Whether you’re trying to get in touch with an idol, trying to land your dream job or simply completing good old email outreach, the ability to send an impressive cold email is absolutely key in the modern world of overflowing inboxes and clickbait subject lines.
So, how do you get someone’s attention and keep them engaged enough to get your point across before you’re politely (or perhaps not) moved into the trash?
First, let’s look at exactly what a cold email is…
What is a Cold Email?
Simply, a cold email is sending an email to someone:
- You don’t know
- Who hasn’t asked to speak to you
If they’ve expressed interest in you, or you’re getting back in touch with someone you’ve been in contact with before then they’re much further up on the heat scale, somewhere from tepid to volcanic. A warm contact means you’re recognisable, and you’ve got something in common to relate to; an email is much more difficult when your relationship is as cold as ice.
A good starting point, as with all persuasive writing, is to keep your audience engaged. So, first of all the aim of your subject line is to get them to read your first sentence and the aim of your first sentence is to get them to read you second sentence and so on. So, let’s find out how to write the perfect cold email.
1. Subject Line
Of course, your number one priority has to be the subject line. Particularly if you’re getting in touch with someone who is likely to have an overpopulated inbox, it’s all about making sure that your email even gets opened.
The number one tip here is to keep it human. So many people are employing email marketing nowadays that people have become very good at instinctively dismissing emails based on spammy-sounding subject lines. I’m sure you do this every day; think about the kind of things that you don’t respond to. We’re so over-exposed to subjects like ‘You have to take a look at this?!’ or ‘You won’t believe what I’ve just found out…’ that we’ve learnt to filter them out quickly.
So what does work? Think about what makes you a human being. Avoid clichéd sounding slogans, use lower case text and make it clear what you’re asking. In some cases you might find that intentional misspellings will work, as it gives the impression that you’ve sent the email in a rushed way. They’ll know that you haven’t just copy and pasted or laboured over it for hours. Think simple misspellings, as opposed to standard grammatical mistakes as you don’t want to come across as essentially unintelligent.
If you know the person’s name, always use it in the subject line. It adds a personal touch that at least alleviates the possibility that the email is a mass send out. A title like ‘John – Do you have some time to meet this week?’ if you’re trying to connect with someone you idolise can be really effective as it’s personal and straight to the point.
One of the most successful email marketing campaigns in history, Obama’s donations campaign, managed to raise $690 million. They found that “Hey” was the most effective subject line, and even that mild curse words has a small effect. While a lot of the effectiveness of this campaign came from the profile of the sender, it does illustrate that the human touch is effective at all levels.
2. Keep it Short
While it’s incredibly important to feel like you’re genuinely offering somebody something that is of use to them when cold emailing, you need to make sure they don’t have to work for it.
Generally 3 to 4 sentences is best, and keep the paragraphs short, normally a sentence each. If the person you’re emailing is simply skim reading your email then you still want them to get the main information.
Important people are very unlikely to read speculative life stories meticulously, and so with every extra sentence you add you’re sending the effectiveness of your email through the floor. This is particularly the case because experience tells us that most long/rambling emails are robotic and trying to sell us stuff, and the important emails from important people are short and to the point. In fact, studies show that shorter emails effect fast response times; if they have less information to consider they don’t necessarily need to add the item onto their to-do list.
If you’re looking for some effective ways to shorten your response time, check out this Yes Ware list of effective email formulas.
3. What’s The Right Tone?
In most cases, your focus should be on creating a conversational friendly tone. In some outreach emails or if you’re contacting a highly influential professional, you might want to veer on the side of professional politeness, but generally people respond much better to a conversational tone because it’s real.
All your recipient gets from a cold email is what you write and their existing knowledge of your company. If you know your company isn’t highly recognisable, or you’re not representing a company at all, the tone of what your writing is the only thing the person has to get an idea of what you’re about.
Keep it informal, engaging, and get rid of all of the jargon immediately. No-one cares about your ‘transformative cloud solutions for digital Tsars and monopolisers’, you egomaniac.
This is where your research counts. Nothing turns people off from a cold email like a template that has clearly been only slightly altered to suit them in the most spurious ways. As quickly as possible try to make connections, clients you share, interests you both have, whatever; any connection is valuable because it shows that you care enough to have spent some time researching.
Liz Wessel knows the importance of keeping things personal, especially if you’re sending an email to an idol (and she’s made her whole team send one). She emphasised the importance of appealing to the person you’re talking to, “make yourself sound interesting enough so that the person wants to meet with you,” she says. It’s a simple piece of advice, but it’s an important one.
Don’t be afraid to use humour either, it’s human, and it’s a good opportunity to lighten the tone before coming back around to a more serious, convincing point. Just make sure it’s a good joke.
5. Where’s The Benefit?
The truth is, we’re a selfish bunch. You’re always going to win if you can show a tangible benefit to the recipient. If you truly believe in your product of course, then you should believe this is true, it’s just about getting it across.
It’s trickier if you’re getting in touch for your personal interest. AppSumo Noah Kagan brilliantly pulls apart the last successful cold email he received. Some of the areas that worked here may be too specific but the general takeaway we can get is that the guy who contacted him offered credibility and benefits. This doesn’t mean that you should spend half the email with a boring declaration of your day to day existence, but try to squeeze in any impressive or interesting credentials.
If you’re just starting off, and feel like you’ve got a lot to shout about, don’t be afraid. Try to give an interesting approach on their business, or be bold and give them advice; if you’re emailing anyone worth talking to and your idea’s a good one, then they shouldn’t dismiss it because of your inexperience.
6. Call to Action
Another great piece of advice from Noah is all about how to finish it off. If you want a meeting, ask for 15 minutes, and state a place and a time. If you’ve piqued someone’s interest by now (which hopefully you have) 15 minutes is a great, fairly un-committal amount of time to ask for. “See how he didn’t say, ‘When is a good time to meet?’” Noah says, “Then I’d have to check my schedule. Instead he suggested something specific so I can easily see if that’s available for me.”
Giving specific times has a strange effect on people. It normally sparks them into action; it’s very easy to ignore a ‘hope to hear from you’ or a ‘look forward to hearing back’ because they’ve given you an easy way out. Go all out and suggest a weird time, like 10:23AM, it could keep them interested and at least induce a reply.
7. Follow up & Deal With Rejection
Whether you get an answer or not, a follow up is absolutely key. If you’re finding the thought of a cold email a bit difficult, it can be very easy to think ‘Well, I tried,’ and forget about it. It’s for exactly this reason that you should always follow up, quite simply, because most people don’t.
It not only shows that you care, but there is a genuine chance that they never even saw your email, or fully intended to get back to you and it got buried in the day’s tasks. Yes, that might seem unlikely, but is it worth the chance?
One of my favourite quotes on cold emails is from Tim Ferriss. “I believe that success can be measured in the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have,” Ferris says, and he’s right. If you can go the extra mile where someone else won’t, then you’ll rise straight to the top.
If someone gets back to you saying they’re not interested, then don’t just give up; it’s infinitely better than no reply at all. Challenge yourself to have the uncomfortable conversation and give it another shot, or try to sell them something different. If you can do it successfully, it’ll be even more impressive.
That’s it! It’s time to get writing. Give it a go and drop us a comment to tell us how you got in. We look forward to hearing all about your bossoming friendships with Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and The Queen in no time!