Maybe you’re a salesperson trying to get a phone call with a prospect. Maybe you’re trying to get lunch with the hiring manager at your dream job. Maybe you’re in PR and you need to get an editor to pick up your big story.
Whatever your reason, you need to use the power of email to get a stranger to do something.
I get a lot of emails. Chances are that you do, too. According to one source, the average office worker gets 121 emails per day. Many of those are cold emails, most of which will never be opened. Of those that aredo, many will be moved promptly to the trash and never achieve their purpose.
How do you ensure that your carefully crafted missive does not meet the same fate? Read on.
Do your homework
The first thing you need to do is slow down, Hemingway. Before writing your email masterpiece, take some time to learn about your target. Is the person you’re writing to actually the decision maker, or should you be writing to someone else? What can you offer this person that makes your email worth responding to? How can you customize your pitch for your target?
Information gathering is the essential first step to writing a successful cold email.
1. Company websites and personal blogs are gold mines. Use them to make sure you’re targeting the right people, and to track down the best email address for your target.
2. Social media is your best friend. Check out all of your target’s social channels. Pay attention to their interests, tone, and career history. Look for anything you can use to strengthen your pitch (without being creepy). Have they blogged about something related to your product? Use it. Did you go to the same college? Use it (this is one of my favorites). Did they post selfies with their significant other near your favorite brunch spot six months ago? Probably don’t use it.
3. Look for common connections with your target. If you have common connections on LinkedIn or shared friends on Facebook, consider asking for an introduction. The #1 best thing you can do for your cold email is to make it a warm introduction.
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Have a great subject line
I can’t stress this enough. This is the most important part of the entire email. If you only have 30 minutes to write a great cold email, spend the first 15 perfecting the subject line.
1. Make it personal. Aside from the obvious things like including the target’s name, making it personal also means keeping out anything that makes your email seem like an automated email campaign. That means that you should avoid words like “free” and “limited time,” NEVER WRITE IN ALL CAPS, and avoid exclamation points!!!1!!1!!
2. Be compelling. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to say something cryptic that raises a question (e.g. Jordan, I took your advice). Another is to give a preview that shows what value you are offering (e.g. Forbes interview opportunity for Steven). In any case, your subject line should make the reader want to learn more.
3. Keep it short. Less than six words if possible. Remember, you don’t have to show everything you’ve got at this point. Your goal is just to get them to read more.
Stick the salutation
I know, I know. A salutation shouldn’t be that hard. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least make mention of a few important points.
1. Please, for the love of pizza, spell their name right. If you get this wrong, you’re already sunk. If you’re including a title, be sure to use the right one, and don’t assume gender based on someone’s name. There are plenty of men named Stacy and women named Charlie. If you have any doubts, look for a bio somewhere online. You can typically find all the information you need there.
2. Follow industry norms. If you’re a lawyer emailing another lawyer, your salutation will probably be much more formal than someone in the tech space.
3. While some may disagree with me on this one, I’d suggest being as informal as is appropriate in your salutation. Most of the modern workforce in most industries would rather not be called Mr., Ms., or Mrs. (doctor may be a different story). Besides, excessive formality is a hallmark of Nigerian princes and similar junk mail. In any case, if your target has a decent online presence you should be able to get a handle on how formal they’ll expect you to be. As a general rule of etiquette, anybody posting cat memes can be addressed by their first name.
Have a rockin’ body
Now it’s time to really tell your target what this email is all about. The trick here is to give just enough, but not too much.
1. Get to the point quickly. Remember, you don’t know this person and they don’t know you. You need to give them a good reason to finish reading your email early on. Leading with what’s in it for them is often a good idea.
2. Don’t over educate them. You may be tempted to spill ALL the beans in your first email. Hold back, and only give them the information they absolutely need to take the next step, whether that’s giving you a call, registering on your website, or anything else. This will keep your email (and your target) focused on what you need right now.
