Why don’t your cold emails work better?

Is it because of what everyone says?

“Cold email marketing is dead.”

“Cold emails are spam emails.”

“Isn’t cold email illegal?”

  1. No, it’s not.
  2. No, they’re not.
  3. No, it isn’t.

(At least, not if you do it right.)

Effective cold email marketing gets you more leads, grows your email list, creates customers, and builds your business. It’s a great strategy to use before you’re able to grow and sustain a list organically.


There is a fine line between cold emailing and spam.

If you don’t know the differences, you take some serious risks. You could:

In other words, it’s important to do it right. In this post we’re going to cover:

  • The difference between email marketing and cold email marketing
  • How to approach cold email marketing
  • 5 steps for a successful cold email marketing campaign

What’s the difference between email marketing and cold email marketing?

The difference between email marketing and cold email marketing is that email marketing contacts have opted in to get emails from you.

In a general email marketing situation, the contacts have an existing relationship with you, or know you exist. Cold email marketing is just that: cold. There’s no previous relationship, and you’re sending a cold email with the intention of creating one.

Email marketing is sending emails to a list of contacts who have given their consent to receive consistent emails from you. These emails:

  • Give information about your business
  • Promote your product or service
  • Include an offer
  • Add industry-related value

You can automate these emails or send a 1-off campaign to a list, because your contacts have indicated that they want the email.

These are solicited emails.

Cold email marketing is an email strategy that promotes your business, product, or service to someone that you don’t have an existing relationship with. They have not expressed their consent to receive regular emails from you through an opt-in.

The key difference between cold email marketing and email marketing is consent. People who get your general email marketing expect your emails because they have opted in. Cold emails are out of the blue.

Because cold emails are unsolicited, you must tailor and personalize them for the person you’re sending to.

Cold emails are like cold calls. You’re calling or emailing one person to talk directly to them, and them alone.

You can’t cold call an entire list of prospects at once, and you cannot cold email an entire list of prospects at once.

Cold emails are:

  • Targeted
  • Personalized
  • Relevant
  • 1-to-1

Unlike email marketing to opted-in contacts, you can’t automate or broadcast cold emails to a list. If you do, you’re not sending cold emails. You’re sending spam.

What is email marketing spam?

Email marketing spam is sending unsolicited emails to a list of people you have no prior relationship with.

Spam emails are a broadcast to unknown people with some sort of hard sell attached.

There are 3 key differences between cold email marketing and email marketing spam.

  • Personalization
  • Intent
  • List vs. 1-to-1

Spam emails are intended to convert a sale or scheme, where a cold email is intended is to begin a relationship and open a dialogue.

5 steps to effective cold email marketing

Cold email marketing is a good strategy for lead generation when you approach it the right way. Unfortunately, many people don’t. Because of this, many people associate cold emailing with spam. In this post we’ll go over how to get it right.

There are 5 steps to an effective cold email marketing campaign.

  1. Learn everything about your prospect
  2. Send your email to 1 person
  3. Starting a conversation is better than closing a sale
  4. Give them something (good) for free!
  5. 70% of salespeople stop emailing after one attempt (and why you shouldn’t)

1. Learn everything about your prospect

Research is the most important step for successful cold email marketing. There are 2 goals in cold email marketing research:

  1. Send targeted, relevant emails (that are not spam)
  2. Find the email addresses of your prospects

You’ll need to do some research to make sure you send targeted and relevant emails.

Start by asking yourself some questions about your business.

  • Who benefits from your product or service?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What industries are they in?
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What is their role, position, or job title?

Answer these questions and you’ll know where to start prospecting.

It’s important to find both the right business and the right person within that business.

Your cold email campaign will fail if you target the wrong company. Your cold email campaign will also fail if you target the wrong person at the right company.

Once you find the right company, sign up for their newsletters to learn more about what they’re working on. You’ll learn things you can use when you finally reach out to them. You might uncover needs or discover areas that they need improvement or help (from you!).

Look to find answers to these questions:

  • Are they using a competitor?
  • What can you do for them that’s better than what they have now?
  • Are you offering a new product or service?
  • Why do they need you? How do you benefit them?

