In the next 25 minutes, I’m going to share everything I’ve learned from sending over 1,000,000,000 emails during the last five years. You read that right — 1 billion!
Along the way, I’ve also sold over $100,000,000 worth of products and services.
That number may sound crazy, but it’s true. I’ve generated the majority of this revenue through email marketing. Today, I’m going to show you how to apply some email marketing principles to your cold emails to get more responses and close more deals.
We’ll be looking at this in six parts:
- PART I: It Starts With Knowing Your Prospect
- PART II: A Weird Visualization to Help With Sales
- PART III: The 4 Critical Parts of a Cold Email Campaign
- Part IV: Battle Proven Tactics of Good Email Marketing
- Part V: When to Use Cold Email Templates (And What to Avoid)
- Part VI: Tools To Maximize Your Cold Email Results
PART I: It Starts With Knowing Your Prospect
One of the first rules I learned about writing emails that get responses is to start with one question:
Where is your prospect at right now — mentally, physically, emotionally, and historically?
Where do they work?
What are some of the demands of their job?
Do they currently work with your competitors?
Are there alternative solutions they might be using to yours?
What do they eat for lunch?
How does their boss evaluate their performance?
Build context for what their daily life is like. Take seven minutes and write down EVERYTHING you can think of about your prospect’s life. Set a timer, and don’t stop writing for 7 minutes. Don’t let your pen stop moving even if you’re just writing “word word word” the whole time.
It will feel uncomfortable, but you’ll find gold there. The goal here is to get to know the person behind the prospect.
You don’t have trouble finding the right thing to say when you’re asking a close friend to lunch. That’s because you know them well. Think about your prospect like a new friend who you don’t know well (yet). Email marketing is just a way to make friends (and customers) at scale.
Every cold email is just a friendly conversation.
Now, this next part is optional, but I want to take you through a little visualization to illustrate my point.
PART II: A Weird Visualization to Help With Sales
If you aren’t open to meditation or if you are already 100% comfortable writing cold emails without fear, this isn’t for you. Feel free to ignore this section and skip to part III.
This may seem a little crazy, but I swear it works. I call it the Secret Smile.
I teach it in my Sales Inner Course to get you in the ideal mental state for making sales. I’m giving it to you today for free because I want to make sure you walk away from this article with huge value.
The goal is to picture yourself feeling relaxed, proud, happy, and loved before you go into any sales environment. Having the right energy going into a call, meeting, or email can completely shape the conversations you have.
If you’re a little wary of visualizations, consider the famous University of Chicago study on making free throws. They studied three groups of people.
They had the first group practice every day for an hour. The second group only visualized themselves making free throws. The third group did not practice or use visualization. After 30 days, they tested all three groups again.
The first group improved by 24%. The second group increased by 23% without even touching the basketball. The third group, as predicted, did not show any improvement.
Visualization works almost as well as practice. This is the stuff no email template will help you with (I’ll explain why in part 5).
So, let’s step back from the sweaty palms, dry mouth, and tight chest you may feel when staring at the blank new email you’re about to send to a prospect.
Close your eyes. Take a nice deep breath, and exhale.
Place your hands in your lap in a circular position with your palms up. Feel yourself sinking deeper into a relaxed state with a relaxed position.
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and keep it there for the rest of the meditation. Put a smile on your face, or at least remember what a smile is like. Now tighten up your toes until they REALLY hurt. Now release them.
Do this three times.
Feel the relaxed feeling in your toes. Move that feeling through your heels, up your ankles, and into your calves. Then up into your thighs. Allow your stomach, your intestines, and your lower back to fill up with that relaxed feeling. Allow that relaxed feeling to flow into your chest, your upper back, your shoulders, and into your arms and fingertips.
Allow this relaxed feeling to move up into the back of your head and around your neck. Let it come up over your ears and skull to rest behind your eyes. Catch that relaxed feeling with your relaxed tongue and mix it with your saliva. Swallow it down to the bottom of your belly where you swirl it around.
