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Getting Started

Most founders rely on network connections to find their design partners and customers. While this generally works early-on, eventually, that network will dry up. When that happens, so will customer leads. By developing a structured prospecting process, you will greatly increase your odds of engaging new customers.

Prospecting is proactively engaging potential customers, rather than waiting for them to find you. This is the antithesis of the old adage "if you build it they will come." We recommend taking a much more active approach to your sales pipeline. In the steps outlined in the next few chapters, we'll cover our recommended process for identifying, messaging, and engaging potential buyers.

About Mike Grossman

Mike has spent over 20 years in sales, primarily in the high tech sector. As Marin Software's 25th employee, he successfully grew the inside sales team from 1 to 51 members, and helped drive revenues from $3 million to $100 million, and a Goldman Sachs IPO. On 3 separate occasions in his career, he has scaled inside sales organizations from less than 5 to over 30 in under 18 months. Mike spent the first 5 years of his career on Wall Street in New York, selling equities to European investors. He earned his bachelor’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University and his MBA from the University of Iowa, and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their 8 and 4 year old sons.

Target Customer Personas

To effectively reach potential buyers, it's critical to know who to target. Before jumping into outreach, use the Identify Your Personas section in our Product Market Fit guide to better understand your target customers. Leverage personas as the north star in your outreach efforts.

Elements of a Prospecting Process

Once you understand your ideal customer persona, you can establish a prospecting pipeline by focusing on five key areas - Data, Tools, People, Process, and Messaging. In this guide, we'll focus heavily on Data, Tools, Process, and Messaging.

Data & Tools

Establishing the right research and outreach process will ensure you're targeting the ideal audience, continually expanding your network, and optimizing your outreach process for a high success/ response rate.

Setting up your datasets and tools is an approximately 45 minutes process, but is a critical step in ensuring you're maximizing your efforts. In this chapter, we'll cover a step-by-step process for developing a targeted prospect list, enriching your data sets with contact information, utilizing LinkedIn for more targeted outreach, and leveraging tools to speed up the process. While this initial setup may seem daunting, once it's up and running you can use it in perpetuity.

Building Your Prospecting List

A prospecting list is your customer dream list. This should include customers from multiple sectors, stages, geographies, and Persona types. When developing your list, we recommend using BuiltWith,, LeadGenius, or HGInsights, or existing data sets like INC 5000 or Fortune 500. Aim to build a list that has at least 50-100 leads to start.

Enriching Company-Level Data

Export and enrich your company-level data using ZoomInfo or Demandbase, or find someone on Fiverr or Upwork to help with an enrichment project. Your final list should be highly targeted toward your Ideal Customer Personas and include information related to revenue, location, vertical, etc.

Uploading Data to LinkedIn Sales Navigator

Upload the data sets to Linkedin Sales Navigator and use the "account appending" feature to match the company on LinkedIn's dataset. Once you have the information uploaded, tune the data set within Linkedin using suppression filters to remove “noisy” prospects.

Extracting LinkedIn Leads

Extract person-level data from LinkedIn to a spreadsheet using the Waalaxy chrome plugin. This list should include leads that work at your target companies and have influence within the business.

Aim to include multiple people from the same organization on your list. The strategy here is to go "high and wide" - reaching out to multiple people from an organization will give you a better chance of connecting with a decision-maker.

Adding Contact Information

Enrich your new leads list with contact information using the LeadIQ chrome extension, ZoomInfo or Demandbase, or finding someone on Fiverr or Upwork to provide email and phone numbers. Ideally, each lead will have an associated email, phone number, and LinkedIn URL to provide multiple options for messaging and outreach.

Additional Tools

In addition to the tools outlined above, a strong sales process should also include a basic CRM, like Hubspot (5 seat minimum) or Salesforce (best for rapidly growing teams), and a sales automation tool, like Outreach or SalesLoft. While these do have an upfront cost, they will pay dividends in time saved with valuable outreach automations, reminders, and metrics. Note: these tools can easily be used for recruiting purposes for teams with budget constraints.

Email Outreach

Now that you've developed your leads list, the next step is sending outreach. The goal with any outreach strategy is to establish a connection with the prospect and set up a Discovery call. Outreach is not about closing a deal, but rather earning the opportunity for future conversations.

Keep in mind, the likelihood of a response on your first message is low. Aim to reach out to each lead a few times per channel (email, LinkedIn, phone, etc).

To kick things off, we'll start with an overview of email prospecting. Email is by far the most common form of outreach due to its high ROI, the ability to automate advanced email sequences, and the availability of contact information databases. Additionally, email allows the prospect more time to respond and consider the opportunity, allowing for better-quality leads.

