How To Write A Cold Email: An SDR’s Pocket Book Guide

The curious case of sending a cold email: Will it head to spam straightaway? Will it be opened? Will it at least be read before being thrown in the bin? Even with so many unanswered questions, cold email is still a popular outbound sales channel, with the market now flooded with 30+ cold emailing tools.

Here are a few phenomenal entrepreneurial journeys that began with a cold email. 

An image showing examples of entrepreneurial journeys that began with a cold email. 

Our point being, cold email is an effective way to generate leads.

But here’s the hitch.

There’s an overwhelming number of emails bombarding people every day. There are also studies confirming that people’s attention span is dwindling.

You don’t want your little missive to be buried in a sea of other emails, or worse, be chucked into spam.

So how do you write a cold email that gets your potential clients to respond? It has to answer the three questions the prospect will have when they receive an email from a stranger: Who are you? Why should I care? What do you want from me?

Before we explain how to write effective cold emails, we break down the basics. 

What Is a Cold Email?

A cold email is an email sent to a person who has no prior relationship with you or your company or has not even heard of your company (therefore, cold).

Cold emails are unsolicited emails sent by individuals or businesses to other individuals or businesses for the purpose of gaining a benefit, whether exclusive or mutual.

People send cold emails for a lot of reasons–to find a job, to hire someone, to raise funds, to invest in ideas, to network, to sell a product or service, to build relationships, etc.  

In sales, a cold email is one of the first touchpoints in the multistep, multichannel outreach strategy sales reps use to book meetings with prospects. Every cold email will have a primary goal–like booking a meeting with the prospect, getting the prospect to download a piece of content your business made, driving the prospect to your website’s pricing page, or whatever you’d want them to do after reading your email. 

How to Write a Cold Email?

Anyone can write a cold email. But to write one that gets replies, you need to know what makes a great cold email. We break down the different components that make a cold email great into: 1. From line, 2. Subject line, 3. Email body, 4. CTA, 5. Email signature.

1. Create a From Line: 

Image of a sample cold email, highlighting the 'From Line'

We obsess over subject lines but often overlook the importance the from line has in making your email appear authentic. The from line gives the prospect a clear idea about you, builds their trust in your email and determines whether your email gets read or ends up in spam. 

Having an email address that doesn’t sound fishy or spammy is a non-negotiable requirement for successful cold email outreach. In other words, don’t send out cold emails from addresses like jackfreestuff@gmail.com.

Personal email addresses are not really the flagbearer of professionalism and as such nobody will take it seriously. It’s like buying your email a one-way ticket to the spam folder.

To create an effective from line, use a professional email address to appear credible and make your reader feel safe enough to open your cold emails. In case you’re using a personal address, don’t forget to include an email signature at the end so your reader can look you up on the internet. 

For example, if you send out cold emails from johndoe@gmail.com, add an email signature that mentions your company, designation, and Linkedin profile link. 

2. Write a Click-worthy Subject Line:  

Image of a sample cold email, highlighting the 'Subject Line'

69% of email recipients marked emails as spam based on subject lines, reports  Invesp. Just like the from line, the subject line of your cold email helps your prospect decide whether to open your email or send it to the spam folder.

A good subject line:

  • grabs your reader’s attention
  • is trustworthy

How to create click-worthy subject lines? 

a. Personalize Your Subject Lines

Personalizing isn’t limited to adding the recipient’s name and designation in the subject line. Go the extra mile and find out what’s happening in your prospect’s personal or professional life. (Don’t go overboard with the personal life anecdotes though, you don’t want to come off stalker-esque).

Here’s how to personalize your subject lines:

  • If the prospect is active on LinkedIn, talk about their latest post – Absolutely agree with your comment on XYZ’s post! 
  • If you share your hometown with the prospect, make it known. – Is ‘Bestia’ the ‘Capital Grille’ of Los Angeles?

(In this example, the sender and the recipient come from Washington and are now in Los Angeles. The sender is comparing two famous restaurants, one in Washington and other in Los Angeles to start a conversation). 

b. Keep the Subject Line Short

Note that you want your subject lines to show up nicely on the phone considering more than 70% of people read their emails in their mobile app. Therefore, the shorter and punchier your subject line, the better. 

Mike Madden of Marketo studied over 2 million emails that were sent–and learned that subject lines that were 7 words long got the highest engagement rate compared to those with four words or less and 8 words or higher. If the subject line is as short or shorter than four words, it gets quite difficult to set the context for the content of the email. And you might lose the prospect if they don’t know what your email is about. On the other hand, if you want to press on a curiosity angle, feel free to test out, “Quick question?”-type subject lines.

