The ultimate 7-step guide to writing cold emails that convert

You have got an email address. Depending on your next move, you are about to see it turn into a regular customer, a one-off sale, a hot lead…

Or a total waste of your time and energy.

The question is, how do you write a cold email that converts as many recipients as possible into leads and clients?

This is a question that thousands of entrepreneurs and marketers ask themselves each and every day. A strong cold letter can deliver a 4, 5 or 6-figure customer that refers other individuals and businesses to you in perpetuity…

But statistically speaking, less than 1 in 4 sales emails ever get opened – and less than 1 in 100 get a response.

This is way below the 10+% click-through rate you can expect from regular email marketing – and a testament to just how poorly written the average cold letter is.

See, while you should not expect a cold email to do as well as a newsletter to a warm list, there are ways to do better, stack the odds in your favour, and maximise a cold email’s effectiveness.

All you need to do is follow a few simple, proven steps, which we have collected for you in our step-by-step cold email guide.

So without further ado, let us dive right into the step-by-step process of writing a control-beating sales letter that turns strangers into leads, customers and sources of new business.

Step #1 is…

1. Do your homework & personalise

Cold emails are a marketing tool – and successful marketing always starts with understanding your market.

In this case, that is your recipient – so learn as much as you can about the individual and company you are contacting by asking yourself questions like…

  1. What are the business’s goals?
  2. How can our offer help them reach those goals?
  3. Which organisation member(s) responsible for making decisions pertaining to my business and my offer?
  4. Are the organisation’s competitors and/or partners already using our service – or services like ours? (If so, this will provide valuable social proof).

Answers can be found in minutes on LinkedIn, Google and Facebook. The more you know, the better you can tailor your message to your target – and that is important, because research shows that customised emails have a 152% higher open rate compared to non-targeted ones.

In other words, doing your homework is not just a matter of “doing what’s right” or “being considerate”. It is the #1 tool in your cold email marketing. Ignore it at your own peril.

If you are still not convinced, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Getting a non-personal message feels a lot like spam, even if it is not… And everyone hates spam.

Getting a personal message, on the other hand, shows that you cared enough to do a little research. It also suggests you may be someone the recipient knows. This is critical, because research and common sense both show that clients prefer to do business with those we trust.

This is why the first order of business is to study your prospect, tailor your message to them and do your homework.

If you can, also make sure to…

2. Get referred (wherever possible)

74% of B2C consumers identify referrals as key to their buying decisions. The B2B statistic is even higher; 91%.

This means that referrals essentially give you a massive advantage over the competition – and that you should always be on the lookout for individuals and businesses that can put you in touch with a potential client.

Of course, this is not always possible – but there are ways to get the benefits of a referral without actually needing to have one. Here is how:

  1. Link to reviews or include them in the email (without being pushy). 88% of people trust online reviews written by others as much as they do recommendations from personal contacts.
  2. Get social proof by mentioning that competitors, partners and other businesses in the same industry are already using your service. The effect is similar to that of a referral.
  3. If you are in the B2C niche, create a referral program that rewards users for recommending you to friends. This way, they will be sending your cold emails for you – which is the same tactic DropBox used to a $10 billion valuation so quickly.

Using these tactics will maximise the number of potential clients that reply to you. At this point, it is time to start writing the letter itself, starting with…

3. The subject line

David Ogilvy, perhaps the most influential marketer that ever lived, found out something interesting in his career as an advertiser.

For every 10 people checking out a headline, only 2 ever read the text below it.

“But,” you might say, “that’s a statistic about ads… And we are writing cold emails”. And that is true.

However, the fact is that 69% of email recipients report a letter as spam based on its headline alone… And 47% open an e-mail based on just the subject line.

This means that failing to get a recipient’s interest with your subject line can result in unread messages – or, even worse, you getting reported as a spammer, wrecking your cold email’s success rate.

To make sure that your emails get read and opened, keep the following tips in mind:

And when in doubt, do not hesitate to use the following templates that have been proven to work when tested in thousands of cold emails:

These may not be fancy, but they are effective at getting people to read your email. Because subject lines are so important, you may want to draft a few of them, and test them to figure out what works best for your audience.

