Getting in touch with the right person at a large organization is a hard problem for a startup. You could be trying to get a sale, a partnership, a deal or a new hire. You’re small, tiny, insignificant. You have value to offer, but there’s so much noise out there. Why should someone notice you? How can you get them to return your calls?
I run into this all the time and have tried hundreds of things over the years, from throwing parties, to speaking at conferences, to lots of networking. But those things involve a lot of wasted time since they are not laser-focused. The method I’m outlining below has worked for me around 80% of the time over several hundred attempts (large enough sample pool).
1. Make a small, targeted list of 30 prospects (Full Name, Title, Company)
These are people you want to raise money from, do a deal with, sell to, etc. These people will move your business forward. How do you know who the decision-maker is? Do research. Ask around your network. See who shows up in the news. Read the About Us page for companies you want to sell to. You’re making a list of decision makers here. If you need me to tell you who the decision maker is at your prospect company, you’re a terrible salesperson and should just suck your thumbs.
2. Introductions (low-hanging fruit)
Open up LinkedIn, find each person on your list, and see if you have any direct common connections. If you do, ask for an introduction. This is easy, takes 2 minutes, and usually gets a response. Keep emails short and to the point. Nobody important reads more than 3 lines these days.
It’s been a long time, how are you? I saw that you were connected to XXX at YYY on Linkedin and was wondering if you could make an introduction. I’m working on AAA (provide a catchy snippet) and there’s some things we could do together.
3. “Assumed” connections
If you’ve got your entire list of 30 covered using step #2, that’s great. You’re all set. But if you’re like most people, you can’t find good intros to about 20 of your 30 people. If you’re new to an industry, that ratio might be 28 out of 30. What can you do then?
Tip: LinkedIn InMail is useless for this purpose. But upgrading to see 3rd-degree profiles helps.
Look up each person’s linkedin profile. You’ll see a connection graph something like this:
Now the trick is to manually find some connections of Lord Rudi that are connected to some of your connections. Upgrading your Linkedin account makes this process much easier. Browse around on Linkedin until you find 2 or 3 connections. Even if you don’t, just try to find 2 or 3 important-sounding people on Lord Rudi’s list and save their names.
4. Discovering Email structure
Don’t do introduction requests on Linkedin that are 3 degrees away. It’s a waste of time. Instead, we’re going to find out your prospects’ email addresses by reverse-engineering the email structure used by their company. To do this, Google the name of their company and find their homepage. Go to the Team or Management section. Are there any emails listed? No? Then go to the contact us page. Anything listed? Chances are you’ll find something which will give you the domain structure of the email used by the company. Examples:
That’s what you’re looking for. If you don’t find it, write up a dummy problem request and contact the highest-available department listed on the contact page. In 1 – 2 days when they reply to you, you’ll get the domain/sub-domain structure.
(Advanced: If you’re an engineer or advanced user, you can also look up MX records for a domain. Many corporate domains have these openly listed. This will allow you to skip step 4 and do this process auto-magically for your entire list with 70% accuracy.)
5. A/B testing name-structure of email
Corporate emails follow the same structure within a company for almost everyone. I’ve tested over 100 of these formats, but around 5 of them cover most cases. Let’s say your prospect’s name is Lord Baron, and using step 4, you’ve discovered his company’s email domain structure. Send an empty message from a fake address, and try sending to the following variations:
firstname.lastname@example.org (if its a small company, or if he’s C-level)
These variations cover most cases. You can be more diligent and try more methods time-permitting. Most of your emails will bounce (this is normal). You’re looking for the one that DOESN’T BOUNCE. Bounces will come in within 5 minutes. So if you emailed all of the above, and email@example.com does NOT bounce, you know you’ve hit gold.
You now have that most precious of all business commodities: your prospect’s email address. This is what Linkedin and others will charge you for, so if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already saved some $$$. You haven’t violated any privacy rules by stealing or mining this information from somewhere. You arrived here through a process of deduction and elimination, just by yourself (pat on the back!).
6. Email your Prospect
You’ve got their email. You’ve got a few names of important-sounding contacts that they have (X Y and Z in example below). Here’s a template I’ve used:
We’re connected on Linkedin via XXX, YYY, ZZZ and they suggested you’d be the right person to talk to. I run a company called BLAHBLAH. <<Insert attention-grabbing 1 sentence here – news, awards, common business partners or industry>>. <<Insert credibility building personal 1-liner here, such as your personal background, awards or past places you’ve worked or things you’ve done>>. There’s an interesting new product we’re building that’s super relevant to your company that I’d like to run by you. Are you around for a quick chat this week?
And voila. You’re done. Just sit back and give people a week to get back to you. If not, reply to your original email and follow-up, as if you were expecting (and deserve) a response.
Leave comments below and let me know if this worked as well for you as it does for me.