Understand the problem each person is trying to solve. This will guarantee that you’re reaching out about something relevant.

Once you’ve done your research, you’ll need to find email addresses to get your business in front of your prospects.

Use networking tools to find businesses and prospects that are good customer fits.

  • LinkedInsearches
  • Call the business and ask for your prospect’s contact information (but be prepared for the gatekeepers)
  • Use a sales intelligence tool
  • Sign up for their newsletter
  • Ask your own network for warm intros
  • Search for relevant upcoming events in your area

Once thing you should never do is buy an email list.

2. Send your email to 1 person

Take what you’ve learned about your prospects and create an email for the one person you’re sending to. This will help to ensure that your email isn’t perceived as spam.

Like cold calls, the success rate of a cold email isn’t high. In fact, the average open rate of a cold email sits somewhere in the 14-23% range. You can improve this rate with personalization.

Research is the most important factor in successful email marketing. Email personalization is the most important factor in getting opens and replies from a cold email campaign.

Personalization tells your prospects that this isn’t an automated broadcast campaign. This differentiates your cold emails from spam because most spam emails are generic and unpersonalized.

There are 4 key areas to hit when personalizing a cold email.

  1. Their name
  2. Your name and email address
  3. The details you picked up in your research
  4. The email subject line

The first two personalization points are easy. Names are important.

Didn’t use my name AND sent from a terrifying URL? Smells like Spam to me.

Once you’ve got the names ironed out, add in the details you picked up through your research.

This is your time to shine. You’ve done your homework and you know that what you have will benefit your prospect. Let them know why you’re emailing them in particular.

Take a look at this cold email I received:

example of a personalized cold email that almost gets it rightStrong start, copy + paste finish. Just a liiiiiiiitttle more personalization goes a long way!

The use of my name and ActiveCampaign is great. I felt like this email was written especially for me. Until I read the next sentence.

Pull in some of those details! You don’t have to solve all of their problems, but give them something! Use metrics and stats to support your message.

Is there an area that your product or service could improve? Below is an example from ActiveCampaign’s outreach team:

“I’ve been to your website, and here’s what you could be doing.”

Are they using a competitor?

Tell them why you’re better than the competitor, and back it up with stats and metrics where you can. Here’s another example from ActiveCampaign’s outbound sales team:

example of good cold email marketing outreach competitor comparisonNotice the personalization in name, company, and competitor. AND a link to compare the two.

You can see that the salesperson has done their homework and noticed that the prospect is using a competitor. Then they pass along a comparison guide with two benefits of ActiveCampaign and an ask.

You’ve included names and personal details, now all you need is a strong email subject line.

The first goal when you send a cold email is to get it opened. The subject line is the first thing people see, so it’s the most important part of an email.

If you want your cold email opened, you had better write a good subject line.

What makes a good subject line?

  • Compelling, attention-grabbing language
    • Subject lines with the word “Alert” are opened 61.8% more than those without
  • Not spammy
    • Subject lines with the word “Quick” are opened 17% less than those without
  • Not generic
    • Including “newsletter” in the subject line results in 18.7% fewer opens
  • Specific and personalized

If you’re having trouble writing subject lines, take a look at the ActiveCampaign subject line generator!

Subject lines are never perfect, but you can improve them through A/B testing.

3. Starting a conversation is better than closing a sale

A dead giveaway of a spam email is the immediate push for a hard sale. Cold email marketing doesn’t do this. You have to play the long game.

Remember, these are ‘marketing’ emails. The ‘sales’ email comes later once you’ve gone through the process. You can’t cut corners on the way to adding customers.

If you want to add customers, build a relationship. If you want to build a relationship, start a conversation. Open a dialogue.

In the game of cold email marketing, a reply is a win.

The goal after your prospect opens your email is getting them to actually read it.

Write your email the way you would speak. A great way to test for conversational tone is The Barstool Test. Would you say those words to your friend in a bar, sitting on a barstool?

