If you’ve been doing your homework, you might have noticed that sales prospecting and lead generation are quite similar on the surface: both these ...
How to Write a Cold Email
Written by: Victoria Yu
Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on July 12, 2023
How to Write a Cold Email
Composing a cold email might seem easier than cold calling – after all, you can review and perfect your email before you send it. But to your email recipient, clearing their inbox may be just another chore. Or worse: your poorly composed cold email could go straight to spam and never be read at all.
So how do you write an enticing cold email that will move the needle forward? If you’re considering running a cold email campaign, read on to learn what it takes to craft a successful cold email that will get you —and your sales pitch— noticed.
What’s a Cold Email?
Much like a cold call, a cold email is an unsolicited email to a prospect you’ve never talked to before.
Cold emails are not just used for sales; they can also work for job prospecting, networking, offering to collaborate or partner up, and just about any other type of professional connection.
But this guide focuses on cold emails that ultimately aim to close a B2B sale. Unlike sales emails sent in bulk, a cold email is usually researched and tailored to the recipient. It might use an email template or outline, but it will contain more detail than your average copy-and-paste-the-name bulk email.
Why Do People Write Cold Emails?
Some 8 out of 10 buyers prefer to be contacted by email, according to a study by sales consultancy Rain Group. Better yet, Rain discovered that a separate 8 out of 10 agreed to meet sellers who took the initiative to contact them first. Combined, these facts mean that sending cold emails is a smart way to make a good first impression on leads and move them toward becoming paying customers.
As a substitute for a sales call, a cold email is pretty straightforward. As we said earlier, you can take your time before writing your email to research your prospect, draft your message, and proofread your message before sending it.
Just be sure not to send bulk emails with only the name swapped out per recipient – in the same study, Rain Group revealed that only 1 out of 20 buyers were a fan of those.
Cold Outreach Methods: Why Should I Email?
Out of the big three cold outreach methods (phone, email, and online message), why would you ever choose to write an email? Isn’t it just the unhappy middle child of personal selling?
Calling, emailing, and online messaging represent a sliding scale of personal attention to the client, with online messaging via tools like Messenger, WhatsApp, or Instagram, being the most casual. In general, we recommend against using online messages for sales.
There’s no guarantee your prospect regularly checks their chat apps and social media. And if they do, a social media message is generally seen as unprofessional; they may even think it’s a scam!
Though a phone call might show the most respect, it can be inconvenient for your potential client. They may be in a meeting or in a distant time zone and sleeping. And if you plan on delivering your entire sales pitch during that first call, you may end up wasting a chunk of their time.
Meanwhile, there’s little limit on how much information you can include in an email. Plus, your recipient can open, read, and refer back to your email at their leisure. Maybe they’ll see it on Friday, open it and give a quick glance on Monday, and then finally read it thoroughly on Wednesday, when they have time.
Considering this, it’s no wonder prospects prefer to be contacted by email! Additionally, choosing to initially contact the prospect by email doesn’t mean you’re stuck emailing them forever. In your cold email you could set up a call or urge them to call you when they’re able.
Then, post-sale, if you’ve built a strong relationship, you can then connect with your client on industry forums and social media.
How Do I Get Started Cold Emailing?
Of course, before you start emailing, you’ll need email addresses. But how do you find them?
If you’ve decided to start cold emailing but have no customers to email, lead databases like ZoomInfo, Lusha, and UpLead can provide the email addresses for thousands of qualified leads – for a fee, of course.
Alternatively, if you have a specific target prospect, there’s a fair chance of finding their email address at their company website or LinkedIn profile. If this info isn’t readily available, paid browser extensions like revDriver and ContactOut are often able to find a person’s contact info by accessing such sites.
Sending out emails to any buyer in your target market is unlikely to deliver sales. Be sure to properly research each lead to make sure they meet your buyer persona or have a potential need before starting to draft a cold email.
How to Write a Cold Email
Now that you’ve found a hot prospect, how do you write the perfect cold email? You might be tempted to use a cold email template, but like we said earlier, a bulk sales email is unlikely to succeed.
Take the time to put a bit more effort into customizing your cold email to your potential client. Writing a great cold email isn’t as hard as it seems; read on to learn all the key steps.
