Cold Emails Work

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Let me just get this out there right from the start: cold calling and cold emailing isn’t sexy. At all. There’s the almost-certain possibility that you’ll never hear back from some of the people you reach out to. Get over it. I’m fond of the saying, “Shit or get off the pot.” Stop stalling. Stop making excuses. You’re in charge of your business, and your next lead won’t fall into your lap if you’re just sitting around waiting.

I know from experience. I was hemming and hawing about the notion of sending out cold emails. I was worried people would take one look and hit “delete.” Or worse yet, I was worried that they’d take one look at my email, maybe go to my website, then think “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

But something amazing happened. All of that fear was misplaced and completely inaccurate! I still have a relatively small sample size, but of that group of people I did end up emailing, about 50% got back to me, and from those replies, I’ve closed business with 63% of them. Not too shabby. Below, I explore a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that makes cold calling a bit more palatable and a whole heck of a lot more successful.

Do Your Homework

Find 20-30 companies with whom you’d like to do business. Think about some qualifying criteria that will help you narrow this list down. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What types of companies/businesses have I worked with in the past that I’ve enjoyed working with?
  • How far am I willing to travel to meet with them for coffee or a beer if they reply to my email? Set an initial geographic range with which you’re comfortable traveling.
  • What size of company would I like to work with, ideally?
  • What type of clientele does my ideal client serve?
  • What do I do that is of value to my ideal client?
  • Can they afford me?

Give yourself some time and think through your answers to the above questions. This exercise will help you pre-qualify leads and saves you time in the long run. Why? Because asking yourself these questions now means you will inevitably find that some companies you were considering targeting just don’t quite align with your next steps. Eliminating them now will save you time from finding the right person to contact, writing an email, etc. More importantly, this exercise sets you on the path to identifying your overall target market, which will serve you and your sales team (if you have one) well for a long time.

Find the Decision-Makers

Now that you have compiled your list of qualified companies to contact, keep your research going and find out who the key decision makers at the organization are. Many companies have profiles on their websites, usually under the “About” section. Use this as a tool to find out who works there and if you have any common background (college, hometown, favorite sports team, etc). If you can find some commonalities, this is great…remember: the folks on the other end of that email are people just like you. So, be human. Its natural and it appeals to people.

Once you have narrowed your list down to a few people, it never hurts to check them out on LinkedIn or other social media. Why? You may have a few colleagues or connections in common, which all of a sudden turns a cold email into a much warmer email. Also, if you both have a shared contact, this comes in useful in the Subject Line as well as the body of your email, which we’ll cover shortly.

Don’t just send it to one person in the organization! Try sending it to 2 or 3 people who seem to have some clout or are aligned with the value you are trying to add to their company. Sending it to one person leaves too many things to chance…maybe they’re super busy the day you send it; maybe they accidentally mark it as “read” and forget about it. By emailing a few people at the organization, you greatly improve your chances of your email being seen and replied to. But, for each of the emails, take the time to make them personalized for each recipient. If you’re just going to copy and paste the same email to 3 people, don’t even bother. It shows you can’t take the time to be bothered to personalize a note, and all 3 will disregard you.

Start with the Subject Line

Alright, now it’s time to put that homework into action. There is a ton of research and literature around Email Subject Lines for cold emails. No joke. If you’re nuts about numbers and data like I am, feel free to take these suggestions and tweak them a little bit so you can A/B test the subject lines and compare them to your overall response rate.

If you’ve done your homework, you have the names of a few people you’d like to email. Use the names! If my name is in the email subject, I am more likely to open it. Same goes for most other people, too.

Keep the subject short. There are a few reasons for this: 1) no one wants to read a super long subject; 2) so many people look at their emails on their phones, so a long subject line is going to get lost on a mobile device anyway. Short and sweet, baby.

Talk up the mutual connection, aligned interests, or similar clients. If I get your email, and it says you also know “Tom McKean,” you’ve piqued my interest. If you’re also a Rockies fan, you better believe I’m going to open your email! Don’t have any common interests? That’s okay. Quickly tell me why I should open your email. One trick that seems to work well? “Mary, aligned clients and interests.” What does “aligned clients” mean? It could mean that I saw Mary’s portfolio online and we both work with small and medium sized businesses, or that we both work with breweries. Find something. You can do this.

Sample subject lines:

Bruce, you know Jim Demuth, too?

Ellen, aligned clients and Go Avs!

These are simple, inoffensive, and most of all: human. Don’t forget that.

K.I.S.S. → Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Cold emails should not be overly complex or long. In fact, make sure that your email is short and sweet (Think 3-4 concise sentences. You’re hoping to get some of this person’s time, so respect their time with a brief email message.

“Okay, but what do I write?”

First off, you need to understand how you can help this person, not the other way around. If I get an email, and it is just someone asking to “pick my brain” for 30 minutes, there isn’t really a whole lot of value there for me. But if someone comes to me with a suggestion or some well-thought out idea as to how they can help my business, I’m going to listen.

Once again, try and find a connection to someone. People like talking to, and working with, people with whom they have something in common. Check out this template below to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Hi [first name],

I came across your profile on LinkedIn, and it looks like we work with many of the same types of businesses, and we both know [insert mutual connection’s name here]. S/he and I have known each other since we worked together on a project at Acme Enterprises.

Do you have 15 minutes sit down or have a quick call to learn more about [recipient’s company/organization]’s specific offerings and to see if we may have any synergies?

I have some availability later this week or next if you are free for coffee.

Thanks, and I hope this finds you well.


[phone number] | [email address]

[Name of Company]

That is short, sweet, and simple. By getting right to the point, you make it clear that you value their time, but you also have something to offer. In this scenario, we work with similar clients, which means I may be able to send business their way if things work out. That’s an easy sell for my recipient.

What I like about this template example is what I’ve omitted from it. Notice how it doesn’t have a lame introduction telling the recipient who I am? It’s a waste of time. That is what your email signature is for. Use the body of the email wisely. Your recipient is smart; give them credit that they know how to read an email signature.

Also, I’m not trying to sell them anything. I’m not saying that I’ve got the solution to all their woes or that I just developed the Next Big Thing. I just want to connect. There’s less pressure there, and now I don’t come off as some cheap salesman trying to get a foot in the door.

Proofread, Read Aloud

This simple step is so often ignored it drives me crazy. Don’t drive me crazy. Take the extra time to re-read your email to proofread it. Commas, periods, pronouns, spelling…don’t trust the Spell Check, either! Reading your email aloud is useful for a few reasons. First, it makes it easier to identify oddly-worded sentences or phrases, missing words, or run-on sentences. Secondly, you’ll see how long it’ll take your recipient to read it. They’re busy, they’ve got a short attention span, and you need to make it quick. If it seems too long or wordy, cut it down.

Send that puppy!

Hit send. If you’re not using an email tracker to know who is reading your emails and when, you should start now.