Cold emails feel gross and ineffective. What are some alternatives?

I run an educational peer reviews SaaS app for Universities: peerfeedback.io

My competitors are : https://www.peergrade.io/ and https://www.peerceptiv.com/.

At the moment I only have one customer. My goal for this year is to get at least one other University onboard.

I have been trying to reach out to professors via cold emails.

The reply rate has gone up once I started Bluetick.io for automation, but I feel like I'm pretty much harrasing people into submission, spamming them until they finally reply. This hasn't been very effective so far.

The next thing I'm going to try is to instead of trying to sell the product on the cold email, to instead offer a webinar for free about peer reviews and then pitch the product on the webinar. This is a strategy that one of my competitors uses.

The founder of one of my competitors recently did a story talking about the early days of his company and he did indeed use cold emails. https://hackernoon.com/founder-interviews-david-kofoed-wind-of-peergrade-de9dff229197

Do you have any other ideas for marketing this product? How can I sell to Universities? I'm starting to get really frustrated.

P.S. I'm aware that my landing page is quite weak at the moment. I haven't worked on optimizing that all, since I don't think it matters that much for the kind of sales I'm doing.


  1. 2

    Perhaps start on content marketing. For starters, "PeerGrade vs Peerceptive vs. PeerFeedback" comparison post.

    Look for leads on Twitter. Type in your term, see what people say about your competitors, if there is even a slight hint of dissatisfaction, there's your in. Also amazing for finding positive feedback for features you may need.


    Don't know if this would fly, but worth a try - walk to campuses, and post your ad right on those boards they have outside. Might get in trouble, might not :)

    Add some sort of a sharing / invite feature for students so they can invite people they know. Not sure how you would pull this off since I am not intimately familiar with your app.

    Gamify, add leaderboards on who has done more peer reviews or something. List the schools you want to target, integrate with sharing / referral system of some sort where students are incentivized to share instead of professors (more numbers that way). On that note, make onboarding SUPER easy.. like one click IN then activate with email.

    Start thinking about retargetting. If you can't get someone to sign up but can get them to visit your site, have your ads follow them around :) I know, it's creepy but works.

    A bunch of organic content ideas here: http://prntscr.com/n0cblq . (this will take time, but will pay off for a long time to come)

    1. 1

      Thank you for your detailed response and your suggestions! This is very generous of you.

      I really like the Twitter idea, since that way I can find people who already have an intention to use something like or they are already using something similar but are having problems with it.

      I had thought about content marketing, but I know that is more of a long term strategy, so I was waiting to do it later, but perhaps I could write an article or two and then feed them through Google ads.

      About marketing directly on campuses, it is something I want to try once I make a trip to another city with more campuses, but where I'm currently at, I'm just trying to use my local network to find contacts.

      I like your idea of getting referrals from users. As a matter of fact, one professor recently came on-board because one of his students suggested it to him.

      Once again, thank you very much. I guess I still have plenty of venues to experiment with.

  2. 1

    90% of the battle is targeting the right audience and crafting the right message. 10% is the communication medium. Cold email is great if you can get that 90% right.

    1. 1

      I really like how you phrased this... E-mail is jut a medium. You are right, the main problem is getting the right audience and the right message, not the medium itself.

  3. 1

    Saw your email. It is super long.

    You need to identify a few things.

    1. Who exactly is your target? - Is it a professor? Is it the TA? Is it the department head? Who buys software like this, who sets it up, who uses it? Sales where the buyer with the $ and the user are different are harder, since the person paying for it doesn't directly see the benefit.

    2. Does your target know they have a problem? There are better ways of doing things, but if your target doesn't already understand and, this is important, have a name or description of the problem, it is going to be hard to reach them. Imagine someone is sick, with a disease, but they don't know what it is. You could tell them to their face "I am selling a cure for xyzdisease for $1. 100% safe and effective." and if they didn't KNOW they had xyzdisease, they are not going to buy it. If they don't know they have a problem, you have to describe things like their issue and help them discover the problem they have.

    So for example does your target, professors, know they have an issue? Do they feel the pain your software solves.

    I'll be honest, I read some of your cold email, and I don't know exactly what your software does. I am clearly not your target, but it should be plain what it does.

    1. If your target knows they have a problem, how are they describing that problem? What are they talking about? What terms do they use? You need to research and find those terms, then use those actual terms.

    2. Where does your target hang out? What type of content do they consume? If your target professors read academic journals and hang out at the college coffee shop, DO NOT advertise in reddit and the local bar. Go to where they currently are, and look for ways to provide value.

