Call before email or email before call? The jury’s still pretty much out on this one — and probably will be for a long time. That’s because this is one of those problems without a one-size-fits-all solution. So, if you’re still unsure which channel should you start with when reaching out to cold leads, your safest bet is to use your best judgment.

Of course, ‘best judgment’ isn’t the same as ‘wild guess’. To avoid as much guesswork as possible, follow this five-step decision guide. It won’t guarantee you’ll arrive at the right choice, but at least you’ll be able to come up with a strategy you can easily justify and refine. This post, by the way, is a two-part entry, and we’ll be taking a look at steps 1, 2 and part of step 3 in this portion.

Step 1: Know what you’re really doing.

The first thing you need to be clear with is whether you’re really prospecting or simply generating leads. Although most people use these two terms interchangeably, they have subtle differences that you have to be aware of. They really don’t mean the same thing or use the same approach.

When you’re prospecting, your immediate goal usually is to close an appointment or secure a face-to-face meeting. Here, you’re going to need to start with more aggressive tactics like cold calling to get a response. Lead generation, on the other hand, is more concerned with producing leads to be nurtured over time, so starting off with a relatively more passive tactic like email would be enough. But, as you’ll see below, this isn’t always the case.

Step 2: Get a clearer picture of your contacts.

It truly depends on the prospects whether you need to be aggressive’ or ‘passive’ when contacting them the first time. Moreover, they ultimately define exactly what these two terms mean. It pays to get as familiar as you can with them before deciding how to start reaching out.

Yes, each prospect will have his or her own set of preferences but, taken collectively, they tend to form some pattern. For example, leads within an industry sometimes show better response rates to a specific channel, while those in a different sector respond better to another. So, find out what works in the industry you’re targeting and use it as basis for your first contact point.

Aside from using industry benchmarks, your own experience should serve as your guide. If you don’t have any yet, learn from the experience of those working with leads/prospects similar to yours.

Step 3: Take stock of the lead/prospect data you have.

Now, let’s turn to a crucial component of any marketing/sales campaign: data. The quality and quantity of the lead/prospect data you have really says a lot about how your campaigns are going to turn out. These factors though tend to affect different channels in different ways.

For email campaigns, data quality makes or breaks response rates. Aside from being able to gather high-quality direct email addresses, you’re also going to need more information to ensure you’re sending out relevant messages. To find out if you have the right data for this, consider the following:

  • Can you directly reach your target decision-makers with the data you have?
  • Does your data allow you to segment your email audience into targeted groups?
  • Do you have enough information to personalize your emails and keep messages relevant?
  • Do you have enough contacts to generate a decent amount of responses?

So far, we’ve gone through the first couple of steps and we’re halfway through with determining what approach to take given the lead/prospect data we have. In the next post, we’ll continue with step 3 and wrap up the final steps toward making the big decision. Until then, give the above questions a thought as they already indicate much of what you should start with.