Now say to your mind, “Remember a time when you did something you’re proud of that other people also recognized you for.” It doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are. Pay attention to how you felt. Erase the people, the event, the reward, and just keep that feeling.
Take that feeling down to your feet and move it through your body the same way you did with the feeling of relaxation. You don’t have to tighten your toes this time.
All the way to your tongue again and mix it with your saliva. And mix it inside your stomach for three breaths. The feeling of relaxation. Pride.
Now I want you to picture a time you were laughing so hard you literally fell down and lost it. Take out the joke and the situation. Just imagine the feeling of that laughter.
Just imagine that situation, that time, that laughter. Hold onto that feeling of wild laughter.
Bring that feeling to your toes again, and repeat the cycle where you mix it with your saliva and bring it into your stomach. Now mix all three feelings in your stomach. Continue to let the feelings fill you.
Next, remember a time you were in love and felt loving. Take out the love in the situation, and hold onto that wonderful feeling. Take that feeling down into your feet and then swallow it down into your stomach.
Now, mix all four feelings in your stomach.
Keep your smile and let these feelings fill your body. Once you’ve succeeded in combining all these feelings, imagine practicing this every day so you can feel these feelings moving through your body. Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth and feel those feelings.
You can feel these feelings anytime you want by simply pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
Over the next few breaths, allow yourself to slowly open your eyes and come back to the room you’re in.
What we’re trying to do is to get you to realize two things here:
First, we need to train your brain to feel good every time you’re about to prospect. I want you to ground these feelings in something real. You want to picture a real moment in your life. It’s much easier to have a real, happy conversation with a stranger when you’re in a good mood.
Second, your subconscious is much better at communicating and selling than you are. We have this tiny, fearful, judging mind that gets in the way. Your subconscious mind, on the other hand, is the best tool you have to cut the crap out of your emails.
The goal of these emails isn’t to make a sale. You’re just starting a good conversation. The point of the visualization is to fill your subconscious with happy feelings before you reach out.
That’s where the gold is.
PART III: The 4 Critical Parts of a Cold Email Campaign
There are only four big parts of every cold email. No matter how you slice it, you’re just four steps away from getting more replies, more conversations, and more sales.
You wanna blow these emails out of the water, right?
Then you’re going to need to be familiar with each part.
The Subject Line
Repeat after me. The goal of the subject line is to get the prospect to open your email.
Mailer templates are not new. They’re over 70+ years old.
One of the first people I studied in direct response sales was Eugene Schwartz. He’d been in direct response since the 50s, and he’d sold an estimated 4 BILLION dollars worth of books by the time he died in 1995.
He sold $4B worth of books using his day’s version of cold emails.
(Back when selling $1B worth of stuff actually meant something)
That’s right. He made all his money selling via good-old-fashioned envelopes and mailers. The internet didn’t exist. But the problem was the same…
“How do I get a prospect to READ my letter?”
In one training Schwartz did for a room full of copywriters, marketers, and salespeople, he made this point crystal clear:
“You have 10 seconds for your headline to stop that hand from throwing your letter away.”
Today, with email, it’s even shorter. You have about 8 seconds in your prospect’s inbox. Schwartz would later go on to say in the same training,
“The headline is a very simple device that has a very easy job to do. Except that people make it extremely hard. The purpose of this headline, ‘Burn Disease Out of Your Body,’ is to get them to read the next paragraph. Nothing else. It sells nothing. It confirms nothing. It argues nothing. It establishes nothing about the firm. If it stands by itself, it would do nothing in the world. But all it’s gotta do is, it’s got to get them to read the next paragraph.”
Eugene Schwartz may be from a different time. But the fundamentals of Sales remain the same. The goal is the same: To get prospects to buy from you!
And the only way to get them to buy from you is to make sure they actually READ what you send them. Don’t make your subject line do more work than it was designed to do. The subject only has one job, to get the prospect to open the damn email.
