Cold Email: How, When, and Why to Reach Out (And When Not To!)

Cold email often gets a bad rap. 

If you've ever been on the receiving end of a poorly-drafted cold email, you know how frustrating cold email can be—when it’s done incorrectly.

At best, you hit delete before even opening the email. At worst, you feel like the sender is wasting your valuable time. Or trying to scam you. 

The truth is, cold email can be a highly effective marketing tool.

Here is how to get it right so you can generate leads, build relationships, and even make direct sales.  

What Is Cold Email and Why is it Important? 

Cold email is the practice of contacting someone who is unaware of your business and offering your services or product, asking them to take an action, or even just inviting them for coffee or a phone call. It is similar to cold calling, and faces some of the same challenges. 

However, cold email fortunately manages to avoid many of the drawbacks to cold calling. 

Think of the last time you received a cold call. Perhaps you were in the middle of planning an important presentation, drafting an email, or even cooking dinner. A call comes in, pulling your attention away from the task at hand to pitch a product or service you don't even need. 


At this point, most of us have just stopped answering calls from any number we aren’t familiar with. This is, of course, a death knell for cold calling as an effective strategy.

Cold calling is frustrating to the receiver and ineffective to the business. 

Cold emailing, however, does not disrupt anyone’s life. The email waits patiently in their inbox until they are ready to read it, and (hopefully!) offers them value. 

When done effectively, cold email can be used to: 

  • Generate leads
  • Build links
  • Promote content
  • Help you build your network
  • Make sales 

So, how do you create cold emails that actually work? It all starts with writing a useful, personalized email.

How To Write an Effective Cold Email: Easy Steps

The best cold emails are personalized, direct, and straight forward. Adding a bit of personality is fine, but stay focused on keeping it short and sweet. Here are eight steps for writing an effective cold email that gets results. 

1. Determine the Goal of Your Email 

What is the final result you want to see from sending this email? Do you want to make connections? Build links? Find influencers to promote your brand? Cold emails can be used for many different outreach programs, and defining your goal should always be the first step. The goal will impact every decision you make going forward. 

Before you get started, draft a simple mission statement. Include who you will reach out to, what they do, and why you are reaching out. For example: 

Keep your goal both simple and singular. If you’re asking your prospect to take 20 steps after reading 1 email, you’re asking way too much. Also consider the minimum ask that you can make.

If you want the prospect to ultimately make a purchase, that’s great. But the first step is something small -- like agreeing to a phone call or receiving a link to a demo. 

2. Create a List of Potential Recipients

Finding the right targets for your emails will take a bit of digging, so start by creating a Google Sheet (or Excel spreadsheet, if that's your jam) to stay organized. Now, do a search for people in your target audience in Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. 

Sticking with the above example of promoting our imaginary graphic design platform, we headed to LinkedIn and searched for "SEO bloggers"—which generated more than 3,000 results. 

Create a List of Potential Recipients

Next, dig in a bit on each result and start adding names and companies to your spreadsheet. Include relevant details, such as their location or how you are connected to them, so you can personalize your email to each person.

Finally, look for their email address. Several tools can help you find email addresses and contact info, including ContactOut and Find that Email

Pro Tip: If you use a CRM (customer relationship management tool) like Propeller, start there! By using the data already in your CRM, you can skip over the 'cold' emailing and contact email people who have expressed some interest in your brand. Just make sure you have permission to contact them before you send your message! 

3. Create an Interesting Subject Line  

The average office worker receives over 100 emails every day. This means you just have a few seconds to grab the recipient's attention before they click that delete button. 

Use one of the following formats to create an attention-grabbing subject line:

  • Ask a question: Questions provoke responses, which make recipients more likely to open your email. "Question about [a task]" or "[Name], are you struggling to [task you can help with]?" 
  • Share a Benefit: Tell them how you can help. "X ideas for [pain point]" or "Let us help you with [difficult task]" 
  • Request a Meeting: If appropriate, ask for a set time to talk. "Are you available for a quick chat on [day] at [time]?" Consider offering a second date and time in the email. 

Don't use bait-and-switch tactics or be overly pushy. Aim for a clear, but clever subject line. 

