[Playbook] How to use cold email to find PMF
a guide to "talking to your users" through ABM style emails
If you tell your mom about an amazing new startup idea she’s likely to say “that’s great honey I’m so proud of you!”
But if you send out 1,000 cold emails, most of them are probably going to ignore you, a few might ask how you got their email, and there’ll probably be that one guy who tells you to fuck off.
Unless of course, your amazing new startup idea actually solves a problem that people care about.
The Mom Test teaches us that our users will lie to us because they don’t want to hurt our feelings. In my experience as a Growth Marketer however, no one has ever lied to me after I spammed them with a cold email.
In this playbook I am going to go over how to use cold email to discover Product Market Fit. Specifically, how to determine actual market size, sequence potential users, the correct type of messaging for finding PMF vs sales, and how to figure out exactly what problems a certain market might need solved.
Does this actually work?
So uh, you’re reading this email.
I’ve used ABM style email sequences for a lot of different kinds of products with a lot of success, but for the sake of this playbook I am going to use this Substack as the example.
There’s a couple unique things about Channels of Growth that I want to highlight.
This Substack is currently searching for Product Market Fit. What can I create (write) that my users will want?
Right now, with this very playbook, I am using a cold sequence campaign to try and discover my Product Market Fit.
I have no Twitter following, I’m not posting this article on Hacker News trying to go viral, if you got here anytime within the next ~3 months after the publish date, it’s extremely like you are reading this because I sent you a cold email.
Did you tell me to fuck off? Or is this playbook useful to you?
Is “finding Product Market Fit” one of your tasks to be done (or maybe this is a type of entertainment)? Is a playbook that helps you build & grow amazing products something that you, my user, wants? Do you want this SO bad that you clicked through on a random cold email to consume the “product” that I have to “sell”?
Wether or not I give you a good solution is still up in the air. But here you are, validating that my market has demand for a specific product… Because I sent you a cold email.
Step One: Start With Your Market, Not Product
Let’s say I’m passionate about trains & a brilliant software engineer. I want to work on things that I am passionate about, so I build a brilliant product for trains-as-a-service.
The product works exactly like I planned. My brilliant butt has found a way to deliver trains to YOUR doorstep.
So I take my product, I go pitch some investors about how trains-as-a-service is the future of the billion dollar train industry, raise a seed round, and start to go sell my product.
I hire my first Growth Marketer, they run some Facebook ads, and it doesn’t work.
Then some Google ads, and those don’t work.
Then some cold emails, and those don’t work.
Then I fire my Growth Marketer.
I have been this “hire” more times than I care to admit, working for brilliant founders with a brilliant idea, lots of funding, and a product that nobody actually wants.
The key trick to being able to consistently find at least some level of PMF, is to start with your market, not product. Decide on a market that you want to service, and then figure out what problems they have, and create a great solution for one of those problems.
My (primary) market, is people who work in Growth.
Specifically, there are 87,600 people who have “growth” in their job description & whose emails I have access to through Apollo.
For me and my goals, this is a “good” market.
If my Substack can dominate a significant portion of this market, I will have created the #1 Substack for my industry & this will have a significantly strong impact on my career.
Check my LinkedIn if you want, but I have a 10 year long obsessive career in different forms of “Growth”. It’s 8:34 pm on a Tuesday and here I am obsessing over it. I believe I am in a unique position to create a good “product” and solution for this market.
But notice what I’m doing…
Yes, I picked a market that I am passionate about, but in my search for Product Market Fit there is no strong religion around the solution or exact problem to be solved. Maybe it’s a playbook. Maybe I go interview cool and interesting founders. Maybe I create how to tutorials.
I don’t know, you tell me what you think I should build. Seriously reply to this email and let me know what you’re struggling with.
Let’s talk tools for a second.
Apollo.io is an AMAZING tool for cold email sequences. My campaign for this substack has over a 40% open rate, and you my friends are replying to the cold emails at about 8%.
Sometimes it’s really hard to identify your market through simple data tools like Apollo. But very often there are other ways to get the contact email for your audience.
LinkedIn is great for creating lists of people who have certain skills (developers who use Rust or Python for example). Go hire someone on UpWork to scrape everyone with a certain skill or use Apollo to prospect.
Targeting founders or product people? Again, go hire someone on UpWork to scrape Product Hunt.
Targeting small businesses? Go scrape Google+ listings for cleaning services or whatever.