But there an exception to this rule. Don’t try to trick your prospect into opening by using subject lines like:
- Just curious
- Check out these pics
- Your upcoming purchase
- Your order
You get the point.
If you aren’t sure if your subject line is going to piss off your prospect, just ask yourself…
“How would my mom feel if she got this email?”
If it doesn’t pass the mom test, you probably shouldn’t be using that subject line. But by all means, use anything you can to ethically get them to open the email. Just be aware that if you tickle their curiosity enough, you have to give them a fast pay off. In other words, answer the thing they’re curious about quickly.
This brings us to the next part of your email.
The First Sentence
The first sentence is the second most important part of your email. This is where you start to pull your prospect by answering their curiosity from the subject line and opening a NEW loop that they want to close ASAP.
What is opening a loop?
It’s when you create a story in your prospect’s mind that they now desperately want to close. Some examples include:
I help investment analysts close more deals without spending 80+ hour weeks in their data rooms.
Loop opened in prospect’s mind: I can work less AND close more deals?
We found a way to use the internet of things (IoT) in smart factories to reduce their WIP inventories by 14% on average.
Loop opened in prospect’s mind: Is there really a way to reduce my WIP inventory by 14%?
Can I show you how we help top eCommerce stores ship just as fast as Amazon 2-Day Prime without spending more?
Loop opened in prospect’s mind: Can I compete with Amazon without spending more money?
Opening a loop in your first sentence is the surest way to get your prospect to keep reading. You are trying to tease their curiosity enough to get them interested in who you are.
It’s a lot like dating. You don’t just go up to a girl or guy in a bar and start telling them your life story. You say something suggestive like,
“I’m waiting for my friends to show up. Buy you a drink in the meantime? My name’s X.”
There’s mystery in that. And you’re also offering something of value. You’re starting a conversation. It’s the same idea with email. You’re starting a conversation in their head, and your mission is to get them to keep reading.
And if they keep reading, they quickly get to the body paragraph. This is where you’ll do some of the heavy lifting to get your prospect to understand the value you offer.
The Body Paragraph
The body paragraph is the unsung hero of cold email. This is where you’re going to make what we call The Offer.
The Offer is the good, service, download, or benefit the person gets in exchange for their time or money. You’re laying out what your prospect stands to gain when they choose to work with you.
Now here’s the God’s honest truth. If your offer sucks, it doesn’t matter if you’re channeling the ghost of William Shakespeare. No wordsmithing will fix it. If there isn’t a demand for your product or service, you will accomplish nothing.
Just imagine driving around with an ice cream truck in the dead of winter in Minnesota…. Versus driving around a ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona, right before a game.
The ice cream is the same. The difference is The Offer.
A business example would be contacting the exec in charge of I.T. to sell their company on window washing services. It’s the wrong audience for your offer.
So how do you create a compelling offer?
For one, be different. If you know everyone in your industry tries to book a call with prospects, don’t be afraid to make them a personalized video instead.
It’s a different offer, and different stands out.
RELATED: The 6 Best Cold Emails Ever Sent.
Now that we’ve gotten the big parts down — the subject line, the first sentence, and the body — let’s bring it home.
The Call To Action
This is the moment of truth. The good news is that if you’ve done the other three parts correctly, you’ve already done 80% of the work. But you can still screw up this last 20% if you don’t do two simple things.
Make your ask easy to take action on
It’s a lot easier to get on a 9-minute call (I’ll explain why I choose the 9 minutes in a bit) than it is to set a 1-hour demo appointment. Start small. Baby steps. Get your prospect to make a micro-commitment.
You’re just asking them to say yes to something small first. This is a well known psychological bias documented in the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Your prospects want to behave consistently with any previous commitment they’ve made to justify their decisions. So if they’ve said yes once, they’re more likely to say it again.
Be specific with your ask
There are three feelings that kill sales faster than a speeding bullet:
Confusion, unbelief, and boredom. C-U-B. It’s one of the final checks copywriters do when they go through any email or sales piece.
