Be real. How many times has this happened to you:
Ouch. YOU thought it was a great email, but the person on the other end thought otherwise.
You know you can provide value. But your emails aren’t telling that story.
And that is immensely frustrating. All you want to do is land big deals that can make or break your company. They bring the money that fuels your business and the prestige that brings in MORE customers.
If you’re heading up a sales department, every mounting miss brings you closer to the wrath of your CEO.
But if you’re a one-person show with limited resources, the silence from unanswered emails can be backbreaking (and kill your company before it ever gets off the ground).
So instead of sending and praying, I’m going to show you the exact steps behind how our sales team writes the best cold emails in the industry.
Note: This guide is 6,000 words long. If you want, you can get a one sheeter with all the tips AND 9 pre-written cold email templates (with the psychology behind them).Click here to get your email templates!
We’ve been working on these emails for years. After all that trial and error, we’ve found some universal truths that led to us landing deals with businesses like these:
Airbnb, Entrepreneur, The Chive, Tony Robbins, Beachbody, 4-Hour Workweek
Those are big names. And they didn’t start using us by accident.
Yes, Sumo is extremely valuable to these businesses. But your business has just as valuable a solution to the businesses you’re reaching out to.
That’s why cold emails aren’t just about writing the email. No, the four truths to closing through emails looks like this:
It may seem like a lot of work. You aren’t wrong.
But would you rather put in the work upfront and have a plan or would you rather keep throwing emails into a black hole?
Don’t worry. I’m here to break it all down for you, starting with the step almost everyone skips...
When I sat down with the sales team to write this guide, my first question was, “Alright, let’s get to it. How do you write these emails. Spare no detail.”
The eye roll Anton Sepetov (our VP of Sales) gave me literally shifted the Earth’s axis and gave Minnesota three more months of winter.
Needless to say, the perfect email doesn’t start when you hit the “New Message” button.
First, know how many clients you want to land and in what time frame you want to land them. Your plan could revolve around one large client or a few mid-sized ones. It’s up to where you are in your particular business.
At Sumo, we have a specific revenue number to hit. Since we know that number, we can work backwards from it, and suddenly we know how many businesses we have to reach out to that month.
If you’re newer to sales and don’t necessarily have that number yet, follow this advice from Kevin Mendoza:
“You learn a lot when you set goals that are hard to achieve in a short time frame. You don’t have time to wait for ‘No,’ so you just get out there and hustle.”
Setting targets unique to your business helps you stay focused and avoid trying to do too much (or too little) at once.
You’re not my grandpa after church -- you can’t talk to literally every person at every business.
Set clear goals around exactly who you want to talk to. It’s as simple as knowing who your ideal customer is. For Sumo, we go off two high-level criteria:
You’d be surprised at how significantly those two questions narrow down the field. From there, you can get more specific and categorize your prospects. A few ideas:
If you run a freemium service, you have the advantage of knowing a little more about your prospect (like usage rates, conversion rates and other special data). That makes your job easier because your email will be warm instead of cold.
(For the new folks, cold emails are to prospects that haven’t interacted with your or your product. Warm emails are to leads that have shown at least some interest in your product.)
Categorizing everyone will help you get personal when you create your emails (more on that later).
Yes. You want to sell your product and live the Scrooge McDuck life. You and the other 50 people that contact any given business a day.
But there’s something called “process vs. outcome” and it has a lot to do with cold emails:
Can you see why it’s weird when the plan for most people is “make a sale?”That’s the outcome, and you don’t get there without the process.
If your goal is to make a sale, think of everything you need to do to get to that point:
Hover over the image to share.
If you want the sale, you need to get them on a demo/call. To get them there, they have to schedule time. If they want to schedule time, they have to read to your email. To read your email, they have to open it.
When you look at your goal that way, you realize your subject line is extremely important. But without working backwards, you’d spend less time perfecting it than you should.
Your goals may differ. It may take more emails to reach your goal (people rarely respond to your first email). For us, we don’t expect people to book a call after the first email -- it’s more of a way for them to get used to us.
That’s ok. Just make sure you clearly define what your path looks like so you're not inconsistent with your process. Inconsistency is the biggest derailer of your goal.
Eventually enough is enough. In the moment, when you want to close a sale, you might lose sight of just how many times you’ve reached out to someone.
The danger of that oversight is twofold. Not only do you risk angering your prospect, but you’re also wasting your own time if you don’t know when to stop.
Set a pre-defined amount of emails and don’t be afraid to let your prospect know in the last email that it is the last email. Salesforce says it takes 6-8 touches (or communications) to get a viable sales lead.
Don’t give up before that number (because statistically 44% of you give up after one follow up), but tread lightly when you start planning for double digits.
If you’re planning on that much communication, ask yourself if you can talk less by being more creative. For your bigger clients, let this example of a job candidate dressing up like a PostMates delivery person to hand-deliver his resume inspire you.
