One of the best strategies for generating new leads and landing more sales is cold emailing. Many people underestimate how powerful a strategy cold emailing can be—at least at its full potential.
That’s why I’ve written this comprehensive guide on cold emailing. Throughout this guide, I’ll explain exactly what cold emailing is, why it works, and how to plan and execute the perfect cold emailing strategy for your business.
Table of Contents
- What Is Cold Emailing?
- What are the Benefits of Cold Emailing?
- The Difference Between Cold Emailing and Spam
- The 4 Elements of an Effective Cold Email
- 15 Steps to Start Your First Cold Email Campaign
- 1. Buy a new domain.
- 2. Set up your new email address.
- 3. Set up a signature and profile photo.
- 4. Configure your domain’s DKIM and SPF settings.
- 5. Warm up your new email account.
- 6. Start building your email outreach list.
- 7. Choose your cold email outreach tool.
- 8. Check your sender reputation.
- 9. Clean and validate your email outreach list.
- 10. Write your first cold email.
- 11. Test your email’s spammyness.
- 12. Know your provider’s daily limits.
- 13. Schedule your first real cold email outreach.
- 14. Slowly ramp-up your daily email sends.
- 15. Monitor and visualize your email activity.
- Cold Email Benchmarks & Metrics to Track
- How to Ensure Deliverability of Your Cold Emails
- 1. Verify your email list.
- 2. Avoid using your primary domain.
- 3. Warm up your email address before sending any cold outreach.
- 4. Improve your formatting.
- 5. Limit your number of images.
- 6. Drip-feed your emails throughout the course of the day.
- 7. Eliminate spam trigger words.
- 8. Don’t repeat your messages.
- 9. Improve engagement rates.
- How to Improve Your Cold Email Targeting
- How to Improve Immediate Appeal of your Cold Emails
- How to Ensure Your Cold Emails Provide Value for Recipients
- Cold Email Subject Lines
- 1. Introducing myself
- 2. Can you help me?
- 3. Quick question about [topic]
- 4. [Statistics]
- 5. Ideas for [problem/topic]
- 6. Not sure what to do about [topic]?
- 7. Interested in [topic]?
- 8. Your goals
- 9. I’ll cut to the chase
- 10. I can make your life [statistic] easier
- 11. Can you keep a secret?
- 12. Are you free this [date/time]?
- What’s the Best Time for Sending a Cold Email?
- Following Up on a Cold Email
- Cold Email Outreach Tools
- Cold Email Templates
What Is Cold Emailing?
Let’s start with the basics. What is cold emailing?
Cold emailing refers to any email sent to a prospect or someone you’ve never met before. The message is “cold” because you’ve never gotten a warm introduction. This person has never met you personally, they’ve never engaged with your content online, and you have no reason to believe they even know what your brand is.
What are the Benefits of Cold Emailing?
So why is cold emailing a valuable sales strategy?
1. It enables you to reach new prospects.
First, understand that if you want to capture the largest possible relevant audience, you can’t rely exclusively on people with whom you already share a connection; cold emailing allows you to reach people you’ve never interacted with before.
Accordingly, even if you don’t end up having a long conversation that leads to a sale, you’ll at least be able to build brand awareness. The worst-case scenario is that you’ve mentioned your brand to someone who’s never heard of it before. The best-case scenario is that you generate new customers.
2. It’s less intrusive than cold calling.
Second, cold emails are far less intrusive and less annoying than cold calling—a practice that has attracted governmental intervention because of its intrusiveness.
Instead of being annoyed with a ringing phone and a pushy salesperson, a prospect only has to deal with a digital message at their own convenience. It’s a better option for making a good first impression.
3. Cold emailing is highly scalable, and inexpensive.
It costs almost nothing to send an email, and with the right cold emailing tools, you can easily send hundreds, or even thousands of messages at once. If you land even a small number of sales from the effort, you’ll instantly pay for your efforts many times over.
This is why email marketing remains one of the marketing strategies with the highest return on investment (ROI). In line with this, cold emailing is a strategy accessible to every type of business, from small startups that have just started building momentum to corporate juggernauts trying to dominate the world.
The Difference Between Cold Emailing and Spam
We’ve all dealt with spam. Companies have reached out to you with dozens, or even hundreds of messages, claiming that they have the products you want at ridiculously low prices, or trying to bully you into visiting their website.
Most of us think of this as spam. It’s annoying, it’s useless, and it serves only to make us delete emails in disgust.
However, from a certain perspective, these messages could all be technically considered “cold emails.” After all, they’re blind attempts by companies to reach an unfamiliar prospect.
So what makes cold emailing different than spam?
This is a debate over semantic technicalities, but I like to think of it this way: spam is mindless, while cold emailing is strategic.
Ethical cold emails are better than spam because:
- They’re targeted. Effective cold emailers know exactly who they’re reaching. Spammers will send emails to anyone.
- They’re reasonable. Ethical cold emails are sent only occasionally, and with varying language and offers. Spammers will bombard you with pointless (and often error-filled) messages.
- They’re valuable. As we’ll see, the best cold emailers actually attempt to provide value to their recipients, in the form of content, statistics, advice, or special offers. Spammers just want to trick you into buying their products.
That isn’t to say that a cold email can never be annoying, and certainly, some spammers could consider themselves “cold emailers.”
