Cold Email Tips and Strategies from 11 Sales Teams

Adam Calica
October 23, 2020
Updated: October 27, 2020
Adam Calica
October 23, 2020
Updated: October 27, 2020

Cold emails can be a reliable, effective solution for keeping sales pipelines full — as long as they’re done well. Oftentimes, though, cold emails become just another ignored pitch lost inside a prospect’s inbox. That’s why salespeople must master the art of cold emailing through calculated strategy. 

Customer engagement company Khoros is no stranger to the sales process, considering the company exists to help other businesses connect with potential prospects. So, it’s no surprise that Khoros Sales Development Representative Katie Furman has created her own roadmap for perfecting cold email pitches.

According to Furman, writing effective cold emails requires bold messaging, strategic open-endedness, building credibility and — most importantly — stepping into the client’s shoes. As Furman put it, “Work smarter, not harder.” 

Although cold emails can feel like a lost cause in the digital age, they’re a tried and true sales solution. And with the right strategies, they can lead to full sales pipelines and pivotal prospect meetings. 

Built In caught up with leaders from 10 sales teams to learn more about how they write cold emails that grab readers’ attention and trigger a response. 

Tips and Strategies for Cold Emails

  • Do your research
  • Keep it short and sweet
  • Use visuals
  • Utilize marketable insights
  • Personalize it

Khoros

Katie Furman

SALES DEVELOPMENT REPRESENTATIVE

Katie Furman

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you've ever used?

“(Account name) in ‘decision.’” As SDRs, we have several tools that help us know when an account is allegedly nearing a decision phase, and prospects know this. Being open and honest about why I’m reaching out as well as the timing of my outreach can help trigger a response. 

This subject line stands out to prospects because it insinuates I know something about their buying process but leaves it open-ended enough for them to read and find out where I am reaching out from.

In the body of this email, I was transparent about a tool I had used that let me know the account was in the “decision phase” for sourcing an online community solution. I was able to catch the attention of my prospect with my bold messaging and share some of my company’s differentiators, which ended up leading to a meeting. 

 

The first couple of sentences or even words can make or break the success of a cold email. What's an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in?

I name drop to build credibility. Whether I’ve talked to someone on a cold call that gave me a small piece of information or I have a POC referral, someone that used to work at the company or even info from previous opportunities or conversations, all of it helps build rapport. Name dropping in the first sentence or two makes SDRs sound more credible and makes the email feel less “cold,” even though it is.

I often use lines like, “I connected with (name) and they let me know XYZ,” or “Previously, our team was in touch with (name) about XYZ. From my understanding they aren’t at the company anymore. Is this a priority of yours now?” 

 

Enter the mindset of the prospect.”

 

What's the most effective approach you've used for writing cold emails, and what were the results?

When I write cold emails, I consider the following: credibility, what I know or want to know and CTAs (clear asks that prompt a response). 

Work smarter, not harder. I don't waste time on the wrong contact. The CTA doesn’t always need to be asking for time or interest. Pinning down the right contact can be more effective.

Use lines like, “Can you point me in the right direction?” or “Does this fall under your role? Would hate to be wasting your time if there’s someone else I should get in touch with.” 

Also, enter the mindset of the prospect. Reading the email from their perspective can generate much better results. As I write a cold email, I think, “Why do they care?” “Why should they care?” and “What’s in it for them?” By doing this, I can effectively hook in my reader and trigger a response. 

 

Drift

Sara Miller Blanc

CONVERSATIONAL SALES ADVISOR

Sara Miller Blanc

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? Why was it so successful?

I don’t have go-to subject lines. I personalize them based on an action the prospect took or something relevant to the recipient. I’ve found that subject lines about them — not me or my company — are more successful. For example, I’ve seen success with a subject line that includes competitors who are our customers to create intrigue and FOMO, and I’ve used the names of their colleagues to create familiarity and show that I’ve done my research. 

I also use a ton of Drift Videos in my cold outreach through email and LinkedIn. My subject line for these messages is typically “ 👀  made you a quick video.” I usually get a 50 percent watch rate and book at least one meeting out of every 10 that I send.


The first couple of sentences or even words can make or break the success of a cold email. What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email?

My first few sentences are short and sweet. I try to get to the point and tell them why this is relevant to them. I also use visuals like screenshots, GIFs of something relevant to their website or LinkedIn, or a personalized video I created through Drift Video. This enables me to actually speak to the specific value prop or problem we’ve solved for other companies like theirs.

To go along with the face-to-a-name idea, I also like to include a GIF of me waving at the bottom of the first cold email in a sequence that says something like “P.S. wanted to put a face to the name!”

