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How To Improve Cold Email Open Rates With 4 Simple Steps

Justin McGill

April 17th, 2017

improve cold email open rates

If you’re reading this, you understand the value of cold outreachYou may even know that cold email is the most effective and straightforward way to get a response from business owners and decision makers. While that is true, it’s not always easy. That’s why I’m going to teach you how to improve cold email open rates with 4 easy steps. 

Ever since the beginning of the Internet era, cold emailing has been a very popular method of getting in touch with influential people.

So, why are there so many posts on “how to increase your XYZ” and “lower your ABC” regarding cold email?

Simple—consumers are getting smarter and more cynical.

Lazy marketers are sending more of the same old tactics while decision makers are sending more and more email into the spam folder. This sad fact doesn’t mean we have to switch from email to something else, it just means we have to write better emails. 

how to improve cold email open rates

Busy entrepreneurs don’t have a lot of spare time to spend talking on the phone. We can get scrape anyone’s email address these days—but just because we can easily reach them, doesn’t mean we should waste their time. Not every cold email gets a warm welcome, let alone a response.

In this post, I’ll explain how to improve cold email open rates by highlighting common reasons why your emails aren’t getting any engagement—and what you can do to turn it around.

If that sounds good, keep reading 🙂

Real reasons why people don’t respond to cold emails

Nobody responding to your cold email? Here are the typical explanations and what to do about each.

Reason #1: Your Subject Line is Horrendous

The main reason why people don’t open cold emails is a long, unclear subject line. And, if you can’t get them to open—you can’t get them to respond.

bad email subject lines sales hacker

This topic dominates the conversation when it comes to cold email simply because it is the doorway to your email. Long studies and trial and error have given us some excellent tips to ensure that our subject line gets attention in the right way.

How To Fix It

  • Make it short: The data shows that short subject lines work better. But that’s only if you say the right thing. Sometimes a blank subject performs better than a long, convoluted sentence.
  • Use a name: Got their first name? Use it. Got their last name, too? Use it. Even though brevity works well, using at least the first name gets more open rates and using first and last gets even more (in most cases).
  • Get to the point: Read this out loud (if you want). What’s in the email should be described in the subject. What’s in the subject line should be expressed in the email. Do this and you’ll usually be okay.
  • Keep Tweaking: This one is the worst. If you’re not trying new subject lines and tracking the open rates, there is no way for you to improve. Most companies will pick a line that works and won’t change it. This leads to a lower open rate over time.

Bonus: Here’s a full post on what you should do with your subject line.

Reason #2: Your First Sentence is Bad

A close second to a pitiful subject line is a bad first sentence to the email.

How many emails have you discarded when you opened them and read:

“Hi. My name is so and so and I’m the such and such of whatchamacallit.”

You don’t care, and neither do your leads. The thing is that some email clients (e.g. Google) can see the first line of your email without opening it. This means that a good subject line can still end up in a trashed email.

how to improve cold email open rates sales hacker

How To Fix It

  • Can the intro: Take the intro line (about yourself) and turn it into the best possible elevator pitch you can think of. Leave the intro to your email signature at the bottom of your email.
  • Test & Experiment: Write out a dozen or more ideas for a first sentence. Ask your friends, test the best ones, and narrow it down until you are using the absolute best option(s).
  • Keep it short & sweet: It shouldn’t take up more than a line. Just an intro into what it is they need, and that you just so happen to solve their problem. The average attention span is only 8 seconds. Use that to drive you.

attention span of humans venturebeat

Source: VentureBeat

Reason #3: It’s a Canned Template Email (not personalized)

Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome, research driven email templates spreading across the internet today.

Templates aren’t the problem, it’s how quickly you go from template to inbox—that’s the problem.

Just plugging in very basic data into your template is (in today’s market) the equivalent of putting “to whom it may concern” at the top.

In other words, “we don’t think you’re worth the time to know before we ask for money”.

What do you think the lead’s response should be? What would yours be?

Side Note: If it sounds like writing cold emails can be improved by using the golden rule (i.e. “Do unto others…”), you’re right. It can.

How To Fix It

  • Research: Depending on how many leads you have to reach out to in order to make your quota/goals, it may not behoove you to do a LinkedIn search on all of them. That said, if you have fewer better quality leads—you’ll have time to make your emails more personal.
  • Use that research: Once you do research, use it in your email. Use geographic things like weather, or “you live near the beach” type stuff. Sports teams, recent blog posts (that they wrote). Anything that could warm them up to you.
  • Automate it: Just because it’s more personal doesn’t mean that it has to be ridiculously cumbersome. There are software products out there that can help you manage your cold outreach efforts 😉

Reason #4: There’s Nothing in it for Them

A simple sales pitch doesn’t do the trick anymore. You have to include something that appeals to them that injects your benefits and value into it.

A resource or gizmo that they’ll go crazy for that just so happens to nurture them along the way.

You can’t just send, “We’re great at SEO! Do you want to use us for your SEO?”

How To Fix It

  • Think outside the box: What does your client want? SEO may be the way to get them there, but it’s not what they’re thinking about. Give them what they need in a package along with something they want.
  • Create something awesome: Once you know what they’ll want (e.g. white paper, industry report, podcast full of tips), create it. But do it good. Make it something worth consuming and sharing.
  • Insert your message: Don’t make it all about them. Once you give them what they want, they’re much more likely to hear about you wanting to talk with them (thus they respond). Seriously, this works.

Go Look at Your Cold Emails

improve cold email open rates conclusion

There are those who will read this post, and move on to another, and another after that. Don’t be like that.

Go take action. Get out your templates. Pull up your email service provider stats. And start looking at which points are causing you to have poor engagement in your outreach.

What can you do to improve your cold email today?

About the author

Justin McGill

Justin McGill is the Founder of LeadFuze, a lead generation software platform that helps agencies, software, and service companies have more sales conversations, automatically.

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