How To Write The Perfect Cold Email Sequence

Spending long hours working leads but seeing a low reply rate?

Supercharge your cold email sequences with these breakthrough strategies. These best practices come straight from the trenches and helped me close enterprise deals with McKinsey, EY, IBM, and Virgin Media.

April 27, 2021


  • Common Cold Email Mistakes – Don’t use generic templates and simple merge tags. Don’t rely on cold email only.
  • What Should A Cold Email Do? Highlight a burning problem or stay top of mind (TOM) by helping your prospects be better at their jobs. When the time is right they will come to you.
  • Keep Following Up – I closed a lead after 3 years and over 20 cold emails. At one point the lead replied with, “never email me again”. Sometimes it’s just down to timing.
  • Use Heavy Personalization – Don’t just use simple merge tags like [first name] or [job title]. Research your prospect. Prove to them that this is not a generic cold email.
  • Establish Credibility – Drop the names of key customers relevant to your prospect. Get referrals into your leads. Drop testimonials from key clients.
  • Use Low-friction CTAs – Don’t ask for a call in your first email. Ask the prospect if they have the problem you solve or ask if they want to learn more. This makes it easier to start conversations.
  • How To Sign Off – Always be light, friendly, helpful. Prospects quickly pick up on desperation and pushy sales behaviour. It will spook them.
  • Describe The Problem. Describe The Solution – Master copywriters like John Carlton have been using this formula for decades. It’s also the same tool at the core of Chris Voss’s “tactical empathy”. If you can describe the problem your prospect has in a detailed and empathetic way, then you can build an emotional connection. Your prospect will think “this person really gets me”.
  • Stay Top Of Mind (TOM) – Use a top of mind sequence to warm up leads who aren’t ready to buy now. Send one email a month for 5-8 months. Every email should provide something that helps your prospect be better at their job. For example, guides, case studies, how-to videos, tutorials, tips, free samples, market research, or links to interviews.
  • Stand Out – Use multiple channels and formats. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, cold calls, video messages, or post can all be effective. Some of these are time-intensive so only use them for your best leads or big leads. I signed a large Russian lead by translating all my messages and some of our marketing materials into Russian using Google translate. The translations were probably terrible but his English is not good and this stood out in his inbox.

Common Cold Email Mistakes

First, many reps rely on poor cold email templates. Common mistakes include:

  • Lack of personalization
  • Self-centred messaging
  • High-friction CTAs
  • Generic messaging – they just ask you to swap out basic merge tags
  • Robotic language that fails to make an emotional connection
  • Old jokes – because everyone Googled “cold email templates” and used the same punchline

Second, the best salespeople don’t just rely on cold email. They use a multichannel approach – cold email, cold calling, social media, snail mail, video messages and any other means possible to reach prospects. Regardless of the channel, this guide will help you create wickedly effective messages unique to your solution.

Just please Google “cold email templates” and use this sequence:

What Should A Cold Email Do?

With inbound lead generation, you get to pick up leads that come to you thanks to your brilliant marketing. These people are in “buy now” mode. They have a burning problem that needs a solution. However, 95% of the leads you get will be of poor quality. For example, companies that don’t have enough budget, or don’t get enough value from your solution to use it long-term.

Without outbound lead generation the situation is reversed. You get to pick the white-hot leads that are a perfect fit for your solution. However, 95% of these leads will not be in “buy now” mode. They might be interested in your solution. They might benefit enormously from using it. But the need isn’t urgent or they don’t know enough about how life will be better with your solution. Check out our how to write a cold email guide for more tips and examples.

Your cold email has one of two jobs:

1. Highlight A Burning Problem

Your cold email makes it stunningly clear that your solution solves a burning problem for your prospect.

2. Stay Top Of Mind (TOM)

If your prospect doesn’t respond to your outreach they might not be ready to buy. Now your goal is to stay TOM so when the burning problem arises your prospect goes directly to you. The best way to stay TOM is to help your prospect be more awesome at their job. Many salespeople refer to this as “adding value”.

