As a junior in college, I was obsessed with a tech startup called MissionU.
They were building a one-year data science training program with a rockstar team of entrepreneurs, technologists, and educators.
I was determined to find a way to work there.
However, there was a big problem. I didn't have connections to any employees and they weren't hiring.
In this post, I will outline a cold outreach strategy that helped me get a job at MissionU and will significantly increase your success rate when reaching out to anyone.
To be clear, it's not a template. Instead, it's a strategy with fundamental principles for any cold outreach.
Let's see how it works.
Cold Outreach Is A Sales Process
Any effective cold outreach should be viewed as a sales process
A sales process contains three steps:
- Add Value
- Handle Objections
Let’s dive into each.
The goal of research is to understand what your audience wants.
Enterprise sales teams pay thousands of dollars for databases of information to understand the needs of potential customers.
This software allows salespeople to understand how many employees a company has, how much money they've raised, and who the key decision makers are.
Instead of paying for proprietary databases, all you need to do is some internet stalking. Good places to start include personal websites, blog posts, tweets, podcasts, news articles, YouTube videos, LinkedIn, etc.
Try to understand:
- What do they care about?
- What is the biggest problem they're facing right now?
- What are their hobbies?
For example, when I was researching MissionU, I listened to a podcast where the CEO mentioned their biggest challenge was deciding which cities to expand to.
This helped me understand exactly how I could add value.
In 1993, AOL was a distant 3rd place in the online services market.
They had trouble getting people to use their product because the internet was brand new. People didn't know they needed it.
But AOL believed customers would love their product if they tried it.
So what did they do? They offered a 30-day free trial.
Their CMO explains what happened next:
"At that time, a 2-3% conversion rate was a huge success... Our campaign had a 10% conversion rate... When I saw that, honestly, it was better than sex." (Source)
Free trials open doors. Even with the most apprehensive customers.
This principle applies to cold outreach as well.
Most people you reach out to probably receive dozens of inquiries a day asking for something. Instead, give them something. Add value before asking for value. Show them what you can do. Give them a free trial.
For example, with MissionU, I used the research phase to understand what the CEO needed and then created a 13-page PowerPoint deck with data analysis and recommendations on what they should do.
If you're a designer, create a mockup of a new onboarding flow. If you're an engineer, build a prototype of a new feature.
Regardless of whether they end up using what you produce, the key is putting in the effort.
This will separate you from 99.9% of other people that reach out to them asking for something. Turn the tables. Give them something.
Even if you add value, you may still receive an objection. Let's see how to handle those in the next section.
There are two types of objections:
- They don't respond
- They say no
If they don't respond, just follow up a couple days later. They were probably busy and forgot. Following up is so crucial that enterprise sales teams have software to automate follow ups.
However, if they say no, that's a bit trickier to handle.
In dating, "no" always means "no".
But in sales and recruiting, “no” doesn’t always mean “no”.
"If you really want something [in business], always believe a no is a maybe and a maybe should be a yes." - Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist. (Source)
When reaching out to MissionU, this is was the CEO's response to my PowerPoint presentation.
Fuck me, right? I spent about ten hours on this presentation only to be told they weren't hiring until next year.
But, with anything you want in life, there are three doors.
Think about a nightclub. There's a VIP door for celebrities. They get in no matter what.
Then there's the door for normal people. Everybody uses this door. It's the Door of Conventional Wisdom.
The price of admission for following conventional wisdom is competition. It's hard to stand out in this line so you just keep going to different clubs until one finally lets you in. Same goes for life opportunities. We blindly apply for a bunch of jobs or blindly reach out to prospective candidates until one finally says yes.
There has to be a better way.
Thankfully, there's always a third door. It's the door that people are usually too scared to try. The Door of Opportunity.
Maybe it's in a sketchy alleyway. Or maybe it's half-cracked window. Regardless, it's always there.
Only the scrappiest people go through this door. With enough persistence and creativity, they get in. Fear of consequences holds us back from being great. Of course, use your judgment. But many of us don't even try.
So with MissionU, I kicked down the Door of Opportunity like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid:
This was his response:
I ended up going through the interview process and secured an internship for the fall.
When going after something you want, always think about the third door. It will take creativity and some chutzpa. But it's worth it.
Whether you're looking for a job or hiring, ignore conventional advice which says - "Just create a list of 100 people or companies and reach out to them using a template!"
Instead, have a targeted approach.
Identify the top 1% of companies or people, and go through the sales process.
Research. Add value. Handle objections.
That's how you get the best opportunities and people.
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