to do this, or he wanted to automate it further in the future?
So some of the issues that we brainstormed with this: the problems on these cold outreach emails is that their extremely true claim, a claim they could back up 100% of the time, it just sounded too unbelievable. It sounded too good based on the existing mindset of their customer, even though it was completely true and they could totally do it. The other thing was the decision maker didn’t see this issue as a direct pain that was hurting them on a daily basis that had to be solved as soon as possible. And then another reason that we brainstormed that turned out to be true is that also the message, as you know, a cold email, they can be very easy to ignore for a variety of reasons. You just ignore the email because maybe it seemed too much like a pitch. Maybe it didn’t feel urgent for whatever reason, that ties back into that pain point I just said.
Here’s one thing that stops people from responding to your cold emails in that the email requires some thought. So it’s not such a no-brainer to say yes or no, or here’s the answer to respond. They go, oh, okay, that’s interesting, but I have to think about it for a day or two, or whatever. I have to think about it for one minute. And then they say delay’s the death of the sale, and the email gets binned and never responded to.
So with those issues in mind, we discussed two psychological elements to try to work into this campaign, and the elements were introducing hurdles. And then the second element was what kind of ask, how extreme or not was the ask, and was there a clear ask? So in this particular campaign, there really was no need for a hurdle. Like I said before, everybody in the niche was qualified and everybody could benefit from the service.
So one of the things that we talked about is I told this owner of the startup, “Well, you may have to word your first couple of communications in such a way that it seems like there is a hurdle.” Well, I don’t know if we can help you because if you’re doing XYZ, we can, but if you’re doing ABC, we can’t. And the truth of the matter is that nobody was doing ABC, and everybody was doing XYZ. So it’s really just about how you phrase the initial interaction, make it seem like there’s a hurdle. And that of course makes the claim more believable, right? Oh, if you pass my hurdle, then I can help you.
So you’ll see this a lot in sales copy actually, now that I’ve drawn your attention to it, if you weren’t already aware of it. It’s called the if then structure. A lot of sales letters and landing pages online and stuff say, if you are da, da, da qualified person or person who needs this, a person who has this, then we can help solve this thing. So if then. Something to think about.
And then we also discussed lowering the friction of the ask. So initially with their cold email, you start to look at the degree of what the ask is. Asking for a sale off of your first cold contact, obviously that’s going to be the hardest possible thing. Your lowest possible probability is doing that. But even asking for a meeting, asking to give somebody a quote, to hear a pitch, that’s less hard than asking for a sale, that’s less difficult, but it’s still a very high ask if you think about it. Psychologically, it’s a high ask.
So from this early testing phase, from sending out a bunch of these emails, one thing that this startup client learned is that, while the decision makers in these organizations would be making the final decision, and that fell on them only, when they heard certain words, certain key phrases. The clients were municipalities in Canada. So if you said to the decision maker, “Let’s talk about environmental compliance,” or, “Let’s talk about energy monitoring,” well, their first response wasn’t that they need help with that or they’re going to be the ones who make the final decision on that. Their first response is, well, I have a guy or a girl in the chain lower than me who handles those things.
And so you’d think if they got the email they would respond with, “Oh, I don’t handle that. You have to talk to so-and-so.” But almost no one did. I think there were one or two people that responded, and then the rest of them just didn’t respond at all. Or they said, “No, I don’t need help with that,” or whatever. And so we looked at all those responses, and we said, okay, well a couple of these people are passing the buck to somebody lower down the organization. Maybe there’s a clue there.
So we put the two things together, and basically we included a hurdle and a filter that they would all be qualified to meet. And then we phrased the request as a favor. So basically it turned out that the email essentially boiled down to could you let me know who to talk to in your organization about environmental compliance? Or could you do me a favor, in your municipality, who’s the person who handles environmental compliance?