Email Basics


Creating an automated email sequence will save time and ensure your highest likelihood of a response. Aim to create at least 3 different email messages: initial outreach, follow up, second follow up. Tools like Outreach, Salesloft, or Apollo can help you automatically send each message at pre-determined intervals to maximize response rates.


Each message should feel "handwritten" - avoid sounding like a marketer or an SDR. Messages that feel templated, overly sales-y, or generic will fall flat and can negatively impact your brand. Craft a message that shows it’s coming directly from the founder.


Most prospects will be reading these messages on their mobile phones, it's crucial to make the email mobile-friendly and limit your message to 3-5 sentences. 

With limited space, the key is to share a major technical differentiator that quickly translates into customer value. You can use our Pitching & Origin Story guide to help craft these technical differentiators and translate them into a successful email pitch. 


Email outreach provides a great opportunity to test your GTM messaging. Aim to try 5-6 different value propositions and see which ones generate the best reactions. This data will be invaluable in better understanding both your product's position in the market and which value statement resonate with various audiences.

Email Structure

No matter your target customer, all outreach emails should follow a very similar structure - brief introduction, problem statement,  product solution, and requesting a Discovery session or referral.

This structure allows readers to quickly understand your value proposition and what steps they need to take to engage further.

Example Email

Hey there {{first_name}},

We haven't spoken before, but I understand that {{company}} is using Salesforce.

My company Mike Inc has developed a new no-code Salesforce add-on that eliminates the need for apex code to executive flow and transaction control statements on Saleforce servers in conjunction with calls to the API. This can save you a lot of project management and dev time.

May I ask if you have some time in the coming weeks, so we can show you what we're working on and answer any questions you might have?



Follow-Up Emails & Outreach Cadence

Follow up emails should be short and concise. Even something as simple as "Any thoughts?," + reiterating your value proposition can be an effective follow-up strategy.

Conventional wisdom suggests sending long email cadences with 14-15 steps. However, there are many good reasons to not do this. For one, if you're a founder with a new domain, sending a large number of unsolicited emails could land you on ISP block lists and Google may penalize you for this activity. Secondly, a 15-step cadence is simply not sustainable with the other demands on founder or early leader roles. 

It’s better to send no more than 50-75 emails per day and reach out to a prospect no more than 3-5 times, targeting 25-50 prospects per tranche. By doing so, you can avoid the risk of mail server penalization and maintain a more sustainable outreach strategy.

Email Benchmarks

Even for highly targeted messaging for products that have product-market fit, you can expect an open rate between 40-60%. Your reply rate is likely to be around 3-5%, and ~25% of those replies may be positive. 

So, for example, if you reach out to 100 prospects, and you receive 4 replies, and from those 4 replies, you set up 1-2 Demo or Discovery calls, then you're doing great.

LinkedIn Outreach

Setting up multiple streams for outbound activity is critical to your prospecting success. On its own, prospecting on LinkedIn is hit or miss; most leads are inundated with generic InMails and cutting through the noise can be difficult. However, like email, there are great apps to automate outreach and make the process more effective and efficient. Some of these apps include Zopto, Expandi, and Waalaxy.

LinkedIn Voice & Video 

One of the challenges of LinkedIn outreach is that social credibility drives response rates. Without public case studies, thought leadership pieces, or an established brand, your response rate to written messages will likely be low. However, company leaders are generally interested in cutting edge technology and want to work with entrepreneurs, and as founders, you can use that to your advantage. 

LinkedIn has underutilized features called "Voice” and "Video". These have a relatively high response rate at ~10%, and are worth testing as a prospecting channel. Personalized voice/ video messages are unique enough to capture attention and are the perfect channel to leverage your tested "founder pitch" to drive engagement. Even for leads who are not interested in being "sold to," video/ voice opens up the opportunity for networking.

Note: LinkedIn voice is only available through the phone app version of LinkedIn, not on the laptop or browser. Both Vidyard and SendSpark are available options for sending high quality videos through the LinkedIn platform.

LinkedIn Best Practices

LinkedIn Video and Voice messages can be used to follow up an email or as an initial introduction. The key with either path is keep your message between 30–40 seconds and don’t over-engineer it. Keep it feeling human and authentic.

Email Follow Up Example

"We haven't spoken, my name is {{Your_Name}}, and I'm the founder and CEO of {{Company}}. I sent you an email a couple weeks ago. Would love to connect. When you have a chance, if you can reply, would be grateful for your thoughts."

