5 smart secrets to crafting an email that always gets opened
There’s a simple checklist I use before pressing send on every outreach email.
It’s worked to get the attention of the press.
It’s worked to get the attention of leads.
It’s worked to kick-start conversations that result in closed deals.
Why a checklist?
I fell in love with checklists after reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. In this book, Gawande explains how checklists have saved lives in industries like construction, medicine, and aviation. While it’s unlikely that the emails you’re sending are saving lives, there’s no question that an email can make or break a relationship.
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So I’m going to show you the exact checklist I use to ensure that every email I craft is one worth opening.
1) Never, ever, ever use a generic salutation
I’d like to have a moment of silence for the following salutations:
- To whom it may concern…
- Hello [Company Name] folks…
- Dear [occupation] manager...
- Hey there!
Now that that’s out of the way, let me start by emphasizing that these types of introductions have no place in outreach. Whether you’re reaching out to a potential hire or a potential lead, your emails should never, ever, ever use a generic salutation.
And in this tech-savvy world, it’s easier than ever to avoid them! There are plenty of services to help you track down the actual first and last names of the people you’re trying to get in touch with, along with their email addresses—try Hunter or Anymail finder, or any of these tools to help you find an email address.
If you find the email of someone within your target organization but not the person you’re really looking to talk to, reach out and ask for an introduction. This is one of the best strategies for reaching an individual you’re not connected with. Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door, ask your contact to connect you with the decision-maker for the kind of product you’re selling.
2) Capitalize on a recent or timely event
Did a prospect's company just get slammed by a Google penalty or raise VC money?
Any event that signals change in an organization can be an opportunity to engage. When you’re reaching out to someone who doesn’t know you, look for these opportunities and craft a relevant message that cuts through the noise.
Include a mention of the event in your subject line or in the body copy of your email. A simple gesture like this shows the recipient that you’re not just sending a blast to hundreds of people—you’ve actually done your research. For example, if the company just got accepted into a popular accelerator program, your subject line might read: Congrats on getting into ABC!
3) Avoid spammy keywords & tricks in your subject line
Few things in this world frustrate me more than emails with a fake RE: or FWD: tag in the subject line. Don’t try to trick the people you’re emailing! You wouldn’t want to be tricked into opening an email, so don’t take the lazy way out and pretend that you’re replying to one of their emails or forwarding something relevant.
Realize that the subject line of your email can play a significant role in determining whether your email hits the trash or gets a reply. If you try to be tricky, it’s likely your efforts will get sent to the trash—or be met with a not-so-friendly reply. Don’t do it.
Something else you should avoid when crafting your subject line are spammy keywords that make the recipient’s spidey senses start tingling. Words and phrases like Free, Cash, Low Price, Click Here, Read This or This Isn’t Junk are to be avoided like the plague. Not only are they considered spammy by most email clients, they also give some email recipients a case of the hives because they’re inclined not to trust words like that.
Suggested reading: How to craft better subject lines?
4) Optimize your very first sentence (it’s important!)
When an email hits your inbox, you don’t just read the subject line. You also read the name of the sender and the preview that appears directly after the subject line—usually it’s the first sentence of the email.
When reaching out to prospects, it’s important to make sure this first sentence doesn’t come off as spammy either. Instead, try to make that sentence so compelling that the reader has to click.
For starters, use the recipient's name (spell it correctly, please) to let them know it’s not a mass effort. Then say something that will catch their attention quite quickly, whether it’s a reference to something they recently shared on Twitter or a news story about the company. Show the recipient as soon as possible that you’re not just blasting anyone and everyone.
5) Go above and beyond with personalization
The most enticing and memorable emails I’ve received have always been personalized.
And I’m not simply talking about a personalized salutation like Hi Steli...
I’m talking about emails that are personalized to the next level. I’ve even received emails with a video of the sender talking me through how their product or service could help me, from marketers showing examples of how we could improve our landing pages to SaaS salespeople showing us leads we’re missing out on. Personalization through video is a great way to stand out. Video tools like Wistia’s Soapbox are perfect for sales professionals who want to deliver this level of personalization, as you can record both your screen and yourself.
If you’re not interested in being on video, that’s OK—personalization can be done through the written word as well. Be descriptive when explaining how you can help, and show the recipient that you’ve done your homework on their competition, growth, sales, or headcount. All these things can positively contribute to the impression you give in your initial email. And though many people don’t like to believe it, first impressions matter.
Wrapping things up
The next time you send an email, take into consideration these simple ideas. They might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies are still sending emails getting the basics wrong—and then concluding that “cold emailing is dead.” If you don’t do it right, of course it won't do what it’s supposed to do.
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