How to Write Cold Emails That Get Sales


Paid ads. Lead magnets. Social ads. Phone calls. Conferences. Giveaways. Events. Guest blogging. Organic traffic via search engine optimization. There are plenty of ways to generate leads and make sales in the modern world. Heck, even traditional promotion on radio, television, and billboards still has its place.

Each has its pros and cons depending on your goals, niche, target, and location. But if I had to choose just one at the expense of all others, it’d be cold email. It wouldn’t even be close.

The others are all good to varying degrees, but email remains for me the one channel to rule them all. Why?

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Consumers like to receive promotional emails: 86% at least monthly, 61% at least weekly, and a whopping 15% daily.

That’s why.

However, it’s equal parts art and science to write a cold email that a stranger is going to open, read, and take the requested action on. You want to convert. Close. Get the sale.

Let’s make it happen.

Subject Lines

To be blunt, if your subject line is weak, everything else doesn’t matter. Subject lines are absolutely, positively crucial to your email success.

Legendary adman David Ogilvy said that your headline (i.e. subject line) is 80 cents out of your dollar. Spend it wisely. 47% of people decide whether to open an email based on the subject line alone.

If it’s not opened, does your email even exist at all?

Nope. So get it opened.

Personalize it. Subject lines with the recipient’s name, company name, or some other personal tidbit get up to 50% higher open rates.

Keep it short. Aim for 3-8 words at the most.

Create a sense of urgency or exclusivity: flash sale, limited-time offer, X number remaining, countdowns, and so on can nudge people into taking action (like opening, clicking, and converting).

Ask a question. Offer a concrete benefit. Pique their curiosity. Be clear, not clever. Lead with a benefit, logic, or “threat.”

Generate at least 3 subject lines for every email. A/B test them (you might be surprised by what you find out). Experiment and optimize to find what works best for your audience.

Email Copy

Getting your email opened is easily half the battle, but a sky-high open rate doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t get to them to take action. That’s where your email copy takes over.

Skip the lengthy intro. Are you going to read a long email from Mr. So-and-So that rambles on and on about him and his company? No. Frankly, no one cares. You need to keep the message crazy short, to the point, and about them. The most effective emails fall between 50 and 125 words in total.

Briefly highlight your value proposition and polish the first line, as many email providers and mobile apps display it in addition to the subject line.

Get fancy with a little psychological savvy. The more you understand human behavior, the better you can craft a message that makes people take action. A good jumping-off point is Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion (reciprocity, commitment, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity).

Avoid vagueness, ambiguity, assumptions, and self-indulgence. Keep it casual and – believe it or not – at a third-grade reading level for maximum impact.

Experiment with some tried-and-true sales and marketing acronyms like the 4Ps or AIDA.

And test, test, test.

Leave the aggressive sales tactics and pitches at home. In fact, it’s worthwhile to treat your initial email as a “creating the relationship” opportunity rather than a “making a sale” attempt. You’re aiming for a response above all else.

Which leads us to …

Cold Doesn’t Mean Cold

Personalize, personalize, personalize – where appropriate, of course. And don’t be creepy. Thoughtful, relevant personalization within the email itself delivers better open and click-through rates, an increase in sales, and more, as seen below:

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We live in the Big Data era. You can find out something about everyone, so ‘cold’ email should never really be cold. The data available for the taking also means we’re living in the personalization golden age.

Head on over to the business websites, or the social media profiles (especially LinkedIn for professionals) of individuals and brands. They’re a treasure trove of information.

Use a tool like Voila Norbert to automatically collect relevant names and details for your prospecting efforts. The more you know, the better you can customize your email message for specific segments.

If you’re using a cold email solution like Mailshake, you can’t necessarily personalize at the individual level if you’re sending out dozens or hundreds of emails. But segmentation allows you to personalize at scale via powerful integrations and merge fields within your segment templates.

You can segment based on location, demographics (like gender or job title), market or industry, company size, past purchases (if any) or behavior, psychographics, and so on. You could even further segment your segments to drill down to as personal a level as possible.

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Consumers expect at least some level of personalization in modern marketing. If you can’t or don’t provide it, they’ll move on to someone who will. It’s that simple.

Segmented email campaigns deliver better results across the board:

The takeaway? Personalize and segment. They want it. You need it.

Follow up

Follow up, follow up, follow up. And then follow up again. Starting to see a pattern?

The importance of the follow-up email can not be stressed enough here.

Here’s the reality of the email game: 70% of unanswered email chains stop after the first message, while 50% of sales happen after the fifth touchpoint.

So here’s the secret to email success: follow up. Studies have shown that subsequent emails after the first one continue to generate good-to-great response rates. One showed an 18% response rate to the first message, 12% to the third, and 27% to the sixth.

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Another saw 30% to the first, 13% to the fifth, and 7% to the tenth.

But don’t just resend the same message. An effective follow-up needs to up the value, add context, and adjust the call-to-action as necessary.

The follow-up email is at least as important as the initial one. Keep. Sending.

Test, Monitor, and Tweak

If you’re not tracking important metrics and optimizing for conversions, you might as well stop altogether. Luckily, any email solution worth its salt makes this ridiculously easy to do.

You should be tracking open rates (aim for 15-30%), response rates (shoot for 10-30%), and/or click-through rates (5%+) at a minimum. Go for the high end. Never be satisfied with hitting that bottom rung.

As a quick rule of thumb, a high open but low response rate means you’ve got a strong subject line but weak copy.

High response rate but low open? Great copy, weak subject line.

The open rate for October 2018 across all industries was 15.75%, while the click-through rate was 7.63%. For marketing and advertising specifically, it was 12.50% and 8.45%, respectively. Falling short of those benchmarks? Fix it. Yesterday.

As the saying goes, that which gets measured, gets managed. So measure the metrics that matter.

A Few Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

Beyond the best practices listed above, there are a few other things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your cold email outreach:

Email is the past, present, and future of digital sales and marketing. It’s affordable, powerful, far-reaching, and enormously effective. And anyone can become a master with a little patience and practice.

Keep your cold emails casual, compact, and concise. Personalize and segment as much as your target allows. Test your subject line. Test your copy. Follow-up.

And watch your sales soar.

What’s your recipe for cold email success? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below:

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