Did Google and Yahoo just announce the death of cold email?

cold email cold outreach social selling
cold outreach

There has been a lot of chatter and social media hype about the new policies that Yahoo and Google are implementing in 2024, which could have a big impact on the way many have been using cold outreach.

In this article, I’ve collated the reactions and what this means for you. It’s a long one, but worth the read (even if I do say so myself).

For the past 5 years a whole industry has been established to enable sales teams to do cold outreach via email at scale. Whilst this has been powerful in accelerating sales, it has had some catastrophic consequences. It's made it easy to get in front of hundreds and thousands of people. That ease has been exploited and abused to the point that it is undermining the value of email.

Google and Yahoo are imposing some rules to try and stem the flood of emails that are being fired out in the name of sales. These changes effectively raise the bar for people sending cold email or bulk emailing, they come into force in February 2024 and the aim is that they will eliminate a large volume of marketing and sales emails which are irrelevant or untargeted.

So what are the changes?

Google and Yahoo will enforce this new set of rules for emailers who send more than 5,000 messages a day to Gmail and Yahoo users:

  • Email authentication: Google and Yahoo will require mass email senders to authenticate their email using security protocols like SPF, DKIM and DMARC.
  • One-click unsubscribing: Both email providers will ask you to offer your subscribers a one-click unsubscribe option in every message you send.
  • Honouring unsubscribes promptly: You’ll have to process unsubscribe requests within two days.
  • A low spam complaint rate: To ensure you send emails people want, the two providers are enforcing a clear spam rate threshold of 0.3%.

On the face of it, they are positive changes which very few can argue against. However, it has created turmoil in sales organisations.

If you don’t comply, you will be blocked by Yahoo and Google. Who cares you I hear you say? Well between them they control the majority of personal accounts and more than 48% of B2B email. Believe it or not Microsoft/Outlook has been losing market share to Google Workspace for almost a decade.

For most they can comply with these changes, except that the very low abuse reporting means if you need to keep your abuse reports under 1 per 1,000 emails. Why is that a problem? Well, even with consent and an opt-in email list, it’s normal to get some abuse reports. With cold, you could expect that to be significantly higher than 0.3%.

I did a quick test this morning and ran a cold email to 80 people, hyper targets and all valid emails. I received one abuse complaint. I likely send 50 or so emails for my work, so even with my day-to-day email traffic, that would trigger my whole company being blocked. Even for the best people using cold email, this threshold is so low, it’s almost not worth the risk. 

This also presents a big problem for people who have built large email lists, suddenly they face the same issues, even with opt-ins, you get a few reports.

The sales world is happy and terrified. Happy that it will end something perhaps they’ve been uncomfortable doing, but also terrified because instead of blasting emails, now, you have to skilfully engage prospects.

Winning by volume is over

No organisation on earth would admit to sending high volume, poorly targeted sales emails. Yet, when we look at our inboxes, what do we see? The truth is for the last few years too many have traded quantity for quality. 

This has had very serious consequences, firstly, sellers haven’t really had to sell, just respond to bites for interest. I’ve seen this myself when I have trained inside companies. I've met sellers who don’t really understand the value proposition of their employer and just spit out prompts from queue cards.

The second impact, which I’ve been talking about for almost a year, is that volume game has also reduced the effectiveness of email more generally. Response rates are down more than 30%.

This means instead of sending hundreds and thousands of emails to get a small number of bites, sellers will have to focus on developing prospects. It will require skill and effort, something that I feel has been lost from sales (particularly SaaS and Tech) over the last few years.

Value-led Selling

These changes are going to force a sales approach which leads with value (to reduce abuse), this will mean more research, narrower focus. Less outreach but more high-quality outreach. In the short term, this will mean a bit of struggle in adjusting from a low-hanging fruit approach to sales, to more strategic approaches.

This is going to be tough for companies with armies of SDRs and companies which have SaaS offerings will have to think about a different approach to selling their subscription model services as the email game will be up for them.

This does create some opportunities. We expect the volume of emails to go down and the quality of emails to go up. Some might say Google and Yahoo are making email great again.

We know for a fact that 1:1 emails have way more impact and higher response rates than personalised emails (templated). When the buyer can see personal effort has been made, research has been done, they are more responsive.

Embrace Multi-threading

For most sellers, they have used their channels in silos. LinkedIn, calls and email have never really been joined up. For many, LinkedIn has been the backup when calls and email haven't worked. It’s never really been used to ‘prime’ prospects before outreach.

LinkedIn for a long time has been more than a database, but many just scrape it for emails and phone numbers, before moving to their preferred method of outreach. The reality is, we know as fact, that using LinkedIn to engage prospects BEFORE you make calls and BEFORE you send emails has a massive lift on response rates. They also trigger less email spam reports.

This will force more people to use social selling as part of their sales process. Likewise LinkedIn has implemented anti-spam processes to eliminate high volume messaging. If you send the same message to a significant number of users and it’s met with a low response or negative response, your messages get obscured and the recipient is warned they are malicious and spam.

This will be a golden age for sales, but there will be a few bumps as companies adapt to a more skilled and multi-channel approach to selling.

Why is this a good thing?

Well, for me, this will usher in the beginning of the end of lazy outreach. Yes, there will be ways to circumvent these new rules, but the profitability of high-volume cold outreach will be killed off. You cross that 0.3% threshold and all your emails are blocked. That’s a big risk, big cost and a lot of hassle if you want to try to use burner domains to skirt around it.

Personally, this is going to be good for my business, because I've advocated for nearly a decade that social selling is a very different skill if you have been used to phone or email outreach. It’s the art of building relationships with prospects in a personal space that feels like email, but it isn’t. This will make selling a skill again, rather than what we have seen, which has been bordering spam. Many have dismissed LinkedIn because there has been no imperative, now, it will become critical to build relationships BEFORE outreach to get better responses and avoid the worst case scenario - your domain being trashed by Google and Yahoo.

Social selling, it isn’t just sending messages on social media instead of email, nor is it about posting content and waiting for the leads to roll in, it’s a hybrid of marketing and selling weaved into one process to build long term partnerships with clients. It's a strategic approach to selling that leverages relationships to unlock revenue.


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