Cold email structure: the winning formula

November 5, 2020

How do you structure and write an email that both gets more replies and pleases your prospects? What's the perfect email structure that's destined to drive the outcomes you're targeting?

Whether that's a meeting, subscription, free trial, backlink exchange, recruiting talent... doesn't matter. The words and funnels are different, but the main formula is always the same.

The anatomy of a cold email

A good analogy for cold emailing is the qualification round in Formula 1. In this round, there are checkpoints that a driver has to pass as fast as he can. Once added together, they tell which driver drove the winning lap.

Cold email campaigns are exactly the same.

cold email structure

You need a solid subject line that makes your prospect want to open your email. Checkpoint 1️⃣ ✅

Then, your cold email content needs to entertain the person who's reading it and have them reply, click on a link or book a meeting. Checkpoint 2️⃣ ✅

Finally, there's that business outcome you're looking to score. This depends on your business. Say you book a meeting thanks to a cold email. Now you're in the final, chasing that conversion. Checkpoint 3️⃣ 🏁

Add them all together and you got yourself a nice-looking cold email. This is precisely what we're going to talk about right now.

Your cold email tone

Write a professional email or go with an informal approach... what works better?

The right answer is that they both work! It depends on your personal style and the characteristics of your audience.

email structure

My advice is to always be comfortable with the words you're using and to personalize the message for the person who will be reading it.

Read the situation as it is and adapt to it.

  • CMO of a big company who's 40+ years old vs. Marketing Team Lead in a startup of your age - two different messages
  • Writing to somebody you don't know vs. a person you met before - two different messages
  • Reaching out to someone from the USA vs. someone from China - two different messages
  • Pain points of a big company vs. of a smaller business - two different messages

Regardless of what you decide, be sure to execute it cleanly. Proofread your work no matter what to make sure that you don’t have typos, or grammatical errors, and that your tone is consistent.

As in life, beauty is in diversity. Adapt both the content and tone to the prospect who will receive your cold email.

Your subject line

As we mentioned earlier, the subject line plays a significant role in whether or not your prospect will decide to open an email.

Of course, your personal and company names both contribute to the open rate. In other words, this is the strength of your brand and your relationship with the prospect.

The subject line is like a headline of an article. You scroll down your feed, a title grabs your attention, and, boom, you open the article.

The dynamics behind the subject line are the same. It's the hook that gets people to open up and something that sets an expectation in their minds for what they are about to read.

how to write cold email

Tips when writing a subject line:

  • Think about the length and the fact that on mobile less text is visible
  • Forget about click baits and CAPS LOCK... it's just not worth it
  • Don't reveal too many things, but get people intrigued and excited
  • Not sure about what subject line is better? Let the market decide by A/B testing it!
For you: 56 cold email subject line examples that crushed it

Your greeting

While preparing this article, I realized that a solid amount of people are wondering what's the best greeting to use.

Needless to say, how you greet people plays a part. For starters, ALWAYS use the {{firstName}} tag. Writing "Hey there" or just "Hey" proves you're a lazy person who does sloppy research. :/

We don't want that!

how to write cold email

I always go with either "Hey" or "Hi" unless I know the person from before and then can be a bit looser with a "Yo" or "Whaaaat up?".

These are the two factors I think are worth mentioning. However, I'm just going to leave a few ideas here that I like to play with:

  • Informal greetings: Hey or Hi + {{firstName}}
  • Formal greetings: Hello + {{firstName}}
  • Don't have a first name? Then... Hey {{companyName}} team

Your intro line

The next component is essential in my opinion. If the first sentence is promotional or generic, I don't bother reading the rest. Press delete and get that message outta my inbox. Believe me, it's not just me who does this.

How you start your cold email is critical because it helps you achieve the following:

  • Create a connection with the prospect
  • Shows your work ethic... the more genuine the intro, the better your first impression
  • Motivates the prospect to read the rest of the email
how to write cold email

If you ever read any of my articles, I suppose you know about the Tiramisu intro line tactic.

In any case, if you need inspiration or want to read more about it...

For you: How to start an email [32 examples]

Your middle section or "Story"

The cold email phase on which many of us spend a lot of time on. The question here is... how do we transition from an intro to an email pitch.

I call this section "Story", as in most cases my tactics are usually to come up with a quick storyline my prospects can relate to.

