7 Sanity Checks for Sending Cold Email

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 7.06.26 PMEmail Prospecting, the once-secret method (still) used (to great effect) by the hottest companies to get the attention of the biggest enterprises out there – even if all they talk about publicly is inbound marketing, adwords, and social – is no longer a secret.

Thanks to folks like Heather Morgan of SalesFolk, Aaron Ross, author of Predictable Revenue, and Steli Efti from Close.io, the cat’s out of the bag that sending emails to people you’ve never met before in order to get their attention and get your product in front of them doesn’t just work… it is often required and can be super-effective.

This isn’t to say that blogs, social media, AdWords, etc. aren’t useful… they’re ENORMOUSLY useful to accelerate deals, elevate and educate various personas at your Ideal Customers, etc. But it is to say that these methods may not be the way you reach potential customers initially, especially in the early stages of your existence. And in some cases, they may not be how you reach your potential customers ever.

Now, after they know about you, as a result of outbound “cold” email campaigns, or once they’re a customer to drive loyalty, your blog, white papers, webinars, infographics, and marketing website etc. are super-valuable; just sometimes not at first…

The Secrets of Great Cold Outreach Emails

Heather Morgan of Salesfolk and I did a webinar recently where we talked about the things that make or break a cold outreach email (and why so many of them are horrible!). If you have an hour or so, definitely check out the video archive of the webinar here.

The Evolution of Cold Sales Outreach

While the methods, tools, techniques, and tricks – including warming your leads before you email them – have evolved over time, which is awesome, the way people consume email has evolved, too. And of course this stuff applies to LinkedIn message and other social media “pings” as well.

Wait… isn’t this spam?

As someone who talks about “customer success” as much as I do, how can I also talk about sending email to people that you don’t know. Spamming people!

It’s simple… I believe in starting a relationship with a potential customer in a super-positive way. Which is why if – IF – you’re going to send a cold email to someone, it should pass the sanity checks below, but it should also be full of WIIFT – What’s In It For Them. It should be well-researched, personal, honest, etc. It should also be super-targeted so we’re not bothering people that aren’t a potential customer.

That all said, here’s the bottom line. If you’ve got a product that really will help people do their jobs more efficiently, be more effective at what they’re best at, get more customers, keep more customers, or otherwise better their situation… it’s in their best interest to know about your product, right?

If you’re solving for the customer’s success, then without your product, they’re not achieving the level of success they could. So not reaching out is the opposite of customer success.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not all altruistic here – a profit motive isn’t just acceptable to me, it’s pretty much required if you’d like to stay in business. But what I’m saying is simple. If you have something that will help others do better, you need to get it in front of them. They need to know about your product.

The problem is, if your product is in a new product category or solves a problem your potential customers don’t even know they have (i.e. they’re super low on the Awareness Ladder) then spending your time optimizing for SEO or buying AdWords ads or other “inbound” methods is honestly a waste of time and money. And doing  content marketing where you attempt to educate and elevate while building a new product category, while a useful strategy over the longer-term, is likely too slow to get the results you’re looking for (validating the market, hitting your numbers, etc.).

Sometimes you just have to reach out and touch someone… and there is NO reason to apologize for that. Ever. Ev. Er.

Don’t Hit Send: 7 Sanity Checks for Sending Cold Email

Over the years I’ve come up with a list of sanity checks I go through before I send a cold email, and I want to share this list with you, too. For these to be effective, though… you have to be willing to be 100% honest with yourself. If you can’t, get someone else to run these checks for you.

1. How would I react to getting this email from out of nowhere, from someone I don’t know?

Would I think this email is spam? Would I see, open, read, and take action on this message if I was the recipient?

Is it in the style that will engage rather than turn off?
Is the tone congruent with the tone necessary to get a positive reaction from the recipient?

That’s the sanity check – how would “I” feel – but the truth is, you probably aren’t like your customer so what you think and what they think may be very different. If it doesn’t even pass this sanity check for you, it’s unlikely to do so from your recipients’ point of view.

To really ensure that your email hits the mark, really take into consideration the recipient of your email (something people tend to over look) and run this sanity check from their POV.

Barring that, however, a quick self-check like this and the next six will likely suffice. Though you have to be intellectually honest with yourself.

2. Am I talking TO them or AT them?

Am I starting a conversation or ignoring their humanity? Not much more to say on this one… are you hitting them over the head with your pitch, or are you attempting to communicate with another human being?