SARA'S TIP

Use visuals like screenshots, GIFs or videos that are relevant to your prospect's website or news updates.

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you’ve used for writing cold emails? What were the results compared to other formulas/approaches you’ve tried?

The formulas are always changing. For a while, data showed better open rates when you used someone’s name in the subject line. Then, every company started including first names with marketing automation campaigns and open rates dropped. At the start of COVID-19, it made sense to use something pandemic-related in subject lines to show that they were contextually relevant and timely, but after a few weeks that felt inauthentic.

My best tip is to stay fresh, be creative and keep it personalized. That’s one of the main reasons I love Drift Video for cold outreach. I can record something ultra-personalized in 30 seconds, and it keeps things conversational and human.

 

Definitive Healthcare

Rachel Spadaro

SALES EXECUTIVE

Rachel Spadaro

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? 

There is no one successful cold email subject line. Each email I send out to a prospect is tailored to that company. I use articles and news about the organization to customize a subject that will attract the most attention. For example, if I see that a company just received FDA approval, I will write, “Congratulations on FDA Approval for…” If they offer a product relevant to healthcare I’ll write, “Product A’s relevance to the provider market.” These personalized touches  increase the probability of the prospect opening the email.

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email in the first few words or sentences?

Before reaching out, I look up recent news articles and LinkedIn page posts. I use this information to personalize my message, which immediately captivates the reader and differentiates myself from other prospects. I then explain exactly how our solution can help their organization by providing customized examples. This strategy shows the prospect that I spent the time to understand their business. 

RACHEL'S TIP

Tailor the message to the prospect’s title and job description to ensure the content is relevant to the prospect.

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you've used for writing cold emails? 

The most effective formula is to be as specific and personalized as possible. I always mention information from the company’s LinkedIn or website to show I did prior research. I tailor my message to the prospect’s title and job description to ensure the content is relevant to the prospect. I’ve used standardized templates without any personalization in the past, and while it increased the quantity of emails I could send out, the response rates decreased significantly.

 

SmartBear

Connor Ireland

SENIOR KEY ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE

Connor Ireland

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? 

I have two that have generated a ton of interest that have led to meetings and opportunities.

“(First name)?” – just their first name with a question mark. 

That’s it. You aren’t misleading them. You’re giving yourself a chance to have them read the meat and potatoes of your email, which obviously has to resonate and highlight business problems they have, that you solve.

“(First name) - I noticed you head up the...” I have had great success with the subject line being a piece of the first sentence in your email. For example:

Subject: Noel, I noticed you head up the software testing indust…
Body: Noel, I noticed you head up the software testing industry relations and community engagement at SmartBear.

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email in the first few words or sentences?

Getting them to say “yes” by saying “no.” I think it’s important on a cold email to not have an initial ask. Don’t ask to connect or to block off 10 minutes on their calendar. Instead, gauge interest by giving a value prop. For example: “Noel, would you be opposed to increasing SmartBear’s footprint in the software testing industry through more engagement with the testing community? Stuff like more exposure on well renowned podcasts, featured articles by industry thought leaders, etc.

Asking, because (competitor) or (another team within the organization) has implemented our engagement strategy and seen their customer base and engagement within the software testing industry increase by 235 percent.”

CONNER'S TIP

Don’t ask to connect or to block off 10 minutes on their calendar. Instead, gauge interest by giving a value prop.

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you've used for writing cold emails?

Fanatical prospecting; shout out to sales expert and author Jeb Blount. This means extreme personalization so that the recipient of the email knows the email could only be for them. You do this by researching your prospect’s name, company, industry and common business pains they have. You find out what motivates them, what tugs on their heart strings and what makes their heads hurt. 

I’ve written all types of emails. Mail merges that highlight how easy our tools are to use, and how we are the industry leader and all the biggest names use us. But my best-performing cold emails are personalized to that singular human.

 

Further ReadingThe Art of Cold Calling

 

Zumper

Aaron Smith

REGIONAL SALES DIRECTOR

Aaron Smith

What they do: Why is renting an apartment so difficult? Zumper is out to change that. In the company’s words, it wants to “make renting an apartment as easy as booking a hotel.” They’re making it happen through virtual tours, up-to-date listings and an easy online application process that lets users know if they’ve been approved in 24 hours or less. 

 

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you've ever used? 

Whenever I am trying to get in touch with a decision-maker, I have found that if you refer to someone in their organization that they lead, it almost always leads to at the very least an open. So if I have talked to a vice president of marketing’s digital marketing specialist named Kevin, then my subject line reads, “Kevin mentioned we should connect,” Or “Let’s chat — Kevin mentioned your name.” When I do this, it shows that I’ve done my due diligence and might actually have insight into why our product can help them.
 

