How To Write A Cold Email Call To Action That Gets Replies

Your cold email call to action (CTA) matters. A lot.

Allow me to illustrate with an exaggerated version of something we’ve all experienced. Imagine you’re walking down the street and someone approaches you and asks for $100.

Would you give it to them? Maybe, but probably not.

What if that same person ran up to offer you a coupon for a free pizza at a new Italian restaurant? Would you accept the coupon? I’ll bet you’d give it a look. Who doesn’t like free pizza!!

The point is, the way you ask things of strangers has a big impact on the outcome. This is especially true for cold email. And that’s the reason your call to action is so important to the success of your outreach campaign.

So in this article, we’ll look at different ways to craft your cold email call to action. And illustrate with some examples we’ve seen work in real life.

Call To Action Testing

Email Outreach Response Rates Lie

If you study cold email best practices you’ll see a lot of people talking about reply rates

And yes, reply rates can be an important metric to track.

But most of the time, they’re just vanity measurements.

There’s a big gap between an unsubscribe request and a booked meeting. But they’re both included in the reply rate metric. It makes no sense!

What really matters is your positive reply rate. How many people are open to taking the conversation forward? 

And that’s why a strong call to action is so important. Your CTA determines whether you get a positive response, or no reply at all.


Characteristics of a Strong Call To Action 

Good CTA’s all share the same characteristics.

First, they’re clear. There’s no ambiguity about what you want your prospects to do next.

Second, they only ask for one thing. Look at your copy. Do you see more than one question mark? You might be asking too much of your prospects. Make your CTA’s easy to comply with by staying focused. If you ask for more than one thing, you’ll probably get nothing.

Third, a good call to action will move the conversation forward. If they do the thing you’re asking then there’s a clear next step that will contribute to your closing rate


Your Call To Action Is Part Of A Broader Strategy  

Often overlooked is that your call to action drives the next steps in your sales and marketing plan. 

Which is to say, your CTA options are sometimes constrained by the resources available to support the next steps.

For example, if you push someone to join a webinar, you need to make sure you have a prepared event. And then you need to have the ability to consistently follow up with your prospect following the event.

So think about your CTA in a holistic sense. Map out the next steps in your sales process clearly in advance. So your CTA drives your sales process forward in a way that makes sense.


Your Call To Action Introduces Friction

Your email outreach is asking someone to take action. So what’s the likelihood of them actually doing it?

Well, the answer depends on how motivated they are by your value proposition. And the size of your ask.

You can think of the probability of getting a reply to your cold email replies as a balanced scale.

On the one side you’ve got prospects’ natural resistance to taking action. For some people it will be high. For others it’ll be a bit lower.

On the other side you’ve got the perceived value of your offer MINUS the difficulty of taking action.

If the value minus the difficulty is bigger than the resistance, then you’ve got yourself a reply.

Cold Email Call To Action

But if the resistance is bigger than the value then you won’t get a response.

Makes sense, right!? This is why the SIZE of your ask has a big impact on whether you get a positive response or not.

Swap Places With Your Potential Customer 

So before you write your CTA, put yourself in your prospect’s position. If you were them, what would you do?

Would you take the desired action? Why, or why not?

Then ask yourself what action you WOULD be willing to take. What could you agree to?

They say that good lawyers never ask a witness a question they don’t already know the answer to.

Oddly enough, that’s also the secret of a good CTA.


“Make requests where YES is a very reasonable answer”


The less friction you introduce into your call to action, the more responses you’ll get.

Below are some common CTA’s, grouped by how much friction they introduce


High Friction Calls To Action

The more you ask from your prospect, the harder it is for them to say yes. Makes sense, right?

Here are some high friction CTA’s that typically get lower response rates. Simply because the ask is pretty big.


Click This Potentially Dangerous Link 

Stranger Danger!‘ – Every mom, everywhere

If you run a SaaS company or provide information online, it’s tempting to ask prospects to ‘click here‘. They can give your solution a try, or find the information they need.

In a perfect world it would makes sense. But we’ve all been rigorously trained to avoid clicking on strange emails from unknown people.

Asking people to click directly through to your target URL is a bit too big an ask. A better approach is to ask whether you can send them a link. Or ask whether they’d like to try a demo. They’ll sign up on their own (your website is in your signature). Or they’ll reply and you can set them up directly.

Either way, asking people to navigate to potentially dangerous pages is a bit of a no-no and should be avoided.


