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13 SaaS SDRs share their best tips on email outreach during COVID-19

13 SaaS SDRs share their best tips on email outreach during COVID-19

It’s been a few months since the crisis began, and it seems like every day there is a new and unexpected turn to the situation.

What does this mean for you as a salesperson?

That your outreach methods must be constantly adapted as well.

How are you handling outreach during this time? If cold calling prospects seems too invasive and in-person visits are out of the question, you may have turned to email as the obvious choice for cold outreach.

But it’s clear that email outreach has changed, along with many other aspects of your sales process.

How can you address the new challenges that COVID-19 brings to email outreach? What methods can SDRs use to appeal to their prospects without turning them off?

We’ve spoken to 13 SaaS SDRs who are in the exact same position as you. We asked them:

  • What new challenges they’re facing now
  • What methods they’re using to overcome those challenges
  • How these methods have worked in the real world.

If you want to get advice from other SDRs on what you can do to stay relevant during COVID-19, keep reading.


New challenges SDRs are facing now

Nobody expected 2020 to go like this. Many of the plans we all had for the year have been shattered. What does this mean for your prospects and their businesses?

Your prospects are distracted

Conveying value through email is challenging with people's attention being pulled in so many directions.

There are a lot of distractions we're feeling as a collective human race right now - working remotely while parenting and trying to keep a level head in the face of a pandemic - it’s not easy!
- Caroline Li, SDR at FullStory
We need to recognize that our prospects and customers are facing challenges that are more important to them than their work right now.
- Drew Chalmers, SDR at Mixpanel

Budgets are tight

In the face of a global pandemic, companies have had to change their processes and adapt. In many cases, that means they’re trying to cut costs quickly. Companies that were planning to grow and expand their tech stack this year may be rethinking that idea.

It’s no secret that for most companies, budgets are now limited (or even frozen) and everyone is moving ahead slowly with an abundance of caution.
- Ervis Domi, SDR at Ceros

You still need to hit quota

While business has been slower for everyone, you still have a quota to hit and goals to reach. This isn’t just to make your boss happy: getting more sales helps your company survive and brings value to your customers.

Still, having that quota hanging over your head can be an added stress.

During this crisis, account executives are walking on a tightrope from a communications standpoint. Clearly, it's not business as usual, but at the same time, the show must go on (for example, at 360Learning our individual quotas have not changed due to the crisis).
- Travis Lopes, Enterprise AE at 360Learning

People’s inboxes are more loaded than ever

I receive so many emails per day that show that the salesperson is simply blasting the same message to everyone.
- Patrick Jeter, SDR Manager at Groove

While desperate times call for desperate measures, some salespeople and marketers have taken this to the extreme. Under normal circumstances, your prospects were probably receiving over 100 emails per day. Now, they’re likely receiving even more.

So, how can you meet the challenges presented by COVID-19 as an SDR? What creative methods can you use to keep your email outreach relevant during this time?

If you’re interested in seeing examples of real emails that are getting results during this crisis, download our free resource: Good (Crisis) Email Templates. It includes 19 real email templates, along with subject line ideas, a crisis email checklist, and more!

Now, let’s see what 13 experienced SDRs are doing now to improve their outreach:

9 creative ways to improve your outreach during a crisis

1. Give your prospects an ‘out’

Approach your prospecting emails as a human and not as a salesman. I’ve been adding a snippet to my emails to give my prospects an “easy out” from my message if they’d like it, so they know that I have their personal best interests in mind.

For example - “I want to be cognizant of the challenges banks are facing with this new landscape, so if you'd like me to furlough reaching out all-together for a couple of months while things settle, I'm happy to.”
- Austin Zitting, SDR at Featurespace
Do not become 'the annoying salesperson' during a worldwide pandemic. Here's an example of an email I sent that got a good response:

Hey Matt,

I hope you're staying sanitized! I know we agreed to reconnect about Wistia's more advanced functionality tomorrow, but I realize a lot has changed in the world since we last chatted.

Needless to say, if this meeting no longer makes sense based on new priorities please let me know. The last thing I want to do is be an annoying sales guy during a worldwide pandemic.

Best,
Massimo

P.S I've lately found these virtual games help me stay connected. Thought you might like them too!”

- Massimo Severino, SDR at Wistia

Remember: your prospects are distracted. Deals that were making progress may need to be put on hold. And they might be taking longer to respond than normal.

Because of this, you need to give your prospects the option to put things on hold or have an easier out. This allows you to have more human interaction with them. Especially during a crisis, it’s essential to stick to the 1 2 3 email hack: make your emails relevant, snappy, and easy to respond to.