But make no mistake; “cold email” isn’t simply a euphemism for spam. If done properly, it’s an ethical strategy that works—and can bring value to your recipients.
The 4 Elements of an Effective Cold Email
Okay, so what makes a cold email effective?
We can define effectiveness in a few different ways. But for our purposes, let’s consider an “effective” cold email to be one that gets a positive response. Your recipient replies to you with more information, downloads the content you’ve offered, visits your website, or makes a purchase.
How can you achieve this?
There are four main categories that combine to make a cold email effective. We’ll be exploring each of these in different subsequent sections of this guide.
First, there’s deliverability. Obviously, your cold email isn’t going to work if it never ends up getting to your intended recipient—or if it gets stuck in a spam folder. Here, your main goal is making sure you have accurate information about your prospects and ensuring your email isn’t caught by lingering spam filters. You can use tools to test email deliverability.
Second, there’s targeting. You need to make sure you’re cold emailing the right people for the right reasons. If you’re sending the same message to 15 million people, you’re doing something wrong. Everyone has different wants, needs, priorities, and values. Your messaging should be catered specifically to a niche audience—and you need to understand that audience well.
3. Immediate appeal.
If you don’t capture your recipient’s attention immediately and make a good first impression, they’re going to delete the email. One major advantage of cold emailing is that it’s fast and convenient for all parties—but that also means your prospects will be quick to hit the delete button if they don’t like what they see. Good cold emails start with a strong subject line and greeting, and they’re capable of making a great first impression.
Finally, there’s total value. Your recipient should have a compelling reason to interact with your message. If you want them to make a purchase, you need to convince them that it’s worth the money. If you want them to send you a reply, you need to give them a reason to do so. If you want them to download a piece of content, persuade them that it’s going to help them. The more you offer your recipient, the more likely they’ll be to respond favorably.
15 Steps to Start Your First Cold Email Campaign
Okay, ready for the good stuff? Let’s go through a step-by-step process to get started with your first cold email outreach campaign!
1. Buy a new domain.
Wait, what? You want me to buy a new domain?
Yep. You shouldn’t use your company’s domain because you don’t want to risk its reputation. The thing is, every domain has a reputation with the email gods that determine whether to send emails to your spam folder or to your inbox. And you want the email gods to smile favorably upon you.
Because, well, if your emails are hitting spam folders then they’re not really doing much good, are they?
So why can’t I just use my existing domain?
Because if anything goes wrong, you’ve just burned a critical piece of your business infrastructure, and it can be a HUGE pain to recover from that. So, just don’t even risk it.
So here’s the problem with buying a new domain, though. It means you’re going to have to go through a sort of probationary period with the email gods. Spammers are known for “burning and turning” domains for email spam. In other words, they buy domains, spam a bunch of emails until the domain is blacklisted, then they start over with a new domain and keep spamming.
To avoid getting flagged as a spammer, you’ll need to “warm up” your domain and your email address first. Here’s a good overview on how to warm up your email domain before cold outreach.
So how do you choose a domain? It should be something similar to your main domain. You want it to be easily apparent to your recipients that you represent your company. So a lot of companies will buy the .co version of their domain and use that for outreach. For example, our domain is emailanalytics.com, so we send cold outreach from emailanalytics.co. You can also choose something like “getemailanalytics.com” or “emailanalyticsapp.com” or something like that.
I use Godaddy for buying domains and it always works well for me.
2. Set up your new email address.
Now that you have a shiny new domain, it’s time to choose what email address you’ll be sending cold emails from. Mine is email@example.com.
I recommend using Google Workspace (previously called G Suite) to set up your email account. It’s fairly quick and easy, and it only costs $6/user/mo for the basic plan, which is probably all you’ll need. It’s compatible with all the good cold email outreach tools, too.
3. Set up a signature and profile photo.
Once you’ve setup your new email address on your new domain, you need to add a touch of human-ness to it to help appease the email gods. For now, just add a signature and a profile photo. To add a signature, visit your Gmail settings, and in the General tab, scroll down “Signature.” Right above that, you’ll see “My picture” where you can change your profile photo.
4. Configure your domain’s DKIM and SPF settings.
Wtf? I know, I thought the same thing when I researched all this. But yeah, these are magical behind-the-scenes settings that, you guessed it, further help to appease the email gods.
What happens if you don’t do this stuff?
Well, your email deliverability could be significantly impacted. In other words, your emails will be more likely to hit people’s spam folders instead of their inboxes. It’s all about building trust with the email gods. Earn their trust by doing these weird things they like!
Now, when I set up my email through Google Workspace, it seems to have automatically set up my SPF settings for me. Cool. But DKIM was something I had to set up manually.
It wasn’t too much of a hassle, but it did require some modification in my DNS settings. To access your DNS settings, you need to access your domain’s registrar. In my case, since I buy domains with Godaddy, it means I access their DNS settings through my Godaddy account.
Here’s a guide from Google that walks you through how to set up DKIM. Just follow that walkthrough and you should be good to go. If you just bought your domain, you might need to wait a few days before it’ll let you set up your DKIM settings, though. So just have a bit of patience and come back in a few days if that’s the case.
Here’s a thorough guide I found helpful on how to set up SPF and DKIM for various email service providers.
