Good, Bad & Ugly of Cold Emails

What’s Cooler than Being Cool? Ice Cold Emails!

Sending a cold email to an outbound marketing agency is a risky business because… it’s what we do

At CIENCE we make a point of learning from the best (and the worst) emails that we receive, and we’d like to share some of our insights with you.

Welcome to the first of an ongoing series about our observations on real-life cold emails: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And because most people can’t help but stare at trainwrecks, let’s begin with the ugliest of October.

The Ugliest of October

Example of the worst cold email

Where do we begin…

The Subject Line is your first clue that this is a cold email that’s not going to be personalized, nor is it going to be relevant. It’s a cold email asking for the “best appropriate” regarding something or other about “On-going work.”

I’m guessing this is an attempt at the strong performing Best Contact methodology that engenders trust and triggers the help response in recipients. Unfortunately, the missing “contact” and the claim that there is a sense of “ongoing” work is the first signal that this is not only cold but also spammy.

If you simply scrolled past this to get to our super insightful commentary, please do yourself a favor, go back and read it, and let yourself have a chuckle.

I’ll wait…

So, there’s a lot going on here and much of it is difficult to understand. My best guess, this is an English email generated from a translation app of some kind.

I’m not going to be ruthless because clearly there’s a language challenge going on here, but I would recommend that you never, and I mean NEVER, sign off from an email with “Anticipating your retaliation…”

Not everyone is kind enough to retaliate with the email equivalent of a fastball through at the chin.

But I do have to agree that the combat sport of email marketing is a competitional environment.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what worked in the Best Email of October and then examine a bad email, and where some minor adjustment could take it from bad to great.

The Good of October

Example of a good cold email

This is a wonderful example of a follow-up email because it elegantly answers the 3 questions that must be answered in a cold email (if it’s going to resonate): Why Me? Why Now? Why Should I Care?

This email is the fifth message in a sequence that spanned nearly 30 days. It flatters without being sniveling. It feels vulnerable and honest and tells the recipient, ‘I reached out to you because you are awesome and you deserve to be courted.’ 

And all this is achieved without going into any explanation as to why the sender is a ‘fan’ of the company. This is masterfully done considering that going into any further detail would have made the message more about the sender’s opinion as opposed to the recipient’s prowess. 

Research shows that keeping a cold email prospect-focused is one of the keys to success. The alternative ‘me, me, me’ emails look market-y – they’re the equivalent of walking up to a stranger on the street and saying, ‘I’m a 10! And I’m really smart and make a lot of money!’ It’s more alienating than anything else, and nobody likes a braggart.

Here, were we to meet the sender on the street, we find a lovely example of a compliment that’s delivered naturally and respectfully.

A human approach to getting a response

At the very least, could you share with me what’s keeping you from upgrading to a platform like [ours]?’

The sender is not asking for a hard commitment. They are only asking for a quick thought – a reason for being turned down without getting defensive. This kind of ‘soft CTA’ works for 2 reasons. 

First, it disarms the reader. Eric is not being asked to regard the sender as a salesman, but as a fellow human being. This is one of the most attractive instincts that we can appeal to in a prospect – overwhelmingly, people have a built-in impulse to help others.

Second, it’s flattering. People love being asked for their opinions on things! They like to think that their opinion matters and is interesting to others. It’s against our instincts to remain silent when asked for our thoughts, and so, a reply is practically inevitable! 

And in fact, this sender did earn his reply. 

But unfortunately, their solution simply didn’t fit the business objectives of the prospect’s company. Which brings us to…

The Bad of October

Brace yourself because this one is like a worst-hits compilation. If you see some similarities in your writing here, don’t despair! Cold emailing is about figuring out what doesn’t work as well as what does. So without further ado, the winner of October’s scariest email:

Example of a bad cold email, aweful sales email

Okay. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s break it down.

To begin with, the point of a cold email is to NOT look like a cold email. Does this email look like something you would write to your co-worker, or indeed, to anyone one-on-one??? 

Who’s out there using emojis and graphics like this in a regular email? This must be going out to a list, probably in a blast because there is zero personalization (save for auto-fill tokens and Inc 5000 congrats). Even free emailing services let you personalize a blast to this extent.

Instinctively, when most people see what looks like a mass-blast cold email, we’re turned off and give a knee-jerk ‘No!’ 

No one likes being thoughtlessly lumped into a group.

And what does the sender want to tell us all about? Their company and their greatness. 

It starts with ‘we want’ and ‘I want’ – were this sender to meet you on the street, it would be like a stranger walking up to you out of nowhere, opening up their coat to point at all the ‘Rolexes’ inside, and telling you, ‘I want to help you out here! I helped Rupert out over there!’

Do we care what Rupert did? No. Most people care first about themselves and then about their family and friends.

This kind of self-aggrandizing posture makes this a classic example of what we affectionately call a ‘Rah Rah’ email. Go on and cheer for yourself, but if you do, you don’t need us to cheer for you, too.

Finally, let’s talk about the links. There are a lot of them, aren’t there? This suggests that the sender has no idea what will be appealing, which makes sense when it’s not tailored to fit any prospect who receives it. 

Research shows that cold outreach performs best when all of a prospect’s attention is drawn to a single action. Here, the links block any direct path to the CTA, which is already fuzzy at best. It seems like the sender was going for a ‘tease’ with their ‘I want to show you how… I’ll make it happen’ (again, me-me-me), but there’s no real reason that speaks to us directly to learn ‘how’ or to make anything ‘happen.’

Suppose the email had been as simple as,

I noticed that CIENCE made the Inc 5000 this year and, as the CMO, we wanted to congratulate you on all the hard work you must have done to get there!

If you’re looking for any help climbing the ladder next year, we would love to be a resource to you as we have been for {similar Inc 5000 company}. Here’s a little background if you’re interested: <link>

If this looks helpful to you, would you like to find a time to briefly connect?

This is prospect focused with FOMO up the wazoo. As a CMO, of course, they would want to climb the ladder still higher, it’s what they do! If one of their competitors is using something, anything, of course, they want that information if they can get it. Here we have the ‘bad’ email condensed into a short, sweet, direct ask that should be easy to say yes to.

From Cold to Warm with Email

There are many methods and approaches to creating a cold email. Different people respond to different things, which is why knowing your audience and speaking directly to them is so important.

But there is one rule we can apply to all methods that we can find truth in from both of these examples. It may seem like a silly thing to say, but the question good outreach should ask itself if: 

Would a person say that?

Cold outreach that sounds human is one thing that all good messaging shares. 

And that’s cooler than being cool. It’s Ice Cold.

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