How to Write a Cold Email that Actually Works in 6 Steps

How to write a cold mail that works

In order to get replies, a cold email has to be short yet powerful, and intriguing. For this reason, each part of this short message has to bear meaning and play a crucial communicative role.

At Woodpecker, we’ve seen many times what determines whether a message will have a high response rate. Check if you know these 6 tremendously important steps to write a cold email for sales that works.

To begin with, let’s take a closer look at what a cold email is these days and how the approach to writing cold emails has changed over the years.

If you prefer learning from videos over reading articles, be sure to check the Woodpecker Academy’s cold email course – lesson 3.

What is cold email?

Cold email is a way to start and maintain business relationships.

To get a better understanding of what it is, let’s think of how business relationships develop in the offline world. Usually, everything starts with a conversation…

Here’s one of the possible scenarios: a salesperson goes to an industry conference or trades to meet new customers. During the event, they look for opportunities to start a conversation. But their goal is not to pitch their offer or brag about their company. They want to break the ice and start a dialogue. They aim at learning more about their prospect’s business and building rapport with them.

Outbound sales follows the same principles. Cold email is a means to start a conversation in the online world. It’s a message you send to a person who most likely knows nothing or very little about your company. Since it’s the first time they hear about you, we say they are “cold” leads.

The goal of a cold email is not the instant conversion, but building the relationship from strangers to business partners. In other words, to warm those leads up. Little by little.

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How the approach to cold emailing has changed?

Cold emailing has come a long way since it was first used in sales. Back in the old days, the sole purpose of sending cold emails was to pitch the offer. Usually one, generic message was sent to a large group of prospects without personalization or segmentation whatsoever.

Since the method was new and not many people did business via email yet, such a mass-sales-oriented approach actually worked great as a lead generation method. But the more copy-paste type of messages flooded the prospects’ inboxes, the less effective this approach became. People grew sensitive to the salesy tone and the generic character of cold emails.

The approach to sending cold emails has evolved significantly since then. Messages with an aggressive sales pitch are now bound to fail. Also, impersonal, one-size-fits-all type of emails are no longer effective.

Nowadays it’s all about building a relationship with a prospect. Cold email copy should be focused on the recipient, not your product or service. Put yourself in their shoes. From the very first email, a prospect should feel that you understand their business and the challenges it entails. Don’t jump to making the deal straight ahead. Instead, let your prospects tell you more about what they struggle with in their daily work. Then show them how these processes can be improved or done in a more efficient way.

Personalization is key to winning prospect’s interest these days. Therefore, also the prospecting plays an important role in the overall success of your cold email campaign.

Furthermore, personalization is addressing the exact reply of your prospects, by designing different versions of a follow-up and defining a trigger action that pings it.

The more you learn about your prospects, the easier it will be for you to craft a message perfectly tailored to the particular prospect segment.

How to write a cold email?

I’d recommend going step by step through the whole guide and downloading the Cold Email Checklist.

Step 1: Edit the “from” line

It may come to you as a surprise that editing the “from” line is featured as a separate step here. We usually set it up for a new email address, and after this, we don’t pay much attention to it.

Still, the “from” line is as much a part of a cold email as the body, and that’s because it plays an important role. It shows the message recipients who exactly sent the email. It’s a part that affects their first impression. What follows is that they decide whether to open the message and read it or put it in the trash and forget it.

Remember that your adressees don’t know you yet

Since we are strangers to them, they may, and probably will, be slightly suspicious of our email. One of the first things they notice when they look at our email is the “from” line. We may either earn their trust, or we may scare them off with the “from” line. They may even delete our email without opening it first if the first impression is not right.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to review what’s in your from line before sending a new cold email campaign.

The “from” line is not set in stone. We can edit it anytime we want. We can mix and match the form of our “from” line every time we send a new campaign, choosing one of the possible forms.

What are some possible forms of “from” line?

There are at least 5 possible forms of from line.

A. First name (Cathy)
B. First name + Last name (Cathy Patalas)
C. First name + Last name, Title (Cathy Patalas, Head of Marketing)
D. First name + Company name (Cathy at
E. First name + Last name + Company name (Cathy Patalas at

The right “from” line for your cold outreach campaign depends on the context of your message and your target group and the goal you want to accomplish with your email, be it marketing cooperation, influencer outreach, or a possible sales deal.

There are a couple of rules when it comes to choosing the best “from” line that fulfills your goal and fits into the context of your email, as well as to the list of contacts who will receive your messages.

Rules to follow while editing a “from” line:

  • be consistent – let it not diverge in tone and style from the rest of your email. If you use an informal tone throughout your email, maybe you can include the first name + company name, and you’ll be all set.
  • consider your prospect‘s perspective – what would you expect to see in your inbox if you were one of your prospects? What’s their average style of communication? Try to mimic it when writing your “from” line.
  • find your own line that fits your prospect‘s expectations – don’t follow blindly any advice you found on the web. Think for yourself. You’re the one who knows your prospects best and knows what they expect to see.
  • think who your prospects would be the keenest on talking to – be specific about that. Use that info to edit your “from” line.