When you are specific with your ask, you make it clear and believable for your prospects. And we already took care of boredom in the offer.
The more specific you are with what you want, the more you look like you know what you want. You’re perceived as an expert and a professional. You’re an authority on what you’re selling.
Any rookie can say, “Can we jump on a call?” whereas a seasoned professional says, “It should only take 13 minutes for me to ask you a few questions to see if you’d be a fit. Does that work for you?”
If your call to action is clear, believable, and exciting, you’ve primed your prospects to practically break their keyboards typing you back.
Now that we’ve gone through all the different parts of your cold email let’s get into the tactical, actionable lessons you can start using to build from scratch.
Part IV: Battle Proven Tactics of Good Email Marketing
This is the part that everyone focuses on first, but really this is close to the last step. I’d even recommend going through the first three parts first, even if you’re a seasoned pro.
The basics are important.
But if you want to get straight to the part where I give you the best rules I’ve learned from emailing a list of over 1.2M people daily, read on. These are eleven of my best tactics for increasing opens, replies, and sales.
1. Always be testing different subject lines
You can’t learn if you don’t test. We want 50% to 100% lifts. This happens by testing dramatically different things.
Here’s some stuff to test:
- Fun, edgier first sentence vs. straight forward first sentence
- Long CTAs vs short CTAs
- Crazy subject line vs. a simple “How to” subject line.
2. Subject lines need to be eight words or less
I’ve literally sent over a billion emails in the past few years. I’ve tested thousands of subject lines. I’m still yet to have a subject line over eight words win in a test. That’s not to say it’s impossible for it to happen. I’m just saying it hasn’t happened to me.
I was pretty surprised that I kept getting the same results. So I looked into it. There’s actually a simple bit of science that supports this.
The human brain can process up to about nine words as a phrase. That means you can read it and make sense of it in one glance. Anything over nine words becomes a sentence you have to read every word of.
3. Make sure the subject line is relevant.
A subject line focused on piquing curiosity is useless if it gets people to open but is unrelated to the copy or link.
Plus, it pisses people off.
Know your numbers. If you get X replies, how many appointments does that get you? How many sales? Make notes of this over time, so you know how you’re doing. Look for spikes and declines.
4. Use power words and active words without being hyperbolic
For instance, use the word “Skyrockets” over “improves.”
“Weird” or “weird trick” works way better than you’d think. It seems old and played out, but ads or subject lines with “weird” run for years and beat controls regularly.
“Little-known” works great. It implies a secret that only the elite know.
“Slashes” over “cuts.”
“Obliterates” over “removes.”
You get the point. This isn’t an extensive list of power words. It’s just a guide on how to do it. Just don’t oversell your solution or prospects won’t believe you (see Part III of this guide).
5. Curiosity generally wins, but benefit + curiosity almost always wins
People click on things and buy shit that holds some kind of secret.
Don’t answer the subject line in the email. Answer it by having them reply or click a link to see your materials.
This is primarily effective for emails where you want them to click through to the next page as the main goal — a book-a-call page, a relevant video about your product, or a product page.
This is essentially about selling the click.
6. Keep your subject line active
Here’s an example:
Weird Brain Hack eliminates stress.
Weird Brain Hack for eliminating stress.
See the difference? Eliminates is a powerful action word. Using “eliminates” implies that the Brain Hack does the work for you.
“For eliminating” implies that you actually have to do something for it to work.
Another similar thing we found is that “Will” works better than “Can.”
“Will” implies that it works regardless of who you are, what you do, or how easy it is.
“Can” implies that it may not work and that it will take actual work.
7. Curiosity + Pain = success
This tech goliath may hurt your company
This is Neologism. If you don’t know what a Neologism is, it’s basically a made-up word or phrase that describes something unique or boring. Giving something boring an interesting name can be surprisingly powerful at making that thing seem interesting.
