A 5-step prospecting system for making better connections.

A 5-Step Prospecting System for Getting in Front of the Right Person

I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to prospects over the past three months, and one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is getting my emails in front of the right people.

This is obviously an important issue to address, because, if your email never reaches the right person, it’s not of much use to you or to the company!

So, how can you increase your chances of getting your prospecting emails to the right people?

Through trial-and-error and the help of a few free internet tools, I’ve developed my own five-step system to improve my odds.

So far, the results have been promising…

Out of 44 emails I’ve sent using this system, I’ve received:

  • 1 positive message saying they’d forwarded my email to the marketing team
  • 2 positive messages saying they’d keep my info on file
  • 2 emails saying they had in-house writers and weren’t looking to hire at all

And, best of all…

  • 3 positive responses expressing interest in my services. One person even mentioned how much my emails stood out from other prospecting emails they’d received.

Overall, that’s an 18.2% response rate, with three strong leads that are excellent candidates for my web-writing business. And, even the less-than-ideal replies gave me valuable information.

To be clear, part of the reason this strategy has been working so well is that I already have a few other things in place:

  • I’ve chosen my niche.
  • I’ve set up my freelance website.
  • I have clarity on the services I’m offering.
  • I’m confident in my unique selling proposition (USP).
  • I also have a basic LinkedIn profile set up, which is necessary for Step 2, as you’ll see in a minute.

So, assuming you have a similar foundation in place, you can also use this system for your prospecting. Here’s how…

Step 1:  Identify Your Top 50 Clients

The first step is to identify your top 50 prospects – the dream clients you really want to work with.

This is a good step for any prospecting strategy, simply because it helps you narrow down and target the clients you’re truly excited to work for.

And, it’s especially useful for this particular system for two reasons:

  • The steps are a little more time-consuming than other strategies, so you’ll want to make sure you’re using your time well and prioritizing your top clients.
  • You’ll be using a number of online tools with this system, and the free versions have restrictions in terms of how much and/or how often you can use them. So again, you’ll want to prioritize the most important prospects.

As you compile your top 50 list, record it somewhere where you can easily find and update it as you go.

I keep my list in a simple Google spreadsheet with one column for the name of the company and a blank column to the right for notes.

Step 2Use LinkedIn to Find the Name of the Right Contact

Once you have your list of top 50 companies, the next step is to search for contact people at that company on LinkedIn.

Go to the company’s page, if they have one, and see if any of their employees have LinkedIn profiles.

Using LinkedIn to find employees

Click on “See all employees on LinkedIn” and then scroll through the list of employees, looking for anyone with a title like “vice president of marketing,” “marketing manager,” “marketing director,” or “digital marketing manager.”

Use your best judgment about which of these people is best to contact. It’s okay to guess.

Once you identify someone, make a note of the person’s name, and then proceed to the next step.

If you can’t find a marketing person on the company’s LinkedIn profile, or if the company doesn’t have a LinkedIn presence at all, you can either:

1) Find the name of an owner or co-owner (especially if it’s a small company), or

2) Search the company’s website for leads.

If you look hard enough, you’ll almost always find some senior management person whose name you can use.

Step 3Use Hunter.io to Find the Best Email Address

The next step in the process is to find the best email address out of the ones publicly available.

Hunter.io is essentially a database of email addresses, and the free version lets you access quite a lot.

Once you create a free account, simply search through their database to find any verified email addresses for the company. When you type in the company’s domain name, you’ll find one or more of the following:

1) An info-type email (most common)

2) The “formula” the company uses to make their email addresses

3) The email address of the exact person you’re looking for, or

4) Nothing at all

If you find the email address of the person you’re looking for, you’re in luck! You can move on to the next step.

If you only find a formula, such as firstname@company.com, you can try using the formula for your contact and see if the email goes through or bounces back.

Hunter.io’s email search feature

If you only find an info-type email address, that’s also good enough for our purposes.

And, if you find nothing at all, search the company’s website for an email address or contact form.

Step 4:  Set Up a Professional Email Signature

The next step is to set up a professional email management system, including a professional signature to make a good impression. After all your research, the last thing you want is to send an email that looks like spam.

I’ve been using the free version of Mailbutler.io, which helps me organize my emails and give them a more polished look. The free version allows you 30 free “actions” each month, which include link tracking, a “send later” feature, and professional email signatures.

With Mailbutler, it takes about one minute to create a nice-looking email signature that includes your brand’s colors, website, and social media handles.

Sample Email Signature in Mailbutler

While you can only send 30 emails with Mailbutler signatures with the free version, there is a hack – just copy and paste the signature from one of your sent emails into your new emails. While this isn’t ideal long-term, it works while you’re just getting started.

The other main advantage of using something like Mailbutler is that you can see if and when the recipient opens your email. This is a very valuable piece of information that helps you follow up more effectively.

Whatever email management system you use, the key is to make sure you have a polished email template in place that will present you as a professional, not a spammer.

Step 5Craft and Send a Targeted Email to Your Contacts

If you have the marketing manager’s name and email from Hunter.io, you’re golden! Write your letter of introduction directly to the marketing manager. Be sure to focus on what you can do for the company, and include anything you can to make your email personal and relevant to them.

If you have the name of a marketing manager or owner, but no email address, there’s still a good chance you can get your email to that person.

What you can do is write to the general customer service email address, but make it clear you’re trying to get in touch with your contact.

You can write in the subject line:  “Could you forward to X?” (X being the name of your contact).

Then include in the body copy a short message at the very beginning saying something like:  “Hello, could you please forward the below email to X? Thank you!”

Below that, simply write your email to your contact as if you’re writing directly to them.

Why does this work?

First of all, it doesn’t take a lot of work for customer service to forward an email. And, in my experience, they’re more willing to do that than give out contact information of company employees to strangers.

Secondly, even if the contact you found in your research isn’t the best person to contact, you’re still making a good impression by showing you’ve done your research. You’re not just another freelancer blasting the same message to thousands of companies. You care about them and are doing what you can to contact the right person.

Now, if you don’t have anything – no name or email address – don’t get discouraged. You can still send your intro email through a contact form on the company’s website.

Instead of a name of a contact, just write in the subject something like:  “Could you please forward to your marketing director?”

Just make sure you tailor the body copy to the company as much as you can, so they see you’ve made some effort to make it relevant to them. While this won’t be as effective as including a real person’s name, it’s better than nothing!

At some point as you go through this system, you’ll run out of free searches on Hunter.io, and free actions on Mailbutler. That’s okay. You can try out free trials of the premium services, upgrade your accounts, or simply continue with the system next month when your free actions reset.

You can also combine this method with other strategies and tips for even better results, such as the ones John Torre and Kimberly Weitkamp have written about.

If you’re struggling to find the right email addresses for your prospects, these steps will definitely increase your chances of getting in front of the right person and getting a response.

By taking a little extra time to do your research, and using a few free online tools, your emails are much more likely to be noticed and passed on to the right people.

So, what about you – have you struggled getting prospect’s email addresses? Are you going to give this system a try? Tell me in the comments!


Rebekah Mays


    • Yeah, it’s pretty handy! You can’t always find the exact email addresses you’re looking for, but it certainly saves time you might otherwise spend looking at different pages on a company’s website.

  • Hi, Rebekah, I really found your article helpful. Your reference to Hunter and Mailbox Butler gave me a head’s up. I’d been having a difficult time trying to find email addresses. Thanks a lot.

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