I did this once but it was a police uniform and it went poorly
Which one of these sounds like you?
The answer determines how you approach the execution of sending your emails.
If you just started direct sales, validation is the name of the game. You don’t have proven scripts, you don’t know what works and building a massive system would take too much of your time and money.
For you, don’t worry about big tools and even bigger email sequences -- just test everything out by sending 1:1 in whatever email service you use (Gmail, Outlook, etc.). Validate what works, and what doesn’t. If you see results, then you can invest in automation.
If you’re a sales pro looking to level up, start looking at companies like Outreach and Mixmax for your email needs. You can set up your proven sequence to run automatically, you can see if people open your emails AND you get notified when someone responds back.
With all this in place, you should be armed with a badass goal of who you want to target, how you want to target them and what you want them to do when they open your emails.
Which means you get to move to the main event….
Your plan is foolproof. Your ambition, endless. Your coffee mug is full (maybe with whisky, I don’t judge).
You’re ready to write some badass emails.
But let’s pump the brakes for a second. I know cold emails are sexy because they’re like the Mt. Everest challenge of emails. But consider this advice from Anton:
“Cold emails are attractive, but they’re just so damn hard. It’s so much easier if you’re sending warm emails. Email people you know, ask them for referrals, hit up your old customers. The simple act of knowing someone makes selling so much easier.”
Almost all the advice in this section applies to both cold and warm emails. But remember this -- warm emails are your best bet for consistently closing sales.
If you can, follow Anton’s advice. Reach out to people you know or those that use your product already (if there’s a free version). Those people are much more likely to buy than someone you don’t even know.
Alright. Disclaimer OVER. Let’s get to the goods…
Before you write a single word, you need to get in the right mindset for how you’re going to write.
How long do you think it takes you to write a proper sales email? An hour? Maybe more?
How long does it take to text one of your friends? A couple of seconds, if you’re being real verbose and loose with the emoji game.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could spend the same amount of time writing a cold sales email as a text?
The funny thing is, most people make the mistake of spending all this time writing a cold sales email because they think it has to be clever and proper and completely professional.
But chew on this quote that our entire sales team lives and dies by:
“When you say you need to be more formal, what you’re really saying is I need to make this more boring.”
99% of the time you’re writing a cold email, formality can be damned. The 1% comes when you talk to Fortune 100 companies, but even then you can still have a little fun.
Our best emails read like a text from your best friend. You have to imagine your lead gets 20-40 terrible cold emails per day, filled with robotic language that stretches into hundreds of words. After enough of those emails, do you think they have time to read your long email?
If you want a response, you need to stand out. That’s why our own emails follow rules like:
Sometimes we even use GIFs like this:
But, why won’t you respond to us?!
Informal doesn’t mean sloppy -- it means familiar and casual. And when you see the results these informal emails get, you’ll wonder why you ever used words like “mutual synergy” in the first place.
You may not realize it, but using questions in your subject lines can immensely improve your open rates.
Remember, when we work backwards from our goals, opening an email is the most crucial “mini goal” in your plan. Pretty easy to assume if they aren’t opening your emails, they can’t see your pitch.
Asking or saying you have a question in your subject line is the easiest way to get your email opened.
Case in point, here’s our highest-opened subject line:
It’s nothing complex. We’re just letting you know we have a quick question. What’s powerful about this subject line is:
Take a look at other articles writing about subject lines. The best lines are almost always questions.
You can see the difference when I take subject lines we’ve received (that we didn’t open):
And turn them into questions:
You’re INSTANTLY more curious with the second set of subject lines.
When you write your subject line, think of how you can turn it into a question. It’s your most powerful weapon to get your emails noticed and opened.
One trap many people fall for is writing one “really good email” they can copy, paste and send to everyone on their list.
But think about this quote from Kevin for a second:
“An email written for 100 people will work for 0 people. It’s not personalized, and people can smell a cookie cutter email a mile away.”
When I say personalization, I’m not talking about lines like “I saw last weekend that you went to Culver's and ordered cheese curds. I also love cheese curds. Now that we’ve bonded, let’s talk about your marketing strategy.”
That’s pretty creepy (though Culver’s is delicious). But personalization at the outset of your email is absolutely crucial for two reasons:
Those two aspects working in tandem keep your lead reading and interested.
Now, if you did your research like we suggested in step one, you should have a clear list of who you’re emailing at each company (instead of firstname.lastname@example.org).
AND, by the grace of the 21st century, you’re armed with the most powerful surveillance tool your predecessors would’ve killed for 20 years ago -- social media. That means you get a direct line into the most relevant interests of your leads and their business for free.
But research and personalization are pretty useless unless you know what angle you’re going for at the beginning of your email.