If not, then you should rewrite it. If you’re unsure – read it out loud. Also be sure to proofread it for any spelling or grammatical errors, which are a telltale sign of phishing and spam emails.

Remember, this is your first impression. Don’t push too hard.

You can get everything right–

  • subject line
  • personalization
  • conversational tone
  • grammatically correct

–and still blow it if you push for a sale too hard, too fast.

Pushing for a sale in your initial email will put your prospects off and make them suspicious of you. But you have to be assertive and lay the groundwork for a next step. You’re opening a conversation and conversations need a response.

This is a tricky moment. Assertive doesn’t mean demanding. Include a call to action (CTA) that doesn’t require commitment. Sales don’t happen in a flash. 60% of customers say ‘no’ 4 times before saying yes.

Your goal is to continue the conversation. There are plenty of next steps that aren’t a sale.

  • “I have some questions”
  • “Let’s hop on an intro call”
  • “Sure, I’ll attend your event”
  • “I’m interested, but not right now”
  • “I’d like to learn more”

These are all wins that aren’t closed sales.

A CTA is an ask, and you’ll be the most successful if you provide a reason.

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.” – Robert Cialdini in Influence

Give your prospects a reason for why they should move the conversation forward with you.

4. Give them something for free!

You know that your business is relevant to their situation. You know that your product or service will benefit them. They don’t.

Show them. Don’t just tell them.

Prove your value to your prospects. Give them proof.

  • Metrics
  • Statistics
  • Use cases
  • Customer stories

Give them something concrete that shows them why you’re valuable to them. Take a look at another example from the ActiveCampaign outbound team:

Here’s what we can do, here’s how you can benefit, let’s talk.

Use your research.

  • Create a special offer that’s tailored to their business or situation
  • Go the extra mile and create a personalized video or presentation for them
  • Show how your business can benefit their company in particular

5. 70% of salespeople stop emailing after one attempt (and why you shouldn’t)

If you expect prospects to respond to your cold emails after the first touch, you’re in for a rude awakening.

(they won’t).

Only 23.9% of sales emails get opened. Which means over 3/4s of the emails you send out will sit in inbox limbo til the end of time. It’s going to take more than one email.

According to Salesforce, it takes 6 to 8 touches to create a viable sales lead. Cold email marketing is an uphill battle. But 70% of salespeople stop emailing after the first attempt!

Why? If you’re worried that they just “haven’t gotten around to” your email yet, it’s probably not that.

93% of opened emails get opened within 1 day. And 92% of email replies get sent within a day as well. Email has a very short lifespan. So follow up!

The kicker is that you have to follow up with value. Following up with…

  • Hey, did you see this?
  • Per my last email
  • What do you think?
  • In case this got lost in your inbox (my personal favorite)

…is NOT going to work. You have to give them something else, something beyond what you gave them in the first email.

Recap: What is effective cold email marketing?

According to Statista, 53.49% of all emails are marked as spam. That’s all emails, not sales emails, and especially not cold sales emails.

But not your cold sales emails. You know how to write cold sales emails that get results AND keep you off the email blacklists.

qualities of email marketing emails, cold emails, and spam emailsStay out of the red! Don’t automate or bulk send your cold emails!

Remember that cold email marketing only works as a prospecting strategy when you do it right. The emails you send out must be 1-to-1, and not part of a bulk send. When a prospect expresses interest in your content, have them opt-in and automate sending from there.

If you’re using an email service provider (ESP) like ActiveCampaign, you have to follow this rule or be in violation of our Terms of Service.

You can use ActiveCampaign to send a 1-to-1 cold email to a prospect who is not opted-in. You cannot send automated emails to a list of cold contacts.

Spend a little more time and send a thoughtful and personal email. The time you spend will all be worth it when your cold email campaigns bring in new customers.

If you follow these 5 steps your cold emails will be relevant, useful, and definitely not spam.

  1. Learn everything about your prospect
  2. Send your email to 1 person
  3. Starting a conversation is better than closing a sale
  4. Give them something (good) for free
  5. 70% of salespeople stop emailing after one attempt (and why you shouldn’t)