What Your Recipients Need to Hear to Respond to Your Cold Email

Sujan Patel is the founder of Mailshake, a sales engagement software used by 38,000 sales and marketing professionals. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.
  • September 25, 2017

Cold sales email success can seem as mysterious as it is elusive. Every time you hit the “Send” button you have an opportunity to drive engagement, leads, revenue and more – yet the results you generate from each blast can swing wildly from massive success to total flop.

What gives? What makes one cold email perform well while another falls totally flat?

Cold email isn’t rocket science. If your messages aren’t performing well, there’s a good chance your messages are lacking one or more of the critical elements your recipients need to hear before they’ll respond.

Hit all of the seven marks below, and you’ll dramatically increase your odds of cold email success.

1. A message that’s personalized to the recipient’s needs

There are cold emails that are carefully tailored to the recipient’s individual needs – those that are meticulously personalized to their unique strengths, advantages, and opportunities.

Then there are cold emails like the example below, shared by Tucker Max in the Harvard Business Review:

“I’ve received about 25,000 cold emails since 2004 (yes, I do keep track). Many of them make a generic mention of something on the first page of Google results for my name, then launch into a ridiculous, tone-deaf request, like “Hey, can you read my 300-page novel, give me extensive notes, and then get me an agent?”

This kind of message fails the personalization test on two counts:

  • It focuses on the sender, instead of the recipient
  • The message isn’t personalized to the recipient’s unique situation

Shamaila Zahid of LeadGibbon calls out another cold email example that misses the focus mark:

non personalized emails


According to Zahid:

“The sender talks only about himself and his app. The email is not personalized, seems like a bulk message, makes assumptions and tries to portray his product as something extremely valuable without offering any proof.”

The language in the message above is extremely “I” centric. It doesn’t even bring the recipient into the conversation until the second paragraph!

Both this example and Max’s above fail the second test as well. Neither one of these messages makes it clear why the sender has chosen to reach out to its specific recipient. This contributes to the generic nature of the message and makes it easier for recipients to write it off entirely.

Adding something as simple as “I thought of you specifically because…” would have changed the tone entirely, while allowing the senders to capitalize on a trend Max’s research uncovered: people are far more motivated to help others when they feel uniquely qualified to do so.

Make your messages about your recipients, and make it clear why you’ve chosen to contact them. Don’t move on to the other factors described here if you can’t pass this first test of personalization.

2. Validation that makes you more than just a stranger

Now, about that “I thought of you specifically because…” statement.

Framing the second half of this sentence in terms of benefits for your specific recipient is one approach, but you’ll likely see even stronger performance by using this opportunity to validate your outreach with a shared connection.

Hiplead shares one example of this social proof – mentioning a shared LinkedIn connection in your message. According to one of their internal experiments:

“25.5% of the people who received this email opted in to have a further conversation about the product, versus just 4.4% who received the baseline email.”

Overall, that’s a 468% increase in conversions when a shared connection was mentioned, versus when it was left out.

You don’t have to establish shared connections via LinkedIn. Other opportunities for validation could come from:

  • Attendance at the same conference
  • Attendance at the same networking event
  • Other types of shared contacts
  • Participation in the same online communities
  • Readership of the same blogs

If you don’t have these kinds of relationships to draw on, invest time in building them. Your network will do more for you than just improve your cold email success rate.

3. A clear, concise description of what you have to offer

Check out this example of the “Before After Bridge” cold email formula from Yesware:

In particular, look at the “After” section:

“Xactly’s compensation platform allows you to customize sales plans that cut errors in payments and eliminate the pain of calculating and adjusting commissions for your reps.”

Pretty great, right? Here’s what this description does well:

  • It uses the prospect’s language without devolving into jargon (it’s clear).
  • It’s quick and to the point. It doesn’t ramble on for paragraphs with an unnecessary explanation (it’s concise).
  • It presents a solution to the problems and pain points faced by the recipients (here, “errors in payments” and “the pain of calculating and adjusting commissions”).