Research and Planning
Before you start writing, start planning your pitch and your campaign with a bit of research. This will focus your efforts and help you craft a better email.
1. Determine Your Cold Email Campaign Goals
Start by setting clear goals for the campaign. It’s a cold contact, so there’s little chance your sales reps will close a deal right off the bat. Establish reasonable expectations by setting achievable goals, such as qualifying the prospect, confirming the prospect’s interest or setting up a future call.
Specific targets and goals not only help narrow the focus of your email, but they also provide metrics to gauge your sales reps’ success.
2. Identify Your Target Audience
The next step is to identify the target audience. Does the prospect and their company fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) or buyer persona?
If you’re selling high-end furniture, your ICP might be an upper-class middle-aged man with no children who makes $100,000 a year. If you’re in logistics consulting, your ICP could be a Rust Belt shipping company with at least 100 employees and more than $5 million in annual revenue.
You could also make your target audience a little narrower than your ICP. If you’re selling CRM software, for example, you might target small businesses that have recently experienced significant growth.
Of course, your target audience should align with the goal set previously in the first step.
3. Research the Recipient and Their Company
To craft personalized emails that build a personal connection, researching the prospect and their employer is absolutely essential.
Although the background of the company is much more important than that of the prospect, you should also learn about the representative: their education, experience, and main skills, as well as their position and responsibilities. Also, do they have the authority to make the purchase, or will they need to persuade their boss?
That being said, be sure to take more time to research the company and the challenges it might be facing. Perhaps management recently changed, or the business, or a relevant department, went through a major restructuring. It’s also a good idea to see what their competitors are up to; maybe the company is about to fall behind, or has a chance to gain a real edge.
Check the Better Business Bureau, LinkedIn, social media platforms, and the company’s website to get a full sense of the company and its situation. The more you know about the prospect and company, the better you can tailor your value proposition to match their needs.
Crafting the Email
Now that you’ve got a good idea of your goals, primary target audience, and prospect, it’s time to sit down and start writing the first draft for your cold email.
However, an email is more than just a block of text – there are several key elements to consider.
1. Subject Line
The subject line is probably much more important than you think. As the first thing your recipient reads, it needs to grab their attention. Of course, it should also be simple and appealing enough to convince them to open the email.
For the best impact, your subject line could:
- Ask a question
- Say something unexpected
- Use the person’s name
- Make the person curious
- Offer insight or value
Avoid exclamation points and dubious claims, as they’ll get you fast-tracked to the spam folder. Rather than “BUY OUR CRM NOW!!!” for instance, go with “Here’s how to boost customer satisfaction 80%.”
Before you start sending your cold emails, send one to yourself to see how the subject line appears in your inbox. Email previews usually only show about 40 characters of the subject line; if keywords aren’t being displayed, you may have to pull out your editing scissors and make cuts.
Your opening sets the tone for the rest of the email, so it’s best to keep it friendly and professional. Begin building a personal connection by using the prospect’s name and treating them with respect.
Here are some good and bad examples of opening lines:
- Good: “Dear [recipient],”
- Good: “Good morning [recipient]!”
- Bad: “Dear sir or ma’am”
- Bad: “Howdy partner!”
Now it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. It might be tempting to start by introducing yourself, just as you would in real life. But unlike a real-life conversation, there’s nothing stopping the recipient from walking away after three seconds.
Your prospect is likely busy and not looking to make new friends online. Respect their time and keep the recipient’s attention by getting straight to the point of how your product will provide value and address their firm’s pain points. You could also mention how your product has improved or how it’s currently available at a special rate.
Whatever you choose, remember to keep it short and cut to the chase on how you can help them and their business.
4. Call to Action
Remember the email goal you set? Now that you’ve got their attention, explain to the potential customer what to do next.
Keep your call to action simple and concrete: the easier the next step, the more likely they are to take it. Also, the more details you establish, the less pressured the recipient will be to think up details on their own. And they’ll know exactly what to expect.
Rather than a broad “let me know if you’re interested” or “please contact me,” you might go with “If you’ve got five minutes free, I’m available from 9 am to 12 pm tomorrow and would love to have a quick call to provide more details.”