To accomplish this, I turn to the pain points where the objective is to identify their challenges and try to convince them that my software is part of the solution.

how to write cold email

Here are a few suggestions on how to write your story:

  • Relate on a SPECIFIC, not a broad pain point. Demonstrate that you have experience in the field. For example, mentioning "low click rate on Google rankings" and just "better SEO" are two different things
  • Personalized video tactic where I brag about recording a video for the prospect. The image is optimized for clicks, while the story is in the video
  • When seeking partnerships, I try to figure out somebody's ambition (e.g. win with good content marketing). Then, I adapt my pitch to "hey, we can create great content together to achieve X, Y, Z"
  • Make sure it's not too long - aim for about 120 words.

Ultimately, the "Story" is a mix of empathy, deep understanding of the prospect, a slice of humor, and proof/results for credibility.

For you: Using humor in sales emails - a good or bad idea?

Your call-to-action or email ending

The intro line inspires the prospect to read your email, whereas the story intrigues them. But the job's not done there.

Your final target is to explain what's the next step. Book a meeting, watch a video, sign up for a free trial, call to order, open a link... there are various call-to-actions.

how to write cold email

I'd recommend sticking to these rules for CTAs:

  • Don't have more than one call-to-action as you don't want your prospects thinking about what to do for too long
  • Explain what's next in a short and sweet fashion
  • Think about friction... how do you write an email ending that saves you from unnecessary emails going back and forth

If you need some inspirational examples, Ilya wrote a brilliant article on this topic.

For you: How to end a cold email [7 awesome examples]

Your signature

The last but not least, is the signature. Personally, I don't overthink this part too much, and, depending on the campaign, I do the following:

  • Keep my first name
  • Add my title and link the name of the company
  • Sometimes I leave my LinkedIn URL for further proof I'm a real person... a baller 🤾🏼
how to write cold email

My {{signature}} tag is pretty simple, but I've seen people play with additional links, Social Media icons, etc. My colleague Nadja rolls like this. Both are fine, of course. You do you!

My only advice if you desire to make your email signature pop out, don't use HTML, and avoid adding links that end up being a distraction to your main call-to-action.

Everything else, it's a question of personal style.

How to write the winning cold email?

Finally, to wrap up this article we're going to analyze one successful cold email and break it down across all the components we've talked about in this article.

Here's the cold email we used in the early days to connect with other founders, and seal various partnerships and potential integrations.

Cold email template

1. Tone

It's very friendly. In most cases, these were folks from similar industries to ours, smaller to medium-sized companies, and around our age so the approach was informal.

2. Subject line

I love this subject line, one of my favorites... hence the super confidence about it. :D

Kidding, but it really works brilliantly for me. This email got a 90% open rate, but keep in mind that the audience targeting plays half the play here.

3. Greeting

A simple one, not worth discussing further. :)

4. Intro line

Taking into consideration that anyone can say that they are a fan of somebody, I've added this {{Personalization}} tag to make my intro sound more genuine.

An example of this sentence can be...

and let me just say that your XYZ LinkedIn campaign BLEW MY FREAKING MIND... great work!

I just comment on something I found interesting about that company and sparked my interest to write them. It's always honest on my end.

This is in my CSV file and it gets added automatically.

The introduction sentence that comes afterward is per prospect basis, but usually, I erase it and let my {{signature}} tag introduce me. Not as important, again, depending on the style.

5. Story

I go straight for the integration here. Usually, all founders and marketing people respect that, they understand immediately my ask and the expectation is set.

Because we're talking about collaboration, my approach can be a lot more direct and sales-y.

If I wanted to add an element to my story that's going to be the first thing people see, I'd go for a personalized image. As a result, each of my potential partners will get a unique image, made for their eyes only.

Let me show you what I mean in this video.

6. Call to action

In my experience, the best closing line for this type of cold email is a call. You meet the person, see how serious are they, talk about what each side wants, and what a win-win between you two looks like.

You also agree on the next steps and everyone's responsibility down the road.

So what I need from them is a reply that expresses their openness to collaborate and then I simply schedule a meeting.

7. Signature

Not worth further discussion as well, except for me showing you what my {{signature}} tag becomes.

Content Marketing Manager @lemlist

Finally, the results of the campaign:

  • 60 emails sent
  • 90% open rate
  • 50% reply rate

NOTE: The word "integration" in the cold email was also switched with "collaboration" if the email was oriented towards the content or co-promotion partnerships.

Bottom line

I hope you've enjoyed reading this article and that it brought value to your world.

My final advice is to just keep practicing. The perfect cold email structure comes with time, after many tests and mistakes. The main trick in this marathon is to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

P.S. If you wanna get more replies and conversions, check out this eBook that will give you even more actionable tips on what to write in your cold email for the best outreach results. 🔥

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