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The successful cold email: a step-by-step recipe

cold emailYou need to get help from someone who doesn’t know you. You’ve got their email address, but you just sit there staring at the blinking cursor. What will get the right response? Show respect, then tell the truth.

Take the time to do the cold email right. Be short and to-the-point. Build the email step by step. Here’s how:

Cold emails need a subject line that shows what you want.

Don’t hide what you want, get to it. I don’t enjoy getting coy emails, do you? Here are a few examples of good subject lines:

“Would like to interview you this week regarding your Facebook strategy for my new book”

“Want your input on my career change.”

“Are you available to speak at our Web Developer conference on January 21?”

Introduce yourself with a microwave greeting.

While an extended warmup frustrates the recipient, you don’t want to start a conversation with a request. A microwave greeting is a quick warmup that introduces things. You should follow this with a brief (one sentence) description of who you are. If you have a connection, use it here. Link to your bio or Linked In page.

“Hi, Josh. I’m a friend of Rohit’s and the CMO of a small Web services company.”

“I saw you speak at the Web 2.0 Conference. I’m an MBA student at Harvard.”

“We spoke briefly at the social media breakfast. I am an author who specializes in clear writing.”

Show you are familiar with the recipient’s work.

People respond more quickly to somebody who shows they’ve spent a moment learning about the recipient. Anything else is disrespectful. Omit this, and you’ll look like a mass emailer (and get deleted).

“Your series of blog posts on sales strategy are the most insightful analysis I’ve seen on that topic.”

“Your YouTube videos about eating right are very popular with my fellow students in the dietitian program.”

“I was amazed that a company like Lego was so successful with its Facebook page — I saw you were in charge of that effort in AdWeek.”

Explain what you want.

Be respectful, but not pushy. Don’t be shy, either. (I get mystifying emails all the time that omit this and I think “Why are you bothering me?” just before I hit the delete button.)

“I would like to interview you this week about your activities; it will take about half an hour.”

“Can you tell me quickly whether you think a marketing person should bet their career on social media?”

“Can you share any statistics on Facebook traffic?”

Explain the mutual benefit.

Why should we work together?

“Many of the companies we profile come off looking great — I think our readers would love to hear your story.”

“We will include your company name in our article and attribute credit properly.”

“I think based on my background that I’d be a great fit. You seem to need more people with industry experience.”

Keep the details short.

Your goal is a response — you can get into the details after they respond. Don’t send a long email, don’t paste in big graphics, and for lord’s sake don’t include an unsolicited 3MB attachment. But do include a deadline.

“Our conference attracts over 500 senior people and has included speakers like Richard Branson.”

“I will provide opportunities to review all the quotes for accuracy before we publish.”

“I don’t think this will take more than 15 minutes.”

“I really need to complete this before the end of the week; I’m sorry about the rush, but the editors have given me a deadline.”

Close in a friendly way and summarize.

By this point you can add a little flattery.

“I really hope you can help me — you are clearly a marketing leader whose activity deserves more attention.”

“Thanks for your help with this conference. I hope to see you the next time I am in Boston.”

Use a signature that’s not some baroque object.

Check your auto signature. How long is it? Are you really that important? Contact info is usually sufficient.

Put it all together

Would like to interview you this week for my new book on writing

Hi, Sally. My friend Fred at Smallcorp has said you are one of his best clients. Based on what he said, I think you’d be a great interview on my chapter about blog posts.

If you don’t know me, I’m the coauthor of Groundswell, a bestselling book about social technologies. You can read more about it here.

I’ve read some of your posts; they’re amazing. In a world awash in fake, self-serving content, your posts seem somehow more genuine.

I’d like to interview you for my next book, Writing Without Bullshit. Can we set up an interview by Friday of next week? It should take about half an hour.

The folks I interview are generally pleased since we show them as an example of best practices. Once I have written this up, I’ll send it to you so you can check that the facts are correct and that we have quoted you accurately.

I hope to hear from you in the next few days — I’d really like to include you.

Thanks again.

Josh Bernoff | Chief Troublemaker

617 513 3166
Twitter: @jbernoff

(Have you received an ineffective, annoying, or dreadful email? Forward it to me at josh at bernoff dotcom. I need material!)

I adapted this post from an earlier post on the Groundswell Blog and the graphic from The Noun Project.

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