So you can even phrase it as saying could you do me a favor? It seems a bit counterintuitive, and maybe even a bit presumptuous, but somehow it’s a lot less psychologically jarring on people than saying, “Hey, I can do this for you,” or “Hey, could we book a phone call about this?” Because the favor’s such a little ask, and because these people, we discovered, they psychologically want to pass the buck anyway. And it might not even be viewed as passing the buck because they may view it as in their organization, there’s a hierarchy. And so if somebody said to them, I don’t know, “Who handles your website or your IT,” well, they’re not going to say, “Well, I’m the final decision maker, so you can talk to me.” They’re going to say, “Talk to my IT guy first.” We’ll let the IT guy decide if you’re worth talking to, and then I’ll make the final decision if we can use your help.
So it seems obvious in hindsight, but that’s how they solved that problem. And that was really interesting because this much simpler ask, it was much less direct of a pitch. There was no pitch. It was just who can I talk to who handles this? They didn’t even have to get into why they wanted to talk to them. And a lot of these decision makers did not ask. They immediately just passed it on. So they were not asking the decision maker to listen to a pitch. They got this small ask out of the way. But then when the small ask was met most of the time by, “Oh, you have to talk to Bill,” or, “Oh, you have to talk to Susie,” well now they got better compliance from Bill and Susie because they went to Bill and Susie from the decision maker, the person in charge, and say, “Hey, I got your email address, I got your phone number from person in charge. They said I should talk to you.”
Now there’s this much better compliance because it’s coming from an authority figure. Then they would talk to Bill and Susie in this example, and work their way back to the decision maker. And for everybody involved, the relationship progressed from cold to warm. And so by just making these two minor changes to the hurdle or filter, if you will, and to the ask, this has now become their standard opener for their cold emails. Every time they approach a new province, as they have time, they’re just going across Canada, hitting up municipalities in every province.
And this opener so far has become their new control. It beats everything else by quite a bit. I’m sure we could come up with something better, but it was a huge improvement over their past results. And it has consistently allowed them to progress to the next stage in their funnel, in their sales pitch. And then they finally get to give their pitch, and they close most of those pitches. So getting through this phrase for them was one of the hardest issues to be solved, and we solved it just by these little psychological tweaks.
Now, the next strategy I wanted to talk about is basically a way to get more bang for your buck in social media advertising. So paid ads online. And essentially here you want to bring the strength of billboard advertising or bus bench advertising to the digital realm. And the outcome will be that you will be paying less to show your ad to more people. And if you want to do this, if you’re doing social ads, you’re planning on doing social ads, paying for them I mean, you can accomplish this, I’m sorry to say, by doing the opposite of what many ad platforms are asking and what many online gurus may be telling you or teaching you.
So the platforms, the gurus, a lot of people online, not everybody, but it’s a very vocal majority, it’s a powerful narrative, is they’ll tell you to focus on conversions. So that would be leads or sales. And they also warn you that your frequency must not be too high, otherwise you’ll get ad blindness. So to explain really quickly what I mean by those two things I already said, conversions are leads or sales. And so essentially when you start an online ad, you set a goal. And of course everybody’s goal, they’re spending advertising money to make more sales in most cases. So that would be the example of conversions. I want someone to go to my website, I want them to fill out a form. Either they’re putting in their credit card information or they’re putting in their email address or something like that.
And this concept of frequency and avoiding ad blindness, the frequency is how many times an actual individual person sees your same ad. And then they say, oh, if it’s like more than two or three times, then they’ll become so accustomed to seeing your ad online, that they’ll basically scroll by it, and they’ll almost be blind to it. And that’s what they call ad blindness.
Now the strategy I’m going to tell you about, it disregards those things for good reasons. But the strategy works best when you know that you have a message and an offer that works for your ideal targeted client. So having that knowledge, it really just comes from experience either with existing clients where you know why they picked you, they tell you why they picked you, they refer customers to you, and they’re very articulate as to why they are a loyal customer.
And sometimes in the case of social media ads, you can do a lot of organic social posts. So that means you’re doing those posts that don’t cost you any money. You might be doing them every day, or once a week, twice a week, three times a week, whatever. And then you look back at the end of the month, and one post clearly outperforms all the other posts. It gets people reaching out to you, it gets people clicking to your website, it gets people signing up to your email list, whatever the case may be. That message obviously resonates. And a lot of times that’s great evidence of what to use in an ad.