4. Use Recipients' First Name

Address email specifically to each recipient versus using a bland introduction such as "Friend" or their title. This shows that you took the time to get to know them and indicates your email is actually tailored to them and isn't spam. 

Plus, personalizing emails with the user's email can increase open rates by as much as 20%.

5. Create a Personalized Explanation as to Why You’re Reaching Out

You want your cold email to provide value, not look like a hard sales pitch. Personalizing your email shows that you actually care about who they are and have something of value to offer. 

For example, you might explain how you found them—did you read a blog they wrote? Where was it published, and what was your favorite part? 

Did a friend recommend you reach out? How do you know them, and why did they think it was a good fit? 

Ideally, you want to really personalize this part of the message so that it doesn’t feel like a cookie-cutter pitch. If you can tie the personalization into the actual offer or ask, then that’s even better. 

For example, you may point out that the company recently raised a new round of funding and that is relevant because your product or service is specifically tailored for companies that are looking to quickly ramp up their team.

This is helpful for building a bit of rapport with your subject. Let them know that you understand their unique situation and you aren’t just making a generic pitch that’ll end up being a waste of their time (most cold emails seem to forget this part!)

Then, share your offer.

6. Pitch Your Offer 

Now it’s time to dig into the reason for your email. Your pitch should focus on how you can help them and the value you or your product offers. Avoid being pushy or overselling, which can be off-putting. 

Here's an actual example of a cold email (with the identifying details blurred, of course). Notice the personalized intro and straight forward, non-pushy pitch. 

7. Highlight The Value You Offer

Include data and social proof to highlight the value of your product or service and strengthen your pitch. Has your tool helped 12k people create better graphics? Did a recent client save 45 percent on operating costs? 

Social proof is powerful. In fact, 63 percent of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that includes user reviews as social proof, resulting in a sales increase of 18 percent.   

You may think you have a fantastic tool/product/service, but social proof shows that other people think your brand provides a valuable product or service. 

8. Keep it Simple (So You Don't Waste Their Time) 

This is arguably the most critical step in crafting an effective cold email.

Keep your email short, to the point, and don't waste the reader’s time. They likely have several other tasks vying for their attention, and taking too long to get to the point could land your email in the trash bin. 

Being clever or funny is fine, but keep the email short and show that you value the recipient's time.

Common Cold Email Mistakes to Avoid

The main reason cold email gets a bad reputation is that many users fail to follow basic best practices. You should focus on offering value, keeping the message short, and being honest. 

And, you should also focus on avoiding these common mistakes: 

  • Don't Use an Obvious Template: Take the time to personalize your cold email and show how you can help. And above all, don't leave part of your template in the final email!  
  • Don't Use Complex Language or Industry Lingo: Using simple language makes it easier to make your point and prevents user frustration. They may not know the meaning of the acronym you use every day! 
  • Don't Use a Misleading Headline: A bait and switch is the quickest way to lose the trust of your prospects. Make sure your headline delivers on its promises. 
  • Don't Forget to Follow Up: Just because you didn't get a response the first time doesn't mean all is lost! Follow up once after a week to in case your email got lost in the shuffle. Many email tools and CRM like Propeller feature an automated follow-up tool, so this step is simple to implement.   

The Best Cold Emailing Tool: Propeller CRM

As you can see from the steps above, creating an effective cold emailing strategy can be time-consuming. Luckily, there are tools like Propeller CRM, which is designed to help you streamline the cold email process and create personalized emails that get results.

Looking to get the most out of your cold email strategy? Here's how Propeller CRM can help. 

  • Automate cold email follow ups by designing personalized email sequences with custom follow up times. 
  • Schedule emails to arrive at ideal times in every time zone. 
  • Track opens, engagement, and other metrics so you can better understand which emails work. 
  • Maximize deliverability by ensuring your cold email ends up in the inbox, not the spam folder.

Learn more about running flawless email campaigns with Propeller.

Ready to Get Started? 

When used correctly, cold emailing can be highly effective, and with the right tools, it can be a breeze to implement. In fact, your next sale, share, or link could be just one email away. Get started by crafting your cold email using the eight steps above. Just be sure to avoid those common cold emailing mistakes! 

Get Started with Propeller

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