That said, not everyone is going to respond right away. With the world so crazy, responding to your email may not be as high on their priority list as it was before. That means you need to find the right balance between being patient and taking ownership of the conversation. In other words, while you might not want to follow up more than normal, you certainly need to improve your skills when writing follow-up emails.

2. Personalize more than ever before

Everyone is talking about ‘leading with empathy’; but, what does that really mean?

Empathy can be fake (we’ve all seen those terrible COVID emails that ooze with fake empathy). During these times, being authentic in your communication with prospects is more important than ever.

To help with this, use more personalization than ever. Why? Because personalization makes your email outreach sound more human and gives you a better chance of getting a response.

“I’ve been seeing success with personalization. I use Vidyard to create personalized videos where I show a specific prospect Samsara’s software and how they can use it within their role. I use SalesLoft to follow the opens, clicks, and hot leads to target my calls for the day.

Beyond that - I’ve seen strong success in emailing industry-specific resources and articles regarding COVID-19.

I’m using a lot fewer drip campaigns and have begun focusing more on immediate follow-ups. Mass emailing can end up hurting relationships I’ve built with prospects - especially if they’ve been personally affected by COVID-19. I don’t want to be another salesperson pitching into the dark, but instead, I want to help them find a solution.
- Jackson Lott, Samsara

Of course, to personalize successfully, you need to have a clear understanding of the wants and needs of your prospects. When you know exactly what challenges they’re facing right now, you can create a sales pitch that’s relevant to them right now. That’s how you get to the nirvana of cold emailing.

I've found it helpful to hyper-personalize the intro of my email to a) the prospect or b) their company's current situation. And that can be anything from calling out that a prospect previously worked at a customer of ours or referencing the fact that their company is still hiring for sales roles and showcasing how we can help in the current situation. Another tactic I've used is to reference the specific pains I'm hearing about from their peers and share some resources (especially ungated resources) that can help.
  • So if the prospect previously worked at a customer of ours, I will say something like: “I was doing some research and noticed you previously worked at Cylance so you may be familiar with Showpad…
  • Or when I go to reference some of our customers, I will scroll through the companies the prospect follows on LinkedIn and mention them: “It would be great to share with you how the Product Marketing leaders at Okta, Twilio, and FireEye (I noticed you follow all of them on LinkedIn) are leveraging Showpad for…
  • Or if the prospect has their responsibilities listed on LinkedIn, I will copy and paste verbatim to let them know I've done my homework and this is why I think they are the best POC for me to get in contact with: “I was doing some research and noticed you're responsible for "launching and managing a new partner-enabling program to support channel partners from beginning to end of the sales cycle including training, marketing content," and more…
As for hyper-personalizing to the company, I look for big events they are going through. For example, if they post open sales roles, I know they’re interviewing and hiring. Therefore, I can tailor my messaging to help solve their upcoming pain: “I was doing some research and noticed a lot of Sales job postings on Culture Amp's LinkedIn. With the expected addition of new employees, I'm guessing a key initiative of yours will be getting the new sales reps onboarded, trained, and ramped ASAP, all while working remotely…
- Jenna Kienzle, Midmarket BDR at Showpad

By personalizing your email outreach more than ever, you’ll take the first steps towards our next expert outreach method:

3. Be a relationship builder

Let’s face it: very few people are eager to be sold to, especially in this environment.

So, what can you do to build relationships rather than alienating prospects with tone-deaf sales pitches?

Here’s what 3 SDRs say about building relationships:

Acknowledge the elephant in the room. My email sequences typically start with "Here's the situation in NYC, I'm sure it's crazy where you are. Hope you and your loved ones are well."

Be a relationship builder. Tactically, this is a great time to go through lost opportunities and reach out to your main contact there and check-in. Don't mention your product or a project, just ask them "how are you holding up out there?"

Be a human being, not a sales automaton.
- Travis Lopes, Enterprise AE at 360Learning

Always remember: you are better than a bot!

While AI and automation can be a powerful tool to help sales teams, many reps use artificial intelligence tools in a lazy, mindless way. By just being you in your communication with prospects, you’ll add a human factor that is seriously lacking in most outreach today.