For example, Clark Kent is boring, but Superman is interesting.
The “Credit Escalator” is what I call the process for boosting your credit with our program because it’s “as easy as using an escalator.”
I make up a lot of phrases. They work really damn well. People will want to talk to you just to know the meaning of your new phrase.
Just be careful you’re not making any claims that aren’t true.
8. No P.S. usually beats a P.S.
There’s a rule in copywriting called “The Rule of One.” One email, one offer. Don’t confuse or try to overdeliver for prospects by including a link to your company’s white paper in a P.S.
It feels overwhelming, and it may distract them long enough to never do the most important thing — hit the reply button as often as possible.
That being said, I just looked at a test where the P.S. got a 125% higher click through on the winning subject line, but it lost on the other subject lines.
It just shows how weird email is. Like I said before, I only use P.S. when it is truly compelling, explains an important point, or builds massive curiosity.
9. One link beats two or more
We’ve tested this one quite a bit. I think it has something to do with the fact that one link allows the copy to stay tight and focused on ONE BIG IDEA, as opposed to scattering links into the copy just for the hell of it.
It keeps your message clear and focused.
What I do know is that one link works well and makes writing emails faster, more focused, and more fun.
10. “Read this if you,” wins a lot
Read this if you dislike spreadsheets
Read this if your shipping costs are up
Read this if you need job applicants
Read this if you want more sales
These kinds of subject lines directly qualify the prospect and eliminate anyone who doesn’t fit the profile. This is a great way to get people to raise their hands as a prospect for something specific.
The best part is it’s the easiest subject line in the world. Simply think about whatever you are using as a qualifying factor and put that in the subject line.
The important thing is to be specific. Don’t say, “read this if you like money.” You could try it, but the power of these emails is the direct and clear nature of them. It disqualifies unimportant people immediately.
Other variations are “Open this” or “Watch this.”
10. When in doubt, How to it out
If you can’t think of anything creative or just want something to test, go with a simple “How to” subject line or headline. One video sales letter I’ve worked on has the headline, “How to improve your credit score.” It’s beaten numerous other tests.
It’s industry-dependent, but it’s the backbone of strong reason-why selling. It makes it very clear to the prospect what they’ll be receiving.
“How to” subject lines don’t always win, but they tend to at least perform OK. They are the safe option.
And if that list wasn’t enough for you, here are 25 more tips to chew on.
Part V: When to Use Cold Email Templates (And What to Avoid)
Templates are great. They save time. But don’t spray and pray with your templates. Chances are that other reps who have the EXACT same templates you’re using.
What’s the answer then?
Should you write all your emails from scratch?
Smash the send button and hope you play the numbers game?
The answer is personalized templates. You save time without sounding like a robot or being another one of the other reps that has a “quick question for you.”
Here, I’ll show you how to create your own best-performing, cold email templates.
We start by taking your best work (that no one can copy) and then breaking down the parts of a killer cold email template.
There are two questions you want to ask yourself when making templates:
How can I take something I know works and make it work again?
How do I make it easy to fill-in?
I feel like it’s always easier to learn by example, so let me show you a real email I used with my email list.
Keep in mind. I was using these emails with warm prospects. They’ve opted-into my email list, and they know who I am. But you can apply the same principles here to cold email outreach as well.
This email was asking them to reply if they currently have a subscription business. Here’s the email:
Sub line: Open only if you have a subscription business
Do you have a subscription business?
Or have memberships or continuity in some part of your business?
If so, hit reply and let me know. I have a crazy (zero cost, completely free) way to recover money you’ve already earned. It’s wild. It’s literally found money.
Ian “hit reply” Stanley
I literally got hundreds of responses from this one email. It worked so well that I promptly turned it into a template to use again. Here’s what my template looks like:
Sub line: Open only if you have (blank)
Examples: Open only if you have overseas customer service
Open only if you need top sales talent
Open only if you have high shipping costs
Open only if you use expense reporting software
Open only if you have Salesforce
Open only if you’re a freelancer
Do you have (blank)?
