Cold emails...gotta hate ‘em, right?
A cold email is a sales email sent to a potential buyer who the seller has no prior relationship with. Sales reps gather email addresses through online research, and target businesses and prospects that fit their ideal customer profile. Unsolicited sales emails can be so awful that I recently compiled a Hall of Shame for the worst cold emails I’d ever seen — emails so atrocious it's a miracle they're not on the blacklist yet.
Once I’d finished venting some anger, I decided to track down a unicorn: the mythical Good Cold Email, which actually inspires the recipient to take a positive action. As I had expected, this hunt proved difficult. Terrible cold emails and just-okay ones are incredibly common; finding a handful of good ones took some serious digging.
Before we get into our winners, though, let’s review my criteria for what makes a good cold email: First and foremost, a good cold email is thoughtful and well-researched. There’s no such thing as a good cold email to the wrong person at a company. Or to anybody at the wrong company. [TWEET THIS!]
A good cold email reflects the fact that the salesperson has researched the prospect’s company enough to grasp the general business model and has at least popped onto the prospect’s LinkedIn or Twitter profile. Personalized content shows that the salesperson is actually interested in helping the prospect improve their business, rather than just making a quick buck. Often, a good cold email isn’t cold at all—it’s just the first sales interaction you have with a prospect, after one or more touches from marketing.
The best sales emails also tend to follow these best practices:
- The email should come from a specific salesperson, rather than a company. Cold emails are all about making personal connections with prospects, and the first opportunity a salesperson has at forming that connection is in the “from” line.
- The email needs a subject line that catches the eye. Subject lines represent your best chance at convincing someone to even open your email, much less respond to it, so you have to give them careful thought. There are plenty of articles around the web on subject line techniques, so go check them out. However, at the very least, you want to keep your subject line short, and include something that will grab the prospect’s eye, like their name or their company’s name. (Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened!)
- On the inside of the email, you should include very short body copy—essentially your elevator pitch. No one has time to read a novel. This copy should employ all that research you did, and mention why you are interested in working with this person in particular. At the end of the day, you should really believe that your service will help them and know exactly why it will. Being able to put that into words in a cold email will make you appear more trustworthy to your prospect.
- In addition to truly caring about your prospect’s goals, you can build trust with your prospect by naming any big clients you have that your prospect may know. You could also mention having an impressive number of clients. Don’t brag—just make it clear to your prospect that you and the company you’re working for are legitimate.
- Be sure that you have a clear CTA in your email. Tell your prospect precisely what action you want them to take next, and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. You want them to fill out a form? Give them a link directly to that form. (Or better yet, embed the form straight into your email.)
- Finally, keep in mind that part of having a clear CTA is having only one CTA. Don’t ask someone to respond to you and fill out a form. Pick one. The upside of having only one CTA is that it will help you keep your email short and to the point as well.
So with that established, let’s get into the good cold emails that I found. First, the three runners-up…
The Well-Researched Cold Email
I recently received this email, which impressed me with the level of research the salesperson put in. He clearly visited my LinkedIn profile—which unfortunately for him is not entirely up-to-date on my job, so he actually missed some key details, but that’s not his fault—and perhaps even more importantly, he’s done some digging into my company (a politically-minded nonprofit in DC). I’ve blacked out the identifying details he included about my company, but suffice it to say, he shows a clear understanding of exactly what my nonprofit does, and he’s one of the few salespeople to ever demonstrate that in an email to me.
(Click image for full-size version or click here for more cold email templates.)
However, this email is not perfect. It lacks a clear CTA, for one thing. I’m unsure if he wants me to let him know if diversifying is a part of our mandate (how should I let him know?), or if he wants me to give him feedback. (What kind of feedback? Feedback on the quality of his email? Or on my interest in diversifying?) The last sentence represents a real area of opportunity.
On that same note, the subject line is fairly weak, likely because he doesn’t entirely know what he wants me to do here. The blacked out bit in the subject line, by the way, reads “[my company name] / [his company name].” Lucky for him, I’m very interested in keeping my nonprofit’s representation of the world diverse and will click on anything that might help me accomplish that goal.
The Email With the Super-Clear CTA
My colleague received this email shortly after attending the sender’s session at a major marketing conference.
This email really excels at three things.
- First, she’s got a killer subject line. It’s short, and it’s the perfect intro to her eventual CTA. There’s also a somewhat intimate quality to it. That phrasing is frequently used between friends, and using it here helps establish a friendly connection right off the bat.
- Second, she’s got her elevator pitch down cold. (Pun intended.) In three sentences, I know exactly who she is, what she does, and what she wants with me.
- Finally, her CTA couldn’t be clearer. She’s separated the CTA on to its own line and she’s highlighted it. It’s also linked so that I know exactly what to do next; I click that link and fill out her form. Wisely, she doesn’t attempt to sell me yet or even request a phone call, which lowers the barrier to response. I could follow the CTA and still feel as though I’m remaining anonymous and not being pushed around.