With budgets tightening up across all industries, the only way to be successful in sales is by truly understanding the problems your prospects are facing and presenting your solution in a way that directly addresses those issues. This is going to be especially true for SDR's trying to book new meetings. In my opinion, the human element is going to be the most important tool in an SDR's tech stack for the foreseeable future.
- Tim Byrne, AE at ClickTime

But what if your prospects tell you it’s just not the right time to buy now? Here’s how you can keep building the relationship:

Being a champion for buying new software is a risk. If the timing really isn’t right for them, I aim to get concrete next steps for when to pick back up the conversation and make sure to keep them in nurture until a better time comes around. It’s a letdown to have to wait, but there are other prospects out there who are ready to talk - it’s just about finding them!
- Caroline Li, SDR at FullStory

Of course, building relationships isn’t just a tactic to survive a crisis. In good times and bad, making the effort to build relationships rather than just sell is what will set you apart as a salesperson.

Sales reps who only focus on short-term sales tactics will end up failing in the long-term. Even if they do continue selling, they’ll either be mediocre sales reps for the rest of their lives, or they’ll end up hating their job and eventually burning out.

On the other hand, one of the best ways to build your sales career is to focus on building relationships with prospects. This is a long-term strategy that will not only help you survive this crisis: it will also help you build a sustainable, successful career in sales.

4. Avoid “just checking in”

When you’re constantly “just checking in” with your prospects, you are creating an unending circle of sales death. Especially during these times, your prospects are receiving tons of ‘checking in’ emails that provide no value to them personally.

Let’s end that cycle right now.

The best tip I can give is to make sure you’re providing value in every email. No one wants to receive the emails that are “just checking in” or updating you on a COVID policy that isn’t relevant. If you’re providing value to a potential customer or you offer a service that you’re confident will help them out, there’s no harm in sending the email. Address COVID-19 and the issue it may be causing, but don’t dwell on it. Focus on the value you can provide instead.

Over the first month or so of the pandemic, I focused solely on being a resource. I really didn’t want to come off as the salesperson trying to take advantage of a terrible situation, but rather as the salesperson reaching out with relevant and useful resources to help. So instead of selling, I offered resources and knowledge and pushed for future meetings.
- Brandon Miller, SDR at Proposify

Here at Close, our sales reps use the resources we create internally as part of the sales process. We’ve built an entire library of sales resources that are helpful to our prospects, and our sales team build more valuable emails by offering those resources free of charge. Check out our sales resource library here.

Add value to your clients. You should be sharing resources with your prospects & clients that add value to their lives during this time. Is your company not creating content like this? Cool, go find some from any company that isn't a direct competitor of yours and share that.
- Travis Lopes, Enterprise AE at 360Learning

By creating or searching for valuable resources for your prospects, or even by offering yourself as a source of advice, you can develop deeper relationships with your prospects and 10x your outreach during this time.

5. Review your emails and your prospects on a weekly basis

In good times and bad, your sales enablement content (including your email templates) should be a living organism. This content is a work in progress, and that’s a good thing. Instead of viewing this as a chore, view it as a lifelong learning opportunity for your sales team. Sales teams that work together to create sales documentation, especially during a crisis, can learn from each other and build skills together.

Messaging and tone are changing very quickly, so it’s important to review your emails on a weekly basis. I’ve now started moving away from that example to messaging that speaks more to future planning, getting a leg up on the competition, and being as prepared as possible for when businesses start opening up again.
- Brandon Miller, SDR at Proposify

As the situation develops, your messaging will need to change. But remember that your message will also depend on the changing situation of your prospects:

I’ve shifted gears on the research step so that I’m not being tone-deaf to what’s going on in their day-to-day. It’s more important than ever to do some homework before you reach out. Where pre-COVID, we could catch a prospect’s eye by personalizing an email to their experiences and the individual, nowadays it’s been more helpful to do a quick Google scan to see how their companies have been affected by the new normals we’re all adapting to. We have to understand the prospect’s perspective before we can talk about solving their problems.
- Caroline Li, SDR at FullStory

With rapid-fire changes happening every day, you need to make sure that your outreach is still relevant. A company that seemed like the perfect fit last month may have gone through serious changes. At the same time, some companies that had to stop running due to COVID-19 may now be starting to come back online.

By staying up-to-date on these changes, your outreach will always be relevant to your prospects.

6. Become a consultant and advisor

Being a sales rep is very similar to being a doctor. A good doctor asks the right questions, gets to know the situation of the patient, and offers expert advice that will really help the patient find a solution to their problems.

A good sales rep must do the same: Ask the right questions, understand the situation, and offer expert advice that leads to a real solution. When your sales style matches the style of a good doctor, you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Business conversations must continue to move forward, so when prospects say their budget is constrained, I find success when I reposition myself as a consultative resource that is interested in learning and sharing, not just hard-selling.