Or have (blank)? [only use the second sentence if you have a second type of person.]
If so, hit reply and let me know. I have a (thing you’re going to give/offer them. Build curiosity here, and make it hard for them not to respond.)
Here’s why it works. The question you ask is the most important part. You want to focus on a process/product/service they’re familiar with that may be costing them time/money/happiness.
The key is to focus on a little known part of this product or service that is secretly causing all the issues. The part that ties into your process/product/service solves.
In the example above, I wanted to focus on the unique mechanism of what I was promoting — a software that helps subscription businesses reduce their churn. The mechanism of the software is that all the money comes from recovered subscriptions. You don’t pay a dime unless they save a customer.
It’s found money.
I turned this into a customized template by keeping the big idea the same.
When you find a winning cold email, you want to understand what made it a winner. Keep that part (the big idea), and then use it again. It will keep winning for you over and over.
That pretty much wraps up everything you need to know about how to create your own templates and why they work. Let’s talk about the high-leverage part of this guide now — automating your cold emails.
Part VI: Tools To Maximize Your Cold Email Results
My goal from the start has been to get you to bookmark this post. I’ve been focusing on fundamentals.
But now we’re getting into the part that’s always changing — technology.
Tools change, but the fundamentals of sales don’t. You’re just looking for a new hammer to hit the same nail. Luckily, there are four questions I always ask about any new tool.
Does it make your job easier?
It doesn’t matter how cool it looks if it doesn’t make your prospecting easier. If the dashboard is confusing, or if it’s impossible to see where leads are in your pipeline, it’s probably going to do more harm than good.
Can you automate more than one part of your follow-up?
The fortune is in the follow-up. You need to be able to automate more than just the initial outreach. You need to automate the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th emails as well.
Your reply rates will jump by 3-10X by doing this.
Does it play nice with your other tools like your CRM or email marketing software?
Picking a CRM is like choosing a spouse. If your company already has a CRM or an email marketing platform, good luck trying to sell them on a divorce. So choose something that works with your current CRM.
Reaching and following up with prospects is great, but only if you can track it. Otherwise, you’ll be living in spreadsheet hell wishing you never decided to try that new software.
Does it help you close more sales?
Repeat after me. I will track my most important metric. If you aren’t tracking things, you have no idea what’s getting better and what’s getting worse. And just like you, any tool you use has to pull its weight.
That’s it. You can take a look at any tool, past or present, and quickly figure out if it meets your needs. And if you want to know specific tools I recommend for outbound prospecting, here are a few:
For Small Teams
For Bigger Teams
The rest I can’t really say because I don’t have experience using them. But that’s why I have a set of questions I ask instead.
Conclusion and Wrap-Up
Cold email can be one of your most profitable and effective channels as a salesperson. And you’ll stand head-and-shoulders above your peers when you use cold email marketing the right way.
So, to recap, (because I know this has been a very long read):
Always meet your prospect where they are. Get to know them physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Strike up a conversation with them based on where they are, and you’ll get much better responses.
Use visualization techniques before you engage in any sales activity. Picture yourself feeling relaxed, proud, happy, and loved before you go into any sales environment. The energy you’ll bring will completely shift the conversations you have.
Know the four critical parts of your cold email campaign inside and out. The subject line, the first sentence, the body paragraph, and the CTA are the most important parts of your email. Get them right and watch your replies skyrocket.
Template your wins and keep winning. Use your best cold emails as templates, and you’ll never run out of new emails that work. Use what’s already selling to improve every email you send.
Use the right automation tools. Sending emails one prospect at a time is a thing of the past. Use the tools available to create memorable follow-up emails, so you book your calendar solid.
That’s all for now, but I’ll be back with what I’ve learned after I’ve tested another one billion emails.
Until then, get out there and sell $100M of your own products and services. And of course, keep me posted on your progress!