How To Write A Cold Sales Email That Gets Replies

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Most of us don’t come from royalty, extreme family wealth, or prominent social standing. We can’t just pick up the phone and call up CEOs, government officials, best-selling authors, or celebrities on Whatsapp – but in many cases, you could get their email and have them reading your words by tomorrow night.

I’m willing to wager that if you ask 100 B2B sales professionals what is the most effective way to generate new business leads, at least 90 of them will say one word without hesitation – email. In my career, the 3 largest deals I’ve closed were all originated by one simple email to someone powerful, who I didn’t know before.

In this blog post, and more comprehensively in our Data-Driven Prospecting, I show sales professionals what decades of sales experience and scientific research tell us about how they can convince their prospects to hit ‘reply’. That all sounds good and I look forward to having you in that course one day – but for now, let’s keep it simple and start with 5 ideas you can use for your next cold email:

1. Write Your Email In 3 Paragraphs

Constraining yourself to three paragraphs forces you to visually break up your communication, while also allowing you to focus on a specific goal for each paragraph. By doing so, your overall message will become tighter - you'll be able to eliminate the excess and keep your message short, sweet, and to the point.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

  • Introduce or re-introduce yourself.

  • Establish credibility by citing a personal connection, demonstrating that you’ve researched your prospect and/or their business, or writing an empathetic statement (“we don’t know each other at all but I’d really like to connect because…”).

Paragraph 2: Value Statement

  • What value can you bring to your recipient? (Can you help save money? Improve their customer experience?) Whatever it is you offer, this is the place to describe what, how, and why it matters.

  • Use specific facts, figures, or data.

Paragraph 3: Call-To-Action (CTA)

  • Define your goal for this email. Do you want your recipient to meet you? read a blog post? refer you to someone else? Think about what you want to get out of this email and ask for it in this paragraph.

  • Ask your CTA question directly and specifically. Are you available to meet next Thursday at 10am at the Starbucks on the ground floor of your building?

2. Limit Yourself To 150 Total Words Or Less

It is the world’s worst kept secret that shorter emails are more likely to be read and replied to. Scores of scientific research and expert study have proven that rambling just doesn’t convert. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and read some of the evidence here, here, and here.

By constraining yourself to 3 paragraphs, your emails will naturally get both shorter and punchier. In fact, I noticed that once I structured my emails this way, my total word count almost never exceeded 150 words. In cases where the word count was higher, it usually meant that the core message could be tightened – by rephrasing, simplifying, or just cutting non-essential stuff out.

With business emails, you’re trying to capture the attention of a busy audience during a busy work day. Do everyone a favor and keep it short and punchy. (If you’re wondering, this section is exactly 150 words)

3. Create A Short, Genuine, Personalized Subject Line

We’ve all seen “An offer you can’t refuse…” or “One quick question” subject titles. They go straight to the trash every time. Not archived; straight to the trash. These types of subject lines were originally created by digital marketers for B2C businesses focused only on maximizing open rates (to get the latest seasonal dress in front of your eyeballs for just a few precious seconds), they’re not meant for a serious B2B sales professional.

Instead, choose something that is:

  1. Short. Ideally, the entire title should fit into the Outlook, Gmail, or mobile preview screen.

  2. Genuine. Your subject line should relate to what you’re actually emailing about. Don’t ever try to trick someone with your subject line.

  3. Personalized. Use their company name - it will subconsciously ease the recipient’s mind about whether or not this is a spam email. A word of warning: using someone's first name in a cold email is the oldest and lamest mail merge trick in the book, it's worth avoiding unless you're extremely confident in your ability to use it genuinely.

Pro Tip: If your CEO wouldn’t write an email with that subject line, neither should you.

4. Finish With 1 Call-To-Action

Don’t try to do too much with your email. A stranger is most likely to accommodate you for one request, but once you start asking them for multiple things at the same time, forget about ever receiving a reply.

We talked about this earlier, but it's so important, I'll say it again. Establish one goal for your email beforehand – what do you want from sending this email? – and ask for that in your 3rd (Call-To-Action) paragraph.

5. Use The PS To Your Advantage

This is a little-used, but potentially highly effective hack. A few ideas for writing a PS:

My last word of wisdom - put your customer hat on and read your shiny new email out loud. Does it sound genuine? Does it sound like you bored yourself to death while writing it? Give yourself some honest feedback, make some edits, have a colleague do the same, and then fire away!