Cold Email Writing Elements

There are several cold email elements that will help you be more persuasive. Using these elements at the right time will enable you to make a good first impression, establish your credibility and create positive interactions. See our cold email introduction guide here for more.

Personalized Introductions

Sending unpersonalized emails today is an effective way to get tagged as spam. Our inboxes are bombarded with cold emails. Our attention is stretched to the limit. An unpersonalized cold email shows you didn’t bother to do basic research on your prospect. It signals that you’re not genuine. You’re out to make a quick sale. Prospects generally spot and disregard these emails.

Personalized introductions signal that you did your research and are only reaching out because your prospect could truly benefit from the solution. This allows you to stand out in the inbox.

You can still used merge tags to insert personalized introductions. Alternatively, you can leave a blank space in your template to insert the personalized introduction.

Personalized introductions are usually based on observations. For example, you’ve seen that Mike’s company hired a new CEO. Try starting with one of the following phrases:

  • “Noticed that”
  • “Read about”
  • “It looks like”
  • “Saw your”
  • “It sounds like”
  • “It seems”

Notice how there is no “I” used here. Inserting “I” into the conversation early says that this message is about you, not the prospect. Overall, try to use “I” as little as possible. Instead, keep the attention on your prospect.

Using Merge Tags And Personalized Messages

You can add your personalized messages as merge tags to speed up your workflow. Create a tag called “personalized intro” and insert that into your template after the prospect’s first name. Check out our guide to creating personalized cold email sequences faster than your ever dreamed possible.

Thank Them For Their Awesome Work

When you tell someone they’re doing awesome work they feel good.

Empathy is key here. Let’s put ourselves in Jane’s shoes. Someone has listened to the podcast she was on and written to say they found her insight valuable. Everyone loves to be appreciated.

Former FBI Negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss, says, “every one of us has an inherent, human need to be understood and connect with the person across the table”.

Connect With Their Passions

Psychologists have confirmed that people like others who are similar to them. Finding a shared interest is a quick way to establish an emotional connection.

Show You Understand Their Business

Senior prospects at large companies respond well if you show you understand their business. This signals that you’re intelligent and will probably not waste their time.

Gather material by searching for your prospect’s company online. Use Google, Google News, the prospect’s company website and social media. Look for:

  • Recent news stories mentioning the company
  • Company social media posts
  • LinkedIn profile and bio updates

Blend several insights into a personalized introduction to show you understand their business. Insights from the email above are:

  • Alice’s LinkedIn profile says she recently moved to New York to open a new office for ACME
  • ACME’s company website states they are looking to expand into areas that have a growing healthcare market
  • ACME recently launched a new prescription delivery service

Pro tip: you can set up alerts in Google News which become triggers for you to get back in touch with your prospect.

When To Use A Peronalized Introduction

You don’t have to add a personalized introduction to every email in your sequence. Use a personalized introduction in your first cold email. This creates a mega-valuable first impression and gives you the best of establishing a connection.

Personalized notes are also effective when you are returning to an old lead to highlight a burning problem. For example, ACME corp sells access to a data platform. You’ve seen it just raised $2M and it’s website states it is looking to hire a CTO.

Establish Credibility

Would you trust a stranger who walks up to you on the street and asks you to buy her cybersecurity software? By establishing your credibility, you can show prospects you are trustworthy.


The best way to establish credibility is through referrals. Being introduced by someone in your prospect’s network is a strong sign that your solution is valuable and you can be trusted.

Direct referrals

Search on LinkedIn for prospects. You’ll see any mutual connections show up below their current role.

If you have a mutual connection, ask that person to introduce you.

Existing clients

Existing clients will usually have a network of partners in your industry. If you have a strong relationship with them you can ask for referrals to these partners.

Referral schemes

Referral schemes pay out a finders fee for each client signed through a referral. This can work very well when marketed to a large base of existing customers. Neil Patel has a good guide here.