Here’s how to write short collar-yanking cold subject lines: 

  • If you want to part ways with the prospect, say – “Moving on”
  • If you want to grab the prospect’s attention and convey how little of their time you need, say – 26 seconds (or less)

c. A/B Test Your Subject Line

If you’ve ever wished to read your recipient’s minds, testing different subject lines is the closest you can get to it. 

You can find out what kind of subject lines work and chuck what doesn’t by sending emails with different subject lines (while the rest of the email remains the same) to a list of prospects.

Divide a list of prospects into a section A and a section B, and start your cold email campaign for both of them. The one with higher open rates is the winner. Albeit, you’ll need to use an email automation software to run such tests. 

Looking for more techniques to create a killer subject line? Read more here.

3. Make Your Email Body Relevant to the Reader:

Image of a sample cold email, highlighting the 'Email Body'

Once the prospect has opened your email, you have about 5 seconds to persuade them to keep reading further. 

Investment mogul Mark Cuban said on the “Raising The Bar” podcast that of the 750-1000 emails he gets a day, it takes him just 2 seconds to decide whether to respond to or delete it. 

So, the sooner you get to the crux of your message, the easier it will be to keep them engaged. 

Here’s our audacious assumption of what the monologues inside our heads would sound like whenever we open a cold email, “O.K. Who is this from?”, “What do you want from me,” “aah so what’s in it for me?”.

We’re all caught up in our own webs of multiple tasks, and an email from a stranger that doesn’t answer these questions will wither and die among the rest of the 30,000 emails that remain unopened. 

To write the best cold email, the content of your email should answer two questions:

a. Does the Introduction Interrupt Their Daily Reading Pattern?

An email writing strategy may have become popular because it broke the pattern its predecessor had created. This is why you must keep revisiting your cold email templates every month or quarter. 

So, how to use pattern interrupt in your cold email?

Don’t start your emails with statements that leave the reader hanging like this email our manager had received the other day, “I came across your profile during my daily research and thought I’d reach out.” 

This boring-to-the-bone first line guarantees one thing: the recipient will mark you as spam. 

People are used to reading “how are you doing” or “I found your profile….” or “I noticed that….” So, in short, stay away from the normal. 

Depending on who you’re cold emailing, you could start with

  • A harmless joke 
  • An introduction that is direct to the point
  • An introduction that is personalized to the reader 
  • A compliment (make sure it’s personalized)
  • Asking for their feedback (make sure it’s legit and not for namesake)

The CEO and founder of Flip The Script, Becc Holland, did us all a gigantic favor by compiling a list of words she noticed salespeople most commonly used in their LinkedIn pitches to her. So if the intention is to pattern interrupt, don’t use these words and phrases. 

Here are the top 20 words:

Image of Top 20 words salespeople use in their sales pitch

Here’s the rest.

b. What’s In It For Them (WIIFT)

When you mention what’s in it for the prospect, you’re giving them a reason to consider your email. It makes the email clear-cut. 

So, what do you write here?

It can be a variation of your company’s value proposition. 

A good value proposition answers these three basic questions, preferably in a single line:

  • What does your product offer?
  • How will the prospect benefit from your product?
  • How are you different from others?

Most often, your marketing teams would already have value props ready to go, so you can take, dissect and reuse them in your cold emails. 

In case you don’t have it, here are some prompts to use when framing your company’s value proposition in the cold email. 

  • Are you going to save their time by optimizing their existing process?
  • Are you going to solve a problem they will come across in the future? 
  • Are you going to solve a problem they are currently suffering?
  • Are you highlighting a problem area that they haven’t yet noticed?
  • How have you helped other companies overcome similar issues?

4. Give a Call-to-Action to Engage the Prospect

Image of a sample cold email, highlighting the 'Call to Action'

A call-to-action is a statement or text that prompts your prospect to perform what you want them to do. 

How’s this different from the previous section? CTAs should be short and only contain 8-10 words or less. It should catch the eye as quickly as possible when the reader scans the email. 

To write an effective call-to-action, decide the goal of your cold email. What was it? Did you want the prospect to respond to your mail, download a resource, book a meeting or maybe start a free trial?

You ask them to do that in a small line of text, as nicely as possible. 

It is essential that you nail the call-to-action bit because you have carefully and successfully steered your precious prospect throughout the cold email so that they take this elusive next step.

Pro Tip #1: You could ask them some time for a meeting, but remember that it is too big of a commitment from a stranger in a cold email and is not recommended. Ideally, you could warm them up by sending a couple of emails that provide value, build a relationship, and then, in the next email, you could throw your ask.

