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How to write an effective cold email: 17 proven tips and tricks

How to write an effective cold email: 17 proven tips and tricks

16
min read

Spammers have given cold emails a bad rep and it doesn’t help that most people don’t know how to write a cold email correctly. At their worst, email marketers can come across as spammers even if they’re filled with good intentions.

But cold emails also have the ability to reach leads en masse, leading to more engaged customers, a larger market opportunity, and a high return on investment (ROI).

In fact, cold emails can reach ROIs of 3,800 -7,000% – not something you want to leave on the table.

So how do you avoid the spam filters or archive button and deliver a meaningful message to people's inboxes? Check out our guide on the rules to follow and the mistakes to avoid when writing cold emails. 

We’ll start with the basics: What is a cold outreach email? 

If you’re already familiar with the basics, skip ahead to our <a href="#tips">17 tips and tricks for writing cold outreach emails</a>.

Cold outreach email basics

What is a cold outreach email?

A cold outreach email is your first contact with a potential client. The goal is to spark a conversation and build a relationship. It is the starting point for processes such as sales, networking, and collaboration. A cold outreach email introduces your company and your products or services to someone who may have no idea about your business. 

Why are cold emails effective?

Cold emails are effective for prospecting and lead generation because they require minimal resource and can be employed at scale. 

In addition to the impressive ROI mentioned above, cold emails are easy to track and give you valuable data because you typically have a larger sample size. This means you'll gain more feedback and data points than cold calling, where no one tells you exactly where you went wrong or how you can improve your pitch. 

Emails are also less invasive and give recipients time to respond at their leisure. They don’t interrupt people in the middle of dinner, or worse, when they still have sleep-fogged brains.

When to use a cold email

Your target audience determines if you should use cold sales emails. If you are reaching out to millennials, for example, cold emailing is the way to go since they prefer to communicate over email. B2B and B2C consumers are also a good audience for cold emails, since you can segment your audience but don't necessarily need to deliver a completely custom message to each lead.

However, cold email is not the best option if you are trying to reach prospects high up in a company hierarchy. The best way to gain access to Managers and C-level executives is by networking. For example, you can browse LinkedIn for common connections and ask for an introduction.

You may have to start at the bottom of the hierarchy, convince your contact that you have the solution to their needs, and work your way to an introduction to the executives. This works because those at the C-level value their colleagues' opinions and take these into consideration when making decisions. 

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17 tips and tricks for writing hyper-personalized cold emails

If cold emailing sounds like a good match for your target audience and business strategy, learning how to write an effective cold email will increase your chances of making a connection and prevent your message from ending up in a spam folder.

Writing a hyper-personalized cold email isn’t rocket science, but it requires certain elements and a delicate touch. 

These 17 tried and tested tips are broken down into three categories to help you create a compelling cold email campaign: 

  • <a href="#elements" class="anchor-link">Elements of a cold email</a>
  • <a href="#howto" class="anchor-link">How to write a cold email</a>
  • <a href="#optimize" class="anchor-link">Optimize your cold email</a>

Let’s dive in.

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Elements of a cold email

1. An optimized subject line

You should optimize your subject lines because 47% of recipients open emails based on them. 

How do you optimize subject lines?

Start with the length: the optimum subject line word count is between six and 10. When in doubt, go shorter.

Source

Second, personalized subject lines can increase open rates by as much as 23.6%.

But “personalized” means more than just using the prospect’s name in the subject line. This is a step in the right direction, but it won’t get you to the promised land on its own. 

Source

In eight words, the sender conveyed a specific interest in the recipient and demonstrated that they've already invested some time in the potential relationship. 

2. Pre-header copy

Here’s what a pre-header, or preview text, looks like: 

Source

It appears just after the subject line when a recipient is looking at emails in their inbox. Pre-header copy adds context to your subject line and gives the recipient more information. 

And since 85% of users check email on their smartphones, you should always consider how to optimize your emails for mobile screens.

So how do you get the pre-header copy right? 