5. Warm up your new email account.
Ugh, more email god-appeasing? Yep.
Email gods look at your domain age (ie, how long have you owned it? Was it previously owned by someone else? If so, how long did they own it? When was it first bought by someone, ever?). They also look at the age of your email account itself. So if you were lucky enough to buy a great domain for cold outreach a year or two ago, then props! You can check your domain age by using a tool like Whois. Just input your domain and hit enter.
Emailanalytics.com was first registered in 2006, so it’s got great domain age. Woohoo! This also helpful for SEO 😁
If you haven’t used an email account on your domain, you’ll need to warm it up and prove to the email gods that you’re a real person doing real human things, and not a spammer.
So how do you warm up your email account? Check out my article on email warmup for everything you need to know, including which tools to use, pricing, and FAQs.
How long do you need to warm it up for? Well, according to a few different sources I found in my research, you should wait 12 weeks before starting real outreach. According to Sujan Patel, founder of Mailshake, “I recommend using an email address for 4-6 weeks before sending a single cold email.”
Ouch. That’s 1-3 months. It sucks, because I know you want to get started with cold outreach right now. But let’s do this right and wait 12 weeks so we don’t have to start this whole process over.
6. Start building your email outreach list.
Okay, over the next 12 weeks, while you are warming up your email account to prepare it for real outreach, let’s start building your outreach list. How’s that sound?
Here’s a full guide on how to do that 😎
7. Choose your cold email outreach tool.
Alright, once your email account is warmed up and you’ve got a list of prospects, it’s time to choose your cold email outreach tool! I’ve listed a few of my favorites below, so go check them out 😀
Spend some time playing around with your tool of choice, watch their onboarding videos, and get a feel for how they work.
8. Check your sender reputation.
Before we start sending emails, we need to check our sender reputation. How do the email gods feel about our domain?
Check using Talos. Just enter your domain and hit enter, and you’ll see your domain’s reputation. Looks like ours is neutral:
It’s a good idea to set a calendar reminder or something to check your reputation every so often. Maybe once every 1-3 months or so.
9. Clean and validate your email outreach list.
So you’ve got an email list. But is it going to do more harm than good to your sender reputation?
The email gods hate hard bounces and spam complaints. There are also spam traps and catch-alls that are set up by sneaky servants to the email gods that can harm your reputation score if you send emails to them.
So before you start sending emails to your list, you need to clean and validate it to ensure you’re only sending emails to real people. There are a few good tools you can use, such as these:
Some of these email address validation tools offer a free trial period where you can validate 100-150 email addresses for free. After that, they generally cost a fraction of a penny per email address. So it’s a minor cost, but well worth it to ensure your reputation stays intact!
Note: Mailshake offers monthly-renewing credits for email validation through its partner, Voila Norbert. These credits are included with a paid subscription, and it has quick and easy integration with Voila Norbert, potentially saving time and money on list cleaning & validation.
10. Write your first cold email.
Now, we’re ready to write our first cold email. But don’t get antsy and send it quite yet!
Look farther down in this post for subject lines and templates you can use if you want.
Remember to personalize your emails! Not only will personalization help you get better response rates from your recipients, it’ll also — you guessed it — appease the email gods. The email gods don’t want to see you sending the same email over and over again. That looks spammy to them. Change each one up and include something personal, like a real human would do.
And that means more than just the person’s first name!
11. Test your email’s spammyness.
Okay, you’ve written your first email? Good! Now, let’s test it to see how spammy it is.
Go to Mail-tester.com and you’ll see an email address that’s totally unique to you. Now, send your cold email to that email address from the same address you’re going to use for your real cold outreach. Basically, just pretend like you’re sending your first actual cold outreach email to this address.
Make sure you visit the website yourself; don’t just send a test to the address in the screenshot above! It won’t work for you unless you visit the site and get your own, unique address.
After you send your email, it’ll show you a fancy report that looks like this:
Sweet! I scored a perfect 10 out of 10. I’ll take it! Here’s a look at each of my grades and how I fared:
Not bad! I investigated the “You’re not fully authenticated” bit and it looks like my SPF and DKIM settings are correct, so that’s what matters most (that’s why I didn’t get docked any points).
12. Know your provider’s daily limits.
Depending on your email service provider, you’re going to be limited to the amount of email you can send per day. For Google Workspace, it’s 2000 emails per day.
Read this article to find your specific provider limits, and be sure not to go over them!
13. Schedule your first real cold email outreach.
Okay, if you’ve made it this far, then you’re ready to officially begin your cold email outreach campaign! Be sure to use a tool that enables you to “drip” your emails out over the course of a period of time, like a real human. The email gods don’t like huge email blasts where a ton of emails get sent all at once.
Lemlist and Mailshake enable you to drip-feed your emails over time.
14. Slowly ramp-up your daily email sends.
Start small and build your way up to higher daily send volumes. So, what’s a good cold email outreach send ramp-up plan look like? I asked Sujan Patel, and he advised:
“The ramp up timeline varies by the age and reputation of the email address. I suggest a ramp up over 16 weeks for a new email address starting at 15 emails a day and scaling up by 10-15 emails per day as long as open rates stay the same.”
