Improve your email outreach by ditching ‘big asks.’

Let’s define Outreach Marketing (and email outreach). What exactly is outreach marketing?

Here’s my definition:

Outreach Marketing: Stimulating a conversation with someone from whom you want to build a business relationship.

Outreach marketing is a form of relationship-based marketing.

You’re looking to build a relationship with someone relevant to your business (and business goals).

Email Outreach? That’s just outreach marketing and relationship-building over email.

Where most people go wrong with email outreach is they make small strategic decisions that seem like they make sense but end up hurting the performance and perception of their outreach messages.

In yesterday’s letter, we touched on three of these challenges:

  • Immediate ‘Big Asks,’ like “you should hire us IMMEDIATELY for this project.”
  • A numbers-based (low-reply-rate) approach, where they email 500 or 1,000 people hoping to get back 15 or 30 replies (a ~3% reply rate).
  • Talking about themselves (an “I Focus”) instead of talking about/to the person they’re emailing (a “You Focus”).

So how do you overcome these challenges in your email outreach? Let’s look at fixing these challenges through the lens of ‘min effort for max reward.’

Immediate ‘big asks’ → small asks first

Instead of starting your outreach with a big ask (like ‘hire me today?’ or ‘marry me?’), focus on small asks first ( When you start with small asks, you’ll be able to build on those asks over time with more significant asks, and that’s how you build a relationship.

Imagine meeting someone new at a meetup, conference, or your kid’s ballet recital. How are you going to interact with them?

They sit next to you and say, “Hey, my name is Kai.”

Which do you say?

  • Option 1: “Hey, nice to meet you, I know Ruby, PHP, Rails… do you want to hire me to build you a website?”
  • Option 2: “Hey, nice to meet. How long has your kid been taking dance classes here?”

Spoiler alert: you want something more like Option 2.

Start with a small ask, build a rapport, and start a conversation.

In email outreach, you do not want to immediately jump to a big ask, like, ‘Hey, do you want to hire us to build your website?’ That’s too much, too soon.

In practice, your outreach messages might not focus on the ultimate goal of your outreach campaign. 

You want to sell more websites or get more referrals, but you don’t necessarily lead with that ask in outreach message #1.

Instead, do one/some of the following: 

  • Make a small ask.
  • Ask about their business. 
  • Start a conversation and build rapport.
  • Provide value in a way relevant to their business. (This is where sales and marketing artifacts come in handy.)

Then, once you’ve stimulated a conversation and started to build a relationship, you can move the conversation to questions related to your ultimate goal. But that’s not where you start the conversation.

Tomorrow? We talk about the numbers game approach to email outreach — and how that’s the more demanding and challenging path.