Did your cold emails make the naughty or nice list this year?

Posted December 18, 2018

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By Joe Vignolo

Senior Content Managing Editor at Outreach

Guest post by Patricia McLaren, Co-Founder and Head of Customer Operations at CopyShoppe.co

Are you making a prospecting list? Checking it twice? Do you know if your email copy is naughty or nice?

Holiday puns aside, cold emails can really go sideways if they aren’t regularly revised throughout the year. What once worked for your sales team could fall flat, or your buyer persona could be focused on different initiatives from quarter to quarter. Sales evolves as fast as the holidays sneak up on us. We have to make sure we’re continuously improving our email approach and that our cold emails resonate with our buyers no matter the time of outreach.

Now’s the perfect time to reflect on your cold email strategy this year and prepare for an even stronger 2019.

There are so many cold email approaches floating around right now, and everyone has an opinion about what works and doesn’t work. Successful email copy evokes emotion, and since all of us are unique individuals, one email style won’t speak to every prospect in the same way.

The more targeted you can be with your persona-based campaign design, the stronger your results will be.

Depending on your industry, company culture, or style of writing, you might decide on an informal style over a traditional email tone. It’s most important to keep your buyer persona in mind and create a campaign according to what is appreciated in their realm.

Crafting cold emails that will get presents next year

While there are endless variables when it comes to cold email writing, there are a few universal foundations to keep in mind regardless of who you’re reaching out to:

  • Cold Email length
  • Cold Email Personalization
  • NO Feature Selling in Cold Emails
  • Questions

Cold Email Length

Ever gotten a ridiculously long Christmas list from your kids and thought, “No way they’re getting ALL this stuff!” Yeah. The same is true for prospects reading your cold emails.

If your prospects are actually opening your email, they definitely aren’t going to get through the whole thing if it’s heavy in text. Paragraphs are daunting, and you can’t expect your prospects to read them. It’s unrealistic given the small amount of time they allot to emails, and their level of attention to a stranger’s opinion about their business needs.

Shorten your cold emails down to the core message only. It should not exceed 200 words (and even that’s generous). A good rule of thumb is to keep it under 4 sentences, and directly address the who, what, why and how basics.

Keep in mind that you aren’t selling your whole product/service in the email - you’re selling time. Entice your prospects just enough to want to get on the phone with you and learn more.

Naughty: Long paragraphs of text

Nice: Core message only - 200 words or less

Cold Email Personalization 

Think of personalization as the cookies and milk you leave out for Santa at night. He’s kind of expecting it, and would be disappointed if it wasn’t there.

Even the most basic level of personalization is necessary in any form of outreach now. First name, company name, title or location are toss ups and don’t show that you’ve done any research into their company or role there.

Personalizing your emails is one of the biggest components to standing out in prospects’ inboxes and providing real value beyond trying to book a meeting. Include higher levels of personalization like company-related news, a personal experience with the brand, role-specific challenges and solutions or industry relevance. 

If your email sounds like it could speak to the masses, you’re likely not reaching individuals on an emotional level - so why would they respond?

Let’s just say this… if you put out Grandma’s homemade, melty chocolate fudge brownie cookies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph, you’d feel more confident about the presents he leaves under the tree, right?

Naughty: Generic templates, no personalized touches

Nice: Layers of personalization for company and individual

NO Feature Selling in Cold Emails

It’s actually more difficult than it seems to convey your company message without feature dumping. How do you tell your prospects enough about your product/service without listing all that you can provide? The common misconception is that you can mention everything about what you do and hope something resonates with them.

Your cold email strategy should address this challenge first and foremost, and your campaign should be built around how you lay out your value prop(s). If you have multiple products, for example, maybe you create separate campaigns and target the personas that would be most interested in that feature. The more granular you get, and the more personal and targeted your messaging, the more meetings you ultimately create.

Instead of feature selling, try to turn the conversation towards persona challenges and how your features solve them. Are they doing manual work that you automate? Could you personally save that person 10 hours a week? Maybe they can sleep in an extra hour (how amazing over the holidays). That’s much more appealing than telling them why your company is so great.

So instead of a bullet point list of 10+ features, showcase the most successful piece of your business, and prove the value in that. If prospects don’t bite, try another value prop in another campaign, and so on.

Naughty: Endless feature dumping, ME-focused approach, broad value props

Nice: Customer-centered approach, targeted campaigns to persona challenges


Questions create more opportunity for your prospects to engage with you. If you don’t ask, why would they reply? Choose your questions wisely (no more than 3 per email) and make sure they challenge your prospects’ ideas. They should be relevant and bring up points they maybe weren’t considering before. Or, if you’re confident you solve their biggest pain point, ask them if you’re right on track and when they can hop on a call to learn more.

Not every question needs to be a call to action either. Switch up your asks in every email. If you’re sharing an article, maybe you ask a thoughtful question relevant to the article topic and their business. If your email is very direct about the results you drive in their space, maybe it’s appropriate to ask for a meeting. Calls to action should not be wordy, so stay away from long CTAs like this one:

“Are you available for a quick 20-minute introduction call on Monday or Tuesday next week to discuss driving your sales efficiency and saving you and your team 10 hours per week?”

Instead, just try something simple, for example:

“Do you have 20 mins for me next week?”

Your message should be compelling enough that they already understand what you’ll be discussing in more detail on a call. No need to include the outcomes - your call to action becomes unnecessarily wordy. There’s power in simplicity.

Naughty: Lack of engaging questions, wordy or unclear call to actions

Nice: Thought-provoking questions, variety of asks, direct calls to action

It’s not too early to start now and make sure you’re on the Nice List in 2019. Your cold email copy is your first interaction with prospects, and it should be a strong representation of what it’s like to work with you. Campaigns are constantly changing, so make sure to dedicate efforts towards optimizing and testing them regularly.

Will your cold emails make the Nice List next year?

Patricia McLaren is the co-founder and Head of Customer Operations at CopyShoppe.co, the leader in SaaS email copy and optimization, helping companies create and refine a messaging approach that delivers results.


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