The Art of the Cold Email
My response rate on cold emails has increased dramatically over the last few years to more than 50%. I work in sales and the cold email is an essential tool.
But even if you don’t work in sales, the cold email is crucial.
There will be times when you want to connect with someone or ask someone for their help — that someone will be a stranger and your cold email skills will determine whether you get a response. Obviously, cold email skills can be used on social media or messaging apps too. You can even use the skill of writing a cold email to find your dream romantic partner.
Cold email equals getting someone curious, capturing their attention, and building rapport with them through your words.
A colleague of mine recently asked me to analyze their cold emails and offer suggestions. Here is what the art of cold email looks like.
A List of Considerations
Before we get into the forgotten art of the cold email, let’s start with what to consider before writing one.
Be respectful of the person’s time
Many cold emails are too long. The person who will be reading it is likely to suffer from email overwhelm like the rest of us.
Email is a noisy medium but a powerful one when done well.
Think about the length of your cold email. I find three paragraphs of three sentences works well.
The use of big words
Trying to sound smart can work against you.
Clear emails with words and sentences that people can understand pack the biggest punch. Not everybody has English as their first language. Your big words and acronyms could be confusing the crap out of them for no reason.
Don’t try to sound smart. Sound clear instead.
It’s easy to sound way too “businessy”
Business emails are the easiest ones to mess up.
Many cold emails designed to reach a prospect in a business context sound like a conversation between two AI bots. Using too much business-speak can block you from connecting with the human on the other end of your message.
Business talk rarely sparks emotion or taps into our human nature. Consider how much business context you need to give.
“We’d like to meet in your boardroom next week to talk about the latest insights in blockchain after we read your annual report and went through your balance sheet. We think we can add value and show you a software tool that analyzes your existing big data to see where opportunities for growth may lie.”
How inspired are you after reading that? That’s what a lot of cold emails in business look like. They are dry and lifeless.
Are you assuming too much?
I got a cold email asking me to be on a podcast. The assumption was that I’d love to be on a podcast to gain free exposure and boost my ego.
The thing is, I don’t care about exposure, and personal branding makes me vomit up chunks of carrot from last night’s dinner.
Making assumptions in cold emails can be dangerous territory. It shows an element of laziness.
The Traits of a Brilliant Cold Email
I get plenty of cold emails and messages on LinkedIn and love analyzing them. I’m a cold communication nerd. There are many techniques that brilliant email writers use over and over that work. Here are a few.
Personalize the heck out of it
Template emails meet a quick, cold death.
It takes more time to personalize an email and you can’t send as many, but the response rate is significantly higher.
- Mention the person’s name
- Add something you got off one of their social media profiles
- Mention a stat you read about them
- Ask them a question about their work on top of your eventual ask
The biggest tip that has worked for me is to mention a mutual connection or friend that we both have. If I don’t know anyone in common, then I go out of my way to find someone. There is always a kind stranger who will introduce you to someone you seek to speak with if you put the effort in. A line like this does wonders:
“Vicky told me to reach out before she heads off to Sydney. She said you’d be a hoot and to ask you about your last marathon.”
There is a high chance you’re going to get a response with that level of personalization, and there is leverage because they now feel some obligation to respond given you know someone in common.
Have a clear ask
Many cold emails go off on a tangent. Start with your ask and then write your cold email directly above it. What action do you want the person to take?
Another consideration is to think about how big the ask is. I get invited to join three-hour podcast interviews which seem overwhelming after the first sentence. Start with a small ask like one of these:
- Could I email you one question?
- Would you be able to chat for fifteen minutes in the next few weeks?
- Could I share an idea with you and see if it’s a fit?
These sort of asks have a low barrier to entry and saying no almost feels rude.
Get to the point
Write your cold email and then go back and pretend it’s a tweet you’re going to publish on Twitter that has a character limit. What would you delete if you absolutely had to in order to send your email?
This is why I love LinkedIn text-only posts. They are limited to 1400 characters and help you be concise with your thoughts.
Try writing your cold email as a LinkedIn text post if you need the discipline to keep your cold email short. Then copy and paste your highly edited message from LinkedIn into a new email.
People don’t have all day to read your wonderfully crafted messages.
Sound like a real person
Many cold emails I get sound like they were written by a bot that’s drunk on high-priced vodka from Russia.
Real people talk about life.
Real people mention what they’re struggling with.
Real people make points with short stories.
Real people show emotion.
Real people are vulnerable about why they need help.
A job seeker who is about to lose their house and needs help with their resume is unlikely to have their cold email ignored.
Provide the human context in your cold email.
Give something first
Cold emails that give before asking have a higher response rate.
A nice guy on Facebook sent me a note and offered to create a cool custom graphic for a social media post of mine for free. He did that for me three times and then eventually, he had a small ask. I couldn’t say yes quick enough.
Reference what is going on in the world
Sending a cold email when the world is in lockdown takes a different approach. Mentioning what is happening, briefly, is key — it shows you’re not tone-deaf and solely focused on your own selfish desires.
Make genuine compliments
Cheap compliments that are designed to suck up to the responder rarely work. Giving a genuine comment is about highlighting something you’ve researched about them and giving a slight hat tilt without sounding too sucky.
“I read your story about starting your business and was intrigued by how you managed to look after two children at the same time. I haven’t done as well as a parent myself, and learned a lot from your story.”
Subtle humor works
My colleague wrote in a cold email the other day, “I know you don’t love consultants, so don’t worry I’ll stand guard at the door for you…haha.”
Humor shows personality.
People respond to personality.
Final Thought: Make them smile
The world needs more smiles right now. How could your cold email make someone smile?
Is it your personality, your research, your clever ask, your mutual connection/friend, your level of empathy, your creative writing style, your humor….what is it?
If you can make someone smile through showing off the art of a good cold email, you’ll get a response. That response may just change your life.