How to write a cold email that gets a response


When it comes to selling our products or services, one of the biggest challenges is to secure an initial meeting. Even when reaching out sounds as easy as sending an email, getting a positive response to your cold email is probably one of the toughest thing to do. If you can’t get them to reply to your email, it’s going to be hard to get their business.

So what does it take to capture attention of busy people?

To understand what it takes, you first need to understand WHY prospects ignore cold emails.

Why prospects ignore cold emails

The DELETE response on an email is so fast with people today, and you have to be smart. There is no magical answer – it requires a good investment of time and work to get the results you want. Most of the time you are shooting in the dark and hoping something will stick. But prospects today are more informed, pickier, and have a low tolerance for emails and prospecting that isn’t good. They are highly discerning.

It is our job to assure we are aligned with what our prospects need and want.

Here are some of the challenges most businesses face when trying to get the attention they are after.

Problem #1: Your prospect is overburdened and exhausted

As Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling, says, “The average prospect has 59 hours of work is sitting on their desk waiting to be completed”. Prospects are already overburdened with work and don’t want to add to their ‘To Do’ lists.

Problem #2: Your prospect has only 1-2 hours per week available to meet with people like you who are selling something

The average person has 1-2 hours per week willing to meet with vendors like us. That is all they have. So not only are they unavailable, but there are other vendors all competing for this appointment as well.

Problem #3: Your prospect is flooded with emails

Your email isn’t the only one your prospects will be receiving:

  • Average corporate person gets 150-300 emails per day.
  • Average small business owner gets 75-100 emails per day.
  • 95% of your calls are rolling to voicemail.
  • 0% of your prospects want to meet with a ‘sales person’.

They want to get ‘through’ the emails and get to Inbox Zero so they can get back to their work. To do this, they need to press the DELETE key.

When they’re in their Inbox, they are evaluating your email on the following factors:

  • The subject line
  • The length of the email
  • The readability
  • Your personal style
  • Attachments and links

The average person takes 2.7 seconds to decide if they will read, delete, or forward the message that they’re evaluating. So how do you get your cold email past both the 2.7 seconds and the DELETE key?

The four criteria prospects use when deleting emails

There are four criteria our prospects use when judging emails and it is critical to know what they are if you want your message to get past the DELETE key. These criteria are all of equal importance and will guide you in crafting messages that won’t get deleted.

#1: Is the message simple and easy to read, or is it unclear, full of gobblie gook and complicated?

#2: Is the message valuable? Are you worth meeting with? Are you a valuable resource? Or do you sound like every other sales person out there. They have a keen sales radar, and if you sound like everyone else, you won’t get the meeting. They aren’t really judging whether your product or service is valuable, but whether YOU are worth meeting with, or reading more information from.

#3: Are you aligned with their business objectives? No one is sitting there waiting for you to sell them something. They are thinking “How am I going to increase profits, sell more products, increase productivity, and reduce overheads?” They don’t care about ‘your stuff’, only their objectives. Show them you are aligned with what they need, at the time they need it.

#4: Are you aware of their priorities. Are you aligned with their priorities right now?

A few things you should omit from your emails

To write an effective ‘cold’ email, we need to omit lots of things from our emails.

Avoid the typical openings: If your email opens with one of the following types of openings, DELETE!

The following styles of opening paragraphs will most likely be DELETED:

  • “I’m writing to introduce you to my company and what we specialise in…”
  • “My name is”
  • “My company specialises in…”

Don’t say anything nice about your company: You can’t brag. You can’t say you have awards, great technology, “best”, “better” or anything else to impress people. Adjectives and adverbs are ‘bragging words’. Get rid of them, it is self-serving and is touting your stuff.

Good salespeople only care about increasing client acquisition or time to sales for their clients or whatever is relevant to their customers. Your prospects don’t care about your “robust systems” and “interoperability” or “one-stop shopping for all of your printing needs”… No one cares about this!