    3. Can you name and perfectly describe your ideal customer? Like can you point to a specific professor you know, and describe exactly what she or he wants, what their budget is, what the buying process is, what pain you are solving for them, how to describe that pain? Sometimes trying to build and solve for one person is easier than the nameless faceless many.

    Good luck!

    1. 1
      1. I haven't fully figured this out yet. Professors are the most obvious target, since they are the ones who control the course, but they are not the ones who pay... To make the problem worse, a great part of the benefit is really for the students, not the professor, but marketing this to students doesn't make any sense. I guess this is something I will have to figure out along the way, via trial and error.
      2. In many cases, I think they don't know they have a problem which I know is very problematic. There are a few cases where professors already use tools like mine, and they are having problems with them, which are the low hanging fruit. The other ones will require extensive education to convince them.

      About what the software does... I think you have hit the nail into a huge problem with that email.. In that email, I assume that they know what the concept of peer reviews are in the context of a course, perhaps many of them do not know. I have to make a better job of explain the point of this in a single sentence.

      1. In the case that they are having issues with their peer reviews software, I have some ideas as to what they might be searching for online since I directly asked a Professor, but I have to research this more.
      2. Good question... It is something I have to look more into.
      3. I do have someone like that, but the problem is that there might not be that many others like him... It is something I have to reserach further.

      Thanks for all of this points. It got me thinking about many things I have to address.

  4. 1

    Cold emails feel gross and ineffective.

    The reply rate has gone up once I started Bluetick.io for automation, but I feel like I'm pretty much harrasing people

    This hasn't been very effective so far.

    No kidding :)


    Stop automating your emails ;) Research the person you're sending an email to and literally open up your email client and talk to them one-on-one like you would if you walked up to them in real life :)

    The next thing I'm going to try is to instead of trying to sell the product on the cold email

    Hahaha, yea... stop doing that :) That would make me feel gross and it would sure as hell be ineffective ;)

    Approach like you'd approach someone in real life. Add value. No, giving a discount on your product is not adding value ;) Add value to their lives with zero expectations of anything in return.

    See your response rates skyrocket :)

    1. 2

      Thanks! I will give a shot to a super customized, super researched email and see what happens :)

      1. 1

        Thanks for being positive about my response! Please follow up and let me know how it goes, I can help tweak it all if your responses are still not so good.

  5. 1

    Your emails feel "gross and ineffective" because you're probably not sharing a message that resonates with the right people.

    When you can cold email someone to sell them a solution to their an actual problem they have, suddenly instead of feeling gross, you feel amazing... Because you are genuinely helping them.

    Sales feel great when you are being genuine

    This means that you need to:

    1. Identify exactly who your customer is (their likes/dislikes, pain points, etc).
    2. Create a message that resonates with them (i.e. solves a pain point they have).
    3. Only target that customer and no one else!
    4. Have an amazing product that actually solves their pain point.

    And the actual place where most people start feeling sleazy is when they are pitching their product, because they are selling snake oil in that their product actually does NOT do what they said it would.

    I think you'll find that those leads will respond well too because they need your solution. This is coming from someone who does cold outreach all day long for a $2,500+ product to people with not that much money.

    1. 1

      Thank you for your detailed response! It's very kind of you.

      You are right. In the case where I actually email people for whom I can solve a problem, the email will actually make them happy, not annoyed.

      I'm having trouble though, filtering people to find those who are actually in the need for my solution. I wonder how can I do that.

      Somebody else suggested looking through Twitter for people having issues, I guess that might be one way to go about it.

      I definitely do not want to feel sleazy, so I will try to focus on those four points you mentioned.

      How do you identify leads for your product?

      1. 1

        What you need to keep doing is finding pools of customers that fit your target audience, then get in front of them on a 1-on-1 basis and help them solve the pain points they are having. When you are helping them-- if your product truly does solve their pain points like you think it does--it will be really natural for you to show them how you can solve their problem with using your product... And this will be genuine!

        The key here is that you give out more value than you are trying to take. This is a key principle that I struggled with for a while too!

        Regarding where these pools are... The classic example is Facebook Groups. My cold outreach funnel though right now is Instagram Content targeted to my niche, then DM the people that follow me and look like they are in my target audience. You'll have to be creative because your target audience might not be on these places, so you'll have to use whatever there is where they are at.

        I'm having trouble though, filtering people to find those who are actually in the need for my solution. I wonder how can I do that.