Give Me Your Precious Time

Typically people send cold emails with the expectation of getting a meeting. Makes sense, but think about it from the other person’s point of view.

They’ve never heard of you (it’s called cold outreach for a reason). And they don’t know if you’re any good at your job. But despite all that, you think they should invest 30m – 60m of their valuable time listening to your sales spiel?

You can see the problem.

NO ONE is going to book time with you unless one of two conditions is met:

  1. They are currently experiencing an acute pain point that you’ve promised to solve.
  2. Your value proposition is so good they’re compelled to take action.

Don’t ask for someone’s time unless you believe that one or both of those conditions are satisfied.

However, if you’re going to ask to get on someone’s schedule, look for ways to reduce friction. 


Offer a Calendar Link 

Instead of asking for their time, provide a calendar link so they can choose a time that’s mutually convenient. Another option is to ASK if you can send your calendar link. If they agree, then they’ll probably book a meeting.

Calendar CTA Example: Can I send you my calendar link?

Calendar CTA Example: Here’s a link to my calendar. Look forward to connecting!


Provide Specific Dates & Times 

 My daughter likes to provide me with options she finds equally appealing. It’s a bit transparent, but sometimes it works. “Daddy, should we have pizza or McDonald’s for dinner?”

So one way to reduce friction is to provide a very specific date and time for when you’d like to meet. It makes your cold outreach feel like it’s a 1:1 message. And it can push the conversation around when it’s good to meet.

Availability CTA Example: Are you free for a 15 minute call on Monday afternoon around 2pm? I’ve also got some time on Wednesday at 10am, if that’s better?


Medium Friction Calls To Action

Using a call to action with moderate friction often provides the best balance between getting the outcome you want. Without asking your prospects to take an action they’ll be reluctant to do.

In other words, the size of your ask will generate some friction. But not as much as if you were asking for a time investment.


Introduce Me To The Right Person 

One popular CTA is to ask for assistance to identify the best person to speak with about your solution.

This approach can be very effective. The person you’re contacting wants to get your message off their plate. So they pass you off to someone else in the company. And they feel like they’ve done their good deed for the day.

This is great for you because the person you’re sent to is usually CC’d on the email. And they feel a bit obligated to take care of you. If nothing else they’ll give your value proposition a few minutes of consideration. 

Introduction CTA Example: Could you direct me to the right person at { COMPANY } to speak about this?


The Binary Response CTA

One of the best ways to get a response to your cold outreach is to ask for a ‘No’. 

When you give prospects the freedom to decline your offer, you make it easy for them to engage. 

A typical cold email has 3 possible responses.

  1. Unsubscribe
  2. Ignore
  3. Positive response

When you introduce a 4th option…

  1. Polite decline

Then the first and second options become less attractive. Instead of ignoring you or unsubscribing, they can just decline instead. 

Binary CTA Example: Any interest? Let me know with a quick ‘let’s talk’ or ‘no thanks’. 

The best part about the binary method is that your engagement numbers increase. Instead of ignoring your email, many prospects will reply, ‘no thanks’ instead. 

These replies demonstrate to ISPs that your email isn’t spam. And they’ll actually HELP you get your future messages delivered. Which keeps your open rates high.


Use An Open-Ended Question

Open-ended questions as a CTA work well because they give the prospect an opportunity to share as much or as little as they’d like about their situation.

And for prospectors, they’re a great way to start a conversation.

The key is to make your prospects feel like it makes sense to open up to you. If they don’t feel like you can add value to their situation, then there’s no reason for them to reply.

Open-ended questions are basically any question that can’t be replied to with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Open-ended CTA Example: What’s your biggest challenge with respect to your marketing goals?

Open-ended CTA Example: What impact would unlimited production have on your revenue goals?

Open-ended CTA Example: What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Use An Open-Binary Question

One possibility is to create a YES / NO question that invites a longer answer. You can think of it as a mix of the two types of questions above.

Open-Binary CTA Example: Is increasing your production capacity a priority right now?

The questions above can be answered with a simple YES or NO response. But many prospects will provide a bit more detail. For example, they might indicate it’s not a current priority. But they might also ask you to check back later in the year.


The Hybrid CTA

Some marketers like to ask for a meeting. They know the positive response rate will be relatively low. But if they’re making time to meet, the leads are well qualified.

Other marketers prefer a softer approach. They start the relationship off by offering something of value, like an ebook or an instructional video. This approach introduces very little friction. But the leads are only interested in the collateral. And they’ll require ongoing nurturing to become a client.

