perfect cold email

How to Craft the Perfect Cold Email in 4 Easy Steps

When was the last time you replied to a generic sales email that had a boring subject line, listed vague features but promised no benefits, and lacked personalization? You probably can’t remember, because you probably never have replied to an email like that.

If you want to hear back from the leads you’re prospecting, you need to strike a balance between writing up an easy-to-follow template and communicating a genuine desire to help your potential customer get what they want.

There are two pre-conditions to writing a good cold email:

  • Know the purpose of your email before you write it. Do you want them to sign up for a newsletter to learn more about your product? Do you want to sell them a trial subscription to your service?
  • Whatever you say, say it in 200 words or less, because even the most qualified lead isn’t interested in reading an essay.

The perfect cold email is a 4-ingredient cocktail. We’ll talk about each in detail below.

  • Create a bombshell subject line to get them to open it. Even the best-written email is worthless without a smart subject line.
  • You’re not here to talk about yourself — you’re here to talk about your client and how you can make their life easier. Benefits > Features. Don’t be vague!
  • Give them a reason to reply back to you. You need a call to action — check out this whitepaper, answer this question I have for you.
  • You’re not a robot, and your email shouldn’t sound like it was sent by one. Make your prospect feel like you pay attention to them. Maybe add a dash of humor.  This can go a long way in making you seem likeable, and that’s the best sales tactic of all.

1. Start with a bombshell subject line.

That probably won’t actually work as a subject line, but using uncommon punctuation symbols like exclamation marks or colons can make your email stand out in someone’s inbox merely because of how rare it is to see them. From a purely optical view — pun intended — playing around with adding a symbol or two to your cold emails is worth a try. Overdoing it is a guaranteed way to end up in spam, though.

As for what to write, there’s no single winning formula. I like asking questions, because they reflexively require an answer (which means getting the receiver to open your email). Another useful approach to take with subject lines is to offer a tip or suggestion on someone’s site or how they do business. Most people want to hear feedback on what they do and how it can better be applied. If you lead with a question or suggestion about an article on your client’s blog, it demonstrates a genuine interest in their business, and that bodes well for the ask that follows.

2. Talk benefits, not features.

While it’s hard to come up with a formula for a good subject line, pitching your company’s benefits in a cold email is a bit easier. It goes something like this:

When customers _____, the result is _____.
“When customers buy your smartphone case, their phone longevity increases by at least a year.”
“When customers download your Shopify integration, their abandoned shopping cart rates go down 20%.”

This message is the fundamental part of your business model. Whatever the endgame is, you should be able to express it coherently in a single persuasive sentence. And most importantly, you should craft it to be about how you can help your customer. They’re not going to reply to your email or sign up for a trial if you tell them how great you are — they just want to know what’s in it for them. As they should!

The more cutthroat your niche is, the more important it is that you hone this message to distinguish yourself from the other guys. “Customers who sell heavy and oversized goods save an average of $12 per order when they switch to us from Fulfillment by Amazon” is an elegant way of spelling out the benefits to your solution while differentiating your company.

3. Include a strong call to action.

The call to action is the critical last stage to getting that lead to do what you want them to after you’ve had a chance to persuade them that your company has the solution to their problems. Having a goal in mind before you write your email will come in handy when you approach writing the call to action; ideally, you should have a strong CTA before you’ve even written the rest of the email.

A handy tactic for writing a CTA is to flip your benefits script around a little bit. Lead with a result that your customers want to see — “A better world,” “cleaner floors,” “ROI increase of 20%” — and tie it back into your endgame, whether that’s a whitepaper, an app, or even a direct ask for the sale. Be bold and avoid wishy-washy text and passive voice. No one wants to “save about 25% on international money transfer fees” or “could benefit from a free audit of your website’s design on mobile.” People want to know what they will save, or that they will benefit (not maybe, or could). This doesn’t mean you tell them you guarantee a result — rule #1 in sales is to never guarantee anything — but it means you imply it without saying it explicitly.

Doing so makes you sound confident in the product you’re selling. Speaking of how you sound:

4. Be likeable.

It’s not 1982 anymore. People don’t wear ties or dresses to work anymore. No one says “Dear Sir or Madam” in their correspondence. Don’t be afraid to crack a joke, or show some genuine enthusiasm for your lead’s company, or who they are as a person.

“I noticed you ___________” is a classic winner that puts the reader on notice that you’ve read their blog/followed their Twitter account/give a damn about them. What’s so great about this is that it says that you’re the kind of person who empathizes, who’s able to put someone else’s interests above their own, even if it’s for just long enough to check out their Instagram feed and see where they went to brunch last weekend.

Think about how nice it feels when you receive a compliment about your company, or when someone talks to you about something you get excited about or care about. If you can spark that same feeling in a lead, you are one step closer to closing them.

Now, try it yourself.

You have the tools to make your cold emails better than ever, and there’s no time better than the present to get started. To help you out, here’s a practice template to copy-paste and have some fun with. Obviously, it’s not a good idea to take a one-size fits all approach, so feel free to manipulate it as you see fit. Just be mindful of capturing their attention and helping them find a solution to their problems and you’ll come out ahead.

Example of a cold email:

Subject Line:

Hey there First Name,

I noticed you _______________.Congrats!/Great job/Thanks for sharing that article/That was a really interesting podcast.

When your product/service has [problem that your company solves], it can be really frustrating because then it [makes life harder for lead because they don’t have what your company offers].

A one sentence introduction to you and your company.

Restate your value proposition and how you can help them.


Jake Rheude

Jake Rheude is the Vice President of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.