Initial Introduction Example

"We haven't spoken, my name is {{Your_Name}}, and I'm the founder and CEO of {{Company}}. {{Value proposition}}. Would love to connect, if you have some time in the coming weeks, please let me know."

Phone Outreach

While picking up the phone and cold calling leads is less popular these days, it can be a particularly powerful tool for founders and executives. You have a unique advantage in outbound prospecting as the center-piece of the vision and passion behind your product, and this unique perspective is typically in stark contrast with the endless canned sales messages most leads receive. Don't be afraid to play big and cold call prospects, keep your value proposition center stage and share why you truly believe in your product.

Cold Call Structure

Cold calls should mirror the structure of your email and LinkedIn messages. There should be a clear value statement and call to action, both in a live phone conversation and in voicemails.

Additionally, remember that reaching the right person takes some effort. If you don't get the right response from your initial contact, make sure to ask for a referral. Additionally, if you no one picks up, don't be afraid to leave a voicemail.

Example Phone Message
Basic Talk Track

Hi, {{Name}}... {{Introduction}} We haven't spoken before, but I'm the founder & CEO of {{Company Name}}. Do you handle {{Function}} for {{Company Name}}?

Simple Elevator Pitch

My company produces a new widget that allows for no-code updating of your CRM - this can save you a lot of project management and dev time. Is there any way we can get on your calendar on either {{Time 1 or Time 2}}?

Ask for a Reference

Do you mind if I ask who handles that?

Cold Call Cadence 

The number of cold calls you make each day should depend on the responses you receive. A good starting point is 5-10 calls per day. After a couple hundred calls, you'll have a good data set to analyze what is and isn't working to make adjustments over time. However, timing is key when cold calling. Morning calls tend to have better answer rates and are met with more alert and focused responses.

Cold Call Best Practices

Speak Slowly and Clearly

Most people speak too quickly and lose the impact of their message. Speak more slowly than you feel comfortable with and focus on clearly articulating your message.

Stand Up While Speaking

There is an audible different in your voice tone and projection when standing vs. sitting. Standing will make your pitch sound more confident and clear. Try to find a quiet area where you have the ability to stand or walk around while cold calling.

End Sentences with Questions, Not Statements

The goal is to encourage leads to engage further with the conversation. End your sentences with questions to help keep the conversation flowing and encourage engagement.

Be Authentic

Aim to sound as human and authentic as possible. Humans are hardwired to notice patterns, if you overly focus on reading from a script or removing all filler words, your message will sound robotic and lose it's meaning. The goal should be value and inspiration, not perfection.

Use an Informal Script

While reading directly from a script will sound robotic, it is important to have loose talking points to provide some structure and ensure that you're not missing any key points.

Record Yourself When Possible

If it's legal in your state, consider recording yourself to get an accurate picture of how you're coming across on the call. This can help you to identify areas for improvement. 

Best Practices

Prioritize Consistency

Consistency is key when it comes to outbound prospecting. Founders and early-stage leaders often have many demands on their time, and without a well-established funnel and infrastructure, it's difficult to maintain a regular prospecting cadence. Make sure you're committing time to gather enough data to get a clear picture of what's working and what's not.

Always Ask for Referrals

Many early-stage companies fail to ask for referrals. It’s rare that you get the right person via email or on the phone on the first try. Asking for referrals puts you in front of the right people, and as you’ll find, many prospects are eager to help and consider this a networking opportunity. For more information about asking for referrals, check out our Customer Engagement & Validation section in our Product Market Fit guide.

Nuance is Everything

It’s vital to have self-awareness of how you’re positioning your product. Pay attention to the details of your messages and analyze how you’re connecting with your audience. 

Reach Out to Multiple People at the Same Organization

For outbound prospecting in larger organizations, it's important to go "high and wide" - you want to reach out to multiple prospects at the same organization through various channels. Whether it’s cold calls or LinkedIn, not everyone responds to the same channel, so it's important to diversify your outreach strategy.

Identify If You're a Known Product vs. Category-Creator 

When building a product, it falls into one of two categories. Either it's (1) a complement or a competitor to your target company’s existing applications or (2) it's doing something completely new.

If it's the latter, you want to focus on early adopters. These are typically managers and directors who are newer to their companies and less risk-averse. For these prospects, it's important to find people who:

  • Are relatively new to their companies (usually under a year).
  • Are on an upward trajectory in their careers.
  • Have worked at smaller VC-funded tech companies themselves at some point in the recent past.
  • Have previous experience at startups, and therefore, have more empathy for founders. 

Tools & Templates

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