The Do’s And Don’ts Of Cold Email Outreach: 16 Expert Tips

clear cta cold email sales

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Cold Email Outreach: 16 Expert Tips

Recipients of cold emails will often find their inboxes flooded with messages from sales representatives hawking products or services offered by companies they’ve never done business with before. But how often do they actually read them? Moreover, how often does a cold email result in a conversion, or even a warm lead?

While it is all too easy to turn prospects off with cold emails, they can be effective at getting the attention of prospective customers and clients when done right. Here, 16 members of Forbes Communications Council share their top do’s and don’ts when it comes to cold outreach via email. See their tips below to wow your prospects with a message that inspires them to open the next cold email you send.

Cold emails work when we don’t come across as if we’re trying to make a sale. An effective approach is to “show ’em you know ’em.” Research their website, LinkedIn page, their company’s news—anything that can give you insights so you can connect in a meaningful, relevant way. Provide value on that first contact with a research report or article, for example, to build trust and credibility. Then build from there. – Viki Zabala, First Orion

Let your company identity and your personality shine when you are sending cold outreach emails. We crave human connection, so don’t be afraid to be real—be you and be conversational. Another “do” is to determine what the recipient’s pain point is. It’s best to give versus asking them to give you something. The more value you provide, the more likely they are to connect. – Ashleigh Powers, ADM Productions, Inc.

Cold emailing is the name of the game when reaching out to your target audience or potential client in many instances. The trick is to make it appear as though it is not a cold call. To impress them, my No. 1 tip would be to find an actual contact and do some research on the person by finding out their position in the company, for example, and any prominent news about them before emailing. Wait a week before following up. – Preity Upala, The Omnia Institute

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Cold emails drive me crazy. Formulaic ones with grandiose claims are instantly deleted and blocked. They’re just so superficially salesy. One exception? An introductory email articulating the value of a product or service without hyperbole, which I can review on my own timeline. Also, “Dear [insert name here]” with no tailored insights about my company is not personalization. – Michelle Stark, Red Sage Communications, Inc.

It’s okay to cold email if you are slow-rolling it. Make sure your list is exactly in your scope, then push out some value, but do it over time and slowly. Bring them along, and never be pushy. If you deliver value over time, they will interact when the timing is right on their end. You have to be patient. If you blow them up, you will get in trouble pretty quick. Don’t do that. – Stacy Gentile, Vengreso

Cold email can be extremely effective when done correctly, as can most marketing channels. Don’t simply blast a generic message to an email list. Use the information available about each recipient to target the content to what actually matters to the recipient. Remember, these prospects may not know your company, so don’t assume they know more than they do. And, of course, include a call to action. – Tom Wozniak, OPTIZMO Technologies, LLC

Cold email outreach can yield some of the best results when pitching new ideas. A great way to successfully do so is by sharing a tailored, direct email that is relevant to what you are pitching and adds value for the recipient. On the other hand, don’t send a blanket email that is not targeted or perceived to be of value to the recipient, as that will almost always be quickly deleted. – Lynn Kier, Diebold Nixdorf

I do not recommend doing cold email outreach where you “ask” for something. If you have never engaged with the individual before, I suggest reaching out with something to offer. That can be anything from a chance to join a press briefing call you think they might be interested in to the opportunity to have a sit-down conversation. Don’t come in cold with an ask; come bearing gifts. – Dallas Lawrence, Roku

Whether or not to do cold email outreach is a case-by-case decision. If outreach is totally cold, do make it incredibly creative. Frankly, I’m surprised that most of these initial cold emails even make it through most companies’ spam filters. However, cold emails supported by research and personalization tend to work. But—and it’s a big but—the team has to do the work, and I’ve found that few teams do. – Mark Roberts, TPx Communications

I get some very interesting cold emails. Some are very clever and have caught my eye, and I’ve followed up with them. The worst ones—the ones that I recommend you do not emulate—are the threatening, ugly ones that demand my time. They get an immediate delete. – Ingrid Burton, Quantcast

