The art of cold emailing, or I need a little of that human touch

Warning: The first half of this blog post is a rant, feel free to scroll down to the first subtitle.

I recently received an email that sent me off my rocker. I have this thing. I get really frustrated when I see people making obvious mistakes. Mistakes that could easily be fixed. It pissed me off so much that it made me want to blog about it.

Nowadays most of my blogging is done for our site at Switch Digital, it is the one that brings food to my table. But this is not really a marketing issue. Well, it is. And it isn’t. And this is why I’m writing here, because I can afford to be slightly more relaxed, because I can afford to be pissed off at people here.

But then I thought that instead of being pissed off, maybe I should take the time to analyze the email I received and point out what made it so infuriating.

This is it, first of all:

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 16.00.29

And what is so offensive about this, I hear you ask? Well, this email is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to decide where to start.

First of all, let’s take the email at face value. It’s doing a good job by telling me that lots of people are on Facebook (everybody knows this, but let’s let that slide for the moment because it is correct and relevant). It is also telling me why I should create Facebook games (to outperform the competition).

Taking the email at face value, you should also spot a number of issues. The grammar is atrocious, the layout is somewhere between a mass mailer and a personal email and the design of the image thrown in is questionable at best.

But what’s the guy’s biggest mistake?

He did not research who he was sending the email to. He did not even bother to read up on me. If he had done so he might have just realised that I don’t need to be lectured about the power of Facebook. He might have also realised that I offer the same services he does. Once he did that, he could have taken two paths – he could have simply moved on to someone else, an easier target, or else changed the gist of the email completely to offer me collaboration or to see whether I’m interested in outsourcing work to him.

He reminded me of this guy who recently sent us a private message on Facebook saying:

Hi i am xxx xxx a Business and It (HONS) student at the university of Malta and would be highly interested in taking care of your Facebook page to maximize audience and to reach a larger amount of people, at a monthly fee. It is highly recommended to increase sales and awareness. Kindly contact me if interested

followed by:

are you interested ?

about 7 minutes later.


So, what can we take out of it? If I don’t come to this, then it would have been one of my rantiest posts ever. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

The art of cold emailing

Email marketing is a knife that cuts both ways. If you’re not going to commit to doing it well, then just don’t do it at all. I won’t go into all that goes in to mass email marketing because that will take ages. Instead I’ll focus on the rare occasions where you might want to send someone an email to potentially start getting business from them.

Think of our ancestors hunting in the woods. If they ran right into a clearing slashing around with their knife they might have a slight chance of hitting something (or themselves), but they would most probably have died of hunger pretty quickly.

On the other hand, the hunters who survived and thrived had the patience to learn the patterns of their prey before attempting to catch them. Once they did learn the patterns, they took it easy and only approached slowly and carefully, ideally waiting until the weakest one in the pack was at its most vulnerable.

Cold-emailing a potential client should be pretty similar. Instead of trying to email 500 different people a day by harvesting their email addresses at random, try approaching the subject in a scientific manner. You will waste far less time, bother less people and increase your chances of success greatly.

Here is the pattern I usually follow. It has always served me well.

Identify your ideal target market

You’re not good at everything. The quicker you accept this, the better. Especially if you’re just starting out in business, you have to understand that there are areas in which you have a natural affinity to succeed. So do your best to identify these areas.

Find the leaders in the market

Once you have a clear idea of which industry (or which sectors within an industry) you would like to target, then you need to find the companies that are doing the best job in what you want to offer. If it’s social media marketing for aviation schools you’d like to offer, then find the companies in the field who have the best social media presence. You don’t want to approach these, well, at least you don’t want to approach them yet, but you need to know what they’re doing. You need to make it your mission in life to learn all you can about what is making them successful.

Find the companies which have potential but are struggling

Once you have the leaders identified, you have to look for the low-hanging fruit. These are usually the companies that are just outside the top 3-4 businesses in any sector and are doing their utmost to be within that top three position. These are the companies who would probably do with a little leg up and chances are they know it.

Take your time to study them well

You now know who you want to approach. Learn everything you can about them. Learn their products as if they were your own. Learn their pitfalls, learn their strong points, learn their weaknesses and find their biggest threats. Learn as much as you can about the people working there, stalk them on LinkedIn and make sure you know as much about them as you know about the players in your favourite football team.

Prepare a detailed proposal

Never email someone with a mass-produced proposal (if you want to get any work). Take your time to either build or at least tailor your proposal in a way that shows them that you care about their business, that you care about their success. Your only way of getting the contract is by clearly demonstrating what’s in it for them. Your proposal should show that you’ve invested a significant amount of time in understanding what makes their business tick you have to make sure that your proposal contains as many “aha” moments as possible. Moments where the people seeing it are thinking to themselves: “damn, we should have seen that ourselves”.

Target the email carefully, follow up, ask for a meeting

You can’t put everything in a proposal, and you sure as hell can’t close a sale in a single email (unless you’re extremely lucky or you know someone personally), so make sure that your email gets to the right person within the organisation. Once you think that they’ve received it you should follow up (by email or over the phone) to make sure that they read it. Try to get yourself a meeting based on the proposal. Assume that nobody actually read it all, so be prepared to have to go over it again in detail, explaining the nuts and bolts. This is the time for you to show them that there’s more to you than one proposal. This is the time for you to show them that you’re the person for the job.

I’ve used variants of this for over ten years and it has always served me well. Nowadays I’ve honed it to a level where around 60-70% of the time I get it right. This is not only because I prepare great proposals, but also because I know when I should not even bother. Larger business will come, in time, but till then I’m only going to reach for the fruit I can pick.