The Do’s and Don’ts of Cold-Emailing

In order to learn what you don’t know, you need to talk to people you don’t know.

This often requires “cold-emailing” (the digital equivalent of cold-calling) — and that makes most people uneasy.  After all, no one likes telemarketers.  No one likes spam.  None of us wants to be like those people.

I get a lot of cold emails — from product managers and entrepreneurs, asking me for interviews or to check out their product.  Some of them are very good and make me eager to give the person 20-30 minutes of my time.  Some of them are ineffective – I don’t mind getting the mail, but I don’t act upon it either.

And some just hit a bunch of wrong notes. I got one of those “wrong note” emails the other day — I just read it and was irritated.   And then I thought, I should identify why it hit all the wrong notes with me so I could avoid making the same mistakes.

The email in question contained the first 4 of these “Don’ts”.  (The last one wasn’t a problem with this particular email; I added it because I’ve seen it in other contexts).

Don’t:

  • Don’t assume that someone remembers how they know you — remind them
  • Don’t send me a list of features — it’s your job to make me care
  • Don’t ask me to share or tweet your site if I haven’t even used it yet
  • Don’t ask me to do multiple things – pick the one most important way I can help you and time-box it so it’s a manageable “ask”
  • Don’t brag about your credentials or money you’ve raised (this may seem like a good idea because it grants you legitimacy, but it also makes you seem less human.  People are happy to help other people; they are much less eager to help “corporate entities”.)

So what should you do instead?

Do:

  • Tell me why you’re reaching to me specifically (make me feel special)
  • Tell me how you think your product or idea might make my life better
  • Be honest about who you are and the stage of your company (idea, testing, MVP, beta, launched)
  • Keep it short – 3-4 sentences
  • Make it easy for me to help you — limit yourself to one “ask” and make the commitment level clear

And probably the most important “Do”:

Field test your email.

Your email sounds great to you.  You’ve worked hard on it.  But for that exact reason, you won’t notice if there is some confusing bit or weird connotation that could be avoided with a better word choice.

1) Read it out loud.  Does it sound natural?  If not, revise.

then

2) Send it to a friend at another company. Don’t warn them it’s coming, just send it.  (You want their unprepared first impression of it).

Then call or IM them and say “hey, I sent you an email.  Did it sound OK to you?”  That person is much more likely to notice things like it being too long or blathery or just sounding ‘off’, and then you don’t waste any potential-customer goodwill.

6 Responses to “The Do’s and Don’ts of Cold-Emailing”

stephendaimler:

Good post, Cindy. I think keeping it short is very important to keep people’s eyes from glazing over. I usually try to put the ask in the first sentence of the email, as well (in school they called it BLUF (bottom-line upfront)). Some people say to put 80% of your effort into the subject line just to get the recipient to read your message. What do you think of that? 

Cooper Marcus:

Great post, and nice timing – I sent you a beta invite email today, and I used some (but not all ; ( of your tips – I hope it is good enough to get you to accept.

cindyalvarez:

I haven’t experimented as much with the subject line.  Honestly, there are a lot of tactics that I suspect work really well (like using the person’s first name, or just using “hey”) — but that feel spammy to me and so I won’t use them.

If I’m emailing someone that I found on Twitter/Quora, I usually use that as the subject line.  “Saw your Quora answer and had a question”  – the more LEGITIMATELY personal you can make it, the better.

The Art of Outreach: How to Get People to Actually Read and React to Your Emails | Toutapp Blog:

[...] what to ask for.  You’ll never get help or feedback if you don’t ask. As Kiss Metrics’ Cindy Alvarez says, “limit yourself to one “ask” and make the commitment level clear.” The ideal ask [...]

Rosieteapot:

Great article, super relevant for me months after you’ve posted this! 

www.petersum.com:

Great post Cindy!  I personally like to structure my cold emails as 3 key components: Credibility, Value, and Call to Action.  Let me know what you think, you can read a post I made about it here: http://petersum.com/2012/07/12/effective-cold-emails/

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