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Article 6 min read

So you got an angry response to a cold outreach. Here's what to do next

Sometimes it's worth continuing the conversation, and it's always worth learning from the experience.

By Taylor Burke

Last updated March 21, 2024

The following is a guest post from Taylor Burke of, a software research company.

The way you react internally to an angry response to your cold outreach email probably depends on your personality. For some, it’s part of the job and no number of curses or insults can affect us.

Others feel indignant — they believe in their product, and the angry response almost feels like an insult. Others still get the same awkward feeling as when you wave at someone who doesn’t wave back.

But no matter what your internal reaction is to an angry prospect response, it’s critical that you and your entire sales team get on board with a uniform plan of how you respond externally. A solid plan of action for negative responses will ensure three things:

  1. That your reaction doesn’t escalate the situation, turning a simple negative response into a negative online review (with damaging effects for your sales efforts).
  2. That you capitalize on any potential for turning the negative viewpoint around.
  3. That you use the negative response as a data point for further optimizing your sales efforts.

    Your action plan for dealing with angry cold responses should include two facets: how you will (or won’t) respond to the prospect and how you’ll change outreach going forward.

    Step 1: to respond or not to respond

    Not every negative response to your cold outreach emails should get a response back. In fact, sometimes responding back will only further incite the recipient.

    Do not respond to …

    Abuse: If a prospect responds with profanity or outright abusive language, it’s best to avoid escalating the situation. Even a response of “sorry” could send the person reeling as to why you’ve shown up in their inbox again.

    The exception here would be if the recipient requests a response as in “Tell me how you got my email” or demands to be notified of being unsubscribed. Then, respond politely with the information and assurance that the person has been unsubscribed (and be sure to actually do so). Keep it short and avoid language with even a whiff of a pitch.

    Do respond to …

    A Challenge: Some negative responses will include a challenge, for example “I’ve read terrible things about your company online. Try to prove them wrong.” You should always take on such a challenge, showing you stand behind what you’re selling and have nothing to hide.

    Be respectful when you do. You can turn a negative into a positive simply by saying something like “I’m glad you’re doing your research.” It might also be helpful to draft up a list of answers to frequent objections or addressing any negative comments in online reviews. That way, everyone can easily insert them into a response or follow-up email and stay in sync.

    Maybe respond to …

    Not Interested: If you get a polite “not interested” response, don’t give up. Send a polite request for feedback as in, “Thanks for letting me know. If you have a moment to tell me how I could improve (Does this offer not make sense for your/your company? Was my tone off?) I’d truly appreciate it. If not, I understand and thank you for your consideration.”

    Angry “not interested” responses are a little trickier. It’s important to read between the lines of why you got that response. Were you totally off the mark with who you emailed? Was your copy far too heavy on the pitch? Maybe the prospect has gotten a dozen emails from your competitors in the past month or maybe they’re just having a bad day.

    Read between the lines and practice a few scenarios with your team. A simple “Thank you for letting me know. I won’t email you again.” ends the interaction in your favor. But you also want to avoid inciting someone who is already fed up with your appearance in their inbox.

    Step 2: every response is a lesson learned

    Depending on the industry, you can expect anywhere between a 12 – 23 percent open rate and a 5 – 13 percent click rate on your cold emails. So by the time a prospect even is in a position to respond, you’ve weeded out the majority of your leads. That’s why every response from the most enthusiastic yes to the the angriest no should be analyzed and used as a learning experience for future campaigns.

    First, you need to ensure you have a system in place to categorize responses. You could use specific tags in your CRM so that you can track how many responses share similar questions, objections, or attitudes. Then, map out a plan.

    If you get a lot of “not interested” replies …

    Perhaps your targeting is off. Revisit where you’re sourcing your leads from, as well as how you’re segmenting them. If the former seems to be a problem, you may need to reconsider how you find leads.

    If you’ve got the right people in place, but still are getting “not interested” replies, you may need to rethink your message. Segmentation by audience is key — you can’t expect small business leaders to respond in the same way as an enterprise level leader. Create buyer personas, define which personas which leads belong to, then build tailored campaign copy for each.

    If you get a lot of angry replies …

    Any cold campaign is going to get its share of angry responses. With 205 billion emails sent every day, you’re occasionally going to be the email that tips the scales on someone’s tolerance threshold. So don’t go and change your entire campaign just because of a few outlying responses.

    The key is to look at the angry responses in relation to other engagement metrics. Did they increase when you recently changed copy? Are they too high in relation to positive responses? Do all the angry responses share the same root complaint? If the answer to any of the questions is yes, it’s time to look at your campaign. Listen to what your prospects are telling you, then study the copy, the leads, and the offer.

    Once you’ve identified where you’ve gone wrong, test, test, and test again. Using both quantitative and qualitative data to constantly refine your campaigns is the key to cold outreach success and fewer of those stomach-turning angry responses.

    Taylor Burke is a contributor for, covering marketing and sales. When she’s not in front of her screen, you can find Taylor reading, cooking, running, or hanging with her dog—but rarely all four at once. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

    This post originally ran on the Base blog. Please visit if you’d like to learn more about Zendesk Sell.

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