It’s not easy to go up to a stranger and introduce yourself. It’s even harder to do so and segue into a sales pitch without getting shut down.
That is, unless that person is actually interested in your offer. But how can you know that before striking up a conversation?
Here’s the secret: the best cold emails aren’t as cold as you might think.
You shouldn’t be messaging random people out of the blue or pitching a product to someone who clearly has no need for or interest in it. The perfect cold email is targeted. It’s personalized because the sender has done their research.
So, if you want to start writing cold emails like that—ones that actually get results—you’ve come to the right place. This guide will dissect every aspect of a cold email, from the subject line to the first sentence to the call to action. We’ll also provide examples and tips for sending emails that get higher response rates, drive conversions, and, ultimately, increase sales.
What’s the deal with cold email?
The specific goal of your cold email can vary depending on your business model and qualification process. But, generally speaking, there are a few specific outcomes you might hope your cold email achieves.
Sales reps use cold email to reach out to potential leads in the hopes of turning them into prospects. The success of a cold email is determined by the level of engagement it elicits from a lead. Namely, a great cold email gets noticed, gets opened, and gets your prospect to reply or take action.
As with cold calling, a cold email is the first point of contact between a sales team and a potential lead. The recipient is someone who doesn’t know you and likely isn’t expecting to hear from you. They may or may not be aware of your product, but they’ve never spoken to you before and might be hesitant to even open your email.
Suffice it to say, conducting cold outreach can be tough.
It’s not easy to stand out in a prospect’s inbox or make a positive first impression that convinces them to give you the time of day. But despite the challenges, cold email is one of the most popular sales activities and one of the best ways to drum up new leads for your business.
Why? Because it works.
An effective cold email can generate tons of leads and new business. Plus, it’s easily scalable, especially with the right cold outreach tools at your disposal.
Not only can you hand-pick your leads and customize each message, but a single cold email can be the first step in a high-value customer relationship—giving this medium an insanely good ROI.
The Elements of a Cold Email
What goes into an effective cold email? Let’s take a closer look at how each element of a cold email can impact your audience’s response. Here’s an example of a cold email sent from a sales rep at an invoicing software company to a business owner.
1. Subject line
You need an attention-grabbing subject line to stand out from the other messages in your prospect’s inbox and get them to click. You might incorporate the lead’s first name, ask a question, or comment on recent news about their company. Keep in mind that your subject also sets the tone and context of your email.
Here are some subject line formats and examples that encourage leads to click:
- “Is this the tool you were asking about?”
Note: This only works in response to a public social post asking for advice.
- “Hey [Name], are you available to talk on [date]”?
Choosing a specific date and time can make it easier for prospects to commit to a meeting, but you could also include alternatives in the body of the email or a link to your calendar.
- “Congrats on the launch! Can we chat about [X] now?”
Use this format to connect news about their company to a goal your product can help them achieve.
- “Hi [Name], quick note about [X]”
This gives you a chance to open with feedback on your experience with the prospect’s website/product/webinar/etc., before tying it into your offering.
2. Sender name
Your email should be sent from a real person with a visible photo and full name attached to the account. If your “from” or “reply to” details are misleading, you not only risk losing your prospect’s trust, but you could be violating “CAN-SPAM” anti-spam regulations that have been in place since 2003.
To be compliant with the “CAN-SPAM” Act, the “from” and “reply to” details of your cold email must be accurate. Furthermore, you need to include a physical business address in the email, perhaps in the footer or your signature.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of a friendly greeting, but it’s the first thing your leads will see upon opening your email. Unless your industry is restrictively formal, we recommend keeping it simple, casual, and using the prospect’s first name.
- “Hi [Name]!”
- “Hey there [Name]”
- “Happy Friday [Name]”
4. First sentence
Treat the opening sentence of your message like your hook. It needs to be interesting enough to entice your lead to keep reading, instead of clicking away.
Some angles for a good opening line include:
- Asking a question.
- “I’d love to hear your thoughts on [X]”
- “Have you found the perfect [X] yet?”
- “What’s your least favorite thing about invoice management?”
- A flattering comment that shows you’ve researched them already.
- “I was really impressed with your [profile/article/presentation]”
- “I’m a huge fan of your work at [Company name]”
- Showing respect for their time.
- “To keep this brief, I’ll get right to the point.”
- “I can only imagine how busy you are, so I appreciate you taking the time to read this.”