Of course, this email isn’t perfect either. It’s pretty obvious that she’s just blind emailing a list she was given by the conference. The salesperson has absolutely no idea who my colleague is or what company she works for. I do tend to think, though, that the brevity, clear CTA, and lack of a hard sell overcome the insufficient research. Related: How to build a newsletter that turns readers into buyers
The Trustworthy Email
Another colleague of mine received this cold email that goes a long way in building trust.
This email does several things well, especially communicate trust signals. The subject line is very clear. (It reads: “[salesperson’s company name] for [recipient’s company name].”) It’s not the most innovative, but it’s strong. The very first sentence is a perfect elevator pitch, despite the incredibly misplaced comma.
The email becomes good in its next sentence. This salesperson has masterfully interwoven a more complex pitch for the product with the names of three behemoth companies. And not only does this salesperson signal his company’s trustworthiness by dropping client names, he also has an award the company has won from another massive tech company neatly slotted into his signature. The CTA isn’t bad either, though it loses some of it’s clarity in a desire to be polite. Also, there isn't much indication that the salesperson did any research on my colleague and his company. And finally, what we all came here to see...
The #1 Best Cold Email Ever
In all my searching, I could only find one truly great cold email that hit all of my criteria. A Nutshell team member received this email from ProfitWell and we were all blown away by it.
First, it’s got a solid subject line—short, to the point, and personalized. The body copy is short as well. In two sentences, it’s clear why the salesperson is contacting the recipient and what exactly he wants her to do (i.e., watch the video). Now, here’s where things get innovative. This salesperson has created a personalized video for Nutshell rather than just writing a standard cold email. [WATCH IT HERE!] This video does SO many things that make it amazing. Let’s go through them:
- First, because it’s a video, you feel like you’re having a real conversation. This forges a trust and connection between the prospect and salesperson that just can’t be created in writing. The sales rep also makes sure to mention how many businesses his company currently helps, to really drive home the trust factors.
- Next, the salesperson proves he’s done his research and knows who Nutshell is. He mentions why he’s a fan of Nutshell as a company, even popping some flattery in there, and lets them know he knows they’re the #1 CRM in the world for small businesses.
- The video format allows him to easily break down exactly what it is his company does and what they can provide, something that just wouldn’t be easy to do in writing. The video formatting also allows him to include graphics that show how much money you will actually make using their product, which is compelling in a way that a written email can't match.
- The video also includes a clear CTA at the end. Now that he’s sold you on how amazing this product is, you can just fill out a form right beneath the video to get an ROI analysis.
This double CTA set-up between the email and the video is a genius move. Psychologically speaking, it’s easier to get a person to agree to a big ask if you get them to say yes to a small ask first. [TWEET THIS!] In this case, the sales rep wanted you to fill out the form the whole time. However, he knew that most recipients would find that too big of an ask from a cold email. So he got you to say yes to watching a video first, and then once you’ve committed and connected with him, you’re completely primed and ready to fill out the form. Overall, if you’re looking for a cold email to mimic, this is the one.
Before you send your own cold email, ask yourself...
“Is it obvious that I researched my prospect and their company?”
Even if you know who you’re contacting, you want to make it obvious that they know that you know. By including some relevant information, they’ll really feel like your email is addressed to them and isn't just another solicitation. It should be apparent that you’ve done a thorough job researching them, and that you firmly believe your offer is a good fit for them.
Pro tip: Your prospect research will help you figure out whether or not you’re actually targeting the best possible person.
“Is my message concise, and is it easy for my prospect to respond?”
You don’t want to send a lengthy message that describes your product from top to bottom. Trim your message so that your offer and relevant information are clearly-worded, and then add an easy CTA at the end.
“How do you currently solve problem x?” is much stronger than “Looking forward to hearing from you.”
“Can I actually help them?”
There are so many reasons why an offer may not be a good fit for a company. If you don’t completely believe that your offer will make your prospects’ lives better, don’t send that email! You’ll be creating unnecessary work for yourself (or your teammates) by stuffing leads into the pipeline who are going to eventually disqualify. Save yourself the trouble.
“Do I have any social proof?”
Social proof can be a simple and relevant piece of information like a quote or logo from a customer or partner company. This endorsement will help your prospect realize that you’re the real deal.
Scan your message for an opportunity to include a detail about a customer, particularly one that will resonate with your prospect, like a customer similar to them. Although social proof isn’t always an option, it will go a long way with your prospect if done correctly.
The truth is that there is still a lot of improvement to be made to cold emails in general, but there are definitely a few stand-outs to be found. With so much new technology available to sales organizations today, there's no reason for reps to keep sending plain, ineffective cold emails. Add some sizzle with personalization and video, and you’ll have a much better shot at getting a prospect to stop and pay attention.
Related: 9 simple tips for using personalized videos in your cold emails