3. Trim the fat. Don’t use 5 words when 3 will do. Compress the body of your email to be short and easily digestible. You don’t want to take any more of your target’s time or focus than is absolutely necessary. If at all possible, try to limit your body to two short paragraphs.
Master the ask
This is what the entire email has been building toward. What do you actually need your target to do? This is where you ask them to do it.
1. Focus on the one thing you really want right now, and express it with absolute clarity. Stay on that message. If you ask for two or three things, you’ll probably get none.
2. Make it as easy as possible to say yes. You should provide your target with a very clear path to do the thing you’re asking, and require as little thought or effort from them as possible. If you want to have a phone call with them, for example, don’t ask “Can we talk about this?” Instead say, “It’d be helpful to have a quick five minute call. Would Tuesday at 3:00 or Wednesday at 10:00 work for you?” It’s far easier for a target to say yes when they aren’t burdened with any more decisions than are absolutely necessary.
3. Promise to follow up at a specific time, then do it. This makes it harder for your target to procrastinate taking action, because they know that you’ll hold them accountable if they don’t get back to you in a timely manner.
Sign off in style
Options abound for trendy signoffs, but they aren’t all created equal. Like the salutation, this one seems pretty straightforward, but there are a few things to consider.
1. Match the salutation in formality. Stylistically it feels awkward to say “Howdy John” in the salutation and “With warm regards” in the signoff (never use howdy in your salutation).
2. Be culturally appropriate. Before joining Lucid Software, I was a marketer in the addiction recovery industry. When I first started that job, I was still using “cheers” as a signoff (a holdover from my previous position). A friend of mine who was a recovering alcoholic pointed out that that wasn’t an appropriate signoff for a professional in that industry. It was incredibly embarrassing, but taught me a valuable lesson.
3. Include your contact information. If you have an automatic email signature, make sure that it includes the best ways to reach you. If not, make sure that you type out your contact information after your signoff.
Always use a P.S. It’s the perfect tool to drive your message home. People pay attention to them. In fact, the P.S. might be the most carefully read part of any email.
1. Reiterate your ask. The P.S. is a perfect place to underscore what you’re looking for.
2. Personalize the value you are offering. If you’ve noticed a unique or unexpected way you can provide value to your target, this is a great place to highlight it.
3. Build urgency. If you’re pitching a journalist, for example, you might say “I won’t pitch this story to anyone else unless I haven’t heard back from you by Friday.”
Rinse and repeat
No matter how great your email is, you’ll probably still get “no” most of the time. That’s okay, it just means you need to play the odds by emailing a lot of targets. Getting “lucky” is often more a question of volume than fortune.
Check out this example, written by the PR guy for the Acme Corporation to a prominent business editor. It’s based on an email I’ve actually used. Pay attention to how it uses the principles described above.
Subject: Jordan, I took your advice.
You suggested on your blog that if someone wanted you to publish an article about their company, they should mention that they also went to STU. That's me! I'm a part time STU student and full-time PR guy for the Acme Corporation, a startup based in Pleasantville, USA.
I have a story for you that every marketer can learn something from.
Acme makes dynamite and other roadrunner extermination tools. Acme was looking for a way to make itself sexy and interesting to a broader demographic (and the media), so the marketing team made a series of viral videos that have been shared by UNILAD, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and more. The campaign has won awards and produced over 50 million impressions for Acme Corporation in the past seven months.
We learned a few things in the process that could be useful to your readers, and I’d love to see you publish the story.
Per the instructions on your blog, I've written a rough draft (attached) for you to check out.
I know you're a busy guy with a lot on your plate, so I’ll circle back if I haven’t heard back from you by Tuesday morning.
P.S. I think this story would build exceptionally well off the one you wrote last week about helping content go viral. Let me know if you’re interested in publishing it. I won’t pitch it to anyone else unless I don’t hear back from you by next Friday.
Do you have a tried and true cold email tactic? Was I dead wrong about something? Let me know in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you.
And feel free to print this infographic and keep it for reference.