Align with their perspective as much as you can, because after all, you want to be on their side. Then, offer to share with them what you know about how others are trying to weather the storm through a call with your AE. If applicable, express how a client is facing challenges along the same lines as the prospect.

In general, people pay a lot of money for industry insights & consultation. If I am offering that as a resource, interwoven within a request to meet, I’m likely to get a prospect to hear me out.
- Ervis Domi, SDR at Ceros
Instead of asking for time to meet, I offer free resources (with an e-book, infographic, blog link, etc.) to position myself as an advisor.

In today's reality, a challenge we often hear from Marketing Leaders from companies like RSA and Optiv, much like yourself, is that they struggle with proving the value of their organization's marketing activities with clear cut metrics. Given the above, I wanted to send you this blog post by Louis Jonckheere, President, CPO & Co-founder of Showpad. It outlines how Sales Enablement can help marketers gain tangible metrics, resulting in more impactful budget allocation, and guidance on where to increase marketing efforts to avoid losing deals or missing out on opportunities altogether: Sales enablement ROI for Marketing Leaders
- Jenna Kienzle, Midmarket BDR at Showpad
The following is an example of what I was using to close resource-based emails during the early stages of COVID, which is much different than how I would have ended an email pre-COVID:

“{{first_name}}, is this relevant to you or your team as well? I know that in our current environment it’s hard to consider new purchases/vendors today, and we certainly aren’t expecting you to, but I wanted to reach out to see if you’d be open to having a discussion when this all calms down.

In the meantime, is there anything I can do to help you out?”
- Brandon Miller, SDR at Proposify

7. Remember: Not all your email outreach has to be about COVID-19

True: it’s important to acknowledge the current world situation and adapt your message to the resulting needs of your prospects.

But that doesn’t mean that everything needs a COVID spin.

Don’t make your whole email about COVID-19. Although the pandemic probably threw a wrench in most businesses’ original 2020 plan, by now most companies have at least some clarity on what the new normal looks like for their business going forward this year.

My advice — if you have done your research, understand their business model, and have identified a potential place where your product could provide value for the lead, pitch the idea without putting a strictly-COVID frame around it.

Of course, use your best judgment and empathy in all situations, but I imagine a good number of folks will probably welcome the opportunity to simply “talk business” during an otherwise trying time.
- Cody Stover, SDR at Customer.io

Wondering what a good crisis email should look like? Download our free resource, Good (Crisis) Email Templates, and get 19 real emails that sales and marketing experts are using right now to get results.

Offering resources and advice can help you build relationships with prospects that will last beyond the current situation.

But some SDRs have seen real success when offering more than just business-related resources:

Folks around us are feeling the precarious state of things and people are leaning on each other more than ever. In emails, SDRs commonly share third-party articles/studies that connect the dots between what the research is showing us and the solutions that your product is offering. Recently, I’ve removed some of those “credibility articles” to instead share resources that offer something personally relevant to me, and I hope for my prospect too. I think it’s important to offer something before you ask for something.

Putting a smile on someone’s face, offering random acts of kindness, and showing genuine positivity has proven to be the subtle push necessary to get someone to respond. Some examples of what I have recently shared include free yoga, a photo of a family member’s puppy, free meditation, as well as apps to make work-from-home life more pleasant. By making it personal and discussing how something has helped me, I find the more likely I am able to connect with someone.
- Ervis Domi, SDR at Ceros
Bring some semblance of normality back into a person’s day. The business environment has considerably changed in the last 90 days. COVID has shown us all that we may have taken some of the little things for granted - like enjoying a great lunch during the workday.

We're currently offering prospects lunch "on us" from UberEats, one of our customers. Even if we don't end up doing business in the near future, it's a great feeling to bring a little more happiness into people's lives.
- Patrick Jeter, SDR Manager at Groove

9. Keep your emails shorter than normal

Lastly, keeping in mind the situation we’re currently in and the number of emails piling up in your prospects’ inboxes, it’s important to keep your emails short.

Shorter emails allow for an easy read but get your point across.
- Brooke Herbst, SDR at SupplyPike
Keep things short, and do your research so you can speak directly to the top problems that your solution will solve for them.
- Caroline Li, SDR at FullStory

These 9 tips are being used by experienced SDRs to make their outreach more appealing to prospects.

But, do these tips actually work?