- Sharing something memorable or surprising.
- “Did you know [X%] of business owners never take lunch breaks?”
- “This is my first email of the week!”
5. Value offer
Lead with value before diving into a sales pitch. What can the lead get out of responding to your message? This might be a promotional deal (“Get X days free” or “$X off regular price”), a bonus offer (like a free upgrade or perk), or a statement of what you can help them achieve (“Free up 3 hours every week”).
6. Proposed solution
Introduce the product or service you want the prospect to try. Expand on the value offered and provide details about how they can access that value. As with any good sales pitch, remember that it’s not about you or your product—it’s about what your offering can do for the prospect.
“My team at Invoicing.com builds software that helps small business owners like yourself spend less time and money on invoicing.”
7. Building rapport
In the featured example, we’re assuming the sender found the lead through a common connection on social media. If that’s the case, awesome! But there are plenty of other ways to build rapport quickly without having shared contacts. The key is to establish a common ground. Whether that’s sharing your thoughts on their latest release, commenting on industry news, or expressing your take on a timely topic.
Here are a few examples to give you some ideas:
- Is your prospect in the same city, state, or even country as you? Hey, maybe mentioning the Olympics could help break the ice (or whatever event, festival, or celebration is happening locally at the time).
- Does their Twitter bio say they love mountain climbing? Here’s your chance to name drop that peak you’ve always dreamt of scaling—or admit your fear of heights.
- Are they an expert on a topic you’re interested in? Let them know you’ve been following their work or ask for their opinion on something related.
8. Call to action
The best emails (cold or not) include clear next steps. A simple, straightforward, and specific call to action is your best bet. (“Simply reply with “yes” and I’ll set you up with a free month to try it out.”) Your recipient should know exactly what they should do if they want to proceed with the conversation—whether that’s booking a meeting in your calendar, visiting your landing page, or simply replying to your message.
9. Another opportunity to engage
In this example, the sender uses the postscript as a final opportunity to engage with the prospect: “P.S. If you have questions or want to chat, you’re welcome to book a time in my calendar here.” Clicking on the linked text would open up the sender’s calendar.
While you don’t want to include too many competing calls to action, we like the idea of allowing prospects to directly book an appointment at a time that’s most convenient for them. Plus, both of the CTAs in the example (“reply ‘yes’” and “book a time”) are easy to respond to and serve the same purpose—getting the prospect to raise their hand and express interest.
Don’t make these cold email mistakes
Few things will take your leads from cold to frigid faster than a sketchy sender address or suspiciously generic greeting. (Do you know anyone who starts an email with “Dear sir or madam” and isn’t a scammer?). So, before you hit send, make sure you’re not guilty of any of the following mistakes.
- A spammy subject line. If your subject line reads like spam, it might not even make it to your lead’s inbox. Certain phrases (especially ones that invoke a sense of urgency, like “this won’t last” and “exclusive offer”) trigger spam filters and prevent recipients from even seeing your message.
- An untrustworthy sender address. No one wants to click on mysterious messages from an anonymous sender. All of your email outreach should be conducted from an email address that matches the sender’s name and company domain.
- An unformatted wall of text. Your message should be easy to skim—especially since not everyone will take the time to read a cold email in full. Keep paragraphs short (1-2 sentences), use headings and text formatting to emphasize key points, and ensure the offer is immediately clear.
- Asking leads to download a file. It might seem like a good idea to attach your features sheet or a price list to a sales email, but this is a big no-no in the context of cold emailing. Your leads aren’t going to download a file from an unknown source and might simply delete your message instead.
- Making it difficult for leads to opt out. You should always give your leads the option to stop receiving messages from you (in fact, you’re legally required to under “CAN-SPAM” regulations). Set up a small disclaimer at the bottom of your emails that allows recipients to be removed from your list.
Start sending cold emails that get results
There’s one final critical mistake that too many salespeople make, and that’s failing to research your leads beforehand. Cold email is only truly cold if you’re blasting a generic message to a list full of prospects without any personalization or strategic targeting.
To send cold emails that get results, you need to choose the right type of leads to send the right message to at exactly the right time.
You can use Datanyze to get to know your leads—and even qualify them as potential buyers before initiating outreach. This ensures you don’t waste time chatting up the wrong type of lead, helps you vet the best potential customers, and gives you a leg up when it comes to building rapport with decision-makers.