How to Write a Cold Sales Email: Thoughts from a Buyer

When you hold the keys to a marketing budget, you see a ton of cold emails. I don’t mind. Staying on top of new technologies and companies that can help us reach new users and tell our story is a core piece of my job. Moreover, as somebody helping build a platform for salespeople, it’s valuable to see different tactics and understand how companies position themselves in their outbound messaging. Every time I’m on the receiving end of sales outreach, it’s a learning opportunity.

Having seen my fair share, I wanted to share my perspective on how to write an effective cold sales email – as a buyer, and as a marketer. Like anything in business, there’s no silver bullet. But hopefully this will give you another perspective to draw from when you craft your outbound messaging, at the very least.

Things to avoid:

600 word cold email
600 word cold email
  • Length. Just like you, I’m busy. I really don’t want to read a five paragraph essay. If I open a cold email and see a wall of text, I’m not going to do much more than skim it – if I read it at all.
  • Focusing only on features. It’s great that your product does all the things. But, poring over a list of features, and then considering if/how they could be useful takes a ton of time and energy. More importantly, it’s likely that I won’t conceptualize the full value of how your product could be applied.
  • Typography & formatting that doesn’t look absolutely perfect on mobile. This should be obvious, but it’s worth calling out because it happens more often than it should. 65% of all email is opened on mobile. Make sure your message looks great there. It doesn’t bode well for your pitch if your reader has to squint or do the zoom-pinch-sidescroll finger dance. If you’re using an HTML template, take a second to test how your message looks in the major mobile email clients. Gmail/Inbox and Apple Mail are probably enough.
  • Using fear tactics. Just. Don’t.

Crafting an effective message (hint: your email is an ad)

Your cold email is an advertisement for both you as a business contact, and the company you represent. Treat it as such, and take the copy seriously. (You can actually learn a lot from classic copywriting techniques. Have a beer, read a book, get creative.)

Here are five-and-a-half suggestions on writing an effective message:

0) Be selling something great.

Any salesperson or marketer worth their salt will tell you that to sell effectively, you need a great product that you truly believe in. These are table stakes. If your product isn’t good, and you don’t believe in it, that’s going to come across in every interaction you have with a prospect, including a cold email. If you wouldn’t buy your product, why would somebody else?

1) Write a clear, compelling subject line.

Spend time on creating a great subject line. After all, it doesn’t matter how awesome your pitch is if nobody opens your email. I prefer subjects that identify the company, and the value prop or request, succinctly. You should be able to do this in less than ten words. The punchier the better. Experiment here. If you do enough volume, run a real A/B test.

As a start, try these templates: “<Value prop>: YourCo + ProspectCo” or “<Stat that illustrates your product’s impact> with YourCo.” 

Write something compelling, but no clickbait…please. Spammy subjects increase open rates, but they set the bar super high for your message. If your email doesn’t deliver what the subject promised, or is unrelated to it, your reader will feel misled and that’s a terrible place to start a relationship.

2) Focus on value and benefit, not features.

Benefit is the intersection of your prospect’s needs and your product’s features. The purpose of your pitch is to create that connection. A great way to do this is to include a focused value statement. Here’s a template adapted from Geoffrey Moore’s format in Crossing the Chasm to help you get started:

For (target customers) who (have this problem), your product/company (describe your product class/market) that provides (key benefit). Optional: Unlike (competitor or competition) your product/company (key differentiator).

Example: For businesses that rely on collateral during the sales process, DocSend makes salespeople more effective, and efficient, by providing actionable insights into how prospects engage with their pitch. Unlike other tools in this space, DocSend provides a beautiful, intuitive user experience for both you and your prospect.

3) Get to the point quickly, and clearly.

Keep your message short, and to the point. If you need to enumerate on key benefits or features, bullet points are your friend. (Pro-tip: Three is a magical number.)

It’s generally a good idea to have the ‘ask’ be a single sentence in it’s own paragraph so it stands out. Provided you’re not using a ton of styling, try bolding it as well to grab your reader’s eye if they’re just skimming.

Including a piece of collateral is a great way of giving the option to learn more, while keeping your email concise.

4) Personalize your message. (Check out Ari’s Sales Snack on this.)

You can learn a lot about somebody from a quick view of their LinkedIn profile. Pay attention to the little things and try to get a basic read on your prospect’s personality. What’s their picture like? What do you know about the culture in their industry? What tone do they take when describing their work? What are their other interests and skills?

Erlich_Jared_LinkedIn

Use these details to tailor your message to your prospect, the same way you would as if you met in person. If they work in a traditionally formal field, maybe choose a classier greeting than “Hey whatsup hello.” On the flip side, if you’re reaching out to somebody who’s been endorsed 63 times on LinkedIn for anything related to Burning Man, getting a little outside the box might be just the ticket.

Authenticity is key here. Don’t feign interest. Pick something that you genuinely find interesting and draw a connection through that. Congratulations work great if the person, or company, recently hit a milestone.

5) Make it easy to say ‘Yes.’

Make it as easy as possible for your prospect to do whatever it is you are asking. If you’re asking for a meeting or call, offer a specific time at the outset. Use a meeting scheduler if you can to eliminate back and forth. Our friends at Zapier put together a great list of scheduling tools – we’re partial to Calendly. You should also check out x.ai, which offers a virtual assistant that handles scheduling for you right over email.

And then, follow up. And again, and then again.