The 4 rules for sending cold email that converts

The 4 rules for sending cold email that converts

January 01, 2021

Guest post by Guillaume Cabane, ex-VP of Growth at Drift and co-founder of HyperGrowth Partners

The days of “spray and pray” email are over.

Just consider these statistics: The average cold email response rate is 1%, which means for every 100 people you email, you’re getting through to one person (and probably bothering the other 99).

Meanwhile, the average success rate of an email phishing attack is 0.1%, which really isn’t that much better than the 1% response rates marketers and salespeople see with cold emails -- they’re uncomfortably close.

The takeaway here isn’t that email as a channel is broken. Instead, the underlying problem is we've been doing it wrong. We haven’t provided the type of experience potential customers expect from us.

For marketers and salespeople who do cold email the right way, I’ve seen response rates as high as 15% to 20%. There’s even one company I know that’s getting a 44% average response rate to their cold emails.

As a VP of Growth, I've been working on scalable solutions to this problem for the past couple of years. In this post, I’m going to share my top secrets for writing effective sales emails that convert.

It boils down to doing these four things:

  1. Identifying intent.
  2. Evaluating fit.
  3. Choosing the right channel (may not be email).
  4. Personalizing your message.

1. Identifying Intent

For the past 15 years, most sales and marketing teams have focused on driving people to their websites and setting up traps (e.g. lead forms) for capturing contact information.

Sure, it works, but it’s also very passive. We optimize our sales funnel, but then we just sit around waiting for people to come to us. As a result, we end up missing out on hundreds if not thousands of other potential customers who don’t visit our website.

Because here’s the thing: Someone visiting your website is just one form of showing intent. Ultimately, people can show intent – they can indicate that they’re in the market for your solution – in a bunch of different ways. Here are several triggered events that signal someone is a good prospect for Drift:

  • When a company installs a new technology
  • When a company hires an executive
  • When employees at a company are reading about specific topics
  • When a company increases their ad spend
  • When employees at a company visit a competitor’s website

So for the past few years, I’ve been trying to discover the intent of my potential customers before they ever come to my website.

I’ve been trying to identify who they are, what their problems are, and I’ve been trying to solve those problems before they get too big.

I try to reach out to them before they reach out to me. So when my “cold” email lands in their inbox, it doesn’t feel cold at all. It feels like I’ve predicted the future, immediately added value, and was one step ahead. This leads to significantly higher open rates, call-to-action engagement, and response rates.

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2. Evaluating Fit

Of course, not everyone who shows intent ends up being a good fit for your product or service. And that’s why for years marketers have focused on identifying target markets and building buyer personas.

With the rise of new data enrichment and predictive lead-scoring technologies, we’re now able to get more scientific about how we evaluate fit.

For example, at Drift, once we’ve found a company that’s shown intent, we use Clearbit to reveal a ton of relevant information about that company, including…

  • What technologies they’re already using
  • How many employees work there
  • How much funding they have

All of that information is incredibly useful because it quickly allows us to figure out if a company is a good fit or not. After that, we can retroactively build a lead-scoring model based on companies that have converted into customers in the past. This info is also critical for personalizing your value proposition and determining what call-to-action will be most effective (case study, whitepaper, webinar, etc).

At Drift, we also use MadKudu, which gives every company we look at a lead score that ranges from “Very Good” to “Poor.”

Here’s a screenshot of what Clearbit data enrichment and MadKudu lead scoring look like when you’re having a conversation in Drift:


Once you’ve identified intent, and you’ve seen that a company has a high lead score, you can then focus your sales process on converting them. And in order to do that, you need to pick the right channel.

3. Making Sure Email Is The Right Channel for Your Message

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve been making as marketers and salespeople:

We’ve been sending cold emails (using standardized cold email templates) to people who are already on our website, and who are already trying to engage with us on some other channel.

So a few years back, I had this lightbulb moment: Instead of defaulting to blasting emails out to everyone who shows intent and is a good fit, we need to start using the channel that’s most relevant to them at that precise moment. The best sales email is useless if your decision maker wants to engage through a different channel.

For example, if someone from a high intent, high lead score company is on your website right now, you should be reaching out to them and offering them a demo or one-on-one in real-time via messaging. Following up with them the next day with an email just doesn’t make sense -- they could have already turned to a competitor by then.

4. Personalizing the Message

Regardless of the channel, you end up using, email or messaging, the secret to optimizing conversions is to craft a personalized message that’s relevant to the person who’s going to be engaging with it. "Hi first_name isn't even close to enough."

For marketers especially, it’s easy to get hung up on writing that perfect subject line for your cold emails. But the reality is, even if a lot of people open that email because the subject line is intriguing, they’re only going to convert if the message is relevant, and if it actually addresses a problem they’re having right now.

Here's an example email that has 22 different personalization options.

In the SaaS world, the same principle applies to the different features and tools your company offers. If a potential customer has shown they're interested in X, don’t waste your time emailing them about Y.

The bottom line: the content of your cold emails needs to be valuable and relevant to the person reading it. If you do that, you’re going to succeed.

Final Thought

Today, the best sales reps are helpful and personal. Instead of bombarding you with generic messages, they hone in on the specific problem you’re trying to solve.

With the traditional approach to email -- spray and pray -- that just wasn’t happening.

In order to succeed today, sales reps need to create amazing (and personalized) buying experiences for their potential customers.

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