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My Love/Hate Relationship With The Sales Cadence
Sales Cadence
By John Barrows | July 12, 2017

The Sales Cadence seems to have taken over the world of Sales communication right now and it’s starting to worry me. To make sure we’re all on the same page, the Sales Cadence is a sequence of sales activities that you follow for certain leads. The cadence mostly focuses on e-mail and is usually automated by a “sales efficiency” tool like Salesloft, Outreach, Toutapp, Yesware, Sendbloom, etc.

I do have a genuine appreciation for the theory behind the approach and the tools themselves. I completely agree with the idea of Sales reps creating a multi-touch contact strategy and leveraging technology to make it efficient and tracks results. By including thoughtful, targeted content in these tools and leveraging them appropriately sales reps have the potential to turn themselves into a well-oiled machine that drives consistent results. At least that’s the theory.

Unfortunately, in practice the sales cadence and supporting tools are being used to blast out template e-mails with no personalization and flood the market with content worse than Marketing automation does. They all tend to follow the same format, sometimes even using the exact same verbiage coming from different companies.

It’s usually comprised of the following:

  • One somewhat targeted e-mail based on a title or role
  • Three to five follow-up e-mails asking whether or not you’ve received the first one
  • One “are you stupid?” e-mail trying to make you feel like an idiot for not responding
  • And lastly the inevitable break-up email asking you to please choose 1, 2 or 3 with 3 being that you’re stuck under a rock or eaten by an alligator.

Here’s an example of the 4th e-mail I got as part of a templated cadence recently (the “are you stupid?” e-mail):

email cadence exampleThere are so many things wrong with this e-mail I don’t even know where to start. The subject line sounds like some high school stalker who can’t take a hint. There seems to be some sort of failed attempt at personalization by the rep with the first line of the e-mail on top of the template e-mail.  Then there’s the obvious template that starts with “Dear John” – seriously? Apparently now I’m the one being broken up with.

The body of the e-mail then goes on to explain how great their solution is and tries to make me feel stupid for not responding to their awesomeness.  I could go on but you get the point. This was just one of the e-mails I received like this of the multiple cadences I was apparently on that week. Unfortunately for this rep it was one too many and I reacted stronger than I probably should have.

Here was my response:

JBarrows Email Response

Again, I admit, I probably reacted too harshly but can we please stop the madness here?  What’s the difference between sales reps using these sales efficiency tools to blast out template e-mails and marketing automation?  At least with marketing e-mails I know they’re marketing and accept them for what they are.  I see zero value in sales reps sending crap like this out. The only reason to do this is if you’re dealing with such volume that it’s not worth doing any personalization but at that point why do you need a sales rep?  Why not just hire an operations or marketing specialist to work with one of the Marketing automation tools like Marketo, Pardot, Eloqua and optimize them based on data?

I’m not saying we should personalize every single outreach but at least put some thought into it and be somewhat targeted. I wrote a post a little while ago called Finally a Contact Strategy That I Can Appreciate which gives a positive example of a cadence I received and responded to.

The ideal approach is to research an executive at one of our top tier accounts, find 5-8 “triggers” or reasons to reach out to them based on what you find on their website or Linkedin profile, develop 5-8 thoughtful messages (phone and e-mail) that all highlight a different point of value your solution provides and put them into a cadence tool to schedule out and track. I know this isn’t realistic to do for all our accounts which is why I only take this approach with about 5 prospects a month. The rest of the month I increase the volume by segmenting my database and sending out targeted campaigns to different personas similar to the positive cadence I highlighted above.

Use the power of cadence and the tools to help with efficiency and tracking, but be sure to put some thought into your outreach. If you don’t think about your outreach and you use these tools to over-automate the process you’ll soon get replaced by computers that can already do it better than we can.

PS – If you want to hear more, check out my recent Facebook Live on the Pros & Cons of Email Cadences.

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  • James Q Smith

    Hey JB,

    Wondering your take on New Business outreach rather than account based. My reps use Outreach in a similar cadence as this. While the AM approach is completely different. What’s your take?


    • John Barrows

      If you have a low ACV, short sales cycle and sell to the SMB i believe the cadence approach is effective as long as it is somewhat targeted. if you have somewhat of a complex sales process, higher ACV and approach sales at a mid or high level in the account then I believe there is no room for template, generic cadences. I think it does far more harm than good even if you don’t get a response like i gave that kid.

  • JB- Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You have nailed it. Well, maybe 95% of it 🙂 Salespeople who rely on this tactic are dead and this content they sent you is absolute WEAK SAUCE.


    1. Nobody smart should ever use the email content from your example.
    2. Nobody smart should ever fully automate emails to their top targets.


    Reps *should* actually create automation Cadences for their lowest tier accounts (you’ve said this yourself before on stage). But they should spend VERY little time on these low tier campaigns. In fact, they should technically replace themselves in this scenario with robots. However those robots should NOT be marketing automation robots bc MA is less sincere (if that’s even possible) and has way less deliverability.

    Cadence and sales engagement software should be used to codify your go-to-market, then deploy it to your reps and help hold them accountable to their activities. It should free up the manual routine efforts (logging activity, figuring out who to contact next, etc) It’s workflow for sales process and it should place sincerity of connection at the highest levels…enabling personalization when and where it matters most, & automations to free reps up for more engaged selling time.

    • John Barrows

      Always love and agree with your insights Kyle. Your approach and philosophy is spot on. I just worry about the reps who use the “force” for evil instead of good 🙂

  • Gianluigi

    Great stuff, John!
    Drip campaigns work just if they are smart, compelling and bring great value! As a sales trainer & coach in Italy I face that every day.

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