Indirect referrals

Use LinkedIn or other social media to build a small following in your industry. You can find our guide to using LinkedIn for B2B sales here. Once you get going, people outside your network will engage with your posts or connect with you. When they do, start up a conversation and ask them for a referral to the department that uses your solution.

Reference Similar Clients

A quick and easy way to establish credibility is to reference similar clients. Referencing competitors or big industry brands can make prospects fear they are missing out on your solution.

Authority Signals

Add credentials to your signature. Has your company won an award recently? Was your company cited in the press recently? Have you written a book? Are you a TedX speaker?

Build up credentials that will be well recognised in your sector. Add these to your signature.


Do you have a client that loves your product? If so, ask them for a testimonial. Try and aim for big brands and well-known industry figures.

Write the testimonial for your client. This takes the burden of creating the content off the client and lets you stay in control. When you send this across ask very politely:

“As your time is very limited, I drafted something for you below. If you’re happy with it you can use it or please feel free to change it in any way.”

Alternatively, you can also use a few bullet points to steer them in the right direction. Keep it short and punchy.

LinkedIn gives your connections the option to post testimonials on your LinkedIn profile. This can boost your conversion rate if you use LinkedIn a lot for prospecting.

Case Studies

A good case study will provide a clear example of how your solution works. They build credibility because they provide real-world results from your clients.

Build a case study with a well-known client in your industry. Ideally, this will be a video but text and images on a website also work. Add a link to the case study in your email signature or cite it in your email.

“See how we increased revenue 27% for Alpha Corp.”


You get cold emails from Google and ContextWeb asking you to test their advertising platforms. Which one will you go with? If your company has an established brand it will significantly improve cold email response rates.

Running “air cover” or targeted advertising campaigns before sending out cold emails can also increase response rates.

Call To Action (CTA)

Your call to action CTA sets up how your prospects reply. When you’re approaching a prospect cold do not immediately ask for a phone call or meeting. Instead, use low friction CTAs to establish whether your prospect has a problem.

“Would you be open to learning more?”

“Is this cutting your delivery costs a priority for you in Q1?”

“Is this X a problem for you?”

Prospects often want to gather more information before committing to a meeting. Low-friction CTAs make this easy. As a result, you’ll have more conversations which means more chances to be persuasive. Ask for the call after you’ve started a conversation and built trust

“No” questions

Salespeople are constantly asking for a “yes”.

“Would you like me to schedule a call?”

“Would you like to try out or software?”

Prospects often say yes just to get salespeople to go away. Chris Voss recommends using “no” oriented questions to make prospects feel safe.

“When we say yes, we’re committing to something. And immediately after we’ve committed, we begin worrying about what we’ve just signed up for.” – Chris Voss

  • Have you given up on … ?
  • Is it ridiculous … ?
  • Would it be horrible … ?
  • Is it a bad idea … ?

Using a “no” orientated CTA can help breakthrough if your prospect is not responding.

How To Sign Off

The more desperate you are to close a deal the harder it is. Prospects can sense desperation and they don’t like it. With this in mind, always be friendly and give your prospects room to say no.

Sales coach Josh Braun has some brilliant sign off lines that end the email on a positive note and don’t pressure prospects to respond. When prospects don’t feel cornered and pressured, they are much more likely to respond.

“Feel free to say no if you don’t see a fit.”

“Either way, good luck with the New York marathon. Remember, pain is temporary but the Instagram photo lasts a lifetime.”

“Timing is probably off, but would you be open to seeing how you could avoid overpaying taxes?”

Showing appreciation for your prospect can also boost reply rates. Try signing off your cold email with:


“Thanks so much!”

“Really appreciate it”

This can create a feeling of goodwill.

Highlight A Burning Problem

This can usually be identified by asking the following questions:

  • Who are your best customers?
  • Why did they buy your solution?