Three techniques to craft a compelling Call-To-Action

Though your call-to-action depends on the context of your email and the response you want from the prospect, here are a few techniques to help you craft an exciting CTA. 

a. Reiterate the Value Proposition

Reiterate the value you’re bringing to the prospect in the call-to-action. 

You should be able to gently remind the prospect to connect the different parts of your email content. 

A study confirms that people respond to a request more if there’s a ‘because’ aspect. Therefore, they are more likely to click on your CTA because of ‘the value’ you are offering to provide. 

Examples:

  • If you have 30 mins this week for a call, I can explain how we help startups like you set up your ESOP plan effectively.
  • Can we get on call this Friday at 10 AM to discuss how we can help you generate a more qualified pipeline?
b. Provide a Specific Time And Date

Being decisive will help eliminate any ambiguity. Since you’re being decisive about the time and date, you are removing their burden of coming up with these decisions, which could have either lengthened the process or pushed the meeting to the land where “meet soon” never happens. 

Examples:

  • Are you available for a 20 mins chat at 3 o’clock this Tuesday?
  • Can we have a quick call this Thursday at 4?

If they find it convenient, they’ll accept your terms or get back to you at a suitable time.

c. Request a Connection

A lot of the time you may not have the right contact in which case you have to get in touch with the decision maker. Do not actually ask for the “decision maker”. 

If you’re not sure of who you have connected with and have not been getting replies, you could take that opportunity to contact an executive of the company, explain to them how you can help their company, and request them to introduce you to the right person. 

If they see the value your product can bring, they would be more than happy to put you through to the right decision-makers. 

Examples:

  • Would you mind if you could connect me with the right person to talk to about this? 
  • Do you recommend I speak with someone else to take this forward? 
  • Will you kindly refer me to the person in your team responsible for {achieving the goal}?

This is a low-friction CTA asking the prospect to just reply in return for something valuable.

5. Don’t Forget to Add a Great Email Signature

Image of a sample cold email, highlighting the 'Email Signature'

An email signature is that wee bit of space at the end of the email where you can showcase your company and what you do. Since a major part of your messaging so far has been focused on the prospect and how you could help them, this is what they will investigate to check the credibility of your claims.

What should your Cold Email Signature contain?

All the necessary details about you and your company. That doesn’t mean you clutter it with images and links that could distract the reader. On the other hand, adding information sparingly makes it difficult to build a personal connection with the prospect, thereby losing your shot at establishing credibility.

Include factual details like your name, title, company name, address, social media links.

And in a last attempt to reel them in, try squeezing in a call-to-action that lets the prospect know what you want them to do. For example, a calendar link to book a meeting with you or a free trial signup page, etc.

Here is an example of a great email signature.

Example image of good email signature

How to Write Cold Emails for Different Sales Scenarios (With Examples)

While all cold emails are aimed at getting the prospect’s attention, there are some ground rules you could follow when you’re emailing people in different roles. Cold emails are not a snug fit for every kind of prospect. For instance, you might catch the attention of prospects working at a unicorn startup by using emojis in subject lines but may end up in spam when the prospect is a c-level executive at a more traditional, enterprise-level company.

a. How to Cold Email a C-level Executive

An image showing a person sending a Cold Email to a C-level executive.

If you’ve ever wondered what the best way is to approach a founder, be it the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company or a startup founder in your town, here’s the answer: cold emails.

But most CEOs receive an average of 150 emails per day. So to ensure your emails don’t get lost in the clutter, you need to approach them in a way that respects their time.

CEOs and founders love clarity in thought. When every second of their life is accounted for, they are not going to while away 2 minutes reading a joke sent by a stranger. For example, Amy Vola, CEO of Avenue Talent Partners, says, “I don’t respond to funny or cute. I respond to real real”. That is not to say you should never do jokes. Humor is subjective, so go over their LinkedIn profile or other social media platforms to check their preferences.

Here’s an example of a killer cold email that you can send to a founder: 

From Line: mike@sbs.com

Subject Line: Podcast Episode with Virtuo

Hi Mike,

Your attendee engagement plan- the one you shared last month on Virtuo's podcast--really helped us get our audience lively again! Thank you. 

You host a lot of small business events throughout the year. It got me thinking....do you struggle with rows of disoriented guests dilly-dallying over at the reception desk filling out one too many forms?

I'm asking because we, Hybevent, help our customers set up check-in apps for their events so that they can check in attendees via a QR code within seconds. So, no more crowded reception areas, endless paperwork, or unexpected wait times for guests. 

Can I send you a 3 minute demo video of Hybevent’s event check-in app?

