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 to 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.
Still, as you might expect, writing a good cold email takes more than targeting the right audience for it. It puts you on the first step to success, sure, but you still have some work to do before you can paste your message in the email body and hit send. While there are infinite methods to finding success in cold emails, these basic steps will get you in the process of understanding what works and how to improve your cold email campaign with every new email you send.
Knowing your audience is crucial to providing them with a relevant and engaging cold email. When you’re reaching out to someone through an email, you’re opening the door to a partnership. Before they can accept you as a partner, however, they have to see how you can benefit them. Consider answering these questions:
Most people get too many emails throughout their days to read them all, and companies have even more emails to wade through. How do they choose which ones get their attention? Subject lines! Your subject line should be flashy enough to draw in your recipient’s attention, but personable enough to relate to them and show them you care about their response.
Another thing to note about subject lines is that many email platforms like Gmail, Yahoo, and others have their own spam filters, and certain trigger words and phrases can send your email to a spam box before it even reaches the recipient. As you construct your perfect subject line, avoid phrases like:
As with all online copy, people want to read something short, simple, and digestible. If they open your email and are met with a large block of text and lots of complicated jargon, your email is more likely to end up in their trash folder than urge them to follow through on your call to action (CTA).
When you check your emails, are you more likely to follow through with an email that robotically tells you information about a brand, or one that appeals to you, asking you questions and making you feel like you’re a part of the brand’s vision? For most people, this is an easy answer. A personalized message often evokes an emotional response, leaving recipients feeling as though they owe the writer some kind of response for taking the time to reach out to them directly.
Once you’ve sent your first cold email, you’ve done the work to start warming up your lead. Even if they don’t respond after the first message, follow up with them. There are many reasons why people may not respond to the first outreach. A second contact shows them you’re serious about working with their brand and may put the pressure on them to get back to you.
While these tips tell you exactly what to put in your cold emails, there are still a few things you’ll need to watch out for when editing, reviewing and sending out your final draft. These common mistakes in emails can cost you big time in lost revenue and consumer participation.
While it’s true many people will simply look at the sender’s name and subject line before launching into the email, the larger your contact base is, the better chance you’ll have people who glance at the email address, too. It’s at the top of every email you send, so even if people aren’t actively looking for it, they may see it by chance.
An inappropriate email address may be funny to a few of your customers, but to many, it will look unprofessional and careless. It may cause them to question your dedication to brand integrity, and by extension, their business as a customer.
Outside of human eyes, your email address is another factor email platforms use to filter out spam. An email address with a lot of miscellaneous letters and numbers may register as a bot to these automatic filters. Even the person receiving your email may see an unrelated address attached to it and mark your email as spam, thinking it is a hoax trying to take their money.
The email address sending out your cold emails should always be an address affiliated with your brand. When possible, it should originate from a sales representative rather than an automated or information-based address. This adds an extra element of personability, showing your recipients that you care about them as an individual, not just a number in your sales process.
Today, most cold emails are automated. Take a look at your own inbox and see how many business emails you’ve received with some variation of “no reply” right within the email address. Because of that, people are unlikely to respond to your messages unless you attach specific contact information within the email’s body.
When you forget or miss adding a contact email address, phone number, or website, you may be passing on dozens of opportunities to engage with potential business partners. Even if they want to reach out to you, you haven’t given them a convenient way to do so. When you’re trying to connect with busy professionals or individuals, you may lose their attention the second they navigate away from your email.
Depending on the system you use to compose and edit your emails, the final result may look drastically different from your original design. Even the most well-written email can fall victim to improper formatting, leaving recipients unable to read parts of or even the entire message. Optimizing your email becomes even more important when you consider your recipients will likely read it on a variety of devices, including laptops, phones, and tablets.
To prevent this from happening, set up an email account to test your messages before you send them out to the masses. You can send every email to this account so you can view it the way your actual recipients will see it and fix any errors before moving forward.
The best sales emails also tend to follow these best practices:
Crafting a cold email that stands out doesn’t have to be complicated. By following the best practices and incorporating a few key elements, you can connect with your audience and get their attention. Remember that every aspect of your cold email serves an important role in getting your readers to take action, from the subject to your CTA.
So, with that established, let’s get into the good cold emails that I found. First, the three runners-up…
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.
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.
My colleague received this email shortly after attending the sender’s session at a major marketing conference.
This email really excels at three things.
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.
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 its 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…
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. [Ed. note: Unfortunately, the video is no longer publicly available, so we added another great cold email to the end of this article to make up for it.]
This video does SO many things that make it amazing. Let’s go through them:
This double CTA setup 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.
Mutiny (love the name, btw) is an AI platform that dynamically personalizes your website content based on who’s visiting the page, giving your potential buyers the most relevant experience possible. Recently, a member of their team named Bryan Tharalson sent our VP of Marketing this cold email:
The real secret to a cold email’s success is timing: This one just happened to hit us when we were considering investing in a dynamic content tool for nutshell.com, and we replied to Bryan right away to learn more. But what really put this email over the top was the personalized landing page that they included, mutinyhq.com/Nutshell.
The page includes:
In a word…wow. Not only are we getting a personalized sales pitch on an easy-to-view landing page, we also get a taste of exactly what Mutiny can do for its customers.
This is the future, folks. Cold emails are out and cold websites are in.
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.
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.”
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.
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 email automated 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
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