The “Do”s and “Don’t”s of Cold Emailing (2014)

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.  

So, DON’T:

  • Don’t brag.
  • Don’t assume I know you.
  • Don’t forget that your email will probably be opened first on a mobile device.
  • Don’t ask for multiple things.

Let me offer some examples.

Don’t brag.  Talking about how you’ve raised $5M or worked with professors at Yale may seem like a good idea – it grants you credibility, right? It also wastes my time.  All I care about, as a customer, is how you can help me.

Don’t assume I know you.  If I signed up for your beta version a year ago, I don’t remember what your product is or what it does. If we met at a conference three months ago, I probably can’t associate name and face.  Remind me, briefly, why you’re reaching out.

Don’t forget that your email will probably be opened first on a mobile device.  A “short” email in your web browser looks like an endlessly scrolling manifesto on my iPhone screen. I probably won’t even get to your ‘ask’ before I hit delete. (As of Q4 2014, 65% of emails are opened first on a mobile device!)

Don’t ask for multiple things.  If you ask me to do A OR B OR C, you’re asking me to think a lot.  Especially if I’m reading this email on my phone!  Pick ONE thing you need – an interview or a tweet or a survey completion, etc. – and ask for only that one thing.  Then my decision is much easier — I can quickly reply “yes” or “no” with one thumb.

So what should you do instead?


  • 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
  • Preview on mobile phone and tablet as well as the web!
  • 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.


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.

Find this post useful? I’ve written much, much more in my new book, Lean Customer Development.
You should get Lean Customer Development now!

4 thoughts on “The “Do”s and “Don’t”s of Cold Emailing (2014)

  1. I’m doing plenty of this at the moment and I didn’t consider the point on opening the e-mail on your phone. I try to write in short paragraphs and have plenty of space, but maybe have too much information.

    Things to ponder – thanks for sharing and the thoughts!

  2. I think follow-ups are critical as well. So many times people give up after the first email.

    Check out – they find the leads, gather emails, AND do the email sending (+ follow ups) for you. Then they forward you the people who respond with interest. Completely hands off!

  3. Great list; lots of little things that often do get over-looked in my own personal experience particularly as Euan mentioned, the review of e-mails from a phone.

    Thank you for tips!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>