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

Cathy-Dawiskiba-CMO-at-Woodpecker
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 deliver value and play a crucial communicative role.

At Woodpecker, we get an inside look what determines whether a message will have a high response rate or not. Using what we’ve learned, we’ve put together these 6 tremendously important steps to write effective cold emails for sales.

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

What is a cold email?

Cold emails are a way to start and maintain business relationships.

To get a better understanding of what they are, 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 trade 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 a rapport with them.

Outbound sales effort follow the same principles. Cold email are a way to start a conversation in the online world. It’s a great way to reach out 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 an instant conversion, but building the relationship from strangers to business partners. In other words, to warm those leads up little by little.

 

How has the approach to cold emailing changed?

Cold emailing has come a long way since it was first used in sales. It used to be that 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 any 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 straightaway. 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 prospects interest these days. Therefore, prospecting also plays an important role in the overall success of your cold email campaign.

Furthermore, personalization can now address the exact reply of your prospects through 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 exactly who sent the email. It’s a part that forms 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 recipients 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 can take many forms. 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 different possible forms.

What are some possible forms of your “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 Woodpecker.co)
E. First name + Last name + Company name (Cathy Patalas at Woodpecker.co)

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 – don’t let it 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 just blindly follow some 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.

Those are just a few 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 these 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 a place for self-promotion. Quite the opposite, it’s a 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 tons 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 that you 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 >>

As a reminder, after you’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s in your cold email, Woodpecker can help you out by sending the messages automatically one-by-one. When you get a reply, the tool makes sure further emails are stopped. You get to A/B test your subject lines & email copy so you can see what makes your prospects engage with you. You can test it all out on a free trial here.

Step 3: Come up with a clever cold email introduction

Right after you persuade your addressee with the ‘from’ and subject lines to actually open your message, you’re halfway through. Now you’ve got 3 seconds to hold their attention and make them read further than the first two lines. And that’s why you 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. But we’re here to tell you that this is definitely not a winning strategy.

Then how should a cold email introduction?

A cold email introduction shouldn’t be longer than 2-3 sentences. It’s not supposed to introduce you or your 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. Listing all of their recent activity is a step too far.

Stay in the professional field and keep everything focused on the business reasons for your interest in reaching out to them.

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 specifically. 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 you should take some time to research the company before you write a cold email.

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

Step 4: Include some value in your pitch

Here comes the part where you tell the message recipient what you want from them – your pitch.

So how do you write a good cold email pitch?

We know we should have a ready-made formula at hand to 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 pitches

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.

Always put 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.

Focus on benefits, not features

Don’t rely on list of product features. Stop yourself from writing about the monetary value you offer. Instead only highlight the benefits your prospect may gain from it. Remember to be specific, since vague benefits will dilute your message.

It may be tricky at first, but when you really put yourself into the customer’s 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? >>

Your pitch should also 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 recipients 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.

 

Lincoln-Murphy-tweet-on-20-minute-call

 

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

Step 6: Perfect your cold email signature

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

A well-constructed signature can help you shorten the email body and make the message more digestible and recipient-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 folders.

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

  • you want it to make 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 disrupt 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, 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.

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 engage your prospects. Sometimes they may miss your email, forget to reply to you or simply they don’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 optimal number is two or three. Try not to treat follow-ups like reminders that you’re awaiting the prospect’s response. Sneak 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.

How to send your first cold email campaign

When you’re sending automated cold emails, you need a tool that’s easy to work with and intuitive – like Woodpecker.

What you need for starters is:

Once you’ve created an account and connected your mailbox:

1. Create a new campaign

Click ADD CAMPAIGN to start.

2. Add your campaign name

…and choose the email address you’ll be sending from.

choose the mailbox to send from in Woodpecker Cold Email3. Set the sending limit

Click on the gear icon in the top right corner and specify how many prospects you wish to contact a day. I recommend you to start with no more than 50 – this means 50 new people will be contacted in one day in this campaign (the limit doesn’t include follow-ups).

prospects setting in Woodpecker Cold Email

 

And since you’re already here, check Use prospect’s timezone if available if your prospect list includes countries. Now your contacts will get your message in a time slot adjusted to their waking hours, not yours.

If your mailbox or domain aren’t warmed up yet, take care of that first – Woodpecker can do it for you automatically.

4. Write the email

Type in your subject line and the content of your email. After reading this blog post, you already know how to write them in a way that will catch your recipients’ attention.

Use snippets to personalize your messages. This way each prospect will get the feeling your email is relevant to them.

writing cold emails in Woodpecker

5. Schedule the sending time

Decide when you want your emails to be sent by ticking boxes next to the email editor.

6. Add follow-ups

Don’t ignore follow-ups – they’re your chance of getting up to 22% more replies. To add follow-ups, click ADD STEP and follow steps #4 and #5, leaving the subject line empty to send them in the same email thread.

When someone replies, Woodpecker will automatically stop the sequence for that prospect.

7. Add your prospect list

At this point you can import it from a file, add the prospects manually, or use one of our integrations with the most popular prospecting tools or Google Sheets.

adding prospects in Woodpecker Cold Email

8. Send a test campaign

Go to the SUMMARY and send yourself a test campaign to make sure that the emails look good and all the links you included work.

9. Hit RUN to start

…and you’ve just started your first cold email campaign in Woodpecker. Told you it was easy.

10. Check the results

Monitor how the campaign’s going in the STATS view.

Give it a go:

Ready to start?

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!