Mailshake’s customer service team proposes a more conservative ramp-up period, recommending an increase by 10-20 emails per week through the first 5 weeks, then start increasing by 50-60 per week after that. Combining the advice of them both, here’s a ramp-up plan you can use:
Week 1: 10 emails sent/day
Week 2: 20 emails
Week 3: 30 emails
Week 4: 40 emails
Week 5: 50 emails
Week 6: 60 emails
Week 7: 70 emails
Week 8: 80 emails
Week 9: 90 emails
Week 10: 100 emails
This jives with advice from Oli Graham, Marketing Manager at RightlyWritten, who says, “When warming up an email you want to start with no more than 30-50 emails a day for the first month.”
He continues with a worthwhile reminder that “A key point that many overlook is that it’s not just time that causes your email account to gain ‘trust’. Metrics such as open rate and response rate and how often you are flagged for spam affects this.”
15. Monitor and visualize your email activity.
Good email outreach tools will show you the basic metrics like open rate, click rate, and response rate. But there’s a lot they won’t show you, such as average email response time (a critical KPI for sales), email traffic by day of the week, and traffic by time of day.
That’s where EmailAnalytics comes in! Simply connect your cold outreach email account to EmailAnalytics and we’ll automatically monitor your email activity and display it for you on beautiful charts, graphs, and tables.
Cold Email Benchmarks & Metrics to Track
You might be able to gauge the “effectiveness” of your email subjectively by looking at those four big categories. However, a subjective evaluation won’t get you far when it comes to analyzing the true performance of your campaign.
For that, you’ll need objectively measurable benchmarks, which can help you determine whether your cold email strategy is working.
These are some of the most important metrics to track:
First, there’s the open rate, one of the most fundamental email marketing metrics to measure. The open rate will tell you the number of people who actually opened your message compared to the number of people who received it. If your open rate is low, it means you’re not offering a compelling subject line, or you’re sending to the wrong types of people. In any case, only people who open your message will read the internal content.
Click through rate (CTR).
Click through rate (CTR) tells you the percentage of people who clicked a link in your email message after opening it. It’s a good way to determine how persuasive your email is when trying to motivate user action. A low CTR is a sign that you need to do a better job of selling your website.
Unique clicks and opens.
It’s also worth measuring your “unique” opens and clicks; in other words, you need to measure the number of people you’re reaching for the first time. Technically, repeat prospects won’t be “cold” anymore, but they may still be caught by your cold email strategy—or they may click the links in your message multiple times.
Click to open ratio.
As the name suggests, the click to open ratio is the ratio of the number of link clicks to the number of opens you’ve received. A high ratio here means that your internal content is very compelling; once people actually open your message, they’re very inclined to take action.
A low ratio here means that while your message is often perceived as worth opening, you lose recipient interest once they start reading your email.
One of the most important metrics in all of marketing, a conversion rate will tell you the number (or percentage) of people “converting.” That could mean buying a product, filling out a form, downloading a guide, or even watching a video.
With the help of Google Analytics or a similar tool, you can measure the number of people who visit your site after reading your email and ultimately convert—or the number of people who schedule a phone call after reading your message.
Email bounce rate.
Email bounce rate represents the number of people who click a link in your email, visit your site, then leave your site without visiting any other pages. It’s a sign of a disconnect between your recipient visitor and your website content.
That could mean you’re targeting the wrong people, or that your website just isn’t offering compelling enough content to keep people’s interest.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on spam-related metrics, such as your spam score. If you make too many mistakes and end up with a high spam score, you might be blacklisted from certain email services, and you’ll have trouble achieving any kind of reasonable deliverability rate.
Pay attention to the number of people who unsubscribe from your lists. If you’re cold emailing, you might be reaching out to people who haven’t yet subscribed to your lists, so this may be a non-issue in certain campaigns.
However, once you start investing more heavily in your email marketing, this is something you’ll need to watch closely.
Depending on the content of your message, you may be interested in incentivizing, then tracking metrics like forwards and shares. These social actions are a positive sign that you’ve made a good impression on your recipients; they’re also a valuable way to spread your message to more people.
Don’t expect high forward or share rates from typical requests for a phone call or meeting; instead, these are usually associated with shared valuable content.
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- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- The average professional spends 50% of their workday on email.
It’s also worth knowing how many of these statistics change when you incorporate measurements for variables related to devices, domains, and other areas of note. For example, are your cold emails more likely to be opened on a mobile device or a desktop device?
Return on investment (ROI).
Finally, you’ll want to track the total return on investment (ROI) associated with your cold emailing strategy. For this, you’ll need to keep track of all the costs associated with your campaign, including what you’re paying for your cold emailing tools, your manual effort, and any contractors or agencies you’re working with.
You’ll also need to keep track of any and all revenue generated from your cold email campaign. Ideally, you’ll generate more in revenue than you spent getting the additional business. If you’re not achieving a positive ROI, you’ll need to work to make your campaign more efficient, increasing positive results, cutting costs, or both.
I’ve written a separate guide on this subject as it relates to email marketing as a whole, so make sure to read up on the most important email marketing metrics to measure!
Now, let’s focus on how we can pump these numbers up.
How to Ensure Deliverability of Your Cold Emails
We’ll start by examining how you can ensure the deliverability of your messages. Ensuring accuracy of your recipient information is a good first step, but you’ll also need to find ways to dodge spam filters.
