How to write killer cold emails

When you start your very first outbound campaign (or even if you have already sent hundreds of messages), you need to keep in mind that each target and each prospect is different. There is no universal email template that will deliver dozens of customers for everyone. The only thing that will get you successful results is constant testing. Improve your templates, compare results and remember to change only one part at a time. This way, you will be able to say which approach works best. This may sound a bit overwhelming at first, but do not worry. Here are some basic guidelines we would like to share with you.

Subject line

Your aim is to turn a cold prospect into a client. To do that, you need them to read your message and RESPOND, but first you have to convince them to open your email. That’s where the subject line can either save or drown your campaign.

Here are a few guidelines for a good subject line:

  • Personalize – it’s more convincing and less likely to get into spam when large bulks are sent. In general, people like to see/hear their name, and they will see you as more friendly.
  • Keep it as short as possible – it’s best to keep it to four or fewer words.
  • Never mislead your prospects – it may give you a higher open rates, but once they see that your e-mail and subject line have nothing in common they will probably get mad and (a) not take any interest in your product, (b) report you as spam or (c) give you a bad press.
  • Avoid using salesy words or dry terms such as „buy” or „offer” – they trigger spam and that’s not how you want to be perceived. Here are a few lists of words to avoid:
  • Make it casual – you can write a question or even start a full sentence that you finish in the body of the message. Another idea is to write subject lines completely in lower case.
  • Send 3-4 messages in one thread – try to make it continuous, but if you see them that approach is not working, switch to something a bit different.


The subject line is only one factor which will encourage prospects to open your email. The other crucial part is the preview – that’s the opening of your email visible in the inbox without entering the message. It’s crucial for your message, so remember this:

  • NEVER start by describing to you or your company! – put yourself in the recipient’s shoes: would you care about some stranger’s name and occupation? Probably not.
  • Start with something you have in common – mention a conference you both attended, reference that you work at the same type of company, anything that will make them feel like you’re not just a random person, but someone who understands them. When they see that in their inbox, they will be more willing to read your email.
  • Give it a personal touch – write like a friend, not a salesperson.
  • Address a problem – say something that is relevant to them. Mention a problem that can be solved by your product; understand what may be a pain point for this person and show them how you get it. This approach is called „event” and is one of the most effective in cold mailing. It appeals to both the recipient’s head and heart because you can make their job easier, and spare them the stress and time.

After writing the opening it’s time to move on to the rest of the message. Here’s another important fact: most people do not read emails (especially sales emails) thoroughly. They just skim it and decide if your offer is worthwhile when something catches their attention. So remember:

  • Keep it as short as possible – most people check their e-mail on mobile devices and do not bother even skim long emails. Your first contact should be about getting their attention.
  • Paragraphs – they make the message clear and easy to read. They also help you keep it organized.
  • Put keywords in bold, italics or underline them – that will draw their attention to the most important stuff. However, if you overuse it, the message will look sloppy and unclear, so follow the rule of highlighting the three most important pieces of information.
  • Use bullet points or lists – same thing as above. List the three most important benefits or features.
  • Use short, simple sentences – three simple sentences are easier to tackle than one, long, elaborate message; especially for non-pros in your domain.
  • Try to keep it casual – try to make it sound like you’re sending a message to your friend or colleague.
  • Use positive language – avoid using negative terms, as they are counterproductive. Show the benefits your product can bring and create a positive image of your company or product.
  • Dumb it down – use as much simple vocabulary as you can. Anything written in „The Queen’s English” seems canned. Also, avoid colloquial vocabulary.

Another part is an inherent pitch. You want to sell, so you need to show how special your offer is.

  • Sell value – remember to always put emphasis on „you” and „your” rather than „I”, „me”, and our „.
  • Keep it casual – just like the rest of the message.
  • BENEFITS, not features – emails should serve the customer not the product. So show the results you’ll deliver, not the advantages of the product.
  • Do not show all your cards in one message – it will not be as clear as pointing out the most important part (like the one that answers the problems you described in the opening sentence), and you will not have anything new to add in the following messages.
  • They bring in some numbers – they stand out in plain text, draw attention and give solid information about your product.
  • Give social proof – show how you helped other companies, preferably similar to your prospect’s. Talk about problems solved.

After you have addressed the problem and shared the solution, you need to show the prospect how they can get to know your offer better. This is the time for a Call-To-Action: your proposition which will provoke an appropriate return action. It should be:

  • Short – they choose the CTA; it’s easier to respond.
  • Direct – propose a date for a call or meeting. You could also give some options to choose from, but remember to stick to one action.

The last, but certainly not least, part of the message is the postscript – do not underestimate it. The PS is one of the most frequently read parts of an email. It stands out from the rest of the message, which makes it a great place to give some additional info; something important about your product, company or offer. Keep it short – do not ruin the advantage of the PS by adding more than one or two short sentences.


Your first email should be the opening of a whole chain of communication. As a good salesperson, you need to be persistent. You need to show your prospects that you believe in the value you provide and that you know they will benefit from it. That’s why you shouldn’t show all your cards at once. Here are a few successful follow-up strategies:

Pitch them. Show another angle of your product; answer another problem. It should be:

  • Slightly different to the first message.
  • Show various benefits of your product.
  • Short but to the point, and as relevant as the other messages.

Remind them about your previous messages. Your email might have got stuck in the inbox of a prospect in need. Do not let bad timing ruin your conversion:

  • A short message to move you up in the prospects’ inbox and remind them about your offer.
  • Polite but firm tone.
  • Possibly link to an article of yours; maybe something valuable for your recipient and relevant to your messages.

Tease and give them something they want. Show potential value for your prospect – offer them a trial account, a taste of your services. Let them see how they will benefit from your solution before purchasing.

Not every person contacted will be up for your offer, and most of them will not even reply to your messages. That’s why you need to add a break-up email at the end of your thread.

  • Leave only two options – it’s a „take it or leave it” situation. Ask the recipient directly whether they are interested and want to see your offer or not. Then tell them you will not message them again.
  • You can add one more killer pitch (if you have not used it before).

Just like with the first message, you need to make sure you time your follow-ups appropriately.

  • Instant follow-up – send a one-line addition a few minutes or hours after the first message. Make it casual, as if you forgot to mention something.
  • Keep at least a two-day-gap between messages – you do not want to end up labeled as a spammer.
  • Try different days of the week and different times – this way, you give yourself a better chance of catching the prospect during their daily email check.
  • Think about the long term – do not bombard your prospect with five messages in one week and then stop. The whole plan is to campaign for at least two or three weeks. If you still have not heard back, remind them about your offer a few weeks later.

Direct vs. pitch referral

Ask yourself this question when you’re defining your target and campaign approach. There is no universal answer – just like with everything else in cold mailing, you need to test it until you get satisfactory results.

  • Big companies – in many cases you can not tell for sure who is responsible for a certain aspect (e.g. in our case it might be Sales, Marketing or Business Development), and it’s good to ask for referrals (or intros from higher executives).
  • Startups and small companies – the main decisions are run past CEOs and executives, so you should try a direct pitch.

One last thing: do not get discouraged by the poor results at the beginning. After a few attempts, you will get to the point when you’ll read your prospects like a book and answer their questions before they even ask them.

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