The following is a series of abridged sales emails I recently received, edited to protect the guilty and to highlight how they were procedurally generated.

Hi [first name],

I was just browsing through a list of interesting new startups I occasionally receive in my inbox, and came across [company name]

The reason I’m emailing you today though, is because I’d love to discuss your ongoing content strategy with you. My name is [salesperson], and I’m the [position] at [website] – where we help our clients…

(blah… blah… blah…)

Looking forward to hearing back from you,


There’s no way I’m responding to this. The sender obviously did zero research on my company, because the email is devoid of any details on my organization that make it a candidate for their services.

Several days later I received another email.

Hi [first name],

I just wanted to send you one last message to make sure my mails weren’t missing your inbox.

I had a spark of inspiration just earlier, and came up with a few ideas for your company’s content strategy that I’d love to share with you…



I’m sure [salesperson] had an absolute epiphany about [company name]. It also wasn’t “one last message”, as another one came a few days later.

Hi [first name],

I just wanted to follow up with you to see if you received my previous email. I know how busy things can be as we all try to get back into our workflows after the holidays…

Just let me know what time works best for you, and I look forward to speaking with you.



All of these emails were sent via customer relationship management (CRM) software to a list of, most likely, thousands of email addresses. This very real marketing company purchased those email addresses from from a vendor who, in turn, bought them from some online service I created an account with. The CRM was programmed to send the follow up emails if a response was not received and funneled into the system.

The very real sales representative (I found a LinkedIn profile) had the CRM use a Gmail account to send the emails, in expectation of the high number of spam reports that would come in. If an email using the online marketing company’s domain was used, they would run the risk of having their servers blacklisted.

Was annoying thousands of people and presenting their organization as possibly below board worth the handful of email responses and even fewer conversions that result from them?

While I was writing this article I received and instantly deleted a similar email for outsourced software development. My company, PencilBlue, is an open source platform that gets free code contributions from the development community. Five minutes of research would show that we have no need to pay for offshore development services.

It won’t matter if we grow to need those services in the future. The spam filter I put on the outsourcing company’s email address assures that I’ll never receive communication from them again.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a Twitter exchange I had with Stryd, a company using a Kickstarter campaign to fund its performance tracking device for runners.

A simple, to the point response, and I’m sold. To top it off, the CEO of Stryd favorited and retweeted my response, giving me a little personal, positive reinforcement.

What was it about the flow of this acquisition and interaction that was so strikingly different than the cold emails?

  • Stryd used Kickstarter, a well-known crowdfunding website, to get the word out about what it is selling. I was brought to its campaign page, because one of the sites I frequent is geared towards its market. Instead of paying for a list of unqualified prospects, Stryd put itself in a position to be approached by prospects who have pre-qualified themselves. 
  • Stryd’s team answered my question promptly and directly, in less than 140 characters. There was no need for generic, canned communication programmed into a CRM or waiting for a sales representative to give verbose responses. I had one roadblock to purchase and Stryd instantly removed it.
  • Stryd was able to do this because the team member was transparent. Stryd has leveraged multiple traditional and social media channels to make it absolutely clear what it is selling. That leaves the team members to only have to answer specific questions on the product, instead of having to sell people on the entire thing.

There are, of course, huge differences between selling online marketing services and a $150 wearable, but not all of them work against the former product. For example, a services-based company has to close far fewer sales to remain profitable.

So, let’s build an example of how the online marketing company could ditch shotgun emails and instead follow Stryd’s example of leveraging social media to better engage prospects.

Cast your net in the waters of YouTube or Vimeo

Any online marketing company worth its salt has made more than a few videos for clients (and this is the main product offered by the company that sent me those emails). Loading up a YouTube or Vimeo channel with client videos and, more importantly, fun and engaging videos that have nothing to do with the business (but show the video production talent none the less) will put eyes on its work.

YouTube and Vimeo are also huge drivers for search engine traffic. They can be embedded in blogs and other social networks, driving search ranking up even further. It’s not hard to see how, out of the thousands of people seeing an engaging video on its Facebook or Twitter feed, one viewer might be in the market for a video promoting the company. Those not in the market are still left with a positive image of the marketing company and aren’t annoyed by an unwanted sales pitch.

Submit your work to third party publications and contests

Just like how I found Stryd through an article on a fitness site, one small article about a marketing campaign on a site like FastCompany will result in a bevy of inbound prospects. One award for that campaign will keep the company from having to come up with another selling point.

Keep in mind, though, that not all inbounds or questions will come over the phone or via your website’s contact form.

Pick the right social network for the market

If you have a women’s fashion company, you better be on Pinterest. If you’re a manufacturer of home goods, you better have a Facebook page. If you sell action sports equipment, you better be on Instagram.

If you have an online marketing company, you better be active on at least Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn—three social networks that your prospects browse while they’re at work. Being active on a social network means that you’re regularly posting and always responding to inquiries as soon as possible.

If the company is large enough, managing social media should be someone’s full-time job or one split up amongst multiple employees. It would also be smart for the company to have all its creative employees active on the marketing subreddit, where they can build reputations as individual subject matter experts who just happen to work for the company.

Be clear about what you do and don’t do

The most untrustworthy people are those who say yes to everything. In the same way, a website that keeps things ambiguous and a company afraid to say no when asked if it can do something outside of its wheelhouse is instantly suspect.

This ambiguity is what made the emails from the online marketing company so questionable. [Salesperson] had a “spark of inspiration”, but was unwilling to give any detail. The wording of the emails centered around the services, but was nondescript and gave no examples of previous success. There were no links to use cases, and no proof that the company’s work actually resulted in a return on investment for anyone. Its website wasn’t much better.

Granted, that ambiguity is kind of the modus operandi of the online marketing industry. But imagine the type of inbounds the company would get if it promoted one, clearly defined vertical that it does exceptionally well.

If what it does well is video marketing and a prospect comes to the site through a Vimeo video shared on Facebook, then he or she can be greeted with messaging that affirms the company’s video production expertise.

After that prospect has viewed other videos on the site and read detailed project descriptions and client stories, he or she might reach out to the company on Twitter. There, the prospect can ask any remaining questions and have them immediately answered by the marketing company’s staff.

The end result is a minimal effort to attract a qualified lead who has a positive image of the company, all before a salesperson has even spoken to anyone with the company directly.

And it all probably costs less than one shotgun blast email campaign.