  • Make sure the length of the preheader text is between 85 and 100 characters
  • Don’t repeat the subject line – it should add additional context
  • Write the pre-header to build curiosity

3. Social proof and validation

Social proof is evidence that people have used your product or service and found it valuable. It leverages the idea that consumers want to purchase products or services because their peers already have.

It can help you avoid vague or overly sales-y language that will doom the effectiveness of your cold outreach emails because you can point directly to value. 

So how do you offer social proof? Here are the best options: 

  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • Referrals 
  • Success stories

Adding case studies, for example, can improve your close rate by as much as 70%.

Since the recipient may be unaware of your company, it works best if the examples and success stories involve:

  1. Companies the prospect knows
  2. Businesses in their industry or niche

Think of it like this – if you wanted to send a cold outreach email to Nike offering your marketing services, it would be beneficial if you could show how you’ve improved marketing efforts for another activewear or apparel brand. 

Beyond social proof, validating is the next best option, and it works well in tandem with social proofing. 

Validating yourself means mentioning any mutual connection you have with the prospect. For example, if you have a common acquaintance, went to the same school, or share a hobby. Beyond mentioning your business name, you want them to see you as human. The more unique the connection, the more likely you are to get a response.

Here’s a good example: 

4. A clear CTA

The average click-through rate for emails sits between 0.7% and 4.4%, depending on your industry. However, top performers can see that number shoot up to an incredible 9-10%

Following CTA best practices can increase your click-through rate and convince your recipients to take action.

Tried and tested approaches include:

  • Only one CTA per email. Too many options can confuse the recipient, and they may end up not clicking on anything at all.
  • Place the CTA at the bottom of a short email. After introducing yourself and offering the prospect valuable content, they need to know exactly what to do next. 
  • Keep your CTA simple, i.e., offer to set up a call or include a hyperlink that allows the prospect to schedule a meeting through a platform like Calendly.

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  • Push on your prospect’s pain point. Entice them to click on your CTA by offering them a vision of a better world. For example: “Would you like to hop on a call to discover how you can save hundreds of hours per month in lead generation?”

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How to write a cold email

Let's focus on the core of your email - the message body. These tips will help you write a message that resonates with your recipient and inspires them to take the next step.

1. Personalize your email

Personalization is a crucial aspect of any cold email outreach strategy. Tailoring the tone of the email copy, the type of content, and specific pain points you can solve helps the recipient feel like you wrote the email just for them. 

Of course, you can't really write each email individually - at least not at scale. That's where segmentation comes in; it allows you to personalize cold outreach at scale. Segmentation is the process of grouping prospects based on their job title, industry, business size, or other relevant factors and then writing cold emails that best fit each identified segment

Marketers have found that segmenting email campaigns leads to a 760% increase in revenue.

Once you've segmented your email list, create personalized emails for each group.

Most people think personalization only refers to using the prospect’s name in an email. While this certainly plays a part, personalization goes far beyond this simple trick. 

Some ideas of how you can personalize an email include: 

  • Personal information like their name or position at a company
  • Highlight products or services they've previously shown interest in
  • Mention previous interactions they've had with your team
  • Include work they've done, like a published article, product launch, or event

Tidbits like these tell the recipient that they’re not on the wrong end of another generic email. Showing you’ve researched the prospect’s company by mentioning their challenges or recent triumphs is another good cold email strategy. 

Most CRMs and email marketing tools allow you to enter details about your leads to then use as variables in mail merges and mass emails, which means you can create endlessly personalized mass emails in minutes.

2. Keep it short

Your email itself shouldn't be endless, though. Word count is important. 

Long, wordy emails are a sure way to get your prospect to click “delete” without ever giving your message a proper read. Research shows that the sweet spot is between 50 and 125 words

Shorter emails get your point across quickly to a recipient who hasn’t decided to invest time in you yet. That’s why they work. 

Of course, your goal is probably to provide more information than 50 - 125 words allow so the prospect understands what you’re offering. In those cases, you could add a tracked link to a page containing all the information.

Alternatively, you can invite the prospect to jump on a call and give an outline (bullet points are your best friend) of what you want to discuss.

Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the golden rule of cold emailing is to “deliver value to the prospect,” so make sure each word counts.

