Writing a Cold Email That Gets a Response

I’ve been on the receiving end of a handful of cold emails lately, and I haven’t come close to answer any of them.  But on the flip side of things, I’ve been sending a bunch of cold emails lately, and the majority have not only received responses, they’ve led to in-person meetings.

So what makes a good cold email?

There certainly isn’t a set formula, but whether you are reaching out to a prospect, pitching a reporter on a story, or just asking someone you don’t know to meet for a coffee, there are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance of getting a response.

Subject Line

The subject line is the single most important line in your entire email.  Emails with subject lines like “Coffee?” or “Meet Up?” won’t stand out in a crowded inbox.  The subject line needs to be relevant, valuable and super clear.  For example, if you are looking for advice/networking with someone you don’t know:

  • “Advice for a fellow Product Marketer?”
  • “Chat biz dev with a fellow BC alum?”

Additionally, one of the best ways to get someone’s attention is to put the person’s name in the subject line.  This approach has been super effective for me with one-to-one communications.  For example:

  • “Chris – source for your article on Facebook IPO”
  • “Karen – quick chat about integration opp?”

Be clear why you are reaching out to them

Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton and author of Give and Take, talks about how when people feel they have nothing unique to contribute, they feel very little responsibility to help.

So when writing a cold email, don’t just make it clear why you are reaching out – make it clear why you are reaching out to them.  What made you email this person specifically?

A good email, according to Grant, “highlights what drew you to this person and the distinctive value that he or she can add.  (Devote) a sentence or two to what you know about the person’s work, and how it has influence your life.”

Show you did your homework

Showing that you did your homework isn’t just important because you need to be relevant, but it shows that you put some time and effort into reaching out.  As Scott Britton points out, this is one of the best ways to prove that your email isn’t just another canned message from a JV sales rep or a PR hack.

Keep it short, sweet and to the point

We don’t need another article by someone in the tech community telling us about how much email they get (here, here, here, and here to name a few) to know that everyone is busy and their inbox is stuffed.  Keep your email short, sweet and to the point.  Would you read a five paragraph essay from someone you’ve never talked to before?  The best way to keep things short: write like a human.  Talk to them like you would if you were out at a bar, or waiting in line to get coffee.


How to Write Email Copy that Works

I read this all the time: no matter how good your marketing emails look, they won’t be effective without great copy.

But what makes great copy?  Here’s some advice everyone can follow to start writing email copy that works.

Subject Line

Your subject line is the most important line in your email.  Think about this: if you don’t write something that grabs someone’s attention, how are they going to open and read the rest of it?

  • Make it relevant, valuable and clear.
  • If you are stuck, write down the benefit readers will get from your entire email and then try and whittle that down to 5-7 words.
  • Write your subject line as one of these things: a question, a command, a teaser, a list, news, or “how-to.”

The most important piece of subject line advice: test, test, test.  Following best practices is important, but just remember that everyone’s list is different and you need to figure out what works to get your subscribers to open.


Have a clear and concise message.  Remember to write like a human: the best marketing writing says what you would say if you were talking to a good friend who needed your product.  It’s a conversation about them and their needs – and then your product – only as it relates to benefits for them.

Your copy should address these three key questions:

  • Who am I writing for? (Audience)
  • Why should they care? (Benefit)
  • What do I want them to do? (CTA)

Calls to Action

Make sure you have a clear call-to-action.  Tell your reader what you want them to do, and make it really easy for them to do so.  Whatever action you want them to take, just make sure it’s loud and clear (and so is the benefit).  Try and avoid boring words like “submit” or “click” and instead, add words like “exclusive” or “customized.”  For example: “Get exclusive access to all 10 tips now” is a much more compelling CTA than “Click here to learn more.”