You’ve made a solid case, but you’re not done yet. Politely close your email by thanking the potential client for their time and signing off.
A common mistake in cold emails is an entitled tone; phrases like “I’ll expect your response by tomorrow” come off as arrogant and a real turn-off. The reality is that your prospect is doing you a favor by reading your email, so thank them for their time and don’t expect anything.
Studies show that receiving an expression of thanks after giving help more than doubles the chance the person will help again. Thus, if you give a sincere “thank you,” your chances of getting a response increase significantly.
Finally, your send-off and signature should be professional. For a first email, it’s best to stay formal. That means staying away from informal salutations like “cheers”; present a professional image with “best regards” or “sincerely.”
Your email signature should include your full name, position, company, and contact info – all of which help prove your legitimacy.
Tips for Success
We’ve covered the basics, but here are four more tips to help you get the most out of your cold emails.
1. Send emails at the best time
The best time to send cold emails is between 6 to 9 am on Monday, with Tuesday coming in as a close second, according to marketing firm Siege Media. At these times, people are refreshed from the weekend, buzzing on caffeine, and able to handle new information and respond to requests.
As the week goes on and people lose steam, recipients are drastically less likely to open emails and reply.
Thankfully, most email service providers now include a “schedule send” function, so no matter when you’ve finished your email, you can set it to send at the start of the next week.
2. Don’t use a cold email template
After seeing all the hard work that goes into writing a cold email, you might be tempted to create a template and paste it in each recipient’s name.
That would be a mistake. People rarely respond to customized bulk emails, because it feels impersonal and lacks detail.
Though you can reuse the same calls to action, closings, and claims about your product, your opening and value proposition should be personalized to each prospect, and the rest of your email should match it to make a cohesive message.
If you use a template, your cold email regresses from a sales email to a customized ad.
3. Proofread your email
Your email should be typo-free and pleasant to read; if your recipient struggles to understand your message, you probably won’t hear back from them.
Recipients spend maybe a minute reading each email, so the ideal length is 50 to 125 words, according to email marketer Campaign Monitor. Cut out extraneous words to ensure your email is easy to skim through and act upon.
4. Don’t be too flimsy
You might have heard that adding “of course, you’re free to refuse” will get you more positive results through reverse psychology. However, studies show that though this often works for in-person requests, it has a near-zero impact on pitches made via email.
This is likely because the recipient feels little pressure to give an immediate response. In a cold email this will mostly make you look less assertive, which is less than ideal. So save “you’re free to refuse” for the in-person demo.
What to Do After Sending Your Cold Email
After you’ve hit send, it’s time to follow up and gauge your success.
Send a Follow-Up Email
A cold email campaign isn’t a one-and-done strategy. Sending just one follow-up email could improve your reply rate by more than 20 percent, according to email sales advisory Woodpecker.
But how long should you wait before following up? Your recipient needs time to read and respond, and sending a follow-up too soon will make you seem pushy and desperate. Woodpecker says it’s best to send a follow-up email two days later, but you could wait as long as a week.
Your follow-up email should say more than “just checking in.” The potential client might not have responded yet because your first email failed to resonate. A follow-up email is a second chance to grab their attention by mentioning another product or offering a different call to action.
Measure The Success of Your Email Campaign
Track the results of your cold email campaign to learn what worked and what did not and find areas for improvement. Three common KPIs are open rate, click rate, and response rate.
Open rate is the share of recipients who actually opened the email, and it can generally be improved with a stronger subject line, email sent time, and target audience. Campaign Monitor says 20-30 percent is a good email open rate, depending on the industry.
Click rate is the percentage of recipients who clicked on a hyperlink or image in your email. If your call to action is a phone call or email response, this probably isn’t worth much to you. But if your email included a link to your product or company, the click rate will show prospects’ level of interest.
Finally, response rate is the share of recipients who sent back a response email. According to a joint study by SEO and link-building experts PitchBox and BackLinko, the average response rate for outreach emails is only about 8%. Increasing this number is not easy, but you could start by improving your value proposition and call to action.
If your sales team uses a CRM program, the software will likely track these three metrics. But for businesses just starting out, Google Analytics can help track these KPIs for free.