These steps can help:
1. Verify your email list.
A good first step is to verify the emails in your email list. You might have a list of 10,000 names and email addresses, but are you certain that all these records are accurate? Are you sure they’re all up-to-date?
There are many verification services you can use to analyze and clean your list, but you’ll need to do this no matter what if you want to maximize deliverability. Here are a couple good options to start with:
2. Avoid using your primary domain.
Cold emailing can trigger some spam-related actions, so avoid using of your primary domain for cold emails. This way, you can keep your main domain safe from potential spam flags.
3. Warm up your email address before sending any cold outreach.
Earlier, we covered why and how you should warm up your email address before using it for cold outreach. This is a super important step, so I wanted to repeat it here.
4. Improve your formatting.
Following best practices for HTML and email formatting is a good way to get around many spam filters. If you’re using a conventional email builder, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about this.
5. Limit your number of images.
Spam emails tend to be packed with images and other dense content. You can easily reduce your likelihood of getting caught in a spam filter by limiting the number of images you include. Ideally, include zero images.
6. Drip-feed your emails throughout the course of the day.
One common trait of spam is that it tends to be sent in mass quantities. If you send too many messages at once, it’ll be more likely to trigger spam flags. Instead, try to send your emails in smaller batches. Ideally, send your emails one at a time, over the course of the workday. According to Sujan Patel, “The key timelines are emails per 1 hr, emails in 24 hours, open rate/spam/unsubscribes for last 7 days, 30, 90 days.”
7. Eliminate spam trigger words.
It’s tempting to use sensationalized language to get someone’s attention in a cold email, but if your message is too obnoxious, or if it uses words commonly associated with spam, it could be detrimental to your deliverability. Phrases like “act now,” “click here,” and “once in a lifetime” will work against you.
8. Don’t repeat your messages.
Spam messages tend to be exact duplicates; it’s the same message sent to hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes many times over. If you want to improve your deliverability, vary your messages by including personalization within each email that’s specific to your recipient, and never send the exact same message to the same recipient twice. Sujan Patel advises “The key here is to keep your emails short and personalize 1 sentence (starting sentence is best).”
9. Improve engagement rates.
You’ll naturally improve your deliverability by improving engagement rates. Low engagement rates, like low open rates and CTRs, could get you flagged as spam. Obviously, this should be a high-level goal for your cold email campaign even if it wasn’t associated with deliverability. We’ll focus on strategies that can help you improve engagement rates in the next several sections.
How to Improve Your Cold Email Targeting
When your cold emails are better targeted, they’ll have a much higher rate of success. There are essentially three factors required for this to work:
1. Choose the right target audience.
Before you do anything else, you need to understand who your target audience is. You shouldn’t target “everybody,” or else your message won’t be relevant to the majority of your recipients. Instead, you’ll need to consider who’s most likely to buy your product; think about their age, gender, living situation, family status, job, income level, and education level.
The more thorough your market research is, the more likely you’ll be to find the right demographics. Also, feel free to have multiple segments of target audiences; if you do this, you’ll need to plan separate targeted cold email campaigns for each one.
2. Get a reliable list of people within this audience.
Let’s say your target audience is 30-55 year old men and women who work in accounting or a related field. Your next job is getting a list of email addresses of people who fit these criteria.
The common advice is to avoid buying email lists; email lists tend to be inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable. They also can negatively affect your spam score if used improperly. However, you may be able to find a reliable list under the right conditions—and you’re legally allowed to email people without their consent (but only once, and you have to allow them to opt-out of future messages).
Alternatively, you can safely generate your own lists with the help of targeted marketing campaigns, advertisements, custom landing pages, and other sales funnel tactics.
3. Craft your message appropriately.
Once you have a reliable list of people who match your target audience, the final step is working to craft your message appropriately. Consider creating a “customer persona” character who represents your target audience.
How would you write a message that appeals to this person? What level of vocabulary would you use? What kind of values would you appeal to? What are this person’s wants and needs, and how can you cater to them?
With these strategies in place, your cold emails will land much more appropriately with your recipients.
How to Improve Immediate Appeal of your Cold Emails
For a cold email to be successful, it needs to make an immediate good first impression. You only have a second or two to convince someone to open your message (with a good subject line), and then only another few seconds to convince them to take further action, so every detail matters.
1. Write a great subject line.
If you want your customer to make a purchase, they have to visit your website. If you want them to visit your website, they have to click a link. If you want them to click a link, they have to open your email. And if you want them to open your email, you have to have a compelling subject line. Everything ties back to your subject line.
It’s the first (and oftentimes the only) thing people will see related to your message, and it often has the power to dictate the entire nature of the interactions that follow. It’s arguably the most important element of your cold email, despite only being only a few words long.
It’s so important that we’re dedicating an entire section to subject lines—so feel free to skip to it if you want more information on what makes a subject line effective.
2. Personalize the introduction.
Your messages should be as personalized as possible. You obviously don’t have time to write a custom message for every person on your list, but you can at least employ personalization tactics like filling in a person’s first name as an email greeting, based on your email list.
3. Write something unique.
We’ve all received thousands of cold emails in the course of our careers. We know the formula. We know the patterns. And we can smell a schlocky sales attempt from a mile away. If you want a chance at standing out, you have to write something unique—you have to stand out from the competition. Below, I’ve included cold email templates you can use or refer to that are unique and effective.