That’s just a couple of rules. If you still have some problems, don’t hesitate to check the stand-alone blog post about crafting “from” lines:What Should Be the ‘’From” Line of My Cold Email? >>

It may give you more clarity on what to write.

Step 2: Write an intriguing subject line

A cold email subject line could be seen as the key that unlocks the door to our message. Our prospects form their first impression of us while reading the subject line. That’s why we need to make it a good one.

A poorly written subject line may make the addressee biased against us and our email. They might decide not to open the email, or worse, manually mark it as SPAM which may cause problems with email deliverability.

We can avoid such situations so long as we stick to those rules:

  • consider your prospect‘s point of view – think what kind of benefit your subject line promises to the prospect. What’s in it for them after opening your email? Does it answer their needs or appeals to their curiosity? Make it about them, not about you.
  • personalize it – again, the subject line isn’t the place for self-promotion. Quite the opposite, it’s the place where you should prove to the addressee that you carefully planned to contact them. You should assure them you’re not a spammer who sends myriads of identical emails to people and waits to see what sticks.
  • intrigue them – don’t spill the beans just yet. Pique their interest. Engage their attention by making them reflect on a problem they may have. Or try using a little bit of flattery to catch their attention.
  • sound human – you’re writing to a living and breathing human being, and thus, you shouldn’t turn into a bot. Avoid sounding ‘salesy’ or too formal. Your subject line should have a casual, friendly and natural flair to it. Unless you know how to achieve this, try imagining you’re addressing a specific person you know, for example, your colleague.
  • tie it to the rest of the email – this ties back to all the previous points. Whatever you put in your subject line, you should connect it with the rest of your message. By all means, don’t fall for a clickbait strategy in your subject line. You’ll only get on your prospects‘ nerves.

Here’s more about composing subject lines:What Subject Line Will Make My Addresses Open My Cold Email? >>

What are some good examples of cold email subject lines?

The best ones we’ve come across at Woodpecker include:

    • {{FIRST_NAME}}}, there is a more efficient way to do X
    • I have an idea on how to improve your X
    • Have you thought about switching X?
    • Want to scale up X at {{COMPANY}}?

You’ll find more examples in this blog post: 15 Best Sales Email Subject Lines We’ve Come Across >>

An interesting thing we’ve noticed is that these subject lines follow three “need” patterns. They either refer to a prospect’s need to improve, need to change, or need to innovate. Touching on what prospects care the most plus personalization is what makes these subject lines so successful.

I recommend you to A/B test your subject lines to find out which one brings the highest open rate. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do A/B tests >>

Step 3: Come up with a clever cold email introduction

Right after you persuade your addressee with the ‘from’ line and the subject to actually open your message, you’re halfway through. Now you’ve got 3 seconds to catch their attention and make them read further than the first two lines. And that’s why we need an intriguing introduction.

It’s difficult to start a cold email. What we tend to do is talk about ourselves and the company we work for. It may either be because we don’t know how to start or we desperately want to close the sale with our first email. That, however, paves the way for the email to end up in trash.

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How to write a cold email introduction, then?

A cold email introduction shouldn’t be longer than 2-3 sentences. It’s not supposed to introduce us or our company to the prospect. Instead, it refers to the message receiver, their expertise, achievements, work, and their company. That’s how we catch their attention.

A hint of flattery may be the way to go. But don’t overdo it. Enlisting all of their recent activity is a step too far.

Don’t be a stalker either. Don’t look for info about their family. Stay in the professional field.

You may also use those few sentences of cold email introduction to make it a part where you ask about their problems. Or better, you can talk about the ones you’ve noticed they have that you can take care of.

Above all else, treat the introduction as an opportunity to show your prospects that they received the message because you chose to contact them precisely. You’ve done your homework. You didn’t decide to reach out to them on a whim. You were deliberate about it.

That’s why we should take some time to research the company before we write a cold email.

If it’s still complicated and you don’t know how to start your cold email, you’ll find that helpful: Cold Email Intro, or How Should I Start My Message? >>

Step 4: Propose some value in your pitch

Here comes the part where you tell the message receiver what you want from them, or in other words, the so-called pitch.

So how to write a good cold email pitch?

We know we should have a ready-made formula at hand that we’ll use whenever we talk about the product/service we offer. It should be spiced up with the benefits so that a potential buyer has a clear idea of what it is that we sell. However, that’s not the best approach when we write a cold email.

Avoid salesy pitch

In a B2B sales email, we have to be subtle with our pitch. We don’t write it to close one more sale. We write it to start a unique business relationship with a potential buyer. And that calls for a personal approach.

When we write a standard pitch, the only type of response we’ll evoke in our prospects’ minds is “Good for you.”

In other words, it will leave them cold. Just as we’ve found them. They won’t care. Why would they care about a stranger and their business?

