The art of “cold email” messages


A lot of people reach out to me for advice or to sell me on whatever they are doing.  Some of that is fun and interesting, but much of it is in a form that wastes my time and theirs.  That waste too often is due to to messages that fail to explain what the sender does and others that use hundreds of words when one sentence would be sufficient.

When you are sending a message (via LinkedIn, email, or whatnot) to someone who doesn’t know you (or is unlikely to remember you), that message needs to start with a “hook”, i.e. an idea that captures the reader’s attention and makes them want to keep reading.  The reader is only going to read your whole message if each paragraph makes them want to read the next.

The most common hook for startup pitches to explain the problem being solved.  Ideally in one sentence.  Two at most.  E.g. Did you know that 25% of trash sent to landfills is organic waste, that could be, and should be, recycled into clean energy?

If you share an interest with the recipient, that can be your hook.  E.g. I’m investing in agribusiness and looking for you to help me on something by your experience.

Unless you just met with the recipient, or unless they sent you a message first, it’s best to start at the beginning with a sentence or two of context.  When I’m blasting through email, I only glance at the sender name and don’t look at the subject line.  (On LinkedIn and other social networks, there isn’t a subject line.)  Expect that the first words they see are your opening sentence or at best your first paragraph (if it’s short).  Your job is to write a sentence that makes them want to read more.

Once you have them hooked, tell them what you do.  Again do this in as few words as you can.  1-3 sentences at most.

Only then tell them who you are, ideally how you came to find the recipient, and finish up with your ask.

E.g. Did you know that 25% of trash sent to landfills is organic waste, that could be, and should be, recycled into clean energy?  QWEWQ installs biodigestors to convert municipal waste streams into biogas.  We launched two years ago, have installed test systems in three locations, and are looking for advice on how to raise a Series A.

In markets where the problem is well-known, you can skip the problem:

E.g. I have a company specialized in agricultural business with $10 M revenue in 2016, $25 M in 2017, and this year is projecting the same growth rate. We are looking for investors to meet that demand.

For sales or connection requests, you can go straight to the ask:

E.g. I love what you are doing and wanted to reach out to see if you knew of any NYC based Tech Recruiter roles. 

This should all be obvious, but here are some real messages I received this week:

E.g. #1- Hi Luni – we’re looking for $100k to add features to an already working product, get a front end facelift, and do some social media marketing leading up to the 2018 mid-terms.  [NOTE: you can’t start with an ask for money, as I and every other investor have plenty of other asks to review, many of which that take a moment to tell us what they are doing.]

E.g. #2- Please keep me at your disposal with my and my team’s expertise in areas of my professionals focus: Children’s Rights, and Civil Society, especially that under an extremely difficult circumstances of the “third world” where we got the best results at a very little investments, recognized by US Dept. of State Report on Human Rights 2016. As you are “successful blessing hand” serial entrepreneur, I’ll appreciate your look at my new idea on tech-based bridging gap between globally impactful grassroots/Civil Society in one hand, and global Donor Community in other, aiming to change this world to better. I would eager to share this idea and join our forces with an appropriate venture capitalist/social impact investor I’m looking for. Your attention to my idea, advice, and partnership will be highly appreciated! Long-read Project Description of 7 pages is attached. Its short version, indeed… Wishing you the best of luck, and I’m repeat that it great to stay in touch! Thank you very much once again!   [NOTE: this was originally multiple paragraphs, but better formatting doesn’t help understand what they do, nor after trying to decipher 174 words did I want to download and read 7 more pages, especially if the text looks like this.]

E.g. #3- As a valued member of our community, we would like to invite you for a quick review to go through the following link. We want to hear from you about the latest trends and what you expect to see in this.  [NOTE: this is a cold email, and thus I’ve no idea what community the sender is talking about, and will not click on a link to find out.  I’ll only click on a link if I care about the problem and are intrigued by the summarized solution.]

E.g. #4- Hey, so I came across this Instagram growth company and figured you’d like to test the services out! I partnered with them and they’ve allowed me to give a FREE 30 day trial period for people looking to collab and grow with me.😊You seemed like a great candidate! I’m going to send you the link ahead of time. If there’s any questions, message me as soon as possible.  [NOTE: maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like being told what I might like, I dont’ use Instagram, and again am not going to click on a link unless a service looks compelling.]

E.g. #5- I was recently reviewing your company profile and see that you have been dealing with Web/mobile development. Taking a closer look at your profile and the portfolio, there are a few areas where I think we can mutually be beneficial and can join hands together.  [NOTE: Not a terrible message, but the only web/mobile development my profile might show is from over ten years ago.  That, and if you want to pitch me on a partnership, pitch me the win-win pieces in the message.]

E.g. #6- My name is John Whiting, CEO of Digital Kryptonite a pay-per-performance marketing company. We’ve generated over 7,000 leads and $1.5M in sales for businesses like yours since being founded 8 months ago. One of our clients got 131 clients in the first 5 months!  [NOTE: I get far too many email like this from sales lead companies.  Given this message, I truly wonder if the message they send to potential customers are interesting enough for them to read.]

E.g. #7- I feel blessed to be co-authoring the upcoming best-selling book with the legendary Brian Jones. As you know, writing a book with Brian Jones can take your business and creditability to massive levels which will help attract high paying clients. For more information, please go through the first short video:  [NOTE: I changed the name of the co-author, but neither you nor I know the actual author, so the effect is the same: “You don’t know me.  You don’t know my co-author.  Click this video to see why we bothered.”  My only curiosity is if this generated any clicks.]

Like most of marketing and sales, the flaw is not understanding your audience.  Before you hit Send, put yourself in the shoes of your audience.  Reread what you wrote from their perspective.  Re-write it to be half as long.  Assume yours is one message of 100 they will be reading when they read it.  Take the time to make your message shorter, more interesting, and worth reading.

Do all that and you’ll be less frustrated when you don’t get the reply rate you were expecting.

NOTE: If you’d like to connect to me on LinkedIn, I’m Lunarmobiscuit there too.

By "Luni"


HardcoverThe Next StepThe Next StepThe Next StepThe Next Step The Next StepThe Next StepThe Next Step



Recent blog posts