If you reference directly the pain point, what it is costing them and how you can solve it and then ask for them to talk, it lends credibility to you for doing the work.”


What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader once they’ve opened your email?

I’m a huge advocate of keeping it short and sweet. No one wants to read a wall of text with 15 hyperlinks about how awesome you are. This is your chance to share quickly what pain points you know they have and how to solve them. If you spend the first two lines of the email asking them how their weekend was and how happy you are about the weather, I think you’re going to lose them upfront. 

If you reference directly the pain point, what it is costing them and how you can solve it and then ask for them to talk, it lends credibility to you for doing the work instead of just sending a generic email blast to every VP on a purchased lead list. 

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you've used for writing cold emails? 

I’ve tried sending multiple email blasts out with information, and then send quick responses out to make sure I have the right contact. While that gets responses (mostly because you send it to 5,000 people), it does not get you insight or influence to have a valued opinion into anything in their company. 

Some of the best performers on my team keep a running list of people they are cold reaching out to. Every single morning before they hit the phones or meetings, they are sending emails out with information they learned the day before. To me, the only value that you can convey in a cold email is urgency. When you know the problem through doing great discovery, and you present that to the decision-maker in a succinct way, that’s a rare email to receive. Rare enough to get the Holy Grail: a begrudging response agreeing to meet — but only after they’ve told you that they likely don’t need what you are selling. But for us salespeople, we only need a little hope to close that next big deal!  

 

Gong

Eric Lindroos

SDR ENABLEMENT MANAGER

Eric Lindroos

What they do: Gong is a platform designed to help remote sales teams perform better. Through customer interaction data, deal visibility and tools to help sales reps understand where they can improve, Gong aims to help customers score more deals, strengthen their skills and shorten sales cycles. 

 

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you've ever used? 

The subject line of an email is always the most important part of your outreach. It doesn’t matter how phenomenal your email, company or value proposition is if nobody ever opens the email! I always go for noticeability and customization in both my subject line and in the email — I never want it to seem like a marketing template that I’ve sent to 100 people. 

I love using someone’s first and last name, followed by a teaser of what’s in the email. I had over a 75 percent open rate, because who doesn’t want to open and read an email about themselves and an accolade that they’ve achieved? I think the curiosity of seeing your name attached to something identifiable is why this tactic is so successful.

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader once they’ve opened your email?

To hook my prospect into the email, I tie my subject line to the premise for my outreach. Whether that’s an article they wrote, something about the company, a new role they’ve been promoted into, a LinkedIn recommendation they’ve received, company funding, etc. From there, I will then tie the premise to the body of my email, where I will speak to their buyer persona and connect our value proposition against it. Lastly, I tie it all together with a call to action, again highlighting what was mentioned in the premise and body. 

 

A SAMPLE COLD EMAIL FROM ERIC

“Hi, Robert. You mention in your article on LinkedIn that, ‘after many years of working at my company, I finally felt that I had earned my place. Long hours and constant learning had paid off. I failed a lot, but I succeeded enough to have made a difference.’ In parallel — by recording and analyzing your sales calls — the successful techniques of your top players can be replicated, giving your average reps the ability to fail less and succeed enough to make a difference.  Give me one chance on Tuesday at 3 p.m. to unpack how VPs use Gong to replicate success, drive more competitive wins and shorten the long hours it takes for new hires to ramp. And I promise not to chase you if you’re not impressed. Fair?”

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you’ve used for writing cold emails? 

The most effective formula is to have a noticeable subject line, which is followed by this structure: the premise, the body and the call to action.

There are also seven pillars of messaging that I follow in every email:

  • Noticeability: Subject line of the email.
  • Relevance: Based on buyer persona.
  • Prospect-centric: Only talk about your prospect.
  • Pain-centric: How you alleviate pain, not add pleasure.
  • Pride-aversive: Make the prospect the hero.
  • Fluidity: Connect the premise to the body and call to action.
  • Brevity: Never use seven words when four will do.
     

People want to read a customized email over a template any day.”


Lastly, if I’m using LinkedIn to prospect, I have five buckets that I place my premises into and have outlined them in order of importance: 

  • Authored content: Articles, LinkedIn recommendations, posts, webinars and blogs.
  • Engaged content: Shared posts, “likes” and comments.
  • Self-attributed traits: Profile descriptions, headlines, company experience. 
  • Company information: Mergers and acquisitions, blogs, funding, hiring, website language.
  • Junk drawer: Schools attended, personal interests, social media. 


