by Mark Hayes

One year ago, I learned one all-important lesson about cold sales emailing—if you’re going to do it, do your homework and personalize the f*&k out of it. This is the only recipe for a successful cold email.

Otherwise, you’ll wind up with something like this email, which outlines an offer but clearly failed to research me, my target market, or the leads I’m after:


Or this email, which tries to personalize, but overlooks the fact that I haven’t worked for the two companies they listed for 7 and 4 years respectively:

cold-email-bad-example 2

Or this disaster, which doesn’t tell me anything about their services, clearly doesn’t know what industry I’m in or what services I provide (they’d also know that I made a conscious choice to avoid the word ‘agency’), and addresses me like an afterthought (“My CEO asked me to mail you”—really?!):

cold-email-bad-example 3

Not to be dissuaded, that last emailer sent me another THREE follow-up emails, each more generic and poorly targeted than the one before. Some of their emails didn’t even include my name.

I get about two of these terrible pitches per week. Most never get a response, but the especially bad ones get put up on a sticky note beside my monitor, reminding me never to work with them.

That’s not the result any business wants from their marketing campaigns.

Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

If you are doing cold email then you must personalize the outreach email.

I learned this lesson the hard way last year, when Tiger Tiger rebranded as Rocketshp.

We decided to test the water with 3,800 emails, sent out in waves. However, we’d only sent out 300 of those emails when the negative reactions began pouring in.

At first we were confused. The campaign’s numbers looked healthy.

In fact, the metrics showed that an unprecedentedly open rate of 62.8% and a reply rate of 5.6% for our first batch of emails. According to the numbers, we’d even gained five quality leads we could follow up with—and that number promised to be higher if we finished the campaign.

However, whenever we reached out to these “warm leads,” their responses were anything but.

Things got so bad that we finally hit pause on the campaign. Our conversion rate was a dismal 0.00%.

After only two weeks we pulled the plug on the campaign.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “two weeks is far too short a time to gather meaningful results.”

You’re right, of course. But two weeks was all it took to realize that something was wrong, press pause, and address the problem. Here’s what we realized:

The cold emailing campaigns that work aren’t really cold.

In other words, they’re highly personalized. They talk to you, not at you. They’ve done their homework on you and your business. They recognize your pain points and ask how they can help. And they don’t use obvious templates that every marketer worth their salt can trace back to Hubspot or Mail Chimp.

For example, this cold email that Andrew Gertig (@gertig) shared actually does most things right:


This email is playful, it’s personalized, and it offers up a service that actually appeals to Gertig. It’s put effort in, and it’s been rewarded with a positive response:

Andrew Gertig cold email comment

Another cold email success story comes Shane Snow (@shanesnow), the author of Smartcuts. He bonded with author Adam Grant after sending him a personalized email built on nothing more than a simple handshake:

NextJump cold emailBy doing his homework on Adam, employing a little social proof, and keeping his request humble, Shane was able to craft a cold email that eventually formed a relationship. His request (advice on his book) is definitely in the cold email, but it’s tucked between layers of personalisation.

And finally, Oleg Campbell (@olegcl), the founder of Reply, says he was able to reach a success rate of 39% from cold outreach—an unprecedentedly high success rate that suggests he’s doing something special.

When you dig into Campbell’s success, you’ll find that his strategy is to “start communication, not pitch them with your idea right away, [because] this is how relationships are built.”

As he says, “down the road it may be much more comfortable asking for a favor, talking about guest blog posting, exposing to their audience or asking for support of some initiative. It’s a long sales cycle and you should think about it strategically.”

Each of these success stories focus on one truth: your relationship with your customer is WAY more important than your sales pitch. Only by getting to know them first will you understand what they need, and what you can offer to help them.

Do whatever you can to turn your cold emails into “warm” emails and you’ll enjoy much more engagement.

How to Write Cold Emails That Aren’t Spam

Whether or not cold emails should be considered spam is the topic of some hot debate on websites like and quora. Generally, as long as you provide an easy opt-out solution within your email, your emails are perfectly legal. However, many people express sentiments similar to Chris Hart’s on this thread:

STOP SPAMMING and send marketing emails ONLY to people who actually want them.

Even when it’s perfectly legal, the problem with cold emailing is that it’s usually annoying—and there are many reasons why your potential read my never read it. Crazy Egg’s “Cold Emails Are Killing Deliverabilitylists a number of these reasons such as:

  • Your email bounces
  • Your email address is blacklisted
  • You hit a spam filter
  • You get custom blocked

So how do you send emails that won’t piss people off—that people actually want to read?

Again, it boils down to providing benefit for your potential leads. Prove that you understand their business and that you have something substantive to offer them BEFORE you try to try to hawk your wares.

As Jacco van der Kooij (@IndoJacco) says in this quora thread:

“you have to share your insights online (blog), your insights act as an outbound, you then follow-up to their view/comment/like/share with a “warm” email in response to their engagement. Don’t call.”

He also offers some best practice advice for reaching prospects without pissing them off:

  1. Simply stop or at least reduce Cold outbound to a minimum, instead generate warm outbounds through social selling best practices
  2. Give something away such as attending a session where an experienced user shares his/her experience.
  3. Use content as the Cold outbound, such as writing a blog post sharing industry insights – then follow up with those who engage with your content.
  4. Always perform research before reaching out to a client
  5. When following up to online engagement with your content – use email. It is really awkward to call someone because the “liked” your article.

If I can add to Kooij’s list, I’d also include:

  1. Use proper English. This is just a good rule of thumb for all professionals. If you’re doing outreach in English and touting your detail-oriented business, prove that you’re detail-oriented in your copy.
  2. Avoid prebuilt templates. Savvy marketers can always spot a template, and as soon as you see the same formula behind five or ten or twenty emails—POOF, the magic is gone, and your cold email once again comes off as a little lazy and very spammy. Naturally this doesn’t mean you can’t use a template, just that you should develop one in house that reads naturally and fits your potential lead to a tee.
  3. And finally, as I’ve been saying all article, build a relationship first. You should worry about being helpful long before you even think about making a sale.

Get ready for the long game

“Cold emailing with nothing else to offer [other] than a discount or a demo is tough,” says Ben Hindman (@bennydotevents), CEO of Splash. “The best sales and marketing teams in the world know there’s no replacement for face to face, especially when it comes to opening a relationship or closing a deal.”

So if you’re thinking of starting cold emailing, roll up your sleeves and get ready for the long game. You’re going to have to put some effort in, do your research, and customize the heck out of your emails. When you’ve proven your worth and built a relationship with your prospect, you’ll be rewarded in time.

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