How to convince prospects to respond to your email

So what makes an effective email message? How do you get prospects to think this is worth their valuable time? And how do you win the 2.7-second test?

#1. Write personalised cold emails

They have to feel like you wrote it just for them. You can send multiple emails out, but the recipient needs to feel like you sent it to them. Preferably use their name.

#2. Keep your email short and sweet

Get to the point quickly, and using as few words as you possibly can, while still maintaining clarity. Write your email, and then go back and remove 50% of it.

#3. Start a conversation with the prospect

Your prospect isn’t going to buy what you are offering on the first email. That is crazy naïve thinking, and show a lack of understanding of how we buy. The first email list just the start. It is the start of a conversation. The next step, is the next email. You’ll be writing 6-8 emails in a sequence, and probably throw in some voice mails as well.

#4. Write an email from peer to peer

Don’t be subservient, don’t be a ‘newbie’. Don’t make it sound like you are the new kid on the block. You need to have some value, you need to be worthy of a meeting or listening to, or reading your email. You must be their peer.

What you must do in your email is:

  • Establish credibility in the first sentence
  • Pique their curiosity. You want them to think “Ooh, that’s interesting, I’d like to learn more”. Evoke curiosity with someone who isn’t thinking about changing right now, get them thinking about why they may want to change the status quo.
  • Close the email graciously and not be pushy and overt.

How to write effective cold emails

Now that you know what gets emails deleted and how to improve yours so they get read, here are some examples to guide your writing when crafting emails.

Step 1: Establish personal credibility in the first sentence

a.) If you can, leverage a referral: Name-dropping is the absolute killer way to start an email. You can put this in the Subject Line, or in the first sentence. If you have talked to someone, who has suggested you talk to someone else, then use it!

Example 1:

“Eric, John Smith suggested I get in touch with you.”

Example 2:

While attending the recent ABC, I spoke with John Smith about the challenges of email marketing. He suggested I get in touch with you.”

Example 3:

“I’ve been working with JS in the XYZ section of the company and he suggested I get in touch with you about xxx.”

b) When you don’t have a referral: Show you have done your homework. Someone who is crazy busy doesn’t want to waste time with you if they think you don’t understand their business. You might open with one of the following examples.

Example 1:

“In my work with other (hospitals), one of their key issues was how to reduce their [overall supply chain costs.]

Example 2:

You might study their website to discover if they have a new initiative, or launching a new product or have something relevant to what products or services you sell. So then you might open with:

“In researching your company, I noticed you were having some major expansion plant…”

Example 3:

Or you read about them in a journal or newspaper, and so can reference that article by leading with:

“In reading the Sydney Morning Herald…”

Example 4:

Or you can reference the work you are doing with other people in the same field or role, like:

“In working with other research directors…”

Step 2. Mention a trigger or newsworthy event

A trigger event is something that is happening that is causing the organization to do things differently. E.g. GFC, high petrol prices, major new product announcement, new leadership changes, natural disaster, new locations or it might be something that is out of their control.

Align your message with the trigger event so that it works as an opening sentence to gain their attention. Which trigger events are applicable to your business?

Mention this in the first sentence of your business.

This also immediately demonstrates you have some knowledge that is worth listening to. You sound like a peer who is worth meeting with.

Step 3. Pique their curiosity

Sentences 3 and 4 would then be used to peek the curiosity of your prospect. To get them to say “Hmm… that sounds interesting.”

There are four ways you can pique their curiosity. You can use one or all four of these, but remember that your email needs to be short!

Option 1) Share your (one) value proposition: Your value proposition (VP) is a statement about the business outcomes your company delivers. “I train sales people” isn’t my VP. My VP could be:

“In my work with small businesses, I do a lot of work to revive dormant email subscribers who haven’t made a purchase since they opted in. In fact, a retailer recently increased her sales by xx% by simply starting a new email sequence that I wrote.”

