How to write cold emails & sound human

One year ago, I took over sales at my company and set out to crack the code on what makes a good email. Unfortunately the easiest advice to find often comes from content marketers or in abstract platitudes like “check for typos” and “grab attention”. While valid, this advice is also abstract, and probably not helpful to improving your own sales emails — it certainly didn’t help me.

One year later, we consistently get 50% open rates and double digit response rates on outbound emails. Over the complete 3-6 email outreach, 1 in 3 people will reply. And that’s without personalization beyond company and recipient name.

Here’s our take on how to make emails interesting again.

Clarity from levity and brevity

When a friend asks “What exactly does your company do?”, your response rarely includes words like end users, valuable solution, or key insights. Those are sales people words, not words humans like to hear. Sales words fatigue the average human, and that’s good.

Bad emails ask for too much attention. They don’t sound human and feel like work to read.

The best sales people I’ve met don’t let jargon and business get in the way of problem solving. They use sentences like “I have something I think you will care about.”

A sample email (1st touch)

This first touch, outbound email has a 55% open rate, 10.1% response rate, and 9.1% clickthrough amongst IT personas over thousands of sends.

Subject line: Room booking at {{company}}
Hi {{first_name}},
Was just looking at {{company}}, wanted to reach out directly. I work at Robin — we’re really good at meeting room scheduling.
Netflix, Sonos, and DraftKings use Robin to book their rooms, see actual office usage, and remove abandoned meetings. Works with your existing calendars too!
I suspect we’d be helpful — who do you think I should talk to?
{{Your name}}
Sales, Robin
robinpowered.com

As with any good email cadence, follow up is required. Most of our email cadences are 3–6 emails over a 2–3 week period, depending on persona. Almost every email is a fresh thread, with a fresh pitch.

Only one needs to stick. Don’t build a massive thread of emails without replies. Reviving old emails just reminds the recipient they already ignored you. Silence is different than an explicit no. If someone gives a no, respect it and move on.

Subject line

Literally, one job. Get them to click the email.

People aren’t going to buy the product based on your subject line. You only need to create enough curiosity so the email gets opened to “make sure I don’t miss something relevant.”

Sample subject lines:

  • “Conference room Q”
  • “Room booking at {{company}}”
  • “New {{location}} office”

First sentence

Subject line isn’t always the culprit for low open rates. Most email clients show a preview of the first sentence right after the subject.

Nothing ruins your brilliant, “totally not a sales email” subject line like a blatant sales pitch peeking out. “My name is Sam and I want 30 minutes to talk to you about our innovative workplace solution…”. Or worse “Following up to make sure this didn’t hit spam…”

Make the first sentence as much about them as possible. Map onto their world as specifically as time (or research) allows.

Was just looking at {{company}}, wanted to reach out directly.

Refreshingly direct works too. Show confidence and invite the challenge.

“I work at Robin — we’re really good at meeting room scheduling”.

Certain personas like to intellectually spar, and they respond best to a challenge. Disputing a bold claim requires a look at your product, which means you have their attention.

Other opening lines:

  • “Saw you’re over at {{company name}} — want to put something in front of you.”
  • “You guys just {{moved into that new office in Austin}}, looks super sharp. {{I’ve been rallying for standing desks for a while around here. A guy can dream.}}”
  • “Was just looking at {{company}}, thought I’d reach out directly.”

Body

Don’t assume you matter, but also don’t be afraid to confirm you might. Give the reader something to dwell on via social proof or a stump question.

Netflix, Sonos, and DraftKings use Robin to book their rooms, see actual office usage, and remove abandoned meetings. Works with your existing calendars too!

In the above example, recognizable customer names validate the product, and invite the question “why do these companies use Robin, but not me?”

Keep it to three points or less. Avoid listing features. Remind them it’s not “work” to work with you. You can get credit for things like easy setup and compatibility with their other services.

Body examples:

  • “Netflix, Sonos, and DraftKings use Robin to book their rooms, see actual office usage, and remove abandoned meetings. Works with your existing calendars too!”
  • “Saw that you wrangle office ops, and I’m hoping we can talk meeting rooms. Mailchimp, Bench, and Robinhood use Robin for easier room scheduling + to see actual office usage.”

Closing ask

Keep it small, narrow their focus to a single ask. A prospect doesn’t need to say yes to everything, they just need to say yes to something.

There are two types of asks: intros or convos. Get the one you want, get out of the way. You should not expect to be the biggest part of the their day.

Small asks get bigger responses. Get a sign of life via a small request, then build the momentum.

I want an intro / “You might know the right person”

  • “Who might care about this on your team?”
  • “What do you guys use to {{book meeting rooms}} right now?

I want a convo / “You’re probably the right person”

  • “Hoping to be a brief part of your day. What’s your schedule look like?”
  • “I suspect we’d be helpful — who do you think I should talk to?”

Bonus: A dash of personality

I like to pepper in a small dose of self-effacing or dry humor to show a glimmer of personality. Think about humor as a way to disarm any potential sales-y sounding sentences or jargon that slipped through the cracks.

  • “Yes, I know — that was a fun sentence to read.”
  • “It’s a riveting conversation, I promise.”

Checklist — “Does this look like a sales email?”

Proofread for things that cause fatigue or create confusion.

  • Squint. Does that fuzzy wall of text look like a sales email?
  • One question mark per email, it’s not an interrogation.
  • Only one exclamation point per email, you’re not a nightclub promoter.
  • Cut the jargon. If it’s not vocabulary you’d use with a friend, remove it.
  • Explain things simply. Stick to problems solved, not features.
  • Always ask yourself: Is this the work of a human or a sales robot?

Hope this helps make the cold, cold email world a little less chilly.


I work at Robin, a workplace software company which helps manage meeting room schedules and remove abandoned meetings. We’re those tablets you see mounted outside conference rooms, with quite a bit more. Folks like Hulu, Instacart, and PillPack power their meeting rooms with us.