Look for an urgent problem. It needs to be serious enough that the prospect can justify buying your solution to fix it. Don’t get stuck solving small problems. My phone screen has a small scratch in the bottom left corner. I’m not going to pay $200 for a new screen to fix a minor issue. If my home button broke I’d have to get a replacement immediately.

Look for a common problem. If many of your prospects are struggling with the problem you can create case studies and testimonials that show how life is better with your solution. A previous company I worked for found the vast majority of advertising companies were shooting television commercials in the country they were based in. However, if they moved the shoot to a cheaper country like Mauritius or South Africa they could shoot the commercial for half the price. Because this was a common problem, they were able to attract clients from across the US and Europe.

Describe The Problem. Describe The Solution.

Master copywriters like John Carlton have been using this formula for decades. It’s the same idea at the core of Chris Voss’s “tactical empathy”. If you can describe the problem your prospect has in a detailed and empathetic way, then you can build an emotional connection. Your prospect will think “this person really gets me”. When used correctly, this is devastatingly effective.

The example above describes the likely concerns of a small company CEO in detail. If the CEO is dealing with these problems they’re likely to think, “this person understands my situation so they probably have a good solution.”

Teach The Problem

If your prospect is not aware of the problem then start teaching. This powerful approach will position you as a useful resource instead of someone trying to make a sale. It’s a shortcut to building trust and starting conversations.

The Challenger Sale shows how W. W. Grainger, Inc. found most prospects were purchasing maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) products inefficiently. Prospects were using many providers and purchasing spontaneously which meant constant trips to the store or callouts for individual items. This was costing prospects millions of dollars. They didn’t even know about the problem because they had never stopped to think about it. In other words, Grainger discovered an opportunity to teach prospects about a problem – a way to rethink MRO spend – that could free up huge amounts of cash for more important things.

Case studies, testimonials and guides that highlight the problem and endorse the solution are an effective way of breaking through.

Don’t be aggressive with this approach. Prospects can sometimes take offence when they find they have been using an inefficient system that wastes company money. They might not want their boss to know. Therefore, it’s important to establish that they are not alone. Other companies had the same problem but were able to solve it with your solution.

Minimum Replyable Email (MRE)

This masterful format cuts straight to the problem. It’s a powerful way to remove the burden of reading and understanding a long email for the prospect.

You need to cite companies that are very similar to your prospect (Alpha Corp and Beta Corp) for this to work. This shortcut tells the prospect your solution is relevant.

Stay Top Of Mind (TOM)

You’ve highlighted the burning problem your solution solves but the prospect didn’t reply. You’ve tried other channels like LinkedIn, Twitter and cold calls but there is still no response. Don’t keep begging for a meeting. It irritates prospects and makes you look desperate.

Your new goal is to stay TOM so that when the timing is right you are the first person the prospect turns to. Helping your prospects be more awesome at their jobs is the most effective way to stay TOM. Renowned author and psychologist, Dr Robert Cialdini’s first principle of persuasion is that humans are wired to return favours and pay back debts. We want to treat others as they’ve treated us. If you help a prospect improve, they are more likely to want to repay the favour by purchasing your solution.

Your TOM sequence should send prospects one email every 4-5 weeks. This helps you stay present without overcrowding your prospects. Use one idea per email. Run it for 4-7 months before getting back in touch with a personalized introduction.

You can recycle your TOM sequence content by posting it on LinkedIn (full guide here) and tagging prospects who could benefit.

Using merge tags in your TOM sequence is fine for personalization. These leads are less likely to buy so they aren’t worth spending lots of time on.


Hubspot regularly publishes guides for prospects. Their target audience is sales and marketing people who want to grow their businesses so they find ways to help them achieve this. For example, they have guides called:

  • 101 Sales Qualification Questions
  • The Discovery Call Checklist
  • The Ultimate Guide To Advertising

This content can be accessed on their website and is mailed out to leads by the sales and marketing teams.