Instead, try putting your prospects in the center of your pitch. Provide as much value to them as you can. Find out what problems they may face that you can help them with. Use storytelling to show them how you might relieve them of those problems. Prove to them that you’re here to help and learn.

Talk benefits, not features

Don’t enumerate product features. Stop yourself from writing about the value you offer. Highlight the benefit your prospect may gain from it. Remember to be specific. Too vague benefits will dilute your message.

It may be tricky at first, but when you really put yourself into customer shoes, you’ll feel it. Here’s some advice on how to change the perspective with examples:Features vs. Benefits – How to Present Your Product in a Cold Email? >>

Another thing is that a pitch should be seamlessly linked to the previous part of your email. It should seem just like a natural continuation of an ordinary conversation. By all means, avoid making it forced and salesy.

Here’s more on how to do that: Value Proposition – How to Tell My Addressee What I Want from Them? >>

Step 5: End your cold email with a call-to-action

You’re almost done. You just need to write a call to action (CTA) that will persuade your prospects to do what you ultimately want them to do with your cold email. It may be scheduling a Skype conversation, giving you feedback, replying to you, etc. Anything you’re ready to take care of. Any action you ultimately want them to perform. Keep it simple and straightforward.

To make sure your addressees will take action, your CTA should:

  • Express the purpose of your email – the CTA should clarify the aim of your email in a single sentence. To put it differently, it should show clearly to the addressee what you want them to do.
  • Be short and to the point – the CTA shouldn’t take more than a single sentence. You should be a succinct as you can. It shouldn’t be blurry either.

Ask for something your prospect can do now

Don’t ask for too much – a request for a simple action or a quick response may probably work better than an invitation for a 30-minute call. Start small. Even if eventually you will invite your prospects for a meeting, perhaps the first email they will ever get from you is not the place to do that.




Get some CTA ideas from this post: Perfect CTA, or How to End Up My Cold Email? >>

Step 6: Polish your cold email signature

And last but not least, the often and widely ignored signature. The signature is a fully-fledged part of our message and we cannot ignore it. It should tell our addressee who we are and where they can find more information about us and/or our company.

A well-constructed signature can help us shorten the email body and make the message more digestible and addressee-centered.

You can create such a signature with our email signature generator for free. All of the templates are deliverability-friendly, which means there’s no messy HTML there that might send your emails to spam.

A few tips to keep in mind when creating your email signature:

  • make sure it makes you look trustworthy – too little information and no hints on where to find you will definitely lower your chances for a response.
  • include only necessary information: cut out information that just takes space, but doesn’t bring much value. Sometimes your phone number may be crucial, but other times it’s completely unnecessary. Think about the usefulness of each piece of info in the signature. Delete the one that’s useless in your email campaign.
  • if you decide to use HTML, make sure it’s clean – a messy HTML signature may actually cause some deliverability issues. That’s because your message is short. If the signature includes a lot of HTML, you can mess up the text-to-HTML ratio. If you don’t have anyone who can check your signature HTML and clean it up, it’s safer to go for a simple text signature. Or you can use our signature generator – we made sure the code is clean.
I spent some time on my signature some time ago, so you can click the following link to see what I figured out then: A Little Big Thing – What Do I Put in My Email Signature? >>

If you’d like to see some more good examples of sales email signatures, read this article: Best Signatures for Sales Emails: Let’s Analyze What Makes Them Effective >>

How long should a cold email be?

It should be short, and by that I mean 2-5 sentences of no more than 200 words in total. Data suggests that 50-125 words is the optimal number.

That’s all you need to spark someone’s interest and start a conversation.

Hardly anyone would read a long email from a stranger, and yet many people still send lengthy pitches, describing their company and product or service. That’s not the way to go.

Be respectful of your prospects’ time. Keep it short.

How to follow up on a cold email?

Even a perfectly written cold email may not be enough to hook your prospects. Sometimes they may miss your email or forget to reply to you. Or simply they won’t feel interested enough to set up a call with you. Don’t worry, though, this is a totally normal thing. That’s why you should always follow-up after getting no response.

One follow-up email is a must in your cold email strategy, but the most optional number is two or three. Try not to treat follow-ups like reminders that you’re awaiting prospect’s response. Smuggle some extra value in them: link to an interesting case study or invite prospects to an upcoming webinar.

Check how to write a follow-up email with examples here: How to Write a Sales Follow-Up Email? >>

Ok, but sending just one personalized cold email alone to let’s say 50 prospects a day sounds like a lot of work to do, let alone following up and replying.

Indeed, handling all of that manually on a big scale is a nightmare (been there, done that). Fortunately, you can automate this process and make your life a bit easier. Check our guide on how to set up an automated cold email campaign >>

Ready to send your first cold email campaign?

Short, highly personalized cold emails dedicated to a specific audience are a great way to start some new business relations and get more new hot leads for your company. And if you add a sequence of automated follow-ups, you’ll get a pretty powerful lead generation machine.

Hope my tips help you write cold emails that hit the right note. Good luck!

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