So simple yet, like most things… so easily overlooked! (Why we default to non-human-mode so often is beyond me…)

3. Does this seem like a “blast” or an email a human sent to another human?

From just a content standpoint, does this seem like robots talking to robots? The biggest mistake people make when sending a cold email is to treat the recipient on the other end like… a human. I 1000% guarantee that if you simply take the time to say “does this seem like a normal person writing a note to another normal person?” your email will stand out in a good way over all the noise.

How many horrible emails do you get every day that you shake your head at? Who writes those things? And who do they expect to actually read it? Don’t let that happen to you. This should fix that.

Also, there are some technical things you need to do, especially if you aren’t sending from your own email system, like GMail, but are instead routing through a 3rd party service or server. See this article for things you can do technically to make it look like a human sent the email.

4. Is this email too long?

I tend to be quite wordy (not sure you noticed). This one is hard for me. Luckily, I’m also active on Twitter (you should follow me!), so my ability to get my point across quickly, in as few characters as possible – without losing context – has been honed quite well. This is the same thing with cold email.

Bottom line, would I – or even better, my intended prospect – actually read this email right then? The problem with long emails… the intention might be to read it, but it’s so long they’ll put it off for later… only to never read it.

What’s the minimum you need to say to get their attention and your point across? Say. Nothing. Else.

5. Is this readable AND actionable from a small mobile device?

Another totally simple one… but also easily overlooked, especially if you’re in a hurry (and who isn’t, right?).

Test it on your iPhone, iPad, Android, whatever you think your audience might use. Make sure the subject – or at least the juicy bit – is visible as an “unread” message (usually bolded, and takes up more screen real estate) in “portrait” mode in the inbox.

Make sure the pre-header/preview text will help entice them to open the email. This is an oft-overlooked opportunity to drive-up open rates.

I remember a short time a few years ago where I used a screencast tool that was super-easy to use, but the output was a Flash movie.  I would then send these awesome little onboarding tear-downs or landing page critiques to my mailing list and get very little interaction. Then people started telling me they couldn’t play the movie.

Then I looked at what devices my audience was using to consume my emails… whoops… overwhelmingly iOS… you know, where Flash doesn’t work.

So now I make sure to the greatest extent possible whatever I send is consumable on all devices. But if I had to use a technology – for some weird reason – that was only usable on one platform, for me (this is for ME… your situation may, and probably does, vary), I’d pick something that worked on iOS.

You won’t have the benefit of knowing what platforms your recipients use (before you send to them), but since you’re not going to make a big ask in this initial email, this shouldn’t be a huge deal, but if you wanted to link to a video or something, just make sure it plays across all platforms.

6. Am I starting out with too big of an ask?

Would I respond favorably to the a “let’s jump on a 15-minute call” request from a cold email? If you’re going to ask for a meeting, 15-mins is probably the shortest, realistic amount of time to ask for. Anyone who’s been around for any time knows that shorter meetings don’t work or, even worse, turn into longer meetings. So 15-mins is the shortest I’d ask for… but I wouldn’t ask for that on the first-ever email from me.

Is there a smaller ask I can make? Can I just ask them an open-ended question to start a conversation?

7. Am I trying to circumvent the process by jumping to that ask too quickly?

Am I being impatient and asking for a meeting in the first email instead of working the process?

This is a big one. You know you should start a conversation, then get them to watch a video, then ask for a meeting (or whatever), but you’re in such a hurry to meet your goals, hit your number, etc. that you think “nah… I’ll just ask for that meeting in the first email. If they’re not ready to meet with me, then phooey on them!” (yup… I said phooey). “I’ll send it to 100 people and I’ll get 5 meetings out of that.. big win for me!”

But the reality is, while you might get 5 meetings, if you work the process, which often adds only minutes (your question, their response, you send link, they reply, you ask for meeting… can take just a few minutes to get there), you might get 20 or 50 meetings out of that list of 100 addresses. But instead, you opted to jump the line… and you wasted 95 contacts who see you as pushy or spammy rather than a real person who’s interested in them.

Cold Email Next Steps

If your email passes those sanity checks, then it’s probably good to go.

If not, rewrite until it passes.

Simple. Not always easy, but simple.

About Lincoln Murphy

I invented Customer Success. I focus primarily on Customer Engagement. Learn more about me here.