Real-life examples of how these methods work

Want to see how these methods work in the real world? Here are 5 real-life examples of the results SDRs are seeing when using their own tips:

I was reaching out to a prospect that seemed to have gone radio-silent. Taking into context everything going on around us, I thought that their lack of recent engagement was more likely than not due to COVID-19 and its compounding effects in our personal and professional lives.

So, I started sending the prospect material completely unrelated to Ceros every-other-email, from favorite free workout materials to photos of family puppies in and around the home, without any call to action.

Eventually, they responded with excitement at the puppy photo, and we had a great conversation that allowed us to connect on a more personal level. I was able to subsequently sell them on a meeting.
- Ervis Domi, SDR at Ceros
While prospecting, I noticed on a lead’s LinkedIn bio that he was especially proud of his red beard. I’m also a redhead and tried my hand at growing a big red beard a few years back. I like to skip the cheese and get right to the point with a clear and concise value prop, but there seemed to be an opportunity here to try something out of the box.

This lead seemed to have a good sense of humor, and so I started my email with “From one red-bearded soul to another” and included a photo of my all-time best beard.

I made sure to then quickly dive into my real ideas for how our product might be of value to him and his company. He responded right away, thanked me for the “research and personalization” of the outreach, and started asking questions about our product. We’d started off on the right foot.

Moral of the story — personalization is always key to cold outreach and can take many forms. Sometimes it means leading with your “red beard."
- Cody Stover, SDR at Customer.io
The other day, I sent this intro to a prospect: "Hope you're doing well and staying healthy. I was doing some research and saw that you're responsible for "building, training, measuring, and motivating the sales teams" at Mavenlink. I also noticed you previously worked at Cylance so you may be familiar with Showpad.

And he responded with: "Hi Jenna, Very familiar with Showpad and had my team leveraging it very successfully at Cylance. I appreciate the outreach as well, I can tell you did the work - honestly probably going to forward this to my team as a good example of how they should be operating. :)"

Here’s another example. I sent this to a prospect who attended a webinar: "What did you think of The 6 F’s of Sales Engagement? As a seller, I found it helpful as I just wrapped up my first week working remotely full time. I would love to get your thoughts on what you’ve found most valuable or what strategies your team has put into place. If you are looking for more resources, we recently launched our free Remote Selling Resource Hub which has everything you need to make sure your teams are engaged, enabled, and selling. Let me know what you think!"

And he responded with: "Thanks for reaching out. At this time, I am probably not your best prospect. However, as my team of BDR's are reaching out I feel compelled to respond back to you to let you know that I did read your email. I actually thought it was very good, and I liked how you added the "Ebook link". I do feel that you should let your boss know that your email was good, and I applaud your efforts to reach out in the hardest times you will ever find prospecting in your sales career.
- Jenna Kienzle, Midmarket BDR at Showpad
We received a response to an extremely personalized email campaign where we featured an image of the potential customer’s product along with our introduction. The Vice President replied that the personalization “really resonated” with him and stood out against the “50 solicitation emails [he receives] in a day”.

We had another company that shared that it was exploring a few options for retail analytics software solutions and said specifically that it wanted to work with us because we were offering the COVID-19 program to help suppliers. They were a local company that appreciated that we were extending a helping hand to the community.
- Brooke Herbst, SDR at SupplyPike

These are the kinds of results you can get when you work to improve your cold email templates. When you create relevant cold email templates that are adapted to the current situation, you’ll be able to turn cold prospects into warm leads even during a crisis.

Of course, improving your cold email game isn’t just a hack to use in a crisis. Download our free resource, Cold Email Hacks 2.0, to find our proprietary formula for getting more cold email opens and responses, plus 14 email templates you can start using today.

Email outreach isn’t dead, even during a crisis

In fact, this less-invasive method for outreach may be working even better than it did before.

But only if you do it right.

The 13 SDRs that we talked with are seeing real results by adapting their methods to COVID-19.

That said, many of the methods they outlined above can be applied to all your email outreach, even beyond the crisis. By improving your email skills now, you can help boost your sales career and build a better foundation for your future.

Keep in mind these 9 proven methods for email outreach during (and after) a crisis:

1. Give your prospects an out

2. Personalize more than ever before

3. Be a relationship builder

4. Avoid “just checking in”

5. Review your emails and your prospects on a weekly basis

6. Become a consultant and advisor

7. Remember: Not all your email outreach has to be about COVID-19

8. Offer something more personal than a business-related resource

9. Keep your emails shorter than normal

Want to see real examples of email outreach that’s working during the COVID-19 crisis? Download our free resource, Good (Crisis) Email Templates.

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