How to Write a Killer Cold Email
There are plenty of reasons to write a cold email.
It can be for a job inquiry. Or to connect with an interview source. Or as a way to secure a meeting with a highly sought-after executive. Whatever the reason, writing a cold email is similar to making a cold call, and it can be an intimidating and daunting process.
It doesn’t have to be.
The goal of a great cold email is not only to be opened and read, but also to elicit a response and create a connection. Here are some tips for creating a killer cold email — the kind that will leave a lasting impression.
Find the Right Email Address
If you’ve already acquired an email address, great. But sending out a cold email usually means doing a little digging online.
Most websites have a “Contact Us” or “About Us” link, usually on the upper corners of the homepage or at the bottom. Sometimes those pages will provide staff names and email addresses. If the desired recipient isn’t listed, then look at the other names and follow the same template.
For instance, if Mary Smith’s email is Mary.Smith@domain.com, there’s a good chance the unlisted email of the desired recipient follows the same pattern. If no email addresses are listed, look for a generic email address that starts with “info” (example: email@example.com) or “hi” (example: firstname.lastname@example.org) and send the email there.
Don’t Send From an Embarrassing Email Address
It’s perfectly fine to have a fun email address for personal use, but it’s also important to have a professional email address. It takes two minutes to sign up for an email account — one that’s simple and not embarrassing.
The best formula for a professional email address that will never go out of style: FirstName.LastName@email-provider.com. (Try reputable, free email providers like Gmail or Outlook.)
For a common name where an email address may already be taken, add a number at the end of the last name or reverse the construction so your last name goes first.
Here’s a handy list of email address ideas.
Let’s Talk About the Subject Line
Before someone reads your email, they have to open it. A bad subject line could mean an immediate delete. Or, worse yet, being scrolled over and ignored until inbox purge day.
The sweet spot for an eye-catching subject line: 5-7 words, or roughly 50 characters. Use words that speak to the interest of the recipient and clearly communicate the desired outcome.
Pro tip: Use the recipient’s name in the subject line to make it personable and to get his/her attention.
Nail the Greeting
Much like dating, first impression counts.
For the greeting, it’s best to stay professional but not stiff or too loose. Something casual like “Hey you!” is generally a bad idea, as is “To Whom It May Concern” because it sounds boring and automated.
The best approach? Something that doesn’t sound desperate or too-cool-for-school, like a simple “Hello” or “Hi, Mr. [name] or Ms. [name].”
Use careful judgment when using the first name. If the email is going to a CEO of a major corporation, it’s best to stick to the last name and say, “Hello, Ms. [last name].” But if you’re sending the cold email to a freelance graphic designer to solicit his/her work, it may be suitable to address him/her by their first name.
Ditch the Intro
Don’t waste time on an introduction explaining who you are and sharing unnecessary background information. The truth is, they don’t know you and they don’t care.
The contact information you’ll provide in your email signature will offer several ways to get back in touch, so don’t spend a paragraph wasting words talking about yourself. A short, simple sentence after the greeting that offers your name and what you do/who you’re with is more than enough.
Say No to Automation
Hundreds of cold email templates are available for use online, but the risk of those sounding like spam is high and potential prospects are likely to see right through them.
“One of the biggest things that annoys me is when they’re very clearly copied and pasted or sent using an automated program,” says Ryan Narramore, marketing and communications manager for Southwest Human Development. “Not that automation is always bad, but the email better not look automated if you want someone to pay attention and respond to it.”
A better approach? Write one from scratch that sounds warm, authentic and genuinely sincere. The payoff will be worth it.
Research, Research, Research
In the world of cold emails, there’s nothing worse than sending a finely crafted email to the wrong person.
Do some due diligence and make sure the email is being sent to the right person or company. Otherwise, it’s embarrassing and indicative of laziness, a poor work ethic and lack of professionalism.
“A pain point for me is being targeted for a service that has nothing to do with my role,” says Summer Oliver, assistant vice president of corporate marketing for Macerich, a major retail real-estate developer in the U.S. “With a variety of rich data at our fingertips and sites like LinkedIn, the strongest business developers are reaching out to the appropriate individuals within the organization.”
Keep it Short and Simple
The body of your email should be short and simple. Studies have shown that short emails are more likely to get read and to receive a response so don’t get bogged down by long sentences, share a story or make jokes.
While it’s advisable to make it personal and conversational, it’s also important to get straight to the point and edit out unnecessary sentences that don’t support the goal of the email.
Boomerang’s recent analysis of email responses revealed that emails between 50-125 words written at a third-grade level yielded response rates above 50 percent. Keep that in mind.
Make a True Connection
Sending out a cold email means being a complete stranger to the recipient. That person has no clue who the email is coming from and probably doesn’t care. Find a way to make a true connection and go from being an unfamiliar person to someone in his/her circle.
Do some digging on social media to find common ground, keeping in mind that the more unique and unusual the shared interest is, the higher the chance of getting a response.
Author, podcaster and professor Adam Grant, who has received countless cold emails, found that he responded to emails in which he and the sender could bond over shared uncommon commonalities. “I felt a stronger connection to strangers who emphasized something unusual that we had in common,” he writes.
Sign Off Elegantly
Do three things before finalizing your email:
1) State a call to action. Include a brief sentence about what is being requested and leave them with a task, preferably in question-form. For example, “Do you have time for a 15-minute chat next week?” or “Is this something of interest to you?"
2) Build credibility by including all contact information in your email signature. This includes phone number, website and links to social media profiles, if applicable.
3) Check the calendar. Is it Tuesday? According to an analysis that looked at data from 10 of the top email marketing companies, the best day and time to send an email is Tuesday between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Double Check Everything
Before hitting send, perform spelling, grammar and formatting checks to make sure the email is free of errors.
Resist the urge to highlight words in bold or italics, and don’t use color on any of the text. The tone of the email should be professional, clean and respectable, so stay clear of using too many exclamation points, which comes off as overly eager. If at all possible, avoid including attachments and photos to the email.
Another tip: read the email aloud to make sure it sounds clear and conversational.
Follow Up Without Being Obnoxious
There’s a lot of information out there about the best ways to strategically follow up on a cold email. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Depending on the type of business or industry, a follow-up email can be sent anytime between two days and eight days after the initial cold email, with the frequency ranging from following up twice to as much as possible. The one thing most industries can agree on is to keep your follow up short, light and conversational.
Pro tip: Create reminders in your calendar or phone to follow up on certain days.
If All Else Fails, Pick up the Phone
Let’s say it’s been two weeks with two follow-ups and zero response. What’s a person to do? Pick up the phone and make a cold call.
According to Narramore, it doesn’t have to be a scary experience and it could prove to be worthwhile.
“We’re so used to hiding behind email these days and it’s really easy to just click delete,” he says. “Pick up the phone and make a connection. The worst that’s going to happen is someone hangs up on you or says they don’t have time to talk. But the opportunities that an actual phone call can provide are endless.”