7 Steps to Writing a Response-Worthy Cold Email

woman writing cold email

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

It may feel a bit spammy if you’re not used to sending one, but cold emails are actually an effective marketing and sales tool — provided, of course, you do them the right way. A great cold email can create buzz, generate potential leads and sales, establish connections, gain you investors and more. A poorly-executed cold email is worse than no email at all since it could put a top industry professional off your brand forever and prompt her to encourage her network to do the same.

So, how do you craft a cold email that will engage potential consumers, investors or contacts? These tips and steps will get you started.

What does cold email mean?

What exactly is a cold email? A cold email is an unsolicited email sent to a contact with whom you and your company have not yet connected. Often, you’ll send one to prospective clients or contacts who might be interested in learning about your company and/or buying your product or service. To entice the recipient, you might offer an incentive, such as a sample or free trial. For instance, if you’re marketing a book, you might include a sample chapter as a PDF attachment.

When do you send a cold email?

There are a few different circumstances under which you might send a cold email. They include:

• Alerting prospective customers to a new business, product or service

Networking with a potential contact or investor

• Generating buzz for your business, product or service

• Asking for a favor or advice

How do you write a cold email?

1. Make it personal.

In a perfect world, you could create individual emails for every recipient on your list. Unfortunately, you probably don’t have the time for that. While it’s a nice touch to make emails with particularly important contacts particularly personal — for instance, mentioning an event where you heard her speak — you still need to make the recipient feel like you reached out to her for a reason. That means you need to do some categorizing based on, say, the type of professional, so you can mention particular aspects of their industry that can benefit from your service or product. 

That also means addressing the recipient by name. (Even if you’re sending emails in bulk, you can accomplish this with merge tags.) Include the word “you” frequently as well.

If you are able to send actual personal messages to all of your recipients, spend some time researching each one and include relevant information in your email. For example, you might mention something you saw on their LinkedIn profile or a mutual connections. Then, link it to your purpose for contacting her.

2. Hook the reader.

Find a catchy way of grabbing the recipient’s attention. She’s opened the email, and now you want her to keep reading. And you have to do it quickly.

Don’t talk about yourself or your business yet. This is all about getting the email recipient to read the rest of the message.

You might, for example, ask a question: Did you know [interesting fact or statistic]? Or, if the message is personalized to the individual, you might note something about her: I read your article in X, and I was impressed with Y.

3. Explain why you’re contacting the recipient.

Don’t take too long to establish why it is you’re contacting the recipient and what you can do for her. You will need to do this economically, keeping your message concise and palatable (no more than 1-2 sentences).

What does the recipient need? How can you accomplish this for her? What value do you offer? These are the things you need to articulate is a small amount of space. 

To keep your cold email from sounding too sales-pitchy, focus on the client and how your product or service will improve her life. Paint a picture with words, focusing on the problem you’re solving for her, rather than the great features of the thing itself.

4. Include a call-to-action (CTA).

What do you want the recipient to do as a result of your email? This is where the CTA comes in. Perhaps you want them to meet with you or schedule a phone call. Or maybe you want them to download an article or try out your service for a trial period. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a doable ask and something the recipient can do right now. Keep it to-the-point; a single sentence will suffice here. 

5. Create a compelling subject line.

Your email won’t get opened at all if you don’t have a subject line that interests the reader. Again, try to make it as personal as possible, and spark curiosity. Don’t try to sell in the subject; instead, draw the reader in with a short, compelling message or phrase. Also, make it urgent, including words such as “now,” “alert” or “update.” Keep it short and succinct — six or seven words at most.

A word of caution: never mislead, lie or include clickbaity language in your subject line.

6. Personalize the “from” line.

People are more likely to open messages that come from an individual person, rather than a company. Consider combinations such as your first name and the company and your first and last name and the company. What you decide depends on the tone and your audience.

7. Proofread and edit.

Reviewing the steps, read your email after you’ve some time away from it. Consider how the recipient will see and react to it. How does it sound? Do you come across as genuine? Is it too sales-pitchy? Is it clear what you’re trying to do? Are you communicating the value you offer clearly enough?

If possible, get a fresh set of eyes on it, too, by asking a friend or colleague to read it over.

Are cold emails legal?

It is perfectly legal to send cold emails. However, you must adhere to the requirements of CAN-SPAM. If you violate them, you could be penalized with fines. 

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 provides specific requirements for commercial messages advertising or promoting products or services. Among them, you may not use deceptive or misleading header information or subject lines. You must also provide a method of opting out of receiving emails from you in the future and honor these requests immediately. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides a full list of CAN-SPAM requirements.

Sample/template cold emails to use

Template #1: Multiple recipients

Subject: Cut your workload in half

Hi [name],

Did you know that last year, recruiters spent an average of X sifting through resumes?

As a recruiting professional, you know that’s precious time that could be spent on meaningful responsibilities such as interviewing potential matches. That’s why my team and I at [business name] developed a reliable ATS system that does the busy work of flagging great candidates for you — cutting your workload in half. 

I’d love to offer you a free 60-day trial of [name of software]. Just sign up here!

Questions? Feel free to reach out to me any time.


[your name]

Template #2: One recipient

Dear [name of recipient],

Witnessing your TED talk on practicing forgiveness changed my life.

So much so, in fact, that it was one of the driving forces behind my new book, [book title]. Based on extensive research, including your book [book title] and article [article title], I look at how forgiveness can be transformative. It’s set to be published by [name of publisher] in August of 2020. 

I would be thrilled if you could give this attached excerpt of my book a read and perhaps offer a blurb. I’d also welcome any feedback and would be delighted to send you the full manuscript as well.

Thanks so much,

[your name]

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