After thousands of emails, we’ve tried four main personalized openings and ranked them in order of most effective to least:
What’s crazy is there’s one technique that trumps all these examples: Specific knowledge of your lead using your product.
Of course, using your product means your lead is warm instead of cold. This is a clear example of warm emails being better than cold, because you can open your email with lines like this:
“Just letting you know based on traffic to (THEIR COMPANY) you're in the top 10% of companies using (YOUR COMPANY). BUT…”
Forget common interests. If you know how your lead is using your product, it’s the ultimate form of personalization.
Once you start off on the right foot and get your lead’s attention, you go into the meat of the email…
You know who the “Me Monsters” are.
You try to have a normal conversation with them. But every time you bring something up they jiu-jitsu their way into talking about themselves.
It’s so damn annoying.
Yet you read emails like this all the time:
I, I, I. Me, me, me. This email is full of a lot about their company and not a lot about the reader.
If you’re talking that much about you, then how can your lead really feel out what’s in it for them?
After you nail the intro, you enter what’s called the “what’s in it for them” stage. This entire part should be about three things:
Let’s start with what’s going wrong. You might reflexively shy away from this because it seems like a negative thing to say so soon.
Don’t. If things are going right, there’s almost no incentive to change. Change takes time and effort, so why would someone change if things are working?
You have to bring up where someone is falling behind in order to get their attention.
If you’re writing a cold email, do some research on their site or business on where they can improve (specifically with your product).
Generally, you’ll find one of three things to bring up:
When you pinpoint which problem is most prevalent, you can point it out tactfully (but plainly):
This takes a bit of research if you’re writing a true cold email. If you’re writing a warm email, you can just dig into their stats and say something like:
“I took a look at your stats today and saw that you’re in the top 10% in X but you’re in the bottom 5% in Y.”
But you can’t just point fingers and tell someone their business sucks. That’d be a weird email.
Once you point out the bad, you get to be the hero and fix it.
The most important note here: DO NOT SELL YOUR PRODUCT.
What? Yeah. You heard me. Don’t jump right into your sales pitch, or else you become a “Me Monster” and write about yourself:
Me, me, me….
Instead, focus on how to help instead of sell. Right now your lead doesn’t care about your product. They just want to fix their new problem you just brought up
If we take the examples we just used, you could say:
In all these scenarios, you have a seemingly excellent solution and you didn’t even mention your product. You brought up a problem, but you instantly calm the lead down with a solution.
And solutions are great, but you need to drive home the solution by demonstrating value.
The value is what really adds some oomph to your solution. I have plenty of solutions on how to fix a flat tire, but wouldn’t you want to choose the one that gets you home in time for dinner?
So let’s take our examples and add some value to them:
See how those offers just got a whole lot better? You can even take it a step further and add social proof to show you’ve successfully implemented your solution before:
Now it’s not some empty solution -- it’s one that’s been proven to work.
And that’s the bulk of the ask in the first cold email. I didn’t mention the company, or the product, or what me freaking role is. I just said I had a solution to their problem.
It’s short, to the point and provides a lot of value to the lead.
There’s only one thing left (and it’s a big one).
I’ll keep this short.
You got your lead to read this far. Don’t mess it up by being vague or giving them a bunch of options because “you’re open.”
Give your reader one thing to do, and make it really freaking clear.
If you want them to book a time to talk with you, give them a link to your calendar and tell them to click that link.
If you want them to email you back, ask them to reply back to the email (and don’t give the option of calling or Skype).
If you want a reply at all, don’t end your email with something vague like “Let me know!”
This is where the difference between warm vs cold emails rears its head once more. Here’s why they’re different:
It’s like chess. One bad move at the very beginning may not be noticeable, but you really feel the consequences when it’s too late later in the game.
If you ask for anything more than a reply in your first cold email, you’re setting yourself up to fail right away.
But I know what you’re thinking right now. “Sean, you said there were four truths to writing cold sales emails. You just showed me how to write the email. Why do I need two more truths?”
Fortune favors the prepared, my friends. And these next two truths will save you whenever the inevitable happens.
My friend, I have some hard news. Most people won’t respond to your first cold email. No matter how good your first email is (and it’ll be great), the odds are simply against you.
Think about this: An average buyer gets 100+ emails a day, opens just 23%, and clicks on just 2% of them. That’s pretty depressing, huh?
And even warm emails aren’t immune. After years of testing, we see a 31% reply rate to our warm emails.
If you don’t have a plan in place for that radio silence, you end up making mistakes like:
That’s why you need a plan when things get quiet. Luckily, we boil it down to five crucial steps.
Remember, it takes at least 6-8 touches to get a viable sales lead.
Sticking to your goal (remember when you planned your “line in the sand”) will help you stay persistent without being annoying.
Believe me, that persistence will pay off as long as you have a plan. Matt Levene (one of our awesome sales experts) once emailed a lead for almost two months, and he was at the end of his plan.
