15 Golden Rules of Cold Email Outreach for Generating Leads

15 Golden Rules of Cold Email Outreach for Generating Leads

Ready to fill your calendar with sales calls? Cold email outreach can do the trick, but only if you get it right.

Are you ready for a calendar packed with sales calls? Then you should consider cold email outreach: It's one of the most effective lead generation strategies. 

But it's easy to get it wrong - resulting in complete silence once you've launched your campaign. 

That's why you should read our list of golden rules for cold emailing before you start randomly sending emails to prospects. These tips will help you write better emails that will fill your inbox with interested leads. 

Below you'll find our 15 golden rules for cold email:

Rule 1. Have a Clearly Defined Audience

Knowing who your target audience is can be quite challenging and is often not given half the attention it deserves. The key is to be narrow and specific. If your target audience is something broad like “software companies”, you need to add defining characteristics that you want in your ideal customer. Something like “newly founded software companies looking to find early seed investors” is much better.

Having a clearly defined and narrow target market can help you:

  • Become an expert in this market
  • Better understand your customers’ pain points
  • More easily get word of mouth
  • Save on advertising costs (since you’d be advertising to fewer people)

Rule 2. Offer Clear Results

Every cold email needs to have an offer, and your offer is by far the most important part of your cold outreach generally and your cold email strategy specifically. If you nail it, you’ll be surprised by the results you’re getting.

One thing you should definitely do within your offer is present a clear and quantified outcome. This helps the reader better visualize what working with you will be like, which makes it easier for them to actually start working with you. It also gives you added legitimacy and makes you sound more professional.

Avoid the fluff that we see far too often in cold emails that are done the wrong way. Here’s a good example with a clear offer: “We help you connect with at least 10 investors, each looking to invest $20,000 or more into your business.”

Here’s a bad example with a vague offer: “We help you connect with a ton of investors looking to invest a ton of money into your business.”

Rule 3. Offer Something Unique

As with everything else in marketing, you need to convey your differential advantage. You need to show that you offer something so interesting that your target audience can’t get the same product or service anywhere else unless they want to do business with you. There are many ways to be unique. Here are just a few examples:

  • A unique time-frame: “We’ll execute in two weeks.”
  • A unique guarantee: “If we don’t connect you with at least 3 interested investors, we’ll give you your money back.”
  • A unique service: “With each of our paid packages, we offer complimentary financial and legal advising.”

Rule 4. Have A Solid Structure

Having a structure helps you organize your message and offer, and it helps your prospect better understand you. Here’s a basic 4-part structure we often use:

  • Start with a greeting
  • Compliment them 
  • Very briefly explain what you do (here’s where you plug in your clear, unique offer)
  • Call-to-action (this is where they go from becoming aware of your presence to being interested in your business)

This structure is compact, efficient, and versatile. It can be adapted to practically any industry, and using it means you’d automatically be applying some of the other golden rules in this article.

Rule 5. Refrain From Using “I”

Of all the letters in the alphabet, “I” is probably the worst one to start your e-mail with. And no - “we” isn’t a great substitute, either.

Remember: people receiving your cold emails probably haven’t heard of your business before actually seeing the email. Imagine some random stranger just walking up to your doorstep, knocking, and after you open, they start talking about how great they are.

The point is to talk about them and their company, not you. Your focus should be on what you can do for them and how you can help them address their pain points.

Rule 6. The Shorter, the Better

People are quite busy these days, and reading cold emails is usually not high in their priority lists.

That’s why this is one of the most important golden rules you must follow: if your email is too long, you’ll probably be ignored even before your prospect has read the first sentence.

Plus, with cold emails, your goal is never to sell them anything on the spot. You should instead try to get your foot in the door.

Using the above structure helps keep your cold emails concise and to-the-point. If you plug in just one sentence for each of the 4 parts, you’d definitely increase the rate at which your emails get read.

Rule 7. Low-Barrier Call-To-Action (CTA)

The easier it is for them to comply with your request, the more likely they are to comply with your request. This might be counterintuitive, but even asking for a meeting right away can be too much. Instead, use something like “Is that worth a chat to you?”. Notice how that sounds natural and easy-flowing. They can just easily reply with a “yes”.

Don’t worry – you will not be losing out on leads if you don’t include an “impactful” CTA. If they’re really interested in your offer, they will let you know. Also, this is one of those things which you should consistently experiment with to find what works best for you.

Rule 8. Don’t Push Too Hard

This golden rule ties in with the previous two (keeping the email short and the CTA simple), and it’s probably the rule that gets disregarded the most. An alarming number of freelancers and small agencies working in graphic design, web development, and copywriting make the mistake of pushing too hard by giving large “discounts” and promising results that sound (and usually are) too good to be true.

If you get an email from a random stranger telling you about a 70% discount which he “hasn’t offered anyone else”, you’d do more than just raise an eyebrow. You’d probably block the sender.

The solution? Be as genuine as possible with your copy and offer, and treat the cold email as exactly that – a cold email! It’s a way of introducing yourself politely and quickly to a stranger and offering help. That means no flash sales, no limited-time special discounts, and no buzz word fluff.

Rule 9. Talk To a Human, Not a Robot

When sending an email to a business, remember that a human will read it. Keep your copy as natural as possible, and don’t be afraid to loosen up. You can even get into the mindset of “I’m talking with a friend,” – and if things work out, you really will be!

