Not Google ads, not blogs, not social media posts. The best way for startups to generate leads, marketers say, is cold email.
An old school method of outreach, cold emailing is messaging a potential customer with whom you haven’t yet built a relationship.
Unlike spam, which is blasting one same email to a large number of people, usually with the goal of selling something, cold emails are targeted, personalized, and aim to start a conversation. “You’re making it seem like you are sending it just to them, and you’re trying to sell them on meeting with you,” Alex Berman, CMO at digital marketing agency Experiment 27, explained in a YouTube video.
The advantages of cold emails for startups? Cold emails are affordable, scalable, and effective. Startups can use them not only to ramp up sales, but also to find investors, recruit talent, get press coverage, and network.
Essential cold emails for startups
The most common cold emails for startups are lead generation, promotional, networking, recruiting, and fundraising emails.
1) Lead generation emails help them find their first customers
2) Promotional emails help them share their story with the press
3) Networking emails are a way to connect with potential partners, influencers, and other startup founders
4) Recruiting emails are used to reach out to talent
5) Fundraising emails are used for connecting with potential investors
Why use cold emails for startups
New businesses rely heavily on cold emails for lead generation, networking, and fundraising because it works: according to HubSpot, email generates $42 for every $1 spent, which is a 4200% ROI. According to Berman, cold emails are the main source of growth in all his companies.
Online, startup founders will find success stories like Dhruv Ghulati’s, who secured a $500,000 investment for his startup from billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban after sending him a cold email. (You can read the full story, and read the cold email, here.)
But there’s a catch. For a cold email to work, i.e., for it to be opened, read, and taken action on, it needs to be good.
Cold email essentials
So what makes a good cold email? Plenty of marketers have taken a stab at answering this question, and have even written books and designed courses on the topic. But most of them agree on one thing: the subject line and the opening sentence can make or break a cold email.
The subject line
“If you can get your subject line to work, that’ll solve most of your problems with cold email,” says Berman.
But finding the subject line that works best with your audience takes testing and iterating.
“The typical testing process that we do (…) is to send subject lines in batches of 10. So, for every subject line, we’re gonna send it to 10 prospects and see what the open rates are,” he explains.
According to him, the subject line that’s performed the best is one with no words, just an emoji related to the industry the client is in (e.g., beer emoji for a brewery). Other tried-and-tested subject lines include:
- “<Prospect’s company name> + <your company name>”
- “Quick question”
- “Hi from <your name>”
- A word for what you offer, e.g. “soundtrack”
- A mention of a future event, e.g. “coffee thursday?”
- A passionate statement, e.g. “I can’t wait to work with you”
- A compliment, e.g. “Impressed!”
- Using the prospect’s name, e.g. “Paul, here’s an idea”
- A question
The opening sentence
Once the prospect has opened the email, the challenge is to get them to keep reading. According to the experts, whether or not they’ll continue will depend on how effective the first line of the email is.
Mike Schultz, president at sales training company RAIN Group, suggests opening with a referral whenever possible, since research shows that referrals are how over 84% of buyers start their journey. Here’s an example:
”<Name> said you’d be the best person for me to talk to about <topic>.”
Alternatively, the sender can mention a shared interest, identity, or affiliation, such as having attended the same university as the prospect.
In the lack of a shared connection or interest, Bernam recommends leading with a compliment, e.g., praising an article the prospect wrote or a project they worked on.
Randy Ginsburg, an author and product developer who has sent over 500 cold emails, agrees that praising and supporting the prospect’s work is highly effective, but suggests that founders do so prior to reaching out, so that they can later reference their “favor” in the first line of their cold email.
He got this idea from the book “Give and Take,” where author Adam Grant recommends taking 5 minutes of your day everyday to do something for someone in your network without expecting anything in return.
”After learning this trick, I did at least one five minute favor a day for three months, knowing that I may never get anything back in return. When it came time to send a cold email, in the first line I offered a few words of praise, subtly mentioning that I left a review of their book, shared with my audience, etc. It worked like a charm. My inbox was flooded with responses,” Ginsburg wrote.
Finally, another effective cold email opening line involves showing an understanding of a particular challenge the customer is facing. “Stating the problem” is the first step in the PAS framework, a popular formula for persuasive copywriting. (PAS stands for Problem-Agitate-Solution. You can find out more about it here.)
Tips for writing effective cold emails
Follow these recommendations when writing cold emails:
A cold email should include an intro, a pitch, and a call-to-action—all in five sentences or less, so that it can be easily read on the phone.
Keep it simple and text-based
Don’t add links or attachments. “If you send a proposal or a pricing sheet or images of what you do, that’s gonna kill open rates and responses,” says Bernam.
Add social proof
Show that you’ve helped companies in the same industry achieve similar goals.
Make an irresistible offer
Offer one simple thing the prospect can’t say no to.
Have a clear call-to-action
Make one simple request, such as booking a consultation. “Don’t ask prospects to let you know what they thought of the video you linked to and to find a time to discuss your latest research and to schedule a demo and to introduce you to their colleague in IT,” says Ginsburg.
Ensure the message is error-free
Make sure there are no typos, grammar errors, or random bolding and capitalization. Errors make you seem less trustworthy.
Using TextExpander for crafting cold emails
Although cold email templates are a great starting point, especially as you’re getting started with outbound sales, we recommend creating your own versions of cold emails using TextExpander.
TextExpander helps you craft cold emails efficiently while still personalizing them and making them unique. You can use TextExpander when cold emailing to:
Guarantee correct spelling
When you’re manually typing close to 50 cold emails a day, you’re bound to misspell names, especially complicated ones. You can waste time doing multiple checks, or you can do better: create TextExpander snippets for company and individual names. This eliminates the need to type names out fully and ensures their correct spelling every time.
Cold email prospecting is time-consuming, but text expansion makes it infinitely more efficient. Save key phrases, links, and other details on TextExpander to make them instantly accessible via shortcuts, then craft complete, detailed messages in seconds.
Found a cold email that works better than the rest? Save the entire message (subject line included) as a customizable snippet in TextExpander. Fill-in fields ensure your message is personalized, even if it comes from a template, and enable you to reach out to prospects at remarkable speed.
Do date math
Manually calculating dates is a hassle, and there’s always the chance you’ll make a mistake. With TextExpander, you can stop checking calendars and calculating dates. Instead, create snippets that automatically insert dates for you. A snippet for “Add 15 Days” for example, will expand the date 15 days from now.
TextExpander has plenty more uses and features. Learn more about them—and how your startup can save up to 30 hours a month by communicating more efficiently—here.
Use cold emails to grow your startup
Cold emails are an affordable way for startups to connect with potential customers and supporters. But they’re only effective when they’re clear, useful, concise, and come with an intriguing subject line.
For cold email inspiration, check out Kyle Racki’s and Noah Kagan’s excellent breakdowns of the best cold emails they have ever received. If you’ve received a cold email you liked, we’d love for you to share it with us.
Do you send cold emails? Let us know what’s worked for you in the comments below.