Cold email outreach is a numbers game that is about trying to continuously improve your perceived value. It is important to have a personalized template, meaning that you base your email off of a predetermined framework, but personalize the message to show the reader that you thought about them. Identify a strong subject line, such as, “Quick Question” to gain interest, then A/B test and continuously measure your results. – Rob Russini, Hudson Heritage Federal Credit Union

The effectiveness of cold email outreach depends entirely on what the email contains. Do not open a cold email with a short poem or joke incorporating your prospect’s name. Do not send across five paragraphs of fluff and then ask for 15 minutes of their time. Craft an email that addresses your target’s business challenges, then succinctly explain how your product is uniquely positioned to help. – Merrily McGugan, LogicMonitor

I like to imagine I’m at a party, being introduced to the person I’m emailing. What would I say to make them feel good about me and to get their attention? Using this imaginative approach makes it easier to write emails that are authentic and personal. It takes more work, because you have to research each person you are emailing, but it also pays off in much higher returns. – Dave Platter, Juwai IQI

For a cold email, it’s important to provide significant value. This can be in the form of a complementary offer, relevant content (such as a recent study) or an offer to provide education on a new or interesting topic. Asking for 20 minutes of time with no differentiated offering and being pushy is not the best approach for this type of outreach. – Tom Treanor, Treasure Data

Cold email can be an effective tactic as long as a few rules are followed. The communication needs to be relevant (meaning it understands a pain point and gets to the point fast), personalized and sent by an individual—ideally, someone at a similar level. A CEO is more apt to read an email from another C-suite executive or, even better, from someone they know. – Heidi Bullock, Tealium

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Before we get into our winners, though, let’s review my criteria for what makes a good cold email: First and foremost, a good cold email is thoughtful and well-researched. There’s no such thing as a good cold email to the wrong person at a company. Or to anybody at the wrong company. [TWEET THIS!]

A good cold email reflects the fact that the salesperson has researched the prospect’s company enough to grasp the general business model and has at least popped onto the prospect’s LinkedIn or Twitter profile. Personalized content shows that the salesperson is actually interested in helping the prospect improve their business, rather than just making a quick buck. Often, a good cold email isn’t cold at all—it’s just the first sales interaction you have with a prospect, after one or more touches from marketing.

The best sales emails also tend to follow these best practices:

  • The email should come from a specific salesperson, rather than a company. Cold emails are all about making personal connections with prospects, and the first opportunity a salesperson has at forming that connection is in the “from” line.
  • The email needs a subject line that catches the eye. Subject lines represent your best chance at convincing someone to even open your email, much less respond to it, so you have to give them careful thought. There are plenty of articles around the web on subject line techniques, so go checkthemout. However, at the very least, you want to keep your subject line short, and include something that will grab the prospect’s eye, like their name or their company’s name. (Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened!)
  • On the inside of the email, you should include very short body copy—essentially your elevator pitch. No one has time to read a novel. This copy should employ all that research you did, and mention why you are interested in working with this person in particular. At the end of the day, you should really believe that your service will help them and know exactly why it will. Being able to put that into words in a cold email will make you appear more trustworthy to your prospect.
  • In addition to truly caring about your prospect’s goals, you can build trust with your prospect by naming any big clients you have that your prospect may know. You could also mention having an impressive number of clients. Don’t brag—just make it clear to your prospect that you and the company you’re working for are legitimate.
  • Be sure that you have a clear CTA in your email. Tell your prospect precisely what action you want them to take next, and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. You want them to fill out a form? Give them a link directly to that form. (Or better yet, embed the form straight into your email.)
  • Finally, keep in mind that part of having aclear CTAis having only one CTA. Don’t ask someone to respond to you and fill out a form. Pick one. The upside of having only one CTA is that it will help you keep your email short and to the point as well.