4. Be friendly and personable.
While writing your message, you should be friendly and personable; writing a stiff corporate message with the “voice of the company” isn’t going to be appealing. Writing as if you were writing a message to a friend will be much more compelling. It’s also a great way to start an amicable customer relationship.
5. Ensure your email is error-free.
This should be obvious, but you’d be amazed how many cold emails I’ve received that have simple mistakes, like content that doesn’t load, semantic errors, or painfully obvious spelling mistakes. Not only will small errors like these interfere with your spam score, they could also jeopardize your brand’s reputation with every recipient who sees them.
Even one glaring mistake is all it takes to turn someone off of your brand, so take the time to proofread your emails carefully and test them thoroughly. There’s no excuse for anything less.
Ideally, you’ll have your recipient’s full attention as soon as they read the subject line. You should also be able to keep that attention (or improve it) within the first few sentences of your email’s body content.
How to Ensure Your Cold Emails Provide Value for Recipients
The most effective cold emails offer recipients some kind of value. You can do this in many different ways, but these are some of the most common:
Offering a one-time discount on a product, or even offering a free sample or trial of a product can be valuable—but only if your product is interesting or valuable on its own. You’ll also need to be careful about advertising this too heavily, or you’ll come off as too promotional. A QR code can be a great way to subtly engage your audience and offer discount coupons. This can be easily achieved by using a QR code generator.
Similarly, you can offer something akin to a sitewide sale or celebration. Again, be careful not to seem too promotional.
3. Premium content.
A much more consistent way to add value to an email is to offer some kind of meaningful content. This could be an eBook or a whitepaper that covers a topic of interest, or an infographic that explains some important statistics. Almost any kind of information can be valuable, if it’s targeted in the right way (and well-written).
4. Free consultations, etc.
You can also offer free consultations with recipients, assuming you have something specific to offer. For example, a consultation to potentially improve marketing ROI by 25 percent is much more compelling than a generic “marketing consultation.”
If you find that people aren’t especially interested in what you have to offer here, it may be a sign to increase the value of your offering. In some cases, that means tweaking the numbers (like offering a 50 percent discount instead of 40 percent). In others, that means changing what you’re offering entirely.
Cold Email Subject Lines
Now let’s turn our attention to cold email subject lines. As I explained in our section on “immediate appeal,” subject lines are possibly the most important element of your entire cold email strategy.
Without a strong subject line, recipients won’t open your emails, and you won’t be able to achieve any of the results you desire.
But what is it that makes a strong subject line?
These are some of the most important qualities:
- Brevity. First, your subject line should be as short as possible. This is partially to achieve conciseness—in other words, you want to convey as much meaning as possible in the smallest space. But it’s also due to the physical limitations your recipients might encounter. Typically, mobile devices only display 30 to 40 characters of a subject line, so you need to find a way to express your full intended meaning in that space.
- Uniqueness. Your subject line should also be unique. If it sounds too much like something they’ve seen in other messages, or if it’s painfully obvious that this is a cold sales attempt, your message will be instantly deleted.
- Relevance. Remember the importance of targeting. Your subject line should be immediately relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach. What is it that they stand to gain by reading this message? Why should this be important to them? Mentioning a topic or an important statistic can help you here.
- Relatability. Your subject line should also be relatable in some way. You need to build rapport with your recipient if you want them to take action, and your subject line is the first chance you’ll have to do it. Is there a way you can express empathy related to a pain point they face on a regular basis? Can you make yourself seem friendlier and more approachable?
- Association with action. Though not always possible, it’s sometimes helpful to craft a subject line that encourages action. As illustrated in one of our examples below, sometimes directly asking a prospect if they’re available at a certain time can encourage them to schedule a call with you.
Let’s see how these important qualities are demonstrated in this brief list of cold email subject line examples:
1. Introducing myself
Short and to the point, this is a great lead-in to an introductory email about yourself and your company.
2. Can you help me?
According to the Ben Franklin effect, when you do a favor for someone, you instantly perceive that person as more likable. This is an intriguing play on this concept.
3. Quick question about [topic]
Establish relevance by mentioning your topic of choice, and incentivize an open by promising this won’t take much time.
Citing statistics is almost always a good idea, assuming they’re relevant to your audience in some way.
5. Ideas for [problem/topic]
Again, you establish relevance early and persuade your recipient to open the email to learn more.
6. Not sure what to do about [topic]?
If your recipient is confused or lost on this topic, they’ll be glad to read this subject line and open the message.
7. Interested in [topic]?
This is an alternative way to establish rapport, and it’s mercifully short.
8. Your goals
You can customize this subject line with mentions of specific topics, but any call to a recipient’s goals is bound to interest them.
9. I’ll cut to the chase
This subject line promises a short internal email that’s straight and to-the-point. We’ll expand on this idea later in the template section.
10. I can make your life [statistic] easier
This is a bold promise, but if you can back it up with evidence, it could help you land a sale.
11. Can you keep a secret?
Gimmicky subject lines are tricky territory, since you might turn some people off, but if done right, they can appeal to people who typically delete cold emails whenever they see them.
12. Are you free this [date/time]?
Try to get an appointment right away with this direct approach.