Example Cold Emails
Leveraging the steps and tips outlined above, let’s turn a bad cold email into a good one.
Let’s say I’m selling marketing automation software. My target audience is growing B2C businesses with more than 50 employees and at least $30 million in annual revenue. I’m emailing the head of the sales department with the goal of setting up a phone call.
Bad Cold Email
Subject: How Our Marketing Automation Software Can Boost Your Sales
As the head of the sales department at [Company], you’re likely looking for ways to increase revenue and streamline your processes. That’s why I wanted to reach out about our marketing automation software, which is designed to help businesses like yours streamline their marketing and increase sales.
With our software, you can automate email campaigns, track leads, and analyze data to make informed decisions. Here are some key features of our software:
- Automated email campaigns that save you time and increase engagement
- Lead tracking and management tools that help you identify hot leads and follow up with them
- Data analytics that provide insights into your marketing campaigns and customer behavior
Our marketing automation software is perfect for small and growing B2C businesses like yours with over 50 employees and an annual revenue of over $30 million. By using our software, you can focus on what you do best – selling your products and services – while we take care of your marketing automation needs.
I would love to schedule a call to discuss how our software can help your business. Please let me know if you’re available this week to chat.
First of all, this email is way too long, yet fails to go into any real detail. Like we said before, the ideal email should be 50 to 125 words and include a specific call to action.
The email also focuses too much on what the marketing automation software can do without explaining why it matters to the recipient – in other words, the value proposition isn’t clear.
Let’s see how we can improve.
Good Cold Email
Subject: How to double employee efficiency
Good morning [Name]!
Congratulations on [Company X]’s acquisition of [Company Y] in January. You’ve got more sales reps now, but does it seem like your sales numbers have sagged? Your sales team might be struggling with new tasks following the growth spurt.
Our marketing automation software [product] frees up employees to focus on bigger tasks, improving productivity and overall performance. After purchasing our product, [Company Z]’s employee efficiency more than doubled!
I’d love to explain how you can keep your success streak going and bring out your employees’ best. If you have five minutes to discuss more details, please call me this week at [phone number] from 9am-12pm.
Thank you for your time, [Name].
Sales Department, EngageMind
See the difference?
Short and sweet, the better email focuses on the prospect’s situation and ties the value proposition to a relevant pain point. The recipient will appreciate that I’ve done my research and feel a personal connection growing.
Also, mentioning my successful past client Company Z and giving my full professional signature establishes my credibility as a legitimate supplier who can deliver real results. If you received both of these emails, you’d probably respond to the second email.
Cold emails are a great way to engage new prospects without the stress of cold calling. The rub is that pretty much everything is riding on the quality of your email.
A successful cold email is short, personal, and impactful, highlighting the value of your product and giving a clear call to action. If you’re able to consistently achieve that, your cold email campaigns have a good chance of turning into bountiful sales for your business.
FAQs on Writing a Cold Email
No. Using a cold email template runs the risk of making your email sound impersonal, which reduces the chance of building a connection with your prospect and making a sale. Personalized emails have a much higher chance of grabbing your potential client’s attention.
To make your cold email stand out, personalize your message, provide value to the recipient, use an attention-grabbing subject line, and keep your message concise and to the point. Avoid generic spam-like messages and show genuine interest in the recipient.
A cold call could be inconvenient for busy prospects who have a busy schedule or live in a different time zone. On top of giving your sales rep more time to perfect their message, a cold email also lets the prospect plan and prepare the sales pitch on their own time.
Before you write a cold email, determine the goal of your cold email campaign and your target audience, and research your prospect. Your cold email should include an attention-grabbing subject line, professional opening, value-oriented body, specific call to action, and thankful closing.
Some common mistakes people make when writing cold emails are sending them at the wrong time, sounding ungrateful, being too long-winded, and having an unclear call to action.
To avoid these issues, send your email in the morning at the beginning of the week, say thank you to your potential customer, keep your email short and focused on your value proposition, and specify an actionable next step for customers to take.
Yes, following up after sending a cold email can increase the chances of a response. Wait a few days after sending the initial email, and then send a polite and professional follow-up message. Remember: avoid being pushy or aggressive.
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