How to Start a Cold Email to Increase Opens and Responses

Learning how to start a cold email and starting a conversation in-person can be difficult to do well.

Maybe it’s the natural introvert, or just the awkwardness of breaking silence, but getting to a point where speech is flowing can be difficult when you’re face to face with someone you don’t know. But when you are looking someone else in the eye and begin to speak—the person almost always responds.

Cold email, on the other hand, is quite different.

If you send a stranger a note straight into their inbox, they have no social obligation to respond and the overwhelming majority won’t even think about getting back to you.

This reality isn’t great if your goal is to talk to leads about your products and services. It takes at least two people talking to qualify as a bona fide conversation. And to your proverbial foot in the door— leads have to respond.

Just like starting a face-to-face conversation there are some effective tricks you can implement by understanding the psychology of your audience and humanity in general.

Today, we’re going to take a hard look at the nature of electronic mail communication by breaking down the psychological elements of successfully starting a good conversation. Aside from learning how to start a cold email, here’s what we also hope to do:

  1. Understand the Principles of Persuasion
  2. Go over some conversation “hacks” (translating them to email)
  3. Talk about the packaging using Justin McGill’s “QVC” framework

By the end you should know how to start a cold email, be able to tweak your own templates, and see a noticeable uptick in your own response rates (not to mention more conversations).

Making Them Feel Like They Have to Respond

In reality, a cold email should be no more than 5 sentences and a post script (p.s.). That’s not a lot of real estate to start a conversation and say enough to prompt further action from a lead.

According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, there are six principles of persuasion. Each one is something that anyone would need to feel or know about you (and/or your brand) in order to move forward in a conversation.

We’ll go over the five principles that really fit for a cold outreach email.

Putting these elements somewhere in your short email can dramatically improve responses. We’ll briefly go over each.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

How to Start a Cold Email

There couldn’t be a better principle on the list. We’ll spend a lot of time on it.

When you give something (valuable) to someone without before asking for something in return, people will still feel like they owe you.

Too many people forget the “valuable” part.

If you send over a blog post from a third party blog, you won’t get as much as a “gee, thanks.”

But, if you do like some of our more successful clients, and offer a genuinely useful resource that will help them whether or not they continue to speak with you—that’ll work over their conscience.

How to Start a Cold Email

A 2005 study (the same one we linked to above) by scientist Randy Garner showed that attaching a handwritten post-it note to a marketing survey garnered a 69% response rate as compared to a 34% rate when no note was attached.

How to Start a Cold Email

How to Pull It Off: Know your leads well enough to know what they want (related to your gizmo). Create a resource that helps them (one that’s better than those at the top of a Google search). Send it to them in your cold email (along with a call-to-action).

Principle #2: Social Proof

How to Start a Cold Email

Social proof has been around for a long time.

When individuals make decisions, it’s often more of an instinctual process than facts-based. It’s the reason you follow the bulk of the traffic in a detour.

“This many people must know how to get back on the interstate.”

The concept has a ton of different manifestations for your brand. You could have some of your well-known customers’ logos on your homepage, have lots of followers, etc.

But how do you pull this off in 100 words?

People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.” – Robert Keith Leavit

How to Pull It Off: A fantastic way to show social proof is by linking to a guest post you wrote for a credible source (e.g. “Take a look at my recent post about such and such on Sales Hacker”).

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

How to Start a Cold Email

Getting someone to agree or to make a decision is huge in the buying process.

People naturally want to be consistent, thus, when they make a commitment, they are much more likely to stick with it—or be receptive to future communications.

This fact should drive home the importance of sending something of value to your leads.

If you can get them to open the email, that’s a micro “yes”. If you can get them to visit your resource and engage with it, that’s a bigger “yes”.

All of it setting them up for the response, the “yes” before the ultimate “yes” (aka the close).

How to Pull It Off: Create that thing (resource) that gets them to give you those smaller “yes” commitments, ultimately enticing them psychologically to respond to your email.

Principle #4: Liking

How to Start a Cold Email

If they like you, you’ll get more of those fence-sitters.

There are some people who have to buy because the product is exactly what they’re needing. Others will choose your solution (over others) simply because they like the rep, personality, or even the style of the brand.

Being good is essential, but being likable should be a close second.

How to Pull It Off: One of the best ways to get someone to like you is to mention something unrelated to business, but specific to your lead. If they live in Austin, TX, mention the food scene. If they’re in Scottsdale (like us) talk about the dry heat. Makes sense? May seem like a throw away sentence, but it’ll help make them like you.

Principle :#5 Authority

If you can convince your leads you are the authority on solving their pain—you’ll often win the account (eventually).

Proving your an authority in a cold email means getting a better response rate. They may not know you that well, but if you’ve shown yourself to be of note on a certain related topic or issue, leads will be much more likely to have that conversation.

How to Pull It Off: A guest post will work here, too (it’s like a twofer to help you save space in that email). Have you not written a guest post? Here’s a resource that will set you on the way.

Putting It All in an Email (Aka the QVC Framework)

Not that QVC.

How to Start a Cold Email

Getting a few of the points in the previous section across may warm them up to you, but it ain’t going to get them to click reply. To do that, you’ll have to make an irresistible email (including call-to-action) over the course of 4-5 sentences—here are a few things to include.

A Quick Note on Subject Lines

How to Start a Cold Email

The subject is important. The thing is you already know that.

Yes, you should test and try different lines until you have a great open rate.

Using our face-to-face conversation analogy, subject lines are the doorway into the email coffee shop. The opening of the door you just knocked on.

Essentially, it’s getting the person to the place where you will be speaking with them.

If your subject line misses the mark, learning how to start a cold email won’t matter.

With that said, we want to concentrate on the body of the email— on to the QVC Framework.

Q is for Question

How to Start a Cold Email

If you do one thing that we suggest in this post, make it this point—DON’T start your email talking about yourself.

Seriously, don’t even think about it.

Everything a lead needs to know should be covered in your email signature. Instead of boring them with your self-promotion, ask them a question that highlights the pain your solution solves and introduces your (or your product’s) ability to solve it.

It’s likely that leads will be able to see this first sentence.

Your subject line is enticing and your first sentence makes the case. When they open it, they’ll be ready to see what you have to say.

V is for Value Proposition

How to Start a Cold Email

One to three sentences of your best value.

You can let them know why you’re reaching out to them (we love XYZ, or noticed ABC), or that you’ve helped [similar company] increase their [core goal].

Show them the goods and give them something to chew on.

C is for Closing

How to Start a Cold Email

We’ve talked a lot about how to start a cold email, but the end is critical as well.

You have to ask for a response, or your email is pointless.

The last sentence, like the first, should be a question. Yeah, it probably could have been QVQ, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.

This question should NOT be a repeat of the first.

In fact, it should be the “good cop” of the email (the first being the “just the facts, ma’am question).

How to Start a Cold Email

Having a hard and soft question is a great way to maximize response rate and gauge how close a lead is to buying.

For a look at the HuffingtonPost article that Justin wrote about all this QVC stuff, click here.

Now You Know How to Start a Cold Email

We’ve taken a brief walk through the mind of your leads, but now it’s time to get that knowledge into the field.

Take the tips, write several templates, create a resource that warms up your prospects. Test and edit everything until you are getting a better than expected open/response rate.

Your open rates should most certainly be over 25% and your response rates, depending on your offer, should be at least be 3% (of total people contacted).

What tips on our list are you currently using? For anyone that knows how to start a cold email, is there anything we missed, or you want to add? Leave them in the comments below!