Again, you have to tie back the premise, the body and the CTA against the buyer persona and your company value proposition. 

Writing a cold email following the above mentioned has brought me a ton of success, booked me a lot of meetings, gotten me job offers (I never took them!) and money. People want to read a customized email over a template any day.

 

Outreach

David Plutschak

CONTENT STRATEGIST

David Plutschak

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? Why was it so successful?

Judging by open rate, the most effective cold email subject line we’ve seen during my time at Outreach has been “Forrester Analysis of Outreach ROI (387% in 3 years).” This worked for two reasons. First, it leaned on a clear metric of success that appealed to senior decision-makers. Second, it included a respected third party. Without this external validation, the ROI claim would fall flat; it would be just another unsourced superlative that prospects hear from companies every day (“We’re the premier provider of ___!”). 
 

Successful sales messaging is a moving target. If you’re not keeping up then your message will sooner or later sink into irrelevance.”


The first couple of sentences or even words can make or break the success of a cold email. What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email?

Begin with a personalized sentence. No prospect wants to enter a sales conversation expecting a pitch from someone who won’t listen. You can do that by referencing a recent and relevant LinkedIn post they’ve shared, mentioning some recent company news, or by acknowledging a particular challenge facing companies in their industry (in that order). 

It’s important to make sure that it is meaningful personalization, and not simply restating someone’s LinkedIn profile back at them. That is all too common, and lazy personalization is worse than none at all. After that, establish your bona fides by acknowledging a likely risk that’s top of mind for them — and be specific. For example, “I’ve been talking to a lot of other medical field sales leaders this year who are struggling to help their teams adapt to inside sales. Here’s how we’re helping….” 

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you’ve used for writing cold emails? What were the results compared to other formulas or approaches you’ve tried?

The first thing I do when writing a new cold email template is to look at what we’ve already learned. That means looking at past results of A/B testing or speaking with sales managers and tenured sales reps on my team. You need to nurture and retain that kind of continuity or else you’ll just end up relearning old lessons over and over again. Once I have that background knowledge, I can create something new, along with a new A/B test. You iterate over time and not only does that get you closer to a message that works, but one that works right now. Successful sales messaging is a moving target. If you’re not keeping up then your message will sooner or later sink into irrelevance. 

 

Quantum Metric, Inc.

Tim Patterson

HEAD OF SALES DEVELOPMENT

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson, a head of sales development at Quantum Metric, said the best email subject lines will grab the prospect’s attention with marketable insights. However, don’t look to one source for potential leads. LinkedIn posts and tweets from professionals in your industry could be an innovative way to start a conversation. After all, everyone likes a compliment. 

 

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? 

“Your continued drive to build your brand and prove your impact.” 

 

Why was it so successful?

The most successful cold email subject line was to a VP of marketing during my time as an SDR at Marketo. The best subject lines focus on grabbing a prospect’s attention with marketable insights. This particular prospect had just shared a post on LinkedIn regarding building his company’s brand and proving the impact on the sales pipeline along the way. Adding marketable insights to your email subject line is the quickest way to grab the attention of your target audience. 

 

The best subject lines focus on grabbing a prospects attention with marketable insights.”

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email?

Answering two simple, yet complex questions: “Why you?” and, “Why now?” 

“Why you?” gives specific references to the prospect based on a trigger or priority they have. This comes from marketable insights during the research phase of outbounding. Regarding the subject line above, the marketable insight was the LinkedIn post shared about building the company’s brand. Obviously, that is a priority or passion of the prospect. 

The “why now?” gives a relevant business connection to the “why you?” aspect of your outreach. It answers the question of why you reached out and how you can positively impact their priority or pain. 

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you’ve used for writing cold emails? 

First, identify your target. Then, choose a trigger or reason for reaching out. This should be a marketable insight that answers, “why you?” From there, connect that message to your attention-grabbing answer to, “why now?” Lastly, have a direct call to action that is open-ended and specific. 

This formula results in a high email open rate and better start to the sales cycle. It builds trust, gets to the point and is extremely clear in the reasons you are reaching out. Out of the more than 100 SDR emails prospects receive, you have to stand out above the noise. 

 

Nylas

Cooper Wright

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT LEAD

Cooper Wright

Business Development Lead Cooper Wright said explaining the tech-heavy nuances of Nylas’ software may be a bit daunting to include in a cold email. Instead, he researches new prospects to determine 2-3 value-adds Nylas could contribute to their current tech stack. If he does not receive a reply, he follows up with a blank email to get back to the top of their inbox. 