If you’re in need of more subject line inspiration, I’ve written a guide with best practices and examples for cold email subject lines. And for even more ideas and inspiration, see this guide to 51 sales email subject lines that truly work.
What’s the Best Time for Sending a Cold Email?
It’s also worth noting that the time you send an initial cold email can have a dramatic effect on its capacity to elicit a response.
There are competing schools of thought on the subject of timing. For example, many studies have found that the best times to send emails (in terms of response rates) were early in the mornings (between 6 am and 7 am) and late in the evenings (around 8 pm) of weekdays, with Mondays and Wednesdays netting higher response rates than Fridays.
However, because this is common knowledge, you may be competing with higher-than-average cold email rates during these periods. If you want to stand out, sending emails during off-peak times may be better. You’ll need to experiment to figure out the best timing for your emails and your organization.
Following Up on a Cold Email
Many people won’t respond to the first email they get from a cold emailer, but they’ll be more receptive to follow-up emails. Accordingly, you’ll need to master the art of following up.
These are some of the most important principles to follow:
- Write something different. Don’t simply send the same message, or even the same style of message with your follow-up attempts. Write something unique with each follow-up, and experiment with different approaches.
- Be polite. Don’t seem impatient or aggressive. Be as calm and polite as possible in your follow-up messages.
- Appropriately space your timing. Wait a few days between messages, and don’t send too many follow-ups in total. In most cases, you should keep your follow-ups in single-digit territory. You also should never send multiple emails in a 48-hour span, at the risk of overwhelming your recipient (or getting marked as spam).
- Become increasingly direct and unambiguous. Your first cold email outreach attempts might be intentionally vague, as a way to be more alluring. However, as you write more follow-up messages, you’ll want to be increasingly direct and unambiguous with your messaging.
- Slowly increase value. Sometimes, you won’t get a response because your prospect doesn’t see the value in responding or taking action. Consider increasing that potential value to incentivize action on subsequent attempts.
I’ve written a definitive guide on how to write a follow-up email, so read if it you’d like some additional pointers.
Most cold email outreach tools offer automatic follow-up functionality, so be sure to choose one that includes it.
Cold Email Outreach Tools
Now, let’s take a look at some of the best tools that can help you in your cold email outreach strategy. Nearly all of these tools offer free trials, so you can give them a try before buying:
EmailAnalytics is our flagship analytics tool. With it, you’ll be able to keep much better track of the emails you’re sending out, and observe metrics like average email response time, number of emails sent, and more. It’s a perfect tool for coordinating a team, evaluating your performance, and ultimately improving the way you email. You can’t use it to send emails, but you can use it to track all your activity related to cold emailing, along with critical KPIs that other tools can’t give you.
Mailshake is a comprehensive tool designed for sales outreach and email engagement. With it, you’ll be able to design and execute automated campaigns for your outreach emails. There’s also an integrated phone dialer for when you’re ready to switch communication mediums.
If you’re looking for a tool that specializes in cold emailing, Lemlist may be your best option. It features almost everything you need to design and launch a cold email outreach campaign. It includes drip campaign planning, AB testing, dynamic content generation, built-in templates, and reports to help you measure how you’re doing.
There’s also Prospect.io, which allows you to find and reach out to new prospects using one simple platform. With it, you’ll be able to discover new email addresses, verify those email addresses, and design and execute drip email campaigns that roll out automatically. It also features dozens of integrations with other major sales platforms.
As the name suggests, Outreach.io is a tool meant to help you reach out to new prospects across a variety of channels, including email, phone calls, and text messages. It also allows you to personalize your campaign messages, increasing your chances of success when automating your approach.
These tools are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s available to help you manage a cold email campaign. If you’re looking for more tools to help you design and launch an email campaign, check out some of our other guides, like the 10 best email automation software tools, the 18 best bulk email services, and 27 of the best email testing tools.
And if you’re interested in digging deeper into the world of sales prospecting, make sure to read our guide on 50 sales prospecting tools and techniques you can use to find success. Or, check out our guide to email prospecting.
Cold Email Templates
At this point in the guide, you should have a good idea about what makes a cold email effective, and how to plan and execute a cold emailing strategy of your own. But when it comes time to sit down and write your own cold emails, you might feel stuck.
This is a common experience. You don’t want to write a cheap clone of a cold email you’ve seen in your inbox previously, nor do you want to botch your first attempt to reach a brand new prospect. That’s where templates can help.
Below, you’ll find an assortment of templates you can use as a starting point to craft your own messages:
1. Congratulations on a recent event
Subject line: Congratulations!
I just saw the news about your recent (event) and wanted to say congratulations!
Recently, (similar company) was going through a similar situation, and we were able to help them by (statistic/description of events). Accordingly, I thought maybe your company could benefit from something similar.
I understand you’re probably busy, but if you have a few free moments, I’d love to set up a call!
Are you free this (date/time)?
If not, feel free to read more about us at (link).
Hope to hear from you soon!
This template is effective because it leads with something flattering, persuading the reader to open the message and read further. It also confronts readers with multiple calls-to-action (CTAs).
2. Statistic and explanation
Subject line: Want to save 3.4 hours per week?
What would you do with an additional 3.4 hours every week?
With the help of (tool/solution), we can free up that extra time. (Brief explanation of how this works).
If you don’t believe me, some of our top clients include (clients). Feel free to ask them!