3. Touch on their pain point

Including the pain point in your cold email is the best way to show your prospects you understand their situation.

To find out your prospect’s pain point, you’ll need to invest time and do some research on them. That time is well worth it, however, since they can immediately relate to what you’re saying.

Discussing a specific pain point also sets you up to explain precisely how you can help them. This changes the tone of the email – instead of focusing on selling them something, you’re solving their problem. It helps make the prospect feel understood and valued. 

When you touch on a prospect’s pain point, you can show how you’ll provide value in a very specific way.

Let’s look at an example: 

Source

The email doesn’t include any promotional language. Instead, it states a problem and explains the causes for free

After the recipient has watched the video, who will be the first person on their mind when they decide they want to resolve the issue? 

We bet we’re thinking about the same person. 

4. Be authentic

The easiest way to appear inauthentic is to use complicated, over-the-top language and make outlandish promises. 

Learn how to triple your revenue with three simple clicks! 

Do you want to get to the top of search engine rankings without having to lift a finger?

We’ll acquire 10,000 new Instagram followers for you in ONE day!

How believable are these? Most people see these claims and immediately think "what's the catch?"

On the flip side, you don’t want to be boring or sound like every other cold email coming from a cubicle-dwelling sales rep. Add a personal touch to your email and use simple, direct language. 

Take a look at this example that’s lacking personality: 

Hi Danny, 
I’m John Smith, and I’m the head of marketing at ZZZ. 
I was looking over your social media profile, and I feel that my company would be a great fit…

This example tries to be authentic but fails. 

It’s generic – John Smith probably sent the same email to a dozen people and merely changed the recipient’s name. 

Let’s try this another way and consider the following questions: 

  • What did they see on the profile? Was it a picture? An article? 
  • Which social media platform did they check out? 
  • What did they think about it on a personal level?
Hi Danny, 
I’m John Smith, and I’m the head of marketing at ZZZ. 
I came across the article on how to improve email response rates that you posted on LinkedIn, and I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. Too many people simply send out generic emails and hope for the best. 
That’s actually one of the reasons I’m writing to you…

Doesn’t that sound more authentic? 

When you include specific details about your prospect in your emails, you show that you are genuinely interested in connecting with and helping them.

5. Use humor

Humor can be a great icebreaker, but you can’t just drop a random joke and expect to wow your recipient.

Make sure you're weaving in the humor in a way that benefits the overall structure of the email.

Here’s a great example: 

Source

The first sentence establishes a shared interest, the commonality we mentioned earlier. 

The second sentence subtly reveals that the sender has done their research. 

Then comes the joke. 

Afterward, they continue with the casual language but get straight to business. They offer social proof and then explain how they can help the prospect. 

It’s worth noting that the CTA can be improved because it doesn’t tell the reader what the next step looks like. A better CTA would be: “If you’re game, I’d love to hop on a 15-minute call with you later this week.”

6. Don’t pitch too hard

It’s important to remember what a cold email is supposed to achieve – interest.

Immediately launching into a presentation of your product/service is a sure-fire way to waste an opportunity. The prospect won’t be interested in your company because they don’t know why they should be interested. 

For example, bringing up your solution’s expected ROI in a cold email can lower your success rate by 15% – it does nothing to explain how your product/service can actually help solve the recipient’s pressing problems.

At best, it’s meaningless data. At worst, it’s a reason to argue with your assumptions.

Instead, focus on building an emotional connection by:

  • Briefly explaining who you are and how you came across their profile
  • Building rapport by complimenting them or mentioning a shared connection (if possible)
  • Framing the problem and the solution from the prospect’s perspective
  • Offering social proof to validate your claims

These four steps steadily build interest so that by the end of the email, the prospect is eager to click on your CTA and learn more.

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Optimize your cold email outreach

At this point, you know what to include in a cold email and how to write an authentic, personalized message that will grab your prospect’s attention.

You’re one step away from writing and sending your own cold emails. What’s left?

You need to learn how to optimize your campaign or, in other words, how to:

  • Increase the odds of your emails landing in the right inboxes
  • Streamline your outreach process
  • Maximize your performance, and 
  • Stay compliant

Let’s get started on this final leg.