The Well-Researched Cold Email

I recently received this email, which impressed me with the level of research the salesperson put in. He clearly visited my LinkedIn profile—which unfortunately for him is not entirely up-to-date on my job, so he actually missed some key details, but that’s not his fault—and perhaps even more importantly, he’s done some digging into my company (a politically-minded nonprofit in DC). I’ve blacked out the identifying details he included about my company, but suffice it to say, he shows a clear understanding of exactly what my nonprofit does, and he’s one of the few salespeople to ever demonstrate that in an email to me.

well researched cold email sales

However, this email is not perfect. It lacks a clear CTA, for one thing. I’m unsure if he wants me to let him know if diversifying is a part of our mandate (how should I let him know?), or if he wants me to give him feedback. (What kind of feedback? Feedback on the quality of his email? Or on my interest in diversifying?) The last sentence represents a real area of opportunity.

On that same note, the subject line is fairly weak, likely because he doesn’t entirely know what he wants me to do here. The blacked out bit in the subject line, by the way, reads “[my company name] / [his company name].” Lucky for him, I’m very interested in keeping my nonprofit’s representation of the world diverse and will click on anything that might help me accomplish that goal.

Write less email, get more replies.

Personal Email Sequences

Sales experts share what makes leads read and reply to cold emails

Anna Pozniak

Does the opening line grab the reader’s attention with personalization? Is the introduction specific enough? Have you made your product pitch suitably sexy and alluring? All those technicaties around your domain and avoiding the spam bin… did you even take them into consideration? At the end of the day, you want your cold email to be delivered, opened, read, and especially replied to.

On the one hand, cold emails can be a goldmine 💰 for brand new customers. On the other, they can end up being an awkward flop of a disaster; a waste of time and resources. 🤯 Try and try again, but sending out hundreds of emails every day and receiving no replies only ever leads to one place: the Blacklist.

In this article, I managed to persuade several leading sales practitioners to give up their secret sauce. They shared their cold email tips, divulging the steps they take which make recipients reply with six of the sweetest words in sales outreach – “let’s get that call booked in!”📞.

I’d like to give up the floor to our experts from Amplemarket, Leadfeeder, SalesLabs, Lavender, TeamWorks, Gravy, and to share their secret cold emailing sauce, helping you break through the noise.

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Filipe Brigas

Filipe Brigas is a Team Lead at Amplemarket, a one-stop shop for B2B sales teams. Innovating in the field of automating the sales process from lead generation to outbound sales and streamlining the Sales Pipeline for teams of all sizes. Consulting & finance & control background for 5 years. Love sports leveraging remote to learn how to surf.

This is one of the most important questions for someone doing cold outreach. Your first sentence needs to intrigue readers to keep reading the rest of your email. People have short attention spans, so they must be hooked quickly. If your first line doesn’t do a good job here, you will most likely don’t get a reply.

After you have grabbed the attention of the reader you need a smooth transition. Pick up a piece of information you used at the beginning of your email and use that to suggest the introduction of a problem you solve.

While in the first line of your cold email you had to find a piece of information that connects you and the prospect to grab his/her attention. In this part of the email you need to find a connection point between the piece of information you used, the problem you solve for, and the solution you present. Be creative, show them you have a good reason to be reaching out, and you did your homework about the problems he/she might be facing!

The best way to make sure your emails don’t land in spam is to not be marked as spam by any prospect. Of course, this will happen once in a while, but you should maximize your efforts towards this goal. The way to not having anyone marking you as Spam is to really make sure that you are contacting the right people, at the right time, with a relevant message.

The way to make sure you fulfill these criteria is to have an outstanding lead generation process. Find an audience that is feeling a problem you solve for, write them a relevant message like I showed in the previous two questions, and try to understand if this is the right timing to talk about this with the prospect. For instance, when someone joins a new role with decision-making power, they will be reviewing internal processes and tools, so this is a great time to reach out!