Practical “how to” guides have exploded in recent years as workers need to navigate increasingly complex workspaces. Hubspot has published many “how to” guides for popular tools like Facebook advertising.

Market Research

Gather data that shows how market leaders are achieving exceptional results. Atlassian helps teams work more efficiently. By doing a survey they discovered that teams with a high openness score achieved more in less time. By sharing this data, Atlassian can help prospects build more efficient teams. Surveys, user data and market data can provide insights for how your prospect can improve.

White Papers

White papers help prospects understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. Major industry developments such as the publication of the GDPR data protection laws or the rollout of 5G are great subjects for a white paper. Even elite consulting companies like McKinsey & Company regularly publish white papers to help prospects navigate complex issues. McKinsey & Company know these white papers will position them as experts or ‘thought leaders’ on topics that their prospects are interested in.


Approach well-known industry figures and ask for interviews. These can be in the form of videos, podcasts or blogs (ranked best to worst). Freshdesk is used by customer support staff to connect with customers. They know this target market wants to find out how they can improve the customer experience so they reached out to Micah Bennett, the Support Lead at Zapier for an interview. Micah provides some background on his experience and tips for people in similar roles.

Side note: it is astonishingly easy to book interviews with senior people. An interview is usually seen as a ‘give’ as you are lending the interviewee your platform. Interviewing well-known prospects is a great way to get in front of your target audience as the content will be highly relevant to other prospects facing the same issues.

Samples + Free Trials

Samples and free trials enable leads to see the value your solution provides without risk. Rocketreach helps salespeople find a prospect’s contact details. When their reps do outreach they send prospects a lead data sample for their target industry. For example, if Rocketreach approaches a VP of Sales who is targeting the automotive sector they will send the VP contact details for 10 decision-makers in the automotive sector.


Mandy is a copywriter. When she needs new business she scans the websites of local companies and starts noting the copywriting errors. Then she sends out cold emails showing what she found. With this approach, she is instantly able to highlight the problem and provide free consulting that showcases here solution. Analysing your prospect’s business and providing free advice can be highly effective.


If your company doesn’t have access to marketing resources it may take a while to create the materials above. FAQs are a quick and easy way for reps to add value in their TOM sequences.

Create a list of top questions your prospects should be asking when purchasing your solution. For example, if you’re selling the Pipedrive CRM to a small company your emails could answer these questions:

  • How does Pipedrive compare to Salesforce and Zoho?
  • Why are companies using Pipedrive? What is the main benefit?
  • How can tracking metrics in a CRM like Pipedrive increase productivity?
  • How do Pipedrive’s email sequences make your sales team more efficient?
  • Why is X the most useful free Pipedrive integration for boosting sales?

Create an email that answers each question in your TOM sequence.

Perfect Cold Email Sequence Example

You’ve got a list of leads in your CRM. You’re ready to start blasting out emails. The step-by-step guide below shows how you can maximize your chance of starting conversations and closing deals.

In the example below, Mellisa is a sales representative from ZipRecruiter. She’s approaching Brett, the COO of GO Car Wash, a small Arizona company.

1. Describe the problem. Describe the solution.

2. Teach the problem

Brett doesn’t respond so Mellisa sends another email 5 days later.

3. Minimum Replyable Email (MRE)

During this time Melissa has also tried to contact Brett by phone and through his social media accounts. Brett still hasn’t responded so Mellisa sends another email 10 days later.

4. TOM Sequence

4 weeks later Brett has still not replied so Melissa enrols him in her TOM sequence. This sequence will send Brett emails once every 4 weeks.

5. Re-engage with a personal note

A final note

It’s crucial to note that the best sales reps don’t just rely on cold email. They cycle through different channels until they connect with the prospect. See our guide on how to add a prospect on LinkedIn here. Mix cold calls, voice mails, social media messages and post into your engagement sequence.

Do you want to close more deals with cold email?

Polished helps you write perfect sales emails. It increases your reply rate by helping you write clear, empathetic, personalized messages.

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