Are you free to chat next week? If so, I can set up a demo so you can see our product in action.
Let me know!
The subject line here is super enticing, and the internal explanation should be even more compelling. As long as you make a clear case and your reader has time to spare, you should be able to get a call from any interested prospect.
3. Short and direct
Subject line: I’ll cut to the chase
I know you’re busy, so I’ll make this quick. My team and I help companies like yours get more sales, more reliably. I think with our help, we can get you 1,000 new leads per month.
Would you be interested in learning more about our process? If so, are you free (date/time)? We can set up a call and discuss options.
This template works great on people who find themselves with limited time. Simply acknowledging someone’s busyness can create a kind of rapport, calling them to read further.
4. Introducing myself
Subject line: Introducing myself
I’m (name) and I’m in charge of (responsibilities at company). We’ve got a lineup of new products and solutions to help companies with their hiring.
I was wondering, are you in charge of hiring at your company? If not, can you point me in the right direction? I’m hoping to save your company time and money by (explanation of offer).
Thanks in advance!
Asking for a favor is a powerful (and somewhat counterintuitive) way to get on someone’s good side. This is also a good way to motivate action; if this recipient doesn’t want to speak with you directly, they may lead you to someone else who does.
5. Offering a resource
Subject line: Learn how to (topic) in 1 hour or less
I’m (name) from (company) and we just created a new eBook that teaches people about (topic). If you’ve ever been interested in (topic), you might find it interesting to read!
It’s completely free. All you have to do is follow this link and download it.
Offering a valuable resource, like a piece of content, is always a good start. All you have to do is make sure you explain why this resource is valuable.
Subject line: Get 100 new leads each month
I’m [name] from [company] and we specialize in helping businesses like yours get more leads.
We have a signature process that helps us generate hundreds, and sometimes thousands of qualified leads for our customers each month. We recently helped [customer] triple their incoming leads after just a few weeks of setup.
Do you have 15 minutes to talk about our process and how it can help?
Let me know if you’re free next Tuesday at 1 pm!
Sometimes, just getting to the point is the best way to get your message across in the limited time you have the recipient’s attention.
6. The search for a decision maker
Subject line: Can you do me a favor?
If you have a moment, I was hoping you could help me with a favor.
I’m looking for the [role] at your company. Can you possibly introduce me? Or do you know who’s responsible for [decision/responsibility]?
Let me know!
If your recipient is, in fact, the decision maker, then this email can trigger a positive response from them, as it makes it seem more genuine.
7. The competitor contrast
Subject line: Get more out of your [product]
I recently saw your website and noticed that you’re using [competing product]. How do you like it so far?
I ask because I work for [company]. There, we sell a product that’s like [competing product], but [key differentiator]. It could potentially help your website work better.
Do you have 15 minutes for a quick call? I’d like to learn more about you and your company’s needs.
Even if your recipient doesn’t have a problem with their current vendor, you might be able to convince them to listen to your pitch if you can hook them with better pricing or some other key differentiator.
8. Problem and solution
Subject line: Having trouble finding the right candidates?
One of the biggest challenges in your industry is finding good people worth hiring. It’s a slog to wade through hundreds of profiles, not knowing if there’s even someone there with the background and skills you require.
That’s why we created [product]. It’s designed to [key features] and can help you find the right candidates more reliably – and save you hours of time in the process.
Would you like to see a quick, 10-minute demo?
Start with identifying your recipient’s problem, and then demonstrate how you can solve it for them.
9. A valuable piece of content
Subject line: The state of [industry]
Did you know that XX percent of leaders in your industry believe that [technology] is going to change the industry forever?
We recently published an in-depth eBook covering the topic. Whether you’re a newcomer trying to learn the basics or a seasoned vet who wants to know how other leaders in your industry are responding, there’s something for you in it.
Feel free to download it here – free for a limited time!
If you have a truly interesting, useful, or otherwise valuable piece of content you can share with your recipients for free, give it a try! You just might get some appreciative responses in return.
10. Sincere flattery
Subject line: Amazing website!
I just saw your latest website design and wanted to shoot you a compliment – it looks amazing!
I can’t help but wonder, is it generating leads as effectively as you imagined? I work for [company] and we make a product designed to multiply your lead generation potential.
We’ve helped companies like [examples] grow their conversion rates by up to 500 percent.
Would you be interested in taking your website to the next level? If so, let’s talk! Are you free for a 15-minute call this Wednesday?
If you make someone feel good, they might be more willing to give you a response.
These cold email templates are only a jumping-off point. There are infinite possibilities for developing cold emails that work, so long as you follow the guiding principles and best practices of this guide.
So make sure you spend at least some time and effort in your campaign experimenting with different approaches—some of which are entirely your own.
If you’re interested in even more templates, take a look at our list of 15 effective sales email templates for businesses in almost any industry!
With these tools, templates, guidelines, and ideas, you should be able to put together a cohesive cold emailing strategy for your marketing campaign. But if you want to learn more about your cold email performance, you’ll need to track your conversations reliably.
That’s where EmailAnalytics comes into play. With EmailAnalytics, you can track dozens of different metrics and see in-depth visuals related to your activity in Gmail and G Suite; for example, you can track your average email response time and measure the number of emails you send and receive each day. Sign up for a free trial today to see it in action!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.