So sometimes if you just want to do this the easy way, you do a whole bunch of posts of all these different angles, all these different pitches, offers, entertainment, show your staff, show your products, talk about the holidays, all the things that people post about online, and see which one actually pops off for you. And then sometimes it’s just a matter of putting some ad dollars behind that because you already have a message that you know is partially converting.
Okay. So let’s start from that position. You have a message, you have an offer, and you know that they’re attractive to your ideal clients. So this is how this social media ad strategy works. Social ad platforms respond in a different way depending on the goal that you choose when you first create the ad campaign. So that’s why I was talking before about leads and sales and stuff, talking about conversions. So goals can range all the way from reach and awareness on the one side, that means just people see your ad, all the way to leads and sales on the other side, which are pretty serious conversions.
So in order of difficulty, let’s say roughly the ad stages could be somebody sees the ad, somebody actually watches or reads the ad, as in they stop scrolling and they spend some time with the ad, someone clicks on the ad, then someone reads or watches what’s on the page where the click led them. The next stage is maybe someone signs up or buys something on the page where the click led them. That would kind of be our highest level. There’s also other goals and engagements and so on, like say somebody likes the ad or they comment on the ad or whatever, but we’re going to ignore those for now. It’s not part of this talk, and honestly, I don’t think most people should worry about those things anyway.
So with all these stages or goals of an ad, I had always felt myself, and I had always read, that the goal of the reach or awareness thing, just to see your ad, was too vague. And that the real value of ads was obviously getting leads or getting sales. Now, unfortunately, what we’ve found is social ad platforms will automatically bid a lot of money for every lead they try to get you. Meaning for every person that sees your ad and then leaves the platform, and then signs up on your website, because there’s ways to track all that, obviously they’re going to consider that action and that person to be very valuable. So they’re going to spend more money trying to find people who act like that.
Now, however, for many, many offers, it’s impossible to convert enough of these leads or get enough of these leads in as quick a time as the platform needs to learn. And I’m not using that word lightly. These social platforms all describe that they go through a learning phase when you start a new campaign. It’s trying to understand who to show your ads to based on the goal you set. Okay? So the way you can think about this is if you set the goal to get the most clicks on your ad, which falls right in the middle of our conversion goals. So seeing the ad is the easiest thing. Buying from the ad is the hardest thing. Clicking on the ad is right in the middle.
You would think, well, if someone clicks on my ad, they’re probably more interested than someone who just read a bit of my ad and scrolled away. You may think that. But a social media platform can’t read the mind of these people. There’s just certain people out there, and it’s growing every week, where clicking on something, it’s like a little dopamine hit. It’s like a video game. They see an ad, they click on it. They see a link, they click on it. They have no intention to buy. They’re never going to buy. But they show Facebook, they show LinkedIn, they show Instagram that they click, click, click, click. Well, if you say, I want clicks, Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn is going to go, “Hey, I know the guy for you. I know the guy who clicks on everything, and that’s what you said you wanted, right? Here you go.” But those clicks don’t necessarily mean they buy.
So with all this in mind do you target by leads? Do you target by clicks? Do you target by reach? What do you do? I went to a friend in the industry who runs a ton of social media ads, and basically he told me a strategy he uses on a really high level, especially when he’s starting new ad campaigns, is he approaches it like a billboard or a bus bench advertising. He actually came from the real estate world where they do a lot of billboard and bus bench advertising. And his attitude was, “You know Sean, if I know I have an attractive message, then I want to show it to the most amount of people. And it’s not up to Google or Facebook or whatever to help me sell those people. I’m just looking for those platforms to show it to the most amount of people.”
And I said, “Okay, well what about this ad frequency and ad blindness if they see it too many times?” He said, “Well, billboard people don’t worry about that. When you advertise with a billboard, you’re hoping that the guy or gal will drive by your billboard every day in the morning to work, every day on the way back from work. Maybe they have to see your billboard 100 times. Maybe they’re not ready on day one when they see your billboard, but suddenly on day 30, they now need whatever it is you’re selling that they didn’t need 30 days ago.” So he said, “It helps to show them even in those 30 days when they weren’t ready to buy because you kind of get in their head as this welcome and frequent guest that’s there all the time. It does psychologically build that relationship.”