If the way you describe your solution in your cold emails is significantly longer, odds are it isn’t because your product is that much more complex. You probably just need a few additional passes to make your solution statement clearer and more concise.

4. A solution to a problem they’re facing

This factor is kind of a no-brainer. If you can’t make it clear that your offering has the potential to solve a problem your recipients are facing, there’s virtually no incentive for them to respond to you.

To see this in practice, let’s keep going with the Yesware example from above – in this case, looking at the “Bridge” section:

“If you are willing to give us 15 minutes, I can show you how on average our customers see a 19% lower sales turnover, 5% more reps hitting quota and 37% faster sales cycles.”

The “Before” and “After” sections of the message drilled into the problems recipients experience. In this final section, the power of Xactly’s solution is validated with the promise of:

  • 19% lower sales turnover
  • 5% more reps hitting quota
  • 37% faster sales cycles

You may not have specific facts and figures like these to prove the value of your offering. Even if you’re describing the impact of your solution using words alone, it’s critical that you quickly showcase how your offering solves your recipients’ problems.

5. A CTA that’s easily acted on

Since “easily acted on” is open to interpretation, let’s break down what makes a good cold email call-to-action (CTA).
First, clarity matters. According to Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin of Hubspot:

“Don’t beat around the bush. Be clear and direct about what you’re asking for. Instead of ‘I’d love your feedback,’ ask ‘When’s a good day this week for a 15 minute call to discuss?’”

Take the Yesware email we’ve been discussing (for the last time, I promise). The message doesn’t make a broad appeal. It asks for 15 minutes to earn the recipient’s business.

The second key to a good CTA is that it needs to be proportionate. Remember the CTA Tucker Max shared in his cold email example?

“Hey, can you read my 300-page novel, give me extensive notes, and then get me an agent?”

This is basically the equivalent of asking somebody to marry you on a first date. You’re asking for too much – too soon – before you’ve really proven yourself and the value you have to offer.

Especially when you’re sending out a first cold email, keep your ask simple and clear. A quick phone call, an emailed reply, a digital download or any other action of a similar scope is most appropriate.

6. Appreciation for their efforts

I don’t have stats and figures to back this up, but my own cold email experience shows me that appreciation matters.

If you think about it, it’s appreciation that makes the difference between a message that reads as a callous demand for action rather than a humble request for help. Which of the following closing lines would you rather see in a cold email?

  • “Please let me know when we can schedule a 15-minute follow-up call.”
  • “I’d appreciate the chance to get on the phone with you for a 15-minute follow-up call.”

One of these assumes compliance; the other shows gratitude. People want to work with people they like. Make it clear how much you appreciate any effort made by your cold email recipients.

7. Persistent, but appropriate follow-up

Finally, while your recipients need to hear all of the six factors above before they’ll respond, keep in mind that they might need to hear them more than once.

The Muse’s Devante Lewis-Jackson shares:

“It’s so easy to forget that prospects are often busy doing whatever they were hired to do. While one part of their job is identifying vendors and partners who can help make their business better, there are a heap of other priorities stopping them from picking up your call or emailing you back.”

Prospects might not be avoiding your cold sales emails. They might just be busy. Following up 2-4 times increases the odds you’ll reach them at the right moment.

But following up offers another advantage smart salespeople will want to capitalize on. When you send multiple messages that say essentially the same thing, you can customize the copy of each email as a test of different sales approaches.

For example, in your first message, you might use a CTA requesting a 15-minute phone call, while in your first follow-up message, you simply ask recipients to download a whitepaper. If you get significantly more document downloads than phone calls scheduled, you might use this insight to make future messages more effective.

Keep your recipients front and center when cold emailing

All seven of the factors described above are important on their own, but they become even more powerful when combined.

Above all, keep your recipients’ needs at the top of your mind when writing and sending cold emails. Personalize your copy to them, leverage shared connections, clearly describe their problems and your solution, give them an easy way to move forward, show appreciation for their efforts and follow-up as needed.

Execute on each of these factors, and you’ll position yourself and your company for maximum cold emailing success.

Image: Pixabay

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