Truth and Lies About Cold Calls, Cold Emails, and Advertising

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Doing a lot of cold calling, cold emailing, and advertising?

The trouble with blogging is you’re always in the middle of the discussion.  There’s not time to lay out the story right from the beginning to get everyone on the same page.

Take the subject of cold calls, cold, emails, advertising, and outbound marketing in general.  Personally, I don’t think businesses should waste a dime on any of it.  It’s a revolutionary thought, I know, because so many businesses make those avenues their primary means of marketing.

But Outbound is so terribly flawed and inefficient.

Actually, it isn’t all that revolutionary, as many are realizing the truth of it.  Way back in 2008, marketing expert Seth Godin was saying:

Content Marketing is the only marketing left.

As we will see, Content Marketing is just another term for Inbound Marketing.

Recently, I was answering a Quora question about cold emails.  The question was all about what the best tactics were for using them.  A bunch of authorities weighed in with advice about creating subject lines to get people to open then, making your you give value in the message, yada, yada, ho, hum…


I couldn’t take it.  My answer was all about telling the audience to quit wasting their time on cold emails at all.  Forget optimizing them, why do it?

Let’s use cold emails as our petri dish for talking about outbound marketing.  in this post, because convincing you not to waste your time and money on it (except in very special circumstances where you have no choice) is something I believe in deeply.

Here’s why:

No matter how hard you work on your subject line, your cold email is an unwelcome party crasher in your recipient’s mailbox. The vast majority of them will never read the email.

But even if you can craft a subject line that gets a great open rate, what next?

FastCompany writes that after getting a fantastic open rate on their cold email experiment, only 1.7% bothered to click and take further action.

That’s right—only 12 out of the 1000 they sent emails to bothered to take action.

Only 12 out of 1000 did anything with the cold emails…

It gets worse though. Many recipients will consider your cold email to be spam. After all, they didn’t opt into it or ask for it. And it’s oh so easy for them to mark it as spam.

Also, many ISP’s watch what happens to email to determine if they are spam. If a particular sender has low enough open rates, they may blacklist them as spammers, particularly if many recipients are calling the messages out as spam.

You can destroy your online emailing reputation in a hurry with cold emails if you’re not careful.  Suddenly, all your emails, not just the cold ones, can start ending up in the spam folder.

Not only is the upside limited with cold emails, but there’s a big downside too.

So why do firms still send so many cold emails?

Lots of reasons:

  • Because they can and it’s cheap
  • Because there’s a certain badge of Old School Honor in Cold Calling that carries over
  • Because they’re desperate for leads

But here’s the thing—you’ve got a zero sum game here. You’ve got one budget. You need to make every lead generation dollar count. So why waste any of it on a tactic that has such a low likelihood of success?

Why waste any money on a tactic with such a low likelihood of success?

By now you’re thinking, we’ve always done this, we have to get our leads somewhere, so what’s the alternative?

For me, this is just a very specific part of the whole inbound vs outbound marketing question.

Outbound is all about advertising, cold calling, cold emailing, and generally knocking on doors uninvited. Inbound is all about dangling bait in the form of content that potential prospects search for.

They are “inbound” to your company rather than you being “outbound” to their door. They come willingly rather than having to be beaten into submission by the unbearable din of endless ads and marketing campaigns.

Here’s the important thing most experts agree on:

Inbound marketing is cheaper and has a higher ROI than outbound marketing.

There are a lot of numbers floating around out there, but one source I tracked down says that Inbound leads are 62% cheaper than Outbound.

Getting back to that zero sum budget, why spend dollars on one method of lead generation when you can get 62% more sales using another method?

Do the Best Marketing Experts Use Outbound for Their Businesses?

Which method do real marketing experts choose to market their own businesses?

It’s one thing to spend a whole bunch of the client’s money doing what they want to make them happy. But it’s another thing entirely when it’s your own money.

I have done some deep analysis on the marketing tactics of a group of marketers I call the Top 15 Master Marketers of the Digital World. These are some of the top people that tell us how marketing is done.

Here’s where they’re getting their leads:

Almost no advertising!

Notice what a tiny percentage is coming from outbound advertising. Email is quite a bit better, but the vast majority of that email isn’t cold emailing. It’s warm emails to folks who have willingly joined their email lists.

Most of the traffic is coming from Search. That’s right, they’re doing classic Inbound marketing. They write great content that helps people find the answers to questions they’re searching for.

If you’d like to learn more about the tactics of these master marketers, check out my article here:

Marketing Master Profiles [Guide to the World’s Best Marketers]

Let me give you a personal anecdote about how effective Inbound Marketing can be. I’ve used it across multiple startups and it has always worked well. But it is the cornerstone marketing strategy of my current business, which is called CNCCookbook.

