When you talk about e-mail, you usually don’t equate it to a way of bringing in more revenue. That’s a mistake In the article entitled “A Guide to Cold E-Mailing” published in the Harvard Business Review, the author notes that cold e-mailing is harder than most communication for two reasons. You have no relationship with your audience yet, and you lack non-verbal feedback, so you can’t modify your approach in real time. As a result, most cold e-mails fail.
But they can work well. In this article it is noted that people have built careers and launched start-ups with little more than cold e-mails.
There isn’t much research on cold e-mail, though Shane Snow did an interesting experiment for his book entitled Smatcuts. He sent 1,000 cold e-mails to executives and got almost no response. So, he tried again with a smaller slice of the same group and got better results by applying a few principles that line up with my extensive cold e-mail experience and some great advice.
An effective cold -mail does five things. It should:
1.) Tailor the message to the recipient. You need to do your research. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.
You have to personalize your e-mail. Personalization means that you’ve thought about who this person is, how they see the world, what interests them, and what they like. This shows them you have put work into understanding them.
It’s also important to make sure your request isn’t easily fulfilled another way.
2.) Validate yourself. When we meet a stranger or get an e-mail from one, we want to know who that person is and why that person matters to us.
Remember that when you’re the stranger. You’ve already done a bunch of research on the people you’re e-mailing, but they don’t know anything about you. You need to show them you’re credible and they can trust you.
Knowing someone in common is the strongest form of social proof you can offer. If you have any direct connections, mention them. A mutual friend means you are no longer a stranger.
Lacking that, if you have any authority, credibility, or social status that is relevant to this person and your request, mention it quickly — a line or two should do it. The more “important” you are, the more likely you are to get a response.
If you have no real status, that’s fine. Find a commonality. Being part of the same group, especially if it’s a personal group, is a core human attraction. Look for unexpected connections, like hometowns and unusual hobbies.
The point is, you want to find a way to go from “stranger” to part of the recipient’s group.
3.) Alleviate your audience’s pain or give them something they want. Why should the recipient care about your e-mail? Why should this busy person take time to respond to it? What’s in it for them?
If you’ve done your research and found a major pain point for the recipient, and you can offer relief, highlight that. If you can’t solve a problem, give people something they want. Offer to connect them with someone they’d like to meet — that stands out, since almost no one gives before they ask. But your gift needs to feel appropriate, from one stranger to another. An Amazon gift card would be super awkward and weird.
4.) Keep it short, easy, and actionable. The opportunity to help someone is very enjoyable for a lot of people — it may even qualify as a “want.” By asking for help, you are giving them the chance to feel good about themselves. But make it easy for them.
You probably know this, but short e-mails are more likely to be read than long ones. And e-mails that request clear, specific action get a much higher response rate. Long-winded, rambling cold e-mails suck.
One of the best ways to keep things short and direct is to write the way you’d talk. If you met this person at a cocktail party, you wouldn’t just walk up and start pitching them. You’d introduce yourself, say something nice, connect with them over a shared friend or interest, and then make a request that makes sense.
I would recommend reading your e-mail out loud before you send it. If it sounds natural, then it will read well.
To make your “ask” easy and actionable, do as much work for your audience as you can. “Let me know if you want to meet up” is terrible. This forces someone to exert mental energy to make a decision for both of you, and it puts the onus on them to sort out the details. It’s short, but not easy or actionable.
Compare that with this: “I can meet on Monday or Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Compass Coffee on 8th. If that doesn’t work, tell me what does, and I’ll make it happen.” That gives them a clear, easy action to take, with specific bounded options.
But there’s more to a good “ask” than just telling people what you want. How you tell them matters a lot.
5.) Be appreciative — and a little vulnerable. I would even go so far as to say you should be slightly submissive.
By expressing gratitude and some vulnerability, you give them the feeling that they are a good person if they choose to help. You also give them a little rush of power and status, because you’re approaching them.
This gets results. Even just saying, “Thank you so much! I am really grateful” to a request doubles response rates. And tell people it’s fine if they are too busy. Giving them a way out actually makes them more likely to help you.
All this may sound obvious, but again, very few people do it. I’d say about half the people who have cold emailed me expressed no appreciation beyond a perfunctory “thanks.” And the other half either sounded brusque or entitled. Really — strangers asking for huge favors say things like “Lemme know how quickly I can expect you to get this done.” Clearly, they don’t feel like waiting around. But that tone has repercussions: I don’t feel like helping them.
Finally, don’t use a template. If you Google “cold e-mail template” you will find a LOT of them. I looked through dozens, and though some were very good for mass email and sales, I could not find a good template for a personalized cold email.
Which makes sense. By definition, if something is personalized, it doesn’t come from a template. That’s why this article lays out principles but has no scripts.