This VP isn’t about your competition, it is about how you can help the prospect achieve their business objectives. Let’s say you want to help them “improve trade show leads by xxx%”, then use metrics, share results. Only share 1 per email message, you don’t have to use lots of VPs. Also, you’ll want to use the verbs like ‘increase’, ‘decrease’, ‘speed up’ and ‘reduce’ in your VP.

Option 2) If you don’t have metrics, be the idea person: Give the prospect more value by adding something like,

“I work with a number of other companies in [this area] and I have some ideas of how I can (increase, speed up, decrease…) and I’ve helped them achieve these results.”

Option 3) Offer them your own invaluable information: You may have your own articles, ebooks, white papers, studies, webinars, seminars or checklists that are currently on your website? Anything like this that is informational and educational in nature. They help people compare between options. – Why they need to change, why it is necessary rather than stay in their status quo.

Option 4) Leverage other people’s materials: What if you don’t have any of this collateral? You can send a link to a new study with a note like this:

“Jim I know that you are always curious about what is going on in the market and how other people are tackling xxx in the market. Also I’ve got other ideas on how to tackle things in the study. Let’s set up a meeting.”

Step 4. Finish with a gracious close

Don’t get pushy at the end of your cold email. Remember, the goal is to open conversation, and it is only the first step.

Be personal and casual. Don’t be threatening, be engaging.


“Let’s set up a time to talk about this.”

“If this is of interest, let’s set up a short conversation.”

“Let’s talk.”

Jill Konrath has some excellent examples of emails that work. Here is one from Nina, whose company sells Credit cards for payments. It is for companies that don’t have banks. She doesn’t have a referral to use, so she uses the trigger event of a hurricane that recently went through the area.

“Subject Line: Disaster recovery issues.


As a result of the recent hurricane, many firms have had a challenge with paying their employees on time. I suspect that your store might struggle with this issue as well. Because the penalty for non-compliance with state laws governing payment of wages can be pretty stiff, many retailers are currently evaluating payroll cards as part of an improved disaster recovery plan.

Has this issue jumped up on your priority list yet?”

Here is another example from Konrath, where the use of a whitepaper to provide valuable information was used as the opening:


I thought you might be interested in this new whitepaper on how pay for program IT departments can save up to 30% as compared to onsite laptop service. Contrary to client expectations, the research shows that customer satisfaction rose significantly due to increase times and service. Here is the link to download it. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

These follow-up emails would build on that original email and would open up the opportunity to set up a time to talk.

Final thoughts

The imperative to being successful in cold emailing is to understanding your customer, how they think, and what reaction they will have to your email. Leverage what you know about your customer and prep your messages so they will say “OK, that is interesting, I want to know more”.

Don’t be naïve. One email isn’t the answer and is highly unlikely to open the door or sell a product to a cold prospect. You want to think about it as the start of a conversation, and that it will likely take between 8-10 emails, along with some voice mails as well to achieve your goals. The great news is that you’ll be making a lot fewer prospecting calls and you’ll see better success.

Be the individual who crafts the message that can’t be ignored. And then press SEND.

Emails can grow your business, as long as you stay out of the Spam folder. We’ve put together the SPAM-FREE Short Cut Guide to Emailing. It’s free! Click here to get it.


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  1. Spot on! I personally use + yesware. Seriously, it works wonders.

  2. Myriam Caron says:

    Great Examples. Cold emails work great. Uber used cold email to launch in Chicago and several other cities. Cold email obviously won’t scale, but it can be extremely effective in developing that early momentum and cultivating early evangelists for your product. Here some good tips listed to write irresistible cold emails.
    Marketing Executive at SalesHandy

  3. Amrendra Aman says:

    Wanted to write a cold email to Retail store company regarding IT Reatil services of my company as a Business Development executive . I am not getting any idea how to start . Kindly help me for the same.
    Looking forward to your reply.


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