So he said, “Don’t worry about how many times your ad shows to people if you can get the cost of showing your ad as low as possible.” So that’s why his strategy was essentially, hey, look, I’m not bidding on sales. Google and Facebook can’t really help me with that. I’m not bidding on clicks, because like we talked about before, some people just like to click. So I’m just going to bid to show the most amount of people. So strategy that all these social platforms will allow you to use, or a goal if you will, for your campaign, is to go by reach or awareness, sometimes they’ll call it. But the technical term usually is CPM. Those are just three letters, CPM.
And what that means is how much does it cost to show your ad 1,000 times? So that means 1,000 impressions. Those impressions could of course be to different people, or it could be to a couple people multiple times, whatever. But just look at it as showing your ad 1,000 times. What’s the least you can pay to show your ad 1,000 times to the most amount of people?
So we took an existing ad that we had for a mutual client, and rather than letting the platform determine the max bid for us, we changed the goal to CPM. But even then we found the ad platform wants to spend as much of our money as possible, which makes sense, right? These ad platforms are not charities. They want to spend as much of your money as possible as fast as possible. So we found that we also had to put a limit on the maximum bid. So we looked at our historical average for this client and these types of ads for that client. And we looked at what the CPM cost us. And we set our new limit just a little bit lower than that. And we’re going to keep slowly lowering it in the coming months and then judging the results. Obviously there’s going to be a point of diminishing returns. If we’re not bidding enough, then probably the platform will show it to less and less people.
But we’ve found that immediately we could start showing our ad that we knew was a good ad because it had a response in the past, we could show it to more people for less money. Because even when you have a good ad that gets response, if you look at the end result, and you’re still paying more to get that response than what the customer’s worth, obviously that’s a losing proposition. So you want to get those ads in the range of at least break even, but obviously profitable if you can.
So just quick caveat before I wrap this up. If you have a very small ticket or low friction item, let’s say it’s like a t-shirt with a trendy slogan or something on it, it’s a $5 shirt or whatever it is, something that’s an impulse buy, people don’t have to think that much, this strategy probably doesn’t work as well. Or if you don’t know what your ideal audience is like we do. We know exactly who we want to target online, and who’s qualified and who’s not?
For instance, one of these clients we’re talking about, they’re qualified just on their job title. So as soon as we can narrow it down by job title, we know 100% of those people are qualified. I want to show 100% of the people my ad, right? You won’t obviously always have that perfect knowledge, so you may have to go through some testing phases. But if those two things aren’t an issue, then the strategy is at least worth trying, these two strategies that I told you about today.
So in both cases, for both strategies, they were high ticket items. They required a relationship with the customer before they eventually bought and became a customer. So really we just needed to get these people in the door, these new people to know about us, to agree to hear more. And we know it’s going to take some time. So this is basically just about taking our best or most attractive message, showing it to the most amount of qualified people for the least amount of money. And in both cases, immediate improvement.
So in summary, hopefully these were helpful. You can take one or both of them, and try them with the advertising or outreach you’re doing to try to get more leads immediately. Our long-term goal in both of these cases, of course, was to convert these people to a customer. I mean, of course, that’s the main goal with all advertising. But the problem, well, in the second case, we were asking the social media platform to handle that goal, but that didn’t make any sense, right? And in the case of the first example with the cold email outreach, we were trying to go directly to the decision maker, but that just turned out to not make any sense once we tested and examined it.
So you want to dial it back maybe further up the funnel and look at what easier asks are for less money and so on. And in the social media advertising strategy, we realized that all we needed the social media platforms for was exposure. So we set the goal to exposure. We realized in the cold outreach strategy, all we really needed was to start a relationship, not to even tell them what we did, not to even tell them what the pitch was. So what was the minimum possible thing we could do to start the relationship but still make it seem serious, still have filters and hurdles in place so it didn’t seem unbelievable what we were saying? So yeah, that’s it. We kind of pulled back and looked at the minimum viable thing that worked. And that was what ended up producing the most results for these online ads.