Cold email best practices: A/B test results that you won't believe

Personas was the subject of a recent Dreamforce presentation by sales training luminary and Personas client Steve Richards at VorsightBP.

Here are excerpts from Steve's blog post on the topic:

A few months ago I hired my friend Conor Lee, CEO of Personas to experiment with some outbound lead generation methods over email. Conor’s firm uses sales development email automation software for doing outbound prospecting the Aaron Ross Predictable Revenue way – batches of semi-automated messages – credit Sean Kester at SalesLoft for that line. Conor took over my email account to send email blasts in small quantities that don’t feel like email blasts to the recipients.

Test #1

First, Conor and I got into an arm wrestling match over the copy to use in these generic emails. Frankly I thought his sucked. People, this is why you test and measure! Have a look. My interested rate was 0.78%. My ‘genius’ copy got an abysmal 0.78% response rate. The takeaway: don’t ever hire me to write generic email copy for you. I’m horrible at it. His performed better at a modest 5%. The lesson – when you start saying ‘I think I like this email better’ you need to stop and test. No opinion allowed. Only data.

Test #2

Here’s where the story gets really weird (or fascinating or game changing or validating) depending on your point-of-view. Once Conor and I established Sequence A as the ‘baseline’ copy for the rest of the test, he sent out 2,181 emails using that copy. The replied percentage and interested percentage were similar to the first small batch.

For the ‘B’ group in this A/B test I wanted to know how our results would change if we leveraged my second degree connections on LinkedIn.

And the results of this were nothing short of astounding.

Simply by mentioning the second degree connection(s), the emails in test group B generated a 289% higher reply rate and a mind-blowing 568% higher interested rate that test group A. And remember all of these emails were sent automatically by software. I did not send any of them even though they all left my personal inbox.

The Social Selling Mafia including such luminaries as Jill Konrath, Jamie Shanks, Tony Hughes, Mike Kunkle, and Jill Rowley are high fiving each other as they read this. Through this experiment I have empirically proven that social selling works.

Test #3

For this test we wanted to determine if it matters that a sales rep views the LinkedIn profile of the prospect. Conor and I tapped our friend Kevin Potter at eLink, to take over my LinkedIn profile to automatically view the LinkedIn profiles of the prospects that received the emails. So in group A, the prospect would see that their profile had been viewed by me (if they looked). In group B, the prospect would not see that I viewed their LinkedIn profile (if they looked). Simple enough. The results SHOCKED me and Conor.

Simply by looking at the profile of the target prospect, the reply percentage went up 90% and the interested percentage went up 25%. To my knowledge this is the easiest way to improve your outbound lead generation conversion rate. If you aren’t looking at the profiles of the people you are emailing, you’re nuts.

I’ve shared this story with seven heads of sales development at high profile fast growing companies. All of them asked the same question, “Can you please show us the emails?” Here you go. Before you poke holes in these messages I remind you that they converted at a staggering 25%. People, these are really lousy stone cold emails that converted at 25%. I don’t care what you think. I don’t care how you feel. This worked. PERIOD.


As a bonus you get the response. Every one of these emails was sent automatically. Not a one was personally written. You don’t tell a computer that you just married off your daugher. You just don’t. Yet that’s exactly what happened here. Personas passed something known as the Turing test – a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

The email exchange:

On Friday at 7:41 am, Steve Richard wrote:

Hi Jeffrey - I usually don't do this, but wanted reach out because we share a few mutual connections: SHARED CONNECTION #1, and SHARED CONNECTION #2.

I was hoping I could get a few minutes of your time regarding HIS COMPANY this week or next. Would you be open to a call?

Please let me know if I've overstepped or a bother.


On Monday at 7:43 am, Steve Richard wrote:

Hi Jeffrey - just wanted to ensure you saw my note about chatting sometime soon.

Would it make sense for you next week?

Steve Richard
Founder, VorsightBP
Cell: 202-***-****

See What Members of a Prominent Sales Association are Saying.

On Wednesday at 7:44 AM, Richard, Steve wrote:


To give you some background, I help sales teams scale up the top of their funnel (we work with Adaptive Insights, BMC Software and NetSuite) and grow new revenue streams from the inside.

What do you think - would be interested in quick call sometime this week?

Steve Richard
Founder, VorsightBP
Cell: 202-***-****

See What Members of a Prominent Sales Association are Saying.

Hi Steve. Sorry slow on the draw. We just married our daughter and I'm now digging out this week @ work before taking vacation next week.

Have just started a global sales training program with Holden which we have made a big commitment to. We could arrange a call tho I don't have need for addnl sales consulting tools for the foreseeable future.  

Best.  Jeff.  

Sent from my iPhone

So what should YOU DO as the result of these A/B tests?

1. If your LinkedIn profile is currently set so that people can’t see if you have viewed their profile, change it immediately.

2. Then get in the habit of looking at the LinkedIn profile of the person you are pursuing for a meeting every. single. time.  It is the easiest way to improve your conversion rates on outbound lead generation/prospecting efforts.

3. Every single time that you see a shared connection on LinkedIn, use it in the subject line of the email and mention it again in the body of the email. You might be thinking, “But Steve, I barely know lots of the people I’m connected to on LinkedIn.” SO WHAT.  You are trying to improve your overall batting average. Along the way I got some confused replies from people who did not know the second degree connection. VorsightBP’s outstanding SDR, Jeff Hendricks, was able to parlay many of those into meetings.  The fact that you or the prospect may or may not know the second degree connection is irrelevant. Use the common connection. You can’t argue with the data.

4. If you have the modest investment and you are a true sales geek like me, reach out to Conor Lee and his excellent team at Personas.  You will learn a lot and get ROI.

Here's the link to Steve's original blog post.

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