Have a great day, 
Zola Hudson, 
Hybevent, California

Pro Tip #2: You could use personalized videos to grab their attention. Since senior-most roles don’t really have the time to read cold emails, you could take that burden of reading away to make them watch a 1-minute video. Keep the video short, and follow the email body strategy we mentioned earlier to shoot the video. 

Why Is This a Good Cold Email?

1. A direct subject line and personalized introduction that is valuable to the reader. Here, by talking about the prospect, the sender shows that they’ve done their research instead of desperately selling themselves from sentence one.

2. The email body is short, and the sender’s ask is relevant to the prospect’s business. Unlike most cold emails that pin prospects down to the wall with their sales-y approach, this one earns the right to ask first. Instead of the overconfident, “we know you are experiencing this, and here’s the solution” email, this one humbly asks if the service is relevant to the prospect.

3. Founders love having the upper hand. Barging into their inboxes with narcissistic CTAs like” I’d love to book a call” or “Can we get on call at 11 AM tomorrow” rob them of their power. But the CTA here respects their time and doesn’t pressure the founder. It is aimed at building a relationship rather than closing a sale (at least in the initial mail). 

b. How to Cold Email a Prospect in Associate to Mid-Senior or Senior Roles

An image showing a person sending a Cold Email to a Prospect in Associate to Mid Senior Roles

If you are cold emailing someone in an associate or mid-senior position, you have the rare chance of pushing your limits. We mean, dig into that bag of jokes, crazy pattern interruption techniques and personalization tactics. Younger people can be more receptive to humor in sales emails. So, you can experiment with a casual tone, jokes, emojis, memes, or even personalized images.

Here’s an example of an informal cold email:

From Line: stella@xenex.com

Subject Line: Xenex's Annual Event

Hi Rami,

We helped the Chicago Cubs go from 300 to 3000 unique site conversions in under 5 months. Honestly, it was one of those 'Cinderella' moments for us. 

Guessing that you might be pushing out content regularly but are unable to convert the incoming traffic--just like the Cubs? 

It's quite common for newly scaling companies to face such issues. We interviewed 10 digital marketers who 3x their website's conversion rates to discover what mix of content and CRO activities they deployed to convert visitors.

I'm writing to check if you'd like to watch, listen or even read the transcript of the interview.

Mike out,
SDR @ Klenty
California, U.S

Why Is This a Good Cold Email?

1. The sender isn’t barging in with a generalized solution they think the prospect needs. Instead, they take pains to find the prospect’s problems and provide a solution that isn’t their product (which is impressive and the best way to build a relationship).

2. The case study is the cherry on the top. It is highly relevant to the prospect (a Cubs fan!) and data-driven. 

3. While choosing CTAs for cold calling a prospect, don’t worry about who has the upper hand. Instead, focus on clarity and flexibility. 

c. How to Cold Email For Networking

An image showing people networking with others

Did you know that sharks (not the VC gurus you see on the ABC channel) never miss an opportunity they get to meet other sharks? Apparently doing so helps them develop long-term relationships with fellow sharks to share information about preys and learn hunting tricks from each other.

In other words, they live by the quote, “your network is your net worth.”

So, if you are an SDR who’s starting out and are not sure of how to build a network, start today. (If sharks can do it, you can, too.)

Here’s an example of a cold networking email. 

From Line: liz@dool.com

Subject Line: How are you staying so productive!

Hey Liz, 

I know this is out of the blue. But I came across your recent LinkedIn post on improving productivity, and–crazy coincidence–I had just started practicing time blocking last week. Definitely going to test out the rest of your tips. Here's a book one of my former managers swear by on productivity tips for SDRs–{amazon link}. 

I was actually scouring the web for SDR productivity tips because I'm scaling my team. I'd love to know your thoughts on improving the team's productivity. 

It would be great if we could catch up sometime this week. Let me know.

Ciao,
Roger
SDR, Rodex, Los Angeles
 

Why Is This a Good Cold Email?

  1. It is not just another spray-and-pray-style networking cold email but one tailored for the prospect. 
  2. The specificity of the cold email CTA is another factor that makes it stand apart. 
  3. The conversational style of the email makes it more personal. 

d. How Should You Follow Up on a Cold Email After No Response?

Image of a person frustrated about no response.

Cold email expert Alex Berman says, “Most businesses I pitched to during my initial years didn’t give me a response no matter how good the initial email was until I sent them a follow-up,”.

To get a reply from your cold email campaign though, your follow-ups should be as valuable to the reader as the first cold email. 