 

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? 

“Did I lose you?”

 

Why was it so successful?

Whenever a prospect or target has gone cold on you, it can seem like an uphill battle to get them re-engaged. One of the ways I’ve found to be incredibly useful is to reply to the email thread with the changed subject line to “Did I lose you?” Then I send the email without anything in the body. (Yes, you read that right.)

When the prospect opens the email, all they see is my professional persistence over the last few weeks. The response rate tends to be very high and includes some empathy toward my outreach that has been incredibly helpful in getting traction on conversations that seem lost. 

 

I’ve found that doing as much research as possible helps prepare a good cold email.” 

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email?

I believe in taking more time to develop a personalized or witty line, rather than a generic email hook. Keep your introduction short and don’t let it distract from your overall messaging. 

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you’ve used for writing cold emails? 

Since Nylas is a quite technical product, I’ve found that doing as much research as possible into the target company and their current technology stack helps prepare a good cold email. 

I’ve tried organizing my cold emails based on industry (CRM companies vs. real estate companies) or different roles (CTO emails vs. CEO emails). However, the most effective way I’ve organized my outreach is to create a uniquely personalized email for each company because I can tailor my messaging around its specific needs or pain points. I can also get a lot more specific when sharing my research observations into their technology stack. 

I always include 2-3 bullet points that share specific enhancements that I see as value-adds for the company, which paint a picture for our prospect to start envisioning the possibilities before even taking the first meeting. That’s called “leading with value.”

 

MetaRouter

Dave Paprocki

HEAD OF GROWTH AND STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS

Dave Paprocki

According to Dave Paprocki, the head of growth and strategic partnerships at customer data infrastructure company MetaRouter, personalization is the key to a high open rate. Paprocki said a cold email is like knocking on someone’s office door; sales reps need to show interest before diving into the pitch.  

 

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you've ever used? 

“Better customer data on [company website name].” 

 

Why was it so successful?

This subject line achieved a solid 45 percent open rate for prospecting outreach. I believe it achieved such a strong open rate because it’s relatively open-ended and directly states what content the email contains. 

Whenever I’m reaching out to new, relatively cold prospects, I always think about what that email would look and sound like if it just appeared in my inbox. In some ways, it’s equivalent to walking up to someone’s office door and knocking. You have to show genuine concern in their interests and pain points before launching directly into the sales pitch. The subject line serves as that initial interest and credibility builder. And I think simple, relevant and personalized subject lines support that mindset.

 

The subject line serves as that initial interest and credibility builder. 

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email?

I research the individual first and some of their work history or projects if it’s available on LinkedIn. While this may take a little more time, it leads to significantly higher engagement. In addition, I always identify how I found them. Then, I ask if that person is responsible for the topic I’m attempting to talk to them about. While it may seem somewhat basic, it works. It’s a candid, honest conversation starter that helps break initial skepticism.

We’ve experimented with our outreach on a few occasions. The difference between thoughtful, personalized emails versus outreach that contained no personalization was significant. In a calculated quest to build some momentum, the emails without personalization only achieved, on average, a 10.9 percent open rate. The outreach with personalization averaged around 38 percent. 

 

Procare Solutions

Richard Ortega 

EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES

Richard Ortega

Richard Ortega, an executive VP of sales at childcare management software Procare Solutions, places himself in the reader’s shoes when crafting emails. To make a reader take notice, he aims to grab attention and convey his products’ value and relevance. A warm demeanor doesn’t hurt either.

 

What has been the most successful cold email subject line you’ve ever used? 

My formula is, “my company name plus their company name — reason for the email.” 

An example would be as follows: “Procare Software and Primrose School – keeping parents safe with contactless technology.”

 

The key to cold emails is to make them as warm as possible.”

 

What’s an effective strategy you use to hook the reader in once they’ve opened your email?

Busy decision-makers that have a presence on the web typically get a lot of unsolicited emails. A small percentage of those emails are valuable and relevant. My goal is to try and convey that value and relevance as early as possible. In addition, as a reader, I need to know quickly in an email if I’ve already had a conversation started or an attempt. I try to resolve those issues in the first couple sentences.

 

What’s the most effective formula or approach you’ve used for writing cold emails? 

The key to cold emails is to make them as warm as possible. A critical component of that is research. The better my research, the better my content. For example, if I learn that my prospect has opened new locations, I can reference their need to outfit those locations. 

Honesty and relevancy should equal value and interest.

 

Up Next7 Tips for Writing an Effective Follow-Up Email for Sales

 
Responses have been edited for clarity and length. 

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