This can be difficult at first, because you need to find the right balance of appearing professional and reliable, but not so professional that you come across as uptight and unsympathetic. This is why we recommend A/B testing your copy so that you find the right balance that works for your market and for you.

A rule of thumb: business-to-business relationships are still, at their core, human-to-human relationships.

Rule 10. Make Friends

Please do not start your email with “To whom it may concern”. Just don’t, because those will probably be the only 5 words that your prospects read.

“Hi *First Name*” is a better option as it’s friendlier and more welcoming. It invites a reply – at least out of common courtesy if not out of business interest, which is much better than inviting a “move to junk”.

A subtle method you can use to come off as amiable (and to validate yourself at the same time) would be to casually include social proof in your email, but be careful not to sound like you’re boasting. Something like “we’ve helped over 30 companies this year so far” can work just fine.

Also, if people reply uninterested, don’t try to spin it or convince them. You’re not trying to push your solution, and you’re better off investing time in other prospects. Who knows? There’s a chance they’re just uninterested in your solution because they were not in need of it and the time they read your email. Maybe a month or two down the road, if they realize a need for what you have to offer, they’re much more likely to get in touch with their newly acquired friends than with someone who gave them a hard time in an email exchange.

Rule 11. Personalize

If we know a recipient’s first name, you can bet we’ll include it in the email. Why? Because personalizing your emails, as early as the first sentence, makes them more likely to get opened, get read all the way through, and get replied to. 

A more advanced tip would be to personalize your email according to the person you’re sending it to, instead of their company. If you can give them a compliment which you can only send to them, you’d be setting yourself up for a new customer and a new friend.

A rule of thumb to keep in mind: knowing your addressee, and personalizing the email accordingly, is the main difference between a great cold email and spam.


Rule 12. Manage Replies

If you’re getting replies, you’re on the right track. Don’t slow down, though! You’ll want to manage your replies, so you can further guide your prospects down the sales funnel towards becoming customers.

Here are some general tips to keep in mind when managing replies:

  • The faster you reply, the better. First, you’re keeping the conversation flowing. The last thing you want is for a prospect to lose interest because they had to wait a week for a follow-up. Furthermore, you are more likely to be perceived as reliable and efficient. From the prospect’s view, if you make them wait for an email reply, they’re bound to think that you’ll make them wait far too long to actually deliver your solution.
  • Follow the other golden rules throughout this article in all your email exchanges. These rules are not just for your first emails, because cold email is much more than that. You should always strive to sound likable, clear, unique, etc.
  • Have a list of FAQs ready. When you’re sending a large number of good quality emails and receiving a large number of replies, you will most likely see the same handful of questions being repeated over and over again. Having replies ready for them can come in handy and will save you lots of time. 
  • Follow up with prospects who’ve shown interest but stopped replying. One message is usually not enough to get your foot in the door, especially if what you’re offering is pricy.

Rule 13. Use The Right Tools

Ever tried undoing a bolt without a screwdriver? The strongest person on earth can break all their nails and teeth trying to remove a small bolt out of its place and fail, but a little child with a screwdriver can finish the job in a few seconds.

Tools matter, and with cold email, tools matter a lot. With the right tools, you can:

  • Better personalize your emails by scraping data about your prospects from the web or from dedicated databases and automatically plug them into your emails.
  • Avoid dreaded spam filters by verifying the email addresses you’re targeting.
  • Drastically speed up your workflow and reach a wider audience in a small amount of time.
  • Accurately A/B test your copy and your offers, so you can find out what works and what doesn’t.

Rule 14. Put Yourself In The Recipient’s Shoes

The golden rule of golden rules. Treat others as you would want them to treat you.

When you’re done with a good draft, and you’re ready to review it, try to read it as though you were the person receiving it. Then ask yourself:

  • On a busy day, would I read this thing till the end?
  • Is the offer interesting, clear, and genuine?
  • Do I care about this solution enough to reply? (This one is very important. If you doubt that the prospect will not take action after reading the whole email, then you should edit your email before sending.)

It would also be a good idea to send it to a colleague first (the more they are like your target audience, the better) so they can look at it with fresh eyes. 

Rule 15. Nail The Subject Line

We left one of the most important tips for last. No compilation of cold email rules and tips would be complete without a note about subject lines.

Your subject line is your first impression, and it’d be cliché to start talking about how important first impressions are. Regardless, we can’t stress enough on how important your subject line is, because it is your prime opportunity to peak your prospect’s interest and get them hooked on reading through the email.

Again, this is one thing we highly recommend you A/B test. Try putting first names, asking questions, presenting statistics, and more. See what gets replies, what comes off as too intrusive or pushy, and what ends up making you new friends and customers.

Final Thoughts:

If you think that’s a lot to take in – you’re right. It is. Don’t worry, though, because we have good news.

First: you don’t need to apply all of the above rules right away. You’re bound to make some mistakes, learn about your industry and customers, and adapt accordingly.

Second: we’re here to help! As a sales partner, we take all these worries away from you, and make sure these golden rules are incorporated in your cold outbound lead gen. Leave the heavy lifting to us, and we’ll get you all these high-quality leads right in your inbox.

15 Golden Rules of Cold Email Outreach for Generating Leads