        The people that you are emailing might need your solution, but the message you are sending them might not be conveying the value they need to make the leap. I would try to get in front of a few ideal customers on a 1-on-1 basis and just listen to them, dig deeper into their pains, figure out how motivated they are to solve them, and what it takes to gain their trust. Every time I've done this it's made my cold outreach messaging wayyy more effective.

        Also remember that you aren't going to convert 100% of people that you message either. There's no reason to send them 5 follow-ups if they never respond to begin with. Those folks that are ready to trust you and motivated to fix their problem will respond quickly. Move forward with those folks and gain as much insight as you can. Iterate your product and let the referrals do the talking later.

  6. 1

    did you try whatsapp?

    also, if you need a lowcost alternative try https://leadpro.co !

    1. 1

      No, I haven't tried Whatsapp. That's an interesting idea, but wouldn't it feel creepy to get a random marketing message on your phone?

  7. 1

    The reply rate has gone up once I started Bluetick.io for automation, but I feel like I'm pretty much harrasing people into submission, spamming them until they finally reply. This hasn't been very effective so far.

    What kind of replies/reply rate are you getting?

    Also, what are you putting as content in the emails?

    1. 1

      I have gotten the following replies:

      1. A professor from the same University I currently work with (I'm looking to expand inside of there), said he was interested since the current reviews tool he is using doesn't work like he wants.
      2. A person who deals with EdTech inside my current customer replied with "yes", to schedule a meeting, but never filled out my calendly to setup a time.
      3. A person from another school replied saying that she doesn't have the time for that discussion now and that for that program, those kind of decisions are made at the program level, not at the course level.
      4. Another professor from the same University I currently work with said he would connect me with his instructional design staff, but I never heard from them.

      My email looks like this:

      I am Gabriel, the developer of peerfeedback.gatech.edu. You are probably super busy, so I will be quick!

      Peer Feedback (PF) is a peer reviewing tool used in several of Georgia Tech's OMSCS courses (a program with a lot in common with {{ program name goes here }}); where it has been consistently rated by students as one of the most positive elements of the courses in which it’s used, and also has been shown to help support positive learning outcomes.

      This tool is well-suited for open-ended work such as design documents and essays.

      Some of the benefits that Peer Feedback offers OMSCS students and professors are:

      • A scalable “participation grade”, individualized feedback at scale
      • Giving students more opportunities to get to know each other and cooperate
      • Methods to help identify potential candidates for future TA hires

      Implementing peer reviews in a course usually means additional labor for instructors but in the case of PF everything is designed to be as simple and automated as possible.

      • PF counts with a feedback auto-grader
      • To help facilitate the integration of PF into courses, I gladly aid instructors and TAs with all the support and hands-on work necessary.
        - I can add custom new features when necessary.

      I understand how limited time can be to professors, but if you think that perhaps your students could benefit from implementing peer reviews it would be a pleasure to talk. If you are interested, just reply with “yes” and I can setup a time to talk, either with your or one of your TAs.

      Best regards,

      P.S If you have already implemented peer reviews into your course, but are having issues with your current tool, please consider Peer Feedback. PF is very powerful and I often do custom development based on input from professors like you.

      {{sender.signature | default: ""}}
      1. 2

        That is a looooong email!

        We can talk about some alternatives next week :)

        1. 1

          hahaha looking forward to it :)

      2. 1

        Emails should be two paragraphs plus one sentence. Not more. Build a series. Make sure you have one CTA that is very visible.

        1. 1

          I'll definitely make it shorter!! That is a good rule of thumb for length.

      3. 1

        Yeah.. way too long. You need to let them know right away what's in it for them (but mostly for their students).

        Look at your competitor's reviews for copy ideas. For example:

        • "dramatically higher student participation" (yes I want my students to participate, hell yeah!)
        • "more and better assignment feedback leading to higher quality of self-assessment"
        • "great way to sharpen thinking for both givers and receivers"

        You'll probably want your email cut as short as possible.

        Quick idea:
        "Hi Mr. {Professor name},

        My name is Gabriel and I created a tool that helps students with peer assessment, specifically:
        {our list above}

        It's been in use at Georgia Tech for some time and they love it. If you are interested in discussing implementing this in your classroom, please give me a call at #"
        You'll probably want them on the phone ASAP if you want to schedule a meeting. Like you said, a calendly link is not likely to be filled out. Well, maybe, but why not have them call you directly (and make sure the emails go out at appropriate times), doubt they will be calling you late at night anyway.

        You could also just ask them where and when you can stop by. They may be in their office during x hours in which case you can just drop by.

        1. 1

          Thanks a lot for suggesting a specific email. I will modify that a bit and give it a shot. I will also try out the call approach.

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