Cold-call email outreach for B2B User Research

In the past 8 months, my teammate Thyra and I have personally contacted ~500 users in the pursuit of getting customer feedback through interviews, surveys, workshops, all manner of qualitative inquiry. And from that, we’ve distilled down a few key items to include in any good cold-call email. 

Especially if you’re in the B2B space like us at IBM, reaching the right users at the right time is bound to include contacting people you’ve never talked to in the past. 

Before jumping into what to include in your emails, some quick thoughts on who you’re contacting.

Pre-email construction: select the right users

The first thing you need to get right is your sample. Don’t just batch and blast, sending an email to every client on your list. 

Instead, focus on contacting users that represent the population you’re looking to study. Maybe that is your entire user base. But for most research studies, it’s likely more targeted. If your underlying sample doesn’t reflect the users you’re trying to study, then you’ve already ruined your research study. But that’s a whole other article on varying sampling approaches for research — qualitative or quantitative.

Pre-email construction: grouping users for personalization

This may not be the case with all outreach. But if you know certain details about a user prior to contacting them — that they struggle with a part of your product, or they have had recent interactions with support, etc — use this to your advantage. Personalize your outreach as much as you possibly can. If done well, this should increase your response rate. 

For example, we recently conducted a study where the users on our outreach list fell into three distinct categories: 

  1. Struggle with Feature A
  2. Had good relationship with previous researcher, Alison
  3. No known information beyond demographics + general usage

Although we couldn’t do much to personalize the third set, groups 1 and 2 received a unique variation of the email template which led to a higher* response rate from these groups. 

*Note that these groups were not related to our sampling. Having a higher number of responders for groups 1 and 2 didn’t throw off our sample. 

Now that you’ve worked out who you’re contacting, it’s time to start writing.

There are three primary things you need to include in most cold-call research outreach emails: 

  • Who you are
  • Why you’re reaching out
  • What the time commitment would be

Who are you…

Introduce yourself. If these are your clients, also give some credibility by including your product, title, and any additional relevant information. 

An example of how our team handles this:

I’m reaching out on behalf of the [product name] team. I’m a user researcher who regularly conducts research studies which influence future changes to your experience with [product name].

… and why are you reaching out?

Another important thing to cover is why. Get straight to the point, before you lose their attention. In a marketing email or advertisement, this is the hook

  • Why are you reaching out? 
  • What is your end goal? 
  • What do they receive in return? 

Some examples of hooking users for a research study: 

Our team is currently working on a project to improve your experience with [topic]. We are looking to get [feedback on designs, insight into workflow, etc.,] from you and your team. 
[value for you]*
This is a chance for you to help us build the future of this experience together —improving the workflow for both you, and your teammates!

*If you can provide value to your clients in the form of some kind of monetary or other more concrete compensation, by all means, offer that. 
Unfortunately that is out of the question for us. 

What’s the time commitment?

“Ok, so you want my feedback. But how long is this going to take me, anyways? I’ve got people to see, places to be..”

Our users have lives, jobs, just like us. Make it clear from the start the time that you’re requesting from them, before asking for a commitment. 

Examples of how we’ve done this: 

Filling out this survey shouldn’t take more than
5 minutes. 
If you have the time, please fill it out.
Would you be interested spending an hour talking with me? 
If so, please advise me about your availability from August 1–20. 

Top 3 things: who you are, why you need them, and what they can get out of it

As long as you have addressed each of these things in one way or another, you have included the most important things. Other information, if forgotten, can always be covered in a follow-up. 

The most important thing with these emails is to keep them short and sweet, so if you can wait on providing information, wait.

Bonus: what if I’m not sure this is the right person?

Sometimes we reach out to client emails without knowing a whole lot about the person. You might know that the person you want to talk with is on the client’s team, but have no idea if the person you’re emailing is that person. 

For situations like this, it can be helpful to include a short description of who you’re looking for. And also, lose the time commitment information. 
Establish this is the right person, before trying to get them to commit. 

An example of how we have scouted for users in the past: 

We’re especially interested in [topic], and found that your team works with [topic]. Do you, or anyone on your team work with [topic] today?
If so, we would love to speak with you and/or your teammates further about your experience!

Here’s a link to two full sample emails which have received higher response rates [15–20%*] from our users. 

*I know 15–20% doesn’t seem like much… but the average marketing email open rate is roughly 20%, so having a 15–20% response rate on a cold-call email is a win in my books.

Please comment with any tips, tricks, or new ideas for writing ‘cold-call’ emails for user research!