The second most important thing you can do to eliminate the risk of Spam is to follow the best technical practices for email deliverability. Feel free to check the email deliverability guide on amplemarket’s website.

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Ethan O’Connell

Ethan is in charge of growing Leadfeeder’s outbound sales team in the US and has been in tech sales for 5 years. If you want to learn more about Leadfeeder (or Ethan) connect with him on LinkedIn or find some time on his calendar.

I would preface this by saying that there is no golden ticket or silver bullet when it comes to any cold outreach whether that is email, calls, or social. What I choose to put down completely depends on the situation- have they viewed our content, been on our website, have no idea who we are, etc.

My overall approach definitely involves a healthy balance of personalization and templates. It is important to balance this to make sure you aren’t writing emails from scratch all day, no one has time for that, but that you also aren’t just blasting out general fluff that no one will read. You want to make sure the email is engaging, but doesn’t take too much time to put together.

How to write an effective cold email

You may be thinking, “Sure, this approach might work if you’re selling a SaaS product, but do cold emails work when selling marketing or design services (or pool installation, or whatever service you offer)?”

1. Pick a narrow target

What made Trey’s cold email stand out was that I felt like he knew me. This wasn’t a shotgun blast out to a purchased list. He found my website, knew Proposify was his ideal customer, and went after the CEO (me).

It’s essential that you know your perfect, ideal customer; their position in the company (CEO, marketing director, finance, IT, whatever), the number of employees, their annual revenue, and their industry. Then build up a lead list of people in your target audience to research and go after.

2. Find leads

You can also use a tool like Contacts+ to get more information on a prospect right within Gmail. It allows you to test different email formats to find someone’s email, and if their email is connected to any social media, it will show up when you get it right.

email address formats rankings

3. Create a lead magnet

We normally think of lead magnets as being an ebook, blog post, or cheat sheet that is given away on a landing page to get someone’s email address. But you can use personalized lead magnets, like Trey’s 30-second Proposify video, to make potential leads an offer they can’t refuse (or refuse to click on, at least).

use google explore tools for organic traffic

a graph showing social traffic vs. platform

Take whatever data is relevant, and put it together into a beautiful, branded report with the client’s logo or home page on the cover. You’re going to use this image in your cold email, so the first thing the client sees is their own brand, showing that this is about them and you took the time to learn about them. Don’t include the full report in your email, just include a screenshot and link the image to a place where they can download it so you can track their opens and clicks.

introduction page for digital marketing proposal template

You’ll get notified as soon as your client opens the email, clicks the link to view the proposal, and you’ll see an activity feed showing which sections they looked at in the document.

4. Keep your cold email short and simple

Check out the difference between the length of Julie’s cold email compared to Trey’s. Julie’s email was 102 words and told me nothing about why I should care. Trey’s email was 30 words and got me curious and excited to learn more.

5. Be light-hearted or humorous

According to Yesware, emails with humour received a 46% open rate. Humour is a great way to connect with your prospect and increase the chances of getting a response, but it needs to be done right; here are the three Ws of using humour in your business communication.

6. Track opens/clicks and have your follow-up email ready

Use a tool like Proposify to track opens and clicks, and you’ll gain full transparency into each stage of the sales process. You’ll get notified as soon as your client opens the email, clicks the link to view the proposal, and you’ll see an activity feed showing which sections they looked at in the document.

Since you’re using a tool that lets you know when a prospect has clicked your link and opened your lead magnet, you’ll be able to follow up with a canned response like the one Trey sent.

Hey Betsy,
Couldn’t help but notice that you had a chance to open the social media report I ran on [client_company] yesterday. There were some interesting trends and a bit of room for improvement.

If you’re busy, no problem, just check out this 20-minute webinar we recorded that shows how we helped another clothing/apparel company like yours improve their conversion rate by 26% in 3 months. What do you think?


Cold emails don’t need to make you feel like a cold fish. Cold outreach can lead to lucrative opportunities, provided you can reach the right person and capture your prospect’s attention.

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