How one interview question improved my cold emails

Posted October 30, 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

A few years ago, I was asked this question in an interview:

"How would you describe what we do to your grandma?"

Since my grandmother would have mistaken her cell phone for a TV remote, I gave the most basic and simplified answer I could come up with. Then I backed up for a second and thought, this is seriously genius.

How many times have you looked at a company website, clicked through every one of their pages, and still had no idea what they really did? During my years of heavy prospecting, every organization’s value proposition started to sound exactly the same: claiming to change the world, save on cost, automate some aspect of your workflow and boost productivity.

"Our proprietary collaboration solution allows cross-department accountability to ultimately improve team productivity, sales performance and decrease budget significantly."

"We're changing how sales and marketing teams reduce static performance, while boosting training capabilities and offering unmatched perks that fuel retention."

"It's a marketing platform that drives engagement and allows every level of interaction to be meaningful, leading to more ROI and significant savings."

Wait, what?!?

I'm sure you can think of a few times you've felt just as lost trying to decipher the hidden message within a company's value prop. Many are ridiculously complex, and yet still vague enough to describe absolutely nothing about what they do.

And this is why cold emails are getting sent to the trash bin. Truthfully, your prospects don’t understand what you’re talking about, and they don’t have the time or energy to figure it out.

When it comes to email copy, you have an especially small window (literally) and time frame to get your message across. For one thing, emails that can’t be read on a mobile screen are likely not even getting read past the first line. Remove the fluff and save the valuable real estate for what you’re actually trying to say.

Is your value prop packing a punch in the first few sentences, or confusing your reader?

The best way to check is to read your value prop out loud. Make sure it’s simple, conversational and direct. According to HubSpot, writing at a third-grade reading level increases response rates by 36%.

Writing at a third-grade reading level increases response rates by 36%

Free-flowing and informal emails elicit higher responses too. So I challenge you to consider these practices when crafting your next outbound campaign:

  • Simplify - Keep word count to a minimum and avoid the overuse of adjectives and industry jargon. Think of describing your product or service to your grandparents.
  • Segment - All prospects are not created equally. If you offer several products and/or target multiple personas, you can't appeal to everyone or describe your entire value prop in one sentence. If you try to appease everyone, you’ll likely connect with no-one. Consider an email strategy that segments your value props and allows you to highlight them individually to the right audience.
  • Empathize - Focus on the challenges you're solving and why you exist in the first place. Your target personas are struggling with the exact challenges that you help others overcome every day. Focus your value prop on solutions and avoid feature selling.

I guess I can thank Grandma for being technologically challenged and reminding me of the beauty in simplicity.

What did your grandparents teach you that you're still using today? Let us know in the comments -- and add your outbound email best practices.

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


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