Hunter.io + PhantomBuster.com will pull the contacts out of the bulk of any list of domains.
Remember to clean your emails through something like ZeroBounce.net.
Get creative with it, the tools to find correct contact info in this day and age are insane and there’s almost no audience you can’t identify and collect their emails. (It’s honestly a little scary.)
If your audience is SO niche, and SO small, that you can’t identify them with Apollo or LinkedIn (or Google search, or Facebook ads, or YouTube ads), have a serious hard conversation with yourself about wether you are in a “good” market.
Slides on an investor pitch deck are nice, but if you can’t identify your market through channels of growth, your market doesn’t actually exist.
Your action item here, start by identifying the audience you are passionate about serving, and figure out how to message them.
Step Two: The Right Kind Of Messaging
Talking to your users is hard, and honestly it’s even harder to do it at scale. One key thing to remember is that this isn’t a sales pitch. I’m “kind of” trying to get people to buy something just to get product direction, but I actually care about a LOT more than that.
I want to see what kinds of problems people are struggling with.
I want to see what kinds of messaging people engage with.
Sales/subscribers ARE nice, and strong indicator of PMF, but i’m not optimizing on conversions, i’m optimizing to learn.
Something that trips up really amazing Growth people (and was the hardest product lesson I ever learned), is that just because you can sell ice to eskimo’s, doesn’t mean that you have Product Market Fit.
The better you are at selling things, the harder this is to learn.
So lets deconstruct the winning variance of the cold email I’m sending out right now to use as an example.
In the very first line, I link the Substack & identify my audience. Then I bold my call to action.
Serious question, why did you read any farther than this? Why didn’t you immediately mark me as spam? Why didn’t you tell me to fuck off?
My one liner is something like “A substack newsletter for growth/marketing people”.
That’s honestly REALLY weak.
Yet, it’s not causing people to bounce. My current hypothesis is that there’s actually really shit content available for Growth/Marketing people. It’s mostly low quality spam, not really effective, or just in general really bad.
I think people like us are starved for really high quality in depth content, they DO have big problems they need solved, and that’s why people are engaging with this email.
But anyways, I immediately ask for a reply (read: user feedback). Unlike my cold emails at scale, the major CTA that I am caring about here is for you to tell me what you want, it isn’t to “sign up for my paid newsletter”.
Finally I drop a line or two about my background to hope that maybe you’ll give a shit about the content I am producing (and again seeding you for replies, not $$$).
Honestly it’s been crazy reading through all of your replies. Growth people telling me how much they resonated with the What does a "Head of Growth" actually do? 🤷🏻♀️ article, this exact playbook you are reading came from a request where someone wanted to learn more about how to use cold email to find PMF.
So I sent out a bunch of emails, asked my users (and market) what they wanted to hear about, and that leads us to our final step…
Step Three: Give Your Users What They Ask For
When you build products based on what your market wants to hear, the solution comes at the very end (and often it comes in iterations).
The goal is to continuously ask for feedback.
For me this comes by continuing to ask my users/market what kind of content they want. Trying to discover what the major problems are that they struggle with, and then creating content that addresses those problems.
Maybe it’s “playbooks”, maybe it’s interviews, who knows. Maybe you don’t even give a shit about Substack and you really want something completely different. I don’t know, you tell me, & i’m going to do my absolute best to create the type of content/product that I am uniquely capable of creating, to solve the biggest problems I can help you solve.
Let’s say you aren’t building a Substack (even though articles about a problem, are an amazing MVP for SaaS products).
You can have a waitlist for a product, or a tiny lean startup style MVP.
This is why the stereotypical startup advice is to first build the smallest thing you can possibly build, that your users will use.
It’s so you can then show it to your market and get their feedback. If your market says it doesn’t a give shit, if they tell you to fuck off, unsubscribe me, “I don’t care about trains-as-a-service”, then move on with your life.
Just.. Don’t pivot into the next product you are super passionate about.
If there’s any one piece of advice I think that would help new entrepreneurs the most, is that you should never be obsessed with a solution, but rather become obsessed with a market.
I love Growth people. I am obsessed with this market. I dream about the things that can move a startup faster & the impact that tech startups can have on the world at scale.
So I hope this post provided some value to you towards a problem you’re trying to solve. Send me a reply to let me know :) or better yet if you haven’t already toss a paid subscription so I know I am on the right path.
Otherwise, back to the drawing board & to figuring out what my market wants. 🚀