You prospected, you prepared, you agonised over the copy – ‘Out of Office’ (OOO) replies are incredibly frustrating to many in outbound email because it means a missed opportunity.
However, this is not true. OOO replies are a potential gold mine for b2b lead generation and updating your contact database. Paired with a well thought out OOO strategy, these replies can be the key to you closing a deal with a prospect.
We have distilled how you can make the most of your Out of Office replies into 5 easy steps.
How To Use Out of Office Replies To Generate New Leads
1. Mine your OOO replies for new information
When you receive an out of office reply it can be tempting to move on to other emails from prospects that are actually replying. Why waste your time and energy when your email is going to be buried in your prospect’s inbox for a week anyway?
This would be a mistake. Out of office emails are an amazing source of new information.
Here are the things you should be looking for:
Add any of the prospect’s details you don’t have. Check that you have all their contact details if you don’t already. The average number of people involved in B2B decision making has risen to 6.8 – that means getting your message out to a wider range of people is key if you want to close a deal.
Check that the prospect’s details are up to date. Why? 94% of businesses suspect that their customer data is inaccurate, and this inaccuracy costs U.S. businesses more than $611 billion each year. Check that you have the right name, position, email address and phone number.
Check for trigger events. A trigger event is anything that could create a marketing or sales opportunity. A newly hired member of the C-suite has authority over buying decisions, and as they are new to the job, might want to make a mark by changing up their suppliers. Perhaps they are moving departments or branches. Inform them of how your services could help in their next place of work. Let this new information shape the messaging they receive.
Take note of the day they return. This way you can reach out to them with your pitch once they are back in the office. This will also allow you to incorporate anything new you have learned, especially if there is a trigger event to shape your message around. Being first to reach out with a strategy based on a recent trigger event was found to win the sale 74% of the time.
Add the details of anyone your prospect has named to your contacts. OOO emails often name a colleague or supervisor who is covering the prospect’s work while away. These details can deliver you another lead to contact but BEFORE YOU DO, let’s have a quick look at ABM strategy.
Account Based Marketing (ABM) strategy: segment your contacts into accounts
Any names you find need to be treated as net new contacts – NOT net new prospect leads.
ABM strategy is a way of organising your contacts by account in your CRM. Prospects get annoyed when their position within an organisation and buying process is not taken into account and when everyone they work with is receiving the same exact messaging it can create the impression that you are not reputable.
With our two net new contacts, it is key that when you reach out to them you are transparent. Be honest about where you got their contact details from and who you are trying to reach – they may respond more favourably. In a case where the company is a previous client, this approach maintains a good relationship with them and builds upon any positive attitude you may previously have built there.
2. Evaluate your OOO contact to determine your best strategy
There are three key questions you need to answer when you are evaluating whether to pursue your out of office contact and how you should pursue them. The first touch is their first impression of you and will set the tone for your whole interaction – so it is important to think it through.
The key questions:
What account are they in and what is their role within that account? Be clear about your overarching objective in approaching the company as a whole. Is your aim to win yourself a new account and new business? Are you trying to increase account penetration? Are you angling for return business? Once you get an OOO lead, figure where they feature in that broader strategy. This is called Lead-to-Account (L2A)Matching and is key to the success of an ABM strategy. Understanding who your lead is and the role they play within the account will help you tailor your message to their pain points and interests.
What action do you want your contact to take after reading your email? Before you write to anyone you should always know exactly what you want to achieve by writing to them. Whether that is having your email forwarded to a decision maker, scheduling a follow-up call or an in-person meeting, or having a lead opt-in to a nurture campaign – ALWAYS decide this before you send out anything. Depending on who your company are and the sell, it may be worth motivating your contacts to fill out an online form and opt-in to future interactions with your company. Permission-based marketing can help you to develop long-term relationships with customers by creating trust as well as brand awareness. If you are new to a market and don’t have the name yet to get that permission, it is imperative that you ensure your messaging is relevant to the prospect’s business and of genuine business interest, and that you be respectful to their wishes if they ask you not to contact them again.
Would what worked in past campaigns for similar leads? Will it work again? After evaluating what your outcome is overall, and where your lead factors into that strategy, you need to intelligently decide what content is going to appeal to who your lead is and what their pain points are. You should measure what has worked for you in previous campaigns, and what messages resonate with who, and let that inform your messaging. (Read more about data smart campaigns here – blog link)
3. Put Your OOO Strategy in Motion
So now you have laid the groundwork for your outbound strategy, how do you put that thinking into practice?
Below is a simple breakdown of some steps to follow when executing your OOO strategy.
Update your CRM platform, and any marketing automation tools you use, with the contact information of your new contacts.
Send your original message to each of them – but include a personalised introduction. Mention who you originally tried to contact and outline why you are reaching out to them.
Send an email when your original prospect returns and incorporate any trigger event you have learned from their OOO message.
4. Analyze How Your OOO Strategy is Doing
As the brilliant W Edwards Deming once said, “In God we trust. All others bring data.”
Here are a few metrics that help you to quantify an OOO lead cultivation campaign:
Track the conversion rate from OOO contact to opt-in contact. If you have chosen to pursue a permission-based, opt-in strategy this can provide an easy metric to measure a campaign’s success. If your conversion rate is low, you may need to adjust the content you are offering or the messaging of your pitch.
Find the percentage of account contacts that were sourced from OOO emails. A fairly obvious measure of success. Your whole aim by nurturing your OOO contacts is to develop deeper and broader relationships across an organisation. You need to work out what is working for which account by monitoring key accounts and determining whether OOO contacts have become part of the lead landscape.
Measure the length of your sales cycle within accounts where OOO leads are part of the influencer ecosystem. Has who you have contacted had any effect on what decisions are made? Workplace decision-making is not as clear-cut as it once was. Traditional B2B selling focuses primarily on C-suite decision makers – but Google has found that while 64% of the C-suite do still have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite employees. As many as 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions. Broadening your prospecting often correlates with shorter sales cycles. Look back at work you have done in the past. Are the sales cycles the same length at accounts where OOO leads were not nurtured?
5. Automate Your Outbound Process
As your metrics may have shown, mining OOO replies for new leads and information about your target account will give your team a clear competitive advantage. However, going through every reply is tedious and takes forever.
Automating the process increases accuracy and allows you to scale your OOO strategy. It will also give you access to all of the data which provides you with what you need to measure how effective your messaging is.
So what are some things to keep in mind to make the most out of automating your campaign?
Write two versions of every email you send out for a campaign. The first targets your existing leads, the second targets leads discovered in OOO messages. The latter email should be transparently clear about how and why you are contacting them. It should also contain a personalised introduction incorporating what you have learnt from the OOO response.
Set up automatic alerts from your CRM platform alerting Sales to follow-up their email, and to place a phone call when your lead returns to the office. This will help time your messaging to when your prospect is going to be most receptive.
Net new leads can automatically be added to your MA and CRM and assigned to the correct account. They can then be enrolled in future campaigns and strategies – which will be ABM smart because of how you have segmented your contacts.
A Final Word On Out Of Office Replies …
Automation is never accurate 100% of the time. Often programmes require manual checking and upkeep – something your in-house team may not be trained for, and may not have time to do. Depending on how your outbound strategy operates, it may make sense to offshore this work to save your team time. If your offshore email marketing altogether your team would have more time to focus on meetings and interested prospects. Growthonics incorporates an OOO strategy into all its client’s email marketing campaigns – Book a Demo