This is a B2B business selling to CNC Manufacturers. My customer list reads like a who’s who of leading manufacturers:

My web site gets over 4 million visits a year from this audience, making it one of the top destination sites for my audience.

Keep in mind, I compete with very large companies for that attention. Some of them are even public companies. I even compete with an online television show aimed at this audience. It’s a reality TV show called Titans of CNC.

Guess what?

My site gets more traffic than Titans does.

In fact, I wrote an article not too long ago about how my site gets more traffic than one Venture Capitalist’s best startups.

My point is not to brag, but to educate. I am generating all that traffic all by myself. That’s right—CNCCookbook produces a very large income for me and I’m a solopreneur. I write our software, do our customer service, and I do all the marketing.

It’s just me, and I’m beating public and private companies with large marketing staffs and millions of dollars in marketing budget.

All because I don’t waste any time on outbound. Every minute I have available is invested in creating great content that my audience loves.

Instead of planning your next cold email campaign or cold calling blitz, you might want to consider ramping up your own Inbound Marketing efforts.

What If You Can’t Avoid Cold Calls and Advertising?

I understand.  This can happen.  Sometimes cold calling, cold emails, and advertising are the only option.  Let’s just make sure that’s the case.  I know of two situations where doing inbound content marketing won’t work:

#1 Your Audience Isn’t Searching For You Online

For some kinds of businesses, your audience may not be searching for you online.  They may not find your kind of product or service in that way.

Sometimes this can seem to be the case, but it really isn’t.  For example, perhaps your audience is local and you don’t think they’ll try to find you online.  At least not via Google.  You’re a restaurant, for example.  So you need to focus your marketing via Yelp and Trip Advisor.

You can still do Inbound Marketing via those kinds of review channels.  First, think about giving your customers an incentive to leave reviews.  Perhaps you offer them a round of drinks at your Happy Hour prices if they can show you a review less than a month old.  Of course it’s up to you to provide good food and service so the review is good, but they’re also encouraged in a subtle way to do a good review.

Suppose you provide a service.  Construction, for example.  Again, it’s not entirely clear that you can get there online.  A commercial contractor is looking for jobs to bid on.  But, eventually someone evaluating the bids will check your website.  Just make sure there’s something there worth discovering.  Meanwhile, when they look for who to put the bids out to, make sure you’re easy to find online as well.

#2 You Don’t Have Time to Wait for Inbound to Work

This one is a killer, but it happens all the time.  I’ve talked to and worked for many companies that are very sales driven.  It’s feast or famine.  They throttle marketing up or down depending on whether sales thinks they have enough leads.

And the problem is you can’t turn marketing on a dime, mostly.  Generating a bunch of additional leads with inbound content marketing takes a certain amount of time.  If you need the leads next week to meet the month’s number, you’re probably out of luck with inbound.  So you fire up the cold calling and the advertising to try to get there.

Because you have no choice.

But here’s the thing–you did have a choice.  You could’ve invested in a healthier lead pipeline based on Inbound Content Marketing.  You just had to do it a bit sooner and give up this business of last minute throttling.

One thing about inbound–it’s much more reliable and predictable than cold calling and ads.  Get that key content out there and generating traffic and it goes right on generating about the same amount of traffic for a long time.

What is the lead time for content marketing to work?

I can give you two good data points:

  • I took this website,, from 0 to 12,000 visitors and about 1,000 names in my mailing list in 8 weeks.  That’s starting the site from nothing and working it part-time (my main job is CNCCookbook).
  • I took another business that was generating great leads with content marketing but not nearly enough on a program that quadrupled the leads in 6 weeks just by ramping up content production and doing careful SEO and keyword targeting.

A concerted push can yield worthwhile results in 6-8 weeks, in other words.

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4 Replies to “Truth and Lies About Cold Calls, Cold Emails, and Advertising

  1. How would you recommend inbound marketing be accomplished by new companies with little to no references, and with most previous customers being non-local?

    1. It’s always the same, whether for new or old, large or small, companies.

      You want to start a blog about a subject your customers care about. The subject should be one where you can naturally include articles that directly show how your products will make them happy, but you’re only going to write about that 20-25% of the time. The rest of the time you’re giving away information in the form of content that your customers will value.

      That’s content marketing in a nutshell.

      1. I should have clarified, I mean when starting a blog, or even social media outlet for such things, what are methods to initiate contact with these potential customers? I understand the concept of making myself a resource for these people and companies, but how do I initially put myself out there in such a way that they view and look at my information?

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