You can follow the same format of writing a cold email: A personalized hook as an introduction, and a WIIFT. Because, irrespective of whichever follow-up you’re sending, chances are that it’s the first time the prospect is reading it. Or even if they know you, you have to reiterate your value prop for them to remember you and see value in what you provide. And without fail, you have to deliver something of value in every email. 

Those emails that have a simple – ‘just following up’ – introduction will fail because if your prospect has not read your cold email in the first place, this is a bizarre opening line. 

Here’s an example of a follow-up email after no response:

From Line: amelia@brite.com

Subject Line: A gift for you and your company

Hi Amelia,

I know how busy you must be managing your SDR team and helping them increase productivity. I sent you some information about Wandex, our sales engagement platform a while ago, and I noticed that you checked them out.

Why don’t you take Wandex for a run? Here are a few vouchers that you can use to kick our tires for 2 weeks.

SDRs I know personally have boosted their productivity 3x since using Wandex. So, I’m positive that your colleagues will feel at the top of their game upon using it. 

I’d love to show you how to take Wandex for a spin. Can we get on a call?

Regards,
Jose Hilton
Wandex

It follows the principle of ‘give to get.’ In other words, you do a favor for your prospect before asking them to do something. So, the chances of your prospect reciprocating your favor are high.

Want to try a different approach for your follow-up email? Here are 13 unique ways to do it.

How To Ensure A Successful Cold Email Campaign?

A cold email campaign can’t be set up within a snap of a finger. It takes days of blood, sweat, and tears (this one could be literal) to build prospect lists, craft, and send emails. But all this hard work goes down the drain if your campaign has more bounce rates than conversion rates.

Here are some things you should consider to ensure it doesn’t happen:

An infographic containing tips to ensure a successful cold email campaign.

1. Look Up To Great Copywriters

What makes a cold email great? Its ability to grab the target audience’s attention and make them take the desired action.

And if you are wondering if there’s an easy way to craft a great cold email every time, here’s a secret – look up to great copywriters like Oglivy and Halbert. Implement the persuasion techniques they used in their eyeball-grabbing ads to create cold emails your prospects can’t ignore.

Here are 8 cold email copywriting techniques from experts to hook your prospects here.

2. Using Personalization Techniques

Personalization isn’t always about getting your prospect’s name right or inserting them strategically inside the cold email. Even though this part is indispensable, nowadays, you need to put in more effort to deserve your prospect’s attention.

Here are some of the ways in which you can hyper-personalize your emails:

  • Image Personalization

If you want to add some extra charm to your cold emails, image personalization is the way to do it. An image relevant to the prospect boosts email open rates by 42% and makes it more memorable and engaging. It conveys more in fewer words and stands apart from the heap load of text-based emails. 

  • Video Personalization

Video personalization gives a face and voice to your cold emails. It helps your brand appear humane and approachable. This drives click rates and reply rates. But since it is practically impossible to send personalized videos to all prospects, it is better to send them only to high-value prospects or use an automated platform.

3. Increase Email Deliverability 

Email deliverability is the ability of your emails to land in the recipient’s primary inbox. If the reputation of your email is less, they end up in the spam folder or other tabs of the inbox and affect the success of your cold email outreach.

To increase the deliverability of your cold emails, avoid spam filters. Spam filters scrutinize your email content for spam-trigger words and unsafe file attachments.

If your cold emails contain any of these, it gets thrown to the spam folder instead of the prospect’s inbox.

4. A/B Test Your Cold Email Strategies

If you’ve ever wished to read your recipient’s minds, running an A/B test for your emails is the closest you can get to it. 

You can find out what kind of subject lines, CTAs, or even email length work and chuck what doesn’t by A/B testing different variations.

To A/B test your emails, first choose the metric you want to track like open rates, click rates or reply rates. Next, divide a list of prospects into section A and section B, and start your cold email campaign for both of them with one aspect you want to test – like the subject line. So for both lists, send different subject lines with every other email component remaining the same. The one that performs better is the winner. Albeit, you’ll need to use an email automation software to run such tests. 

Read more about A/B testing your cold email strategies here.

A Quick Rundown of Do’s and Don’ts

  • Use a formal email address to appear professional.
  • Do add a creative SUBJECT line that gives the reader a peek into what your mail is about.
  • Do not go ballistic on the capitalization of the SUBJECT line; use it only where necessary.
  • Do add a reason for the prospect to be engaged in your cold email; tell them what’s in it for them.
  • Do not oversell or exaggerate what you have to offer.
  • Do give your prospect a call to action, so that they can make their decision faster.
  • Lastly, do not worry. If you’ve followed all of these steps, you will book those meetings.

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