Does Cold Email Work? You bet!


But the devil’s in the details. Here’s how to do it right.

If your inbox looks anything like mine you’d be forgiven for wondering whether cold email even works? Do they actually get replies?

The short answer is yes, cold email really does work. Some of the biggest brands in the world got their initial clients using cold email.

But you’ve got to do it in a way that’s respectful and useful to your prospects. Before you hit ‘send’ ask yourself one question.

Does this message help you, or the recipient?

If your answer is ‘the recipient’, then your campaign will probably be very successful.

Cold Email Results


As head of a b2b lead prospecting agency I’ve worked on hundreds of email campaigns. And I’ve seen EXACTLY what works and what doesn’t. If I had to summarize those lessons in one sentence it would be:


“Send the sort of emails you want to receive.”


Another way to say it is, be intentional about who you are contacting. And think about how you can deliver value to improve their situation.

In this article we’ll look at what goes wrong with cold email campaigns – and what to do instead.

Cold Email Personalization

You’ve Got One Job

Your cold email has one job. Just one.

You’ve got to get your prospect to respond ‘yes’ to your message.

Why is that so important?

Well, the point of a cold email is to start a conversation. And that can only happen if someone replies in the affirmative to your email.

Imagine you are walking down the street on your way to an important meeting. On your way, a man stops you and asks you to take a brief survey that will require just 10 minutes of your time. You’re focused on your meeting, so you decline and continue on your way.

A little later, a woman stops you to give you a coupon for a free slice of pizza at a new Italian restaurant. It’s easy to say yes to free pizza, and it doesn’t require much energy. So you gladly accept the coupon.

Unfortunately most cold emails are structured like the survey guy. They ask for a lot, but offer little in return.

Try to be more like the pizza lady. Offer a ton of value, and you’ll start more conversations than you know what to do with.

Find The Decision Maker

Cold email decision maker

Done right, cold email can fill your sales pipeline with a steady stream of relevant leads.

But you’ve got to do it right. The days of using email to blast out a message to as many people as possible are long gone. The spray and pray approach to messaging just doesn’t work.

Instead you need to think like a sniper. You’ll fire off very few messages. But every email is carefully aimed and calibrated for maximum impact.

Put another way, cold email begins and ends with relevance. The more relevant your email, the better your aim will be. Relevancy means going to the person in a company who directly benefits from your solution. And they’ll be in a position to act on your offer. This is the decision maker.

Depending on your offer, and the size of the organization, the decision maker will change. In a small organization you’ll need to speak with the CEO. In larger organizations you’ll need to find the right stakeholders to contact.

Identifying the decision maker is the hardest part of lead generation. When you can consistently get it right your pipeline will thank you for it.

Make It Personal

The best thing about cold email is directly contacting decision makers. No one else can help you achieve your goals half as quickly. But you know what else is nice? Your messages can be insanely personal!

Think about it, if you were Johnny, a snow board retailer, which message below would you be more likely to respond to?


We develop websites for small businesses like yours…



Loved the YouTube clip of your double flip on Grouse Mountain. Thanks for sharing!

I make online shops for independent ski and snowboard stores who want to grow their internet sales…

Of course there’s a chance that Johnny won’t reply to either message. But if he does reply, it’s almost certain he’ll respond to the second message. There’s a high level of personalization and it’s relevant to his business interests.

Studies have found that just adding a name to the subject line can increase open rates by 22% to 26%. For example, say you sell fresh fruit to offices. The subject “fresh fruit” should be “{Company}’s snacking habits” or “want an apple {FirstName}?”

Personalization is one of the biggest points of differentiation from other marketing channels. Use it well!

Keep It Short & Sweet

When a prospect opens your email you don’t have much space to capture their attention. If you write too much the reader will get bored and delete your message. The trick is to offer the most amount value in the least amount of text.

With more people reviewing email by phone you need a ‘phone appropriate’ message length for easy reading. Typically, this means about 80 to 150 words in the main text.

Eighty to 150 words doesn’t sounds like much, but it’s a LOT more than most other advertising mediums. By comparison, an Adwords placement only allows for 140 characters, and restrictions apply.

Keeping your messaging short and focused is the best way to encourage action. The first paragraph tells them why they should pay attention. And the second paragraph tells them what to do about their interest (ie reply or visit a resource).

The Curious Middle

If you provide a TON of value in your email then your prospects will naturally be interested in what you do.

But casual interest doesn’t mean they want to click on your calendar link to arrange a call. Asking for 30 minutes of someone’s time is actually a REALLY big ask.

Unless your offering is an immediate priority, it’s probably not going to happen.

Let your prospect decide what the next steps should look like. The most interested people will suggest setting an appointment. Others will ask for more information, or explore other ways to stay connected.

If “Book A Meeting” is the only option available, the default response is no reply at all.

Instead, let your prospects decide. Give them a range of ways to move the conversation forward. If your targeting is strong they’ll have passive interest in your solutions. So nurture that interest over time.

Align Your Sales Processes

When you do cold email correctly, the problem isn’t getting positive responses. That’s the easy part.

The biggest challenge with email outreach is making the response fit the next step in your sales process.

This is the reason so many people default to “pick a time on my calendar”. They want to continue the conversation in person or via Zoom.

But there are LOTS of ways to sign off a cold email that don’t involve a calendar link. For example, you could offer to share some powerful content that you wrote with the prospect in mind.

Cold email is just like every other form of marketing. The process of generating the lead HAS to set up the next stage in your sales process. So when you are crafting your message, consider the broader journey your prospect will be taking with your company.

Yes, Cold Email Works

The wonderful thing about cold email is that recipients don’t HAVE to respond.

If you cold call a prospect they pretty much HAVE to pick up the phone. But with cold email ignoring you is an (often used) option. Just because you sent them an email, doesn’t mean they need to reply.

This sounds like a negative, but it’s fantastic. When a potential client responds, they are ‘opting in’ to the conversation. They are putting their hand up to stand apart from the majority of recipients. They WANT to continue the conversation. This is high engagement!

So yes, cold email really does work. Just think of things from the other party’s point of view. And send out emails that you’d be excited to receive.

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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