Every email went out, yet he got 0 replies. He sent out his last email, thinking it wouldn’t do much since none of the other ones had (and few had even been opened).
That day, he got a reply from that lead. They set up a call, and they’re proud Sumo customers to this day.
They hadn’t responded to a single email for two months. Yet they became a customer. Persistence pays off, as long as you have a plan you feel comfortable with.
Your lead didn’t respond to your first email. What makes you think they’ll respond to the same words in a different email?
It’s not like they open up an identical email and say, “Well, it’s a new day, and by golly these words just seem to make a whole lick of sense.”
If you planned on a few emails in your outreach, you can:
The point is, if it didn’t work the first time, it won’t work a second, third or fourth time, either. Switch up your messaging, test things out and iterate to make a great sequence.
Not replying is one thing.
Not opening? That’s the worst problem you can have.
But it’s an even bumpier ride if you can’t tell if someone isn’t replying because they don’t care or because they didn’t even open your email.
You need the ability to see if your leads are opening your emails. It helps you determine if your emails are bad or, worse, your subject lines aren’t inspiring.
If you’re using any of the big paid options I mentioned earlier, that function is already built in. If you’re more on the free side, good news -- Streak is a free tool you use with Gmail to track your open rate.
Plus, if you see your leads aren’t responding AND they’re opening your emails, you can send them an email letting them know you can see that (try to use that later in your sequence, though...it’s a polarizing subject).
Again, you’ll need automation for this one. BUT, if you have it, then this tip is absolutely essential.
Throughout all your emails, you can see how many people open, click through, etc. The more emails you send, the more those numbers naturally go down. No worries on that end.
However, if you’re looking at your sequence and one email is opened or replied to drastically less than the others, it’s a good opportunity to fix it.
For example, say you have six emails. The open rates are 64%, 59%, 26%, 23% and 19%, you could assume and test a few things:
Most people keep sending the same emails because “the boss approved the sequence and we can’t mess with it.”
Don’t be that person. If something is broken, take the time to fix it. Your sales numbers will thank you.
It’s a sad and lonely journey, getting to the end of a sales email sequence. You’ve tried everything you can think of, but they’re still not responding.
One tactic we love in that last email is to ask for feedback. Obviously there was something that kept your lead from replying, so it’s worth it to ask what that reason was.
Here’s a sample email we send to everyone who doesn’t buy:
This is my last email, but I'd love your feedback so I can get better. =)
What's the main reason you didn't want to hop on a call with us?
This email is great for two reasons:
When you take this approach, you never fail -- you just get stronger (like a hydra or something).
Even better, when you have a persistent plan, you close more than you would by “just winging it” after your first email.
But a plan wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t factor in the fourth and final truth of cold sales emails…
Oh yeah. If you don’t think emailing a complete stranger with a business proposition won’t occasionally piss them off, you’ve got another thing a’comin.
At some point, you’re going to get a negative response to your emails. How you respond defines how ready you are to close a lead.
For example, what would you do if you got this response:
You can guess the letters between the F and K.
Did you get angry? You shouldn’t. That just leads to a bad email.
What did we do? We turned that angry lead into a customer.
What kind of sales wizard jiu-jitsu did we use?
We asked the right questions and listened.
Those are the two biggest points in this final truth. When you get negative responses, or flat-out “no’s”, it hurts. But it isn’t the end of the journey.
Remember, you’re getting a response. Your lead is opening up communication with you. Once you have their ear, go through these three steps…
Or, rather, “give to get.” It means you have to give the lead a reason for you to get information. That comes from asking a great question.
Some great questions you can ask to get information:
These are just open questions that lead into revealing answers.
But the answers aren’t any good if you don’t do the next step.
If your lead takes the time to write out a response to you, and you don’t address what they just said to you, then you’ll never close a sale.
You have to listen to what your lead says. Oftentimes these responses give you the ammo you needed to close a sale. They give you the exact reasons for not buying. You don’t even have to guess!
Don’t discount a single thing they say. Listen, write everything down and use it in the last step…
Generally, the first few objections aren’t the real objections. You have to dig deep to see what the real objections are.
That takes a combination of the information you gathered while listening and removing those objections from the table. In an email, that looks something like:
“What if X wasn’t an issue. Would you be willing to (whatever your action is) then?”
One of two things will happen:
Negative responses are rarely the end of the line. With enough resolve and the right questions, you can turn any no into a yes.
To help you get started, I’ve ripped into our archives and kind of blatantly stole nine pre-written cold email templates that include:
Plus I’ve included extensive writeups with each email to give you the psychology behind why we wrote them.
And, so you always have these tips handy (but don’t want to read 6k words every time), I’m including a one-sheeter with every tip from this guide.
It’s that easy. You can install Sumo for free and get results in a matter of minutes.