A hybrid CTA combines the best of both worlds. 

You meet the client in order to provide them with something of value – usually educational in nature.

Hybrid CTA Example: We’re hosting a webinar Thursday evening to discuss benchmark data for ‘best in class’ firms in your industry. Can you join?

Hybrid CTA Example: If you’ve got 20 minutes next week I’ll show you the 4 steps BlackBriar used to grow revenues 20% in 3 months.


Low Friction Calls To Action

CTAs with the least amount of friction typically get the highest response rates. 

We’ve seen many campaigns generate positive responses in the 2% – 8% range just by offering a lot, without asking for much in return.

Here are some low friction CTAs that produce KILLER reply rates.

The Irresistible Offer

Some offers are just too good to ignore. An ‘irresistible offer‘ is usually one where the potential upside is massive. Or where the potential downside has been partially or fully de-risked.

Irresistible Offer

In this example our client’s offer is so powerful that everyone who replied has expressed interest. And this is only the first email! The positive response rates will be even higher when follow up emails are sent.

Ask Permission To Share Valuable Collateral

Hands down, the easiest way to get the most positive replies in the least amount of time is to offer something the prospect needs, without asking for anything in return.

This approach combines a high-value resource with very low resistance to taking action.

Usually you’re just asking for permission to send over some free collateral that will benefit them directly. Since there’s no reason to decline, many prospects will ask you to send it over.

Collateral CTA Example: I just published a video that outlines 3 ways accounting firms get leads without tapping into their marketing budget. Thought you might find this helpful. Should I send it over?


The Teaser CTA

A super effective cold email call to action is the ‘teaser CTA’.

The setup is virtually identical to the collateral approach above.

But in this case you go one step further. This time the valuable resources are personalized and specific to them. Say you’ve prepared a personalized value offering. And ask if you can send it over.

Given the limitations of your time it probably isn’t practical to create personalized resources in advance. But if someone expresses interest, you can quickly make a customized version that’s a good fit for their business and circumstances.

Teaser CTA Example: We just published a report on how {{ HVAC companies }} are reducing costs by scheduling their {{ site inspections }} more efficiently. Shall I send it over?

Teaser CTA Example: I noticed a couple of images that are slowing down your website. Would it help to send you the URLs?

Teaser CTA Example: I’ve created a short video with 6 changes AliMart can make to increase your customer conversion rates by an estimated 38%. Can I send it over?


Any Interest?

One of the most powerful CTAs is to ask for interest instead of a meeting. 

Just like the collateral example above you’re not asking for anything. Instead you’re offering to provide more information, as required.

Their expression of interest may naturally lead to a meeting later.

Any Interest CTA Example: Any interest? Let me know and I’ll send you some details.


REAL Scarcity & Urgency

When done well, adding scarcity or urgency to your email works.

But here’s the thing. Most of the time, it’s not done well.

The prospect is told they need to perform an action because of a time or space limitation. But the limit is artificial. And usually very transparent.

It feels fake because the seller controls the limitations. If a store can offer a discount today, why can’t they offer better prices throughout the year? It feels arbitrary.

Scarcity and work VERY well when they’re real. One of our clients gets a lead every-single-day. And part of the reason is that her product has a natural limit that everyone understands. She can’t make more space available. And by not taking action they lose their chance to participate.

Consider a trip to a baseball game. There is (nearly) unlimited seating in the stadium. But spots on the trip are constrained by the number of seats on the bus.

When buyers understand there is a natural limit to your solution they take it more seriously. They know they won’t get another chance. And they’re more likely to take action as a result.

Scarcity / Urgency CTA Example: The bus only has 65 seats. If you’d like some details about the trip, let me know this week. 

Scarcity / Urgency CTA Example: To avoid conflict of interest, we only work with one company per industry. If you’re interested let me know as soon as possible.


What’s Your Favourite Cold Email Call To Action?

Did I miss anything? What outreach CTA’s are you using, and how are the results?

I’d love to hear about your experiences sending cold emails. And the CTA’s that are delivering the best results for your outreach campaigns. 

Let’s connect on Linkedin or send me a message on our contact page.



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Here’s the exact process we used to generate over 4000 B2B sales leads



Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray is the Managing Director of Sales Higher. He knows any company can THRIVE with enough qualified sales leads. So he’s spent the last decade helping companies meet engaged prospects and win new deals.

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