How To Write A Cold Email: The Definitive Guide

This is a complete guide on how to write a cold email in 2021. So if you want to write cold emails that get responses, you’ll enjoy the actionable tips in this guide. Let’s dive right in.

Does Cold Emailing Still Work?

Yes. Although salespeople now need to stand out and get replies.

Your prospect (Samantha) has probably been bombarded with sales emails for many years now. They suck her time. Samantha’s brain has been trained to identify and ignore these emails within seconds. Most sales emails follow generic patterns that are easy for the brain to spot and discard.

A shocking number of cold emails fail because they go straight into the pitch before they have made an IMPACT. You need to stand out and grab attention in order to convince prospects it is worth considering your pitch. 

“Hi, I’m James from ACME and we provide office equipment to Fortune-500 companies from our 17 locations around the world.”

“We are the market-leading data analysis tool… Our company has the world’s best coffee roasters… We work with some of the largest beauty brands in the world including…”

Boring. Forgettable. Unlikely to get a response. Everyone claims to be market-leading/the world’s best.

To get Samantha to pause and read your email, you need to stand out.

You can do this by being smart, funny, original, unexpected, or unusual.

Cold Email Introduction

Your cold email introduction is one of the first pieces of text your prospect will see. It creates a critical first impression. If you can’t get this right, what are the chances your prospect will continue reading the rest of your email?

Humor

Most salespeople are too afraid to go here. They don’t know how to tell a joke or they’re afraid using humor might make them seem unprofessional. Shocking fact: most prospects are humans. Humans, no matter how senior in a company, have a sense of humor. In addition, you don’t have to be Dave Chappelle or Jerry Seinfeld to write a joke. Just use the simple formulas below and keep it clean.

Simile

Use ‘like’, ‘unlike’, or ‘as’ to draw a comparison between two things. This works best when you can compare your solution to a piece of information about your prospect or your prospect’s company.

How to use a simile in your cold email:

Julius works for a company that manufactures televisions.

“Hi Julius, like a crisp 4K OLED TV, our CRM helps you see the bigger picture. Since Similar Company started using ACME’s CRM their sales team has closed 23% more deals. Open to learning more?”

It can help to look up idioms (like see the bigger picture) relevant to your solution or the information you are using about your prospect.

The Rule Of Three

The rule of three works by establishing a pattern with the first two items before introducing an unexpected/absurd third item that becomes the punchline. You’ll see comedians use this all the time.

How to use a simile in your cold email:

Example: Developing software is like running a marathon, cycling up the Alps, or juggling chainsaws while dodging bullets.

Empathy

While humor has the power to make you stand out from the crowd and show off your smarts/wit/entertainment value, empathy has the power to open the mind of your prospect. When your prospect sees a cold email their mindset is geared to disregard the mail and move on. But what if the opening words tap into their passions, goals, struggles, or values? How do you feel when someone gives you a genuine compliment for a job well done? Empathy can break down walls and clear the way for your pitch to be received with open ears.

Here’s how I got a reply from the CEO of one of the world’s largest websites:

“Hi Chris,

Caught your podcast interview on Podcast Name. It sounds like your approach to Website.com has been to build useful tools and let the growth follow. Like Website.com, our company has not had to take outside investment. This has enabled us to focus on building useful solutions and create a good (100% remote) company culture.”

More Cold Email Introduction Expert Tips

See our cold email introduction guide for more tips.

Your Story

Stories are a fundamental part of human culture. They connect with people emotionally. They make it easy to recall information. Stories provide color to your email which makes it stand out from the crowd.

Overall, don’t overthink this. Try practicing your stories with friends and family. See if they laugh. Ask them where they got bored. Aim to make it short and punchy. It’s best to have a selection of these stories to deploy so they don’t get stale.

Which interesting situation or fact can you turn into a cold email story?

Examples – Stories For Cold Email

The Company Name

Hi, I’m Max from Köttur. 

Köttur?? You might be thinking.

Well, our co-founder is Islandic and he was hoping it would be a conversation starter. 

Did it work?

The Stale List

John – my boss gave me an old list with your name on it.

The Stalker

Hi Amir – saw you are the People Ops person for EMEA (yes, I stalk people on LinkedIn for a living). 

The Drunk Letter

A great example from Jon Buchan here:

You won’t have heard of me. (Hi, I’m Jon!). I got your details from a list *gasp*. But hey, that means you’re list-worthy; that’s gotta be something, right? 😉

The Warren Buffett Technique

Warren Buffett starts his presentations by delivering the bad news. This does three things:

  1. It gets the bad news out of the way first
  2. It sets a low bar . Anything positive after this has more impact
  3. It makes the rest of the presentation sound credible

When it comes to your cold emails, what is the most honest thing you can say? What does everyone know about the sales process in your industry? Use this as a first-line to grab their attention.

I’m supposed to enroll you in an email sequence but I’d rather not spam you.