1. Find the right person to email

Before starting an email campaign, learn a few things about your prospects to make sure they match up with your target audience. This includes:

  1. Their job and industry
  2. Their background (education, career path, etc.)
  3. Their main pain point

These factors are essential because they help guide your decision-making process when writing your email. 

  • Their industry and their main pain point help you select relevant content
  • Their job title ensures you’re contacting a decision-maker

If you realize you should be connecting with somebody else at the company, find the prospect’s email address online or try asking for an introduction.

If you’re offering something valuable, odds are the employee will want to impress their boss by bringing them an exciting new opportunity. 

2. Use templates 

Salespeople spend 21% of their days writing emails, but templates can help streamline the process. 

Cold email templates are also an excellent way to ensure consistent messaging from all your team members. Templates work as a blueprint that you can continuously update based on responses. You keep adjusting them until you find the optimum email template. 

On the other hand, by using templates, you run the risk of sending impersonal emails that don’t connect with the target audience. 

So how do you strike the right balance between the two options? 

That brings us to our next tip: 

3. A/B test

A/B testing is the process of splitting your email list into equal parts and sending each group a variation of the same email to see which performs best. 

Think of it like a science experiment for emails - you want to isolate one specific change in each version so you know what is impacting your results.

You can run A/B tests for:

  • subject lines
  • CTAs
  • email copy
  • email formatting
  • color schemes
  • any other part of your email

Before setting up an A/B test, identify the metric you're trying to improve and how you'll measure success for each test. For example, testing a subject line might impact your open rate. Testing a CTA might impact your clickthrough or response rate.

After sending out two or more versions of the same email, analyze your email outreach results. Once you know which version is the most effective, you can use that subject line, CTA, or message in future emails. 

4. Send the email at the right time

Correctly timing your emails can go a long way to help you improve your response rates. 

According to a study of over 100,000 emails, the best time of the day to send an email is between 6-9am.

The same study suggests that Monday is the best day to send a cold outreach email, with an open rate of a little over 20%.

Make sure to consider who your audience is as that may affect when they’re most likely to read your emails. For example, a business software company probably isn’t going to reach as many people on the weekend as a fashion brand would.

5. Avoid spam filters

Email Service Providers (ESPs) use spam filters to protect their users from receiving unwanted and unsolicited emails. 

The most common reasons emails go to the spam folder are: 

  • Sending low-quality email content
  • Sending emails to prospects that aren’t a good fit for your business

Make sure you're following best practices for email deliverability and avoiding buzzwords that may land you in spam folders.

6. Follow up

Only 2% of sales are made during the first point of contact, yet for some reason:

  • 70% of unanswered cold emails aren’t followed up on
  • Just 8% of salespeople follow up more than five times

These stats are even more astonishing when you consider that cold email campaigns with four to seven email sequences get three times as many responses as those with fewer than four emails.

In short, it pays to follow up on your cold emails. You’ll want to immediately follow up after your first contact and schedule a follow-up email sequence in case you still don’t get a response.

Some email outreach tools allow you to send automated follow-ups if you don't get a response from your lead. Once the lead, they're removed from the follow-up sequence so you can respond to them personally. 

7. Stay compliant 

Cold emailing is legal, but in the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act gives email recipients the right to stop receiving unsolicited emails and includes fines for any violations. 

Here's a non-exhaustive list of how to stay compliant and avoid being marked as spam:

  1. Don’t use misleading or false information: Your “From” and “Reply to” addresses should all be accurate and reflect your identity. 
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines: The subject line must accurately indicate the email’s content.
  3. Opting out of future emails should be easy: Inform your prospects how they can unsubscribe and remove unsubscribes from your list immediately. 

Get creative... and scientific

Cold emailing is both an art and a science. Sometimes the most creative approaches are the ones that get through to leads, but you'll want to test various tactics to see what works and resonates with your audience.

Use these tips to start drafting up cold emails, and then set up some A/B tests to hone in on what's working and what can be improved. Remember that progress can be slow, but with enough data you'll eventually find what works for you and start seeing results.

Good luck and happy emailing!

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