Once you do, it is time to start writing the email’s body, starting with…

4. Explaining why you are writing to recipients

In a study conducted by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, making a request without providing a reason resulted in success 60% of the time. When a reason was given, the figure rose to 94%; a staggering 57% increase.

Granted, we are writing cold emails and not making verbal requests, but the point still stands: the first thing you should do in your e-mail is explain why you messaged a specific person and not someone else.

This is critical, because once a reader feels your message is relevant them, they almost have to read it. Otherwise, they are not doing their job properly, and ignoring an e-mail that could be genuinely important.

So before you hit that “send” button, make sure you explain why you are messaging your recipient in the first half of your e-mail.

After that, make sure to…

5. Offer value

The law of reciprocity states that we try to help those who do something for us.

In the 60s, the Hare Krishna movement used this law to raise millions of dollars for their religion by giving passers-by a small gift, and only then asking for money…

And while that may have been a little unethical, you can do the same to create a win-win situation. All you have to do is provide value.

That value can come in the form of an important bit of news; an insight ; information about the competition or the marketplace. All that matters is that you provide value, giving the reader of your cold mail a reason to reciprocate by considering your offer.

Or, put simply – pay it forward before you start asking people for stuff. Common sense, really – right?


And speaking of common sense…

6. Be polite and ask for answers, not money!

If you do not tell your reader what you want them to do, they will go ahead and do the first thing that comes to their mind. That could be closing your e-mail, turning their attention elsewhere and forgetting you ever existed; not what you want.

That is why you should always end your messages with a specific call to action the guides the reader to do something.

The question is, what should your call to action be?

A common mistake to ask for a sale (i.e. money). This is awful, because at this point you are essentially asking a stranger to buy from you like a door-to-door salesman… And nobody likes those.

Remember: nobody likes to be sold to. Instead, people like to feel that they are in the driver’s seat of their buying decision.

That is why you should do everything you can to craft a call to action that builds trust. This is the fastest way to get sales consistently, so use the tips below to make people do what you want while making them feel like they are in full control:

  • Always tell people they are free to say no. 42 studies on over 22,000 people show that this maximises your chances of hearing a “yes” in return.
  • Do not think of yourself as convincing a reluctant customer to buy. Instead, view a potential customer as someone who might be extremely excited about buying from you. This will stop you from ever sounding like a sleazy salesperson.
  • Short subject lines and messages increase readability. Get straight to the point and do not waste your readers’ time; they will appreciate it.

Once you have done all that, review your letter and get ready to send it. Once you do, hope for the best – and do not be shy to…

7. Be persistent

Depending who you listen to, it takes 7-13 interactions to convert an average lead into an active customer.

This means that the absolute biggest mistake you can make is to give up after 1, 3 or even 5 messages. You need to get to at least 6 or 7, spread over enough time to be non-spammy, before you can say you have done a thorough job with your cold email address.

Does this mean you necessarily need to write 7-13 cold emails? Of course not.

You can send newsletter segments, blog post quotes and – this is important – recommendations from other customers instead.

Just remember to continue being polite; to offer value; to explain why you are writing.

So long as you follow these basic rules, you will have a massive head start over other cold e-mail marketers and give yourself the best possible chances of getting responses.

To summarise, let us go through the 7 steps of sending effective cold emails that convert

  1. Do your homework and be personal
  2. Get referred wherever possible
  3. Craft a subject line
  4. Explain why you are writing
  5. Offer valuable information
  6. Be polite and go for relationships, not instant sales
  7. Be persistent

Now that you have finished this blog post, give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it, because this stuff is not easy – and because following these 7 simple rules will maximise the amount of leads, sales and clients you get from cold e-mails: guaranteed.

The question is, how do you consistently send effective cold emails when you have got your hands full with business operations?

Well, one option is to hire an in-house email marketer to write, analyse and constantly improve your emails.

Another is to work with a growth hacking agency like ours – something companies like Google, Facebook and DropBox all do – to make sure your email marketing gives your business that extra oomph you want.

Remember: email marketing has an average ROI of 3,000%, or $30 of sales for every $1 spent. If you are not getting that much money from your efforts, you are leaving a lot of cash on the table.

Why not see what we can do to help you do better with marketing that pays for itself today? Just leave your details here, and we will get back to you.

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