Would you be open to speaking or should I remove you from the list?

Cold Email Writing Style

Use Short Sentences

Prospects want simplicity and clarity. When you break your email into short sentences it forces you to simplify your ideas. This makes it easy for prospects to understand your message.

Long sentence example:

Our in-person career training days and online courses have helped over 150 clients maximize employee job satisfaction as most employees think that companies don’t invest enough in their growth and development.

Short sentence example:

Our career courses have helped over 150 clients maximize employee job satisfaction. 

Most employees think that companies don’t invest enough in their development.

Which is easier to understand?

Remove Sales Jargon

‘unbelievable results’

‘incredible growth’

‘4x revenue’

Hyped-up terms like these damage your credibility. They make your pitch sound too good to be true and a little desperate. With this in mind, it’s best to remove these phrases and take a softer approach.

‘here’s a case study that shows how ClientX was able to increase their web traffic’

‘our customer-focused team’

‘value-added results’

‘our data-driven product’

You aren’t speaking to a faceless corporate drone. You’re speaking to a real person. These jargon terms clutter messages and make it difficult to understand the real value you are offering. 

‘our software makes it easy to book and manage meeting rooms’

‘we help companies reduce their electricity bill’

Cialdini’s ‘Influence’ For Cold Email

Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion’ provides 6 critical factors that influence people to say ‘yes’.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the obligation to give back what you have received from someone else. The key to reciprocity is you need to be the first person to give something and the gift must be personalized, useful, and unexpected.

Cialdini found reciprocity was linked to the tips waiters received:

  • Giving one mint increased a waiter’s tip increased by 3%
  • Giving two mints increased a waiter’s tip increased by 14%
  • If the waiter gave one mint, walked away, then turned around and said ‘but for you nice people, here’s another’, tips increased by 23%.

The most effective strategy was to make the gift personal and unexpected.

Liking

People prefer to say ‘yes’ when they like their counterparts. How do you get someone to like you? Exchange personal information with the goal of establishing how you are both similar.

Cialdini found that when people liked each other, it was more probable that a deal could be made. He instructed two groups of MBA students to take different approaches:

  • Group A was told that ‘time is money’ and they should reach an agreement as quickly as possible. When they sat down, they immediately started talking business. 55% were able to reach an agreement.
  • Group B was told to exchange personal information before starting negotiations, and identify similarities with their counterparts. 90% were able to reach an agreement

The liking principle is most effective when you can identify similarities and provide genuine compliments to your counterpart. Do this before discussing business.

Scarcity

People want things more when they are in short supply. This makes people feel as though they have a limited time to act. If they don’t take advantage now the opportunity will soon be gone. People don’t like to lose out. 

Cialdini found that when British Airways announced they would no longer run twice-daily concord routes from London to New York sales exploded. Nothing else about the offer had changed. It had only become more scarce. As a result, people wanted it more.

Credibility 

People will follow the advice of credible and knowledgeable experts. We can’t be experts in all areas. As a result, we need to rely on others.

Cialdini found there was a link between credentials and sales at a letting agency. The receptionists were asked to mention a colleague’s credentials before putting calls through. For example, ‘I’ll put you through to Sarah. She has over 25 years of experience in property management.’ As a result, appointments increased by 20%, and signed contracts increased by 15%.

Timing is key here. You must show your credentials before trying to influence your prospect.

Consensus

People will act based on how others around them are acting. In general, people don’t want to be the odd ones out. If other people are already doing X, it signals that X is probably a safe or even good thing to do.

Cialdini found there was a link between consensus and behavior at hotels. He placed small cards in the hotel’s bathrooms to try and get guests to reuse their towels. This, of course, is good for the environment. The cards said ‘75% of our guests reuse their towels, so please do as well’. This led to a 33% increase in towel reuse.

People strive to be consistent in their behavior. They don’t like to reverse course once they have committed to a pattern of behavior.

Cialdini found people were 4 times more likely to display an ugly billboard in their front garden due to the consistency principle. He sent two groups the request to display the billboard. However, group B had already agreed to display a small postcard in their window 10 days earlier. This meant adopting the ugly billboard was consistent with their earlier behavior.

Consistency 

People strive to be consistent in their behaviour. They don’t like to reverse course once they have committed to a pattern of behaviour.

Cialdini found people were 4 times more likely to display an ugly billboard in their front garden due to the consistency principle. He sent two groups the request to display the billboard. However, group B had already agreed to display a small postcard in their window 10 days earlier. This meant adopting the ugly billboard was consistent with their earlier behaviour.

Cold Email Differentiation 

It is not enough to add a few unique lines to your cold email. Your whole approach needs to be different.

Which elements should you differentiate? Well, everything. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Subject line
  • Tone
  • First line
  • Medium – email, phonecall, post, LinkedIn – contact them any way you can
  • Case studies
  • Call to action

Look at what competitors are sending and create something radically different.