Cold emailing: Finding the balance between personalization and scale
Cold emailing is an art. Do it right, and you can establish career-changing relationships that will result in incredible opportunities for you. Do it wrong, and you’ll find your emails land consistently in the spam box (and rightfully so).
Where do I most often see someone mess up their cold emails? When they get lazy and send out 10,000 cookie-cutter emails to a contact list they’ve built. Of course, all they’ve accomplished from that is being reported for spam 10,000 times.
On the contrary, I’ve also seen people obsessed with personalization to the point that they’re spending hours doing background research on each individual contact. They then write essay-length emails to their contacts, hoping to wow them with their attention to detail.
While they’re better off than spammers, this means they’re only going to get one or two emails off each day (at best). So they may be running a higher-quality operation, but they’re running an inefficient one too. This inefficiency will cost them tons of time and effort in the long run and produce a less-than-optimal output – on top of burnout.
When faced with two opposite ends of the spectrum, where do we find balance? Where do brief, reusable cold outreach emails intersect with long, hand-crafted, personalized ones? Those are the exact questions I’ll be answering in this article. Below, I’ll share the formula that’s allowed me to efficiently and effectively build invaluable relationships punching way above my weight. Let’s dig in.
The cold emailing dialectic
I like to approach this cold emailing paradigm like Hegel approached history – with a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. In our cold emailing model, low-effort over-reusability will be the thesis, ultra-effort hyper-personalization will be the antithesis, and our balance between the two will be the synthesis.
The thesis: Over-reusability
To be blunt, “over-reusability” is a nice word for spam. Allow me to cite an amazing example of a very un-amazing email sourced from a beautiful article on the subject of cold emailing:
The full extent of the author’s personalization was to cite a random article from the recipient’s content library. The recipient’s response was to ignore the email and take the time to mark it as spam (if you don’t know, getting consistently reported for spam can have severe consequences for your email deliverability).
Let’s be clear: Receiving this kind of email is insulting because you were just told you’re just another contact in a long list of spam victims. To the author, you were only worth the few seconds it took to find that random piece of content to pass off the email as genuine. Any self-respecting person will give a hard-pass to that kind of impression.
Let’s look at another example shared by Irina Maltseva, a foremost authority in cold outreach:
In both of these examples, the author is no doubt sending emails to thousands of people and therefore maximizing their outreach. However, the results they’re going to get will be garbage since they treat their recipients like garbage. In both of the above examples, they didn’t even bother to write the recipient’s name in the salutation.
As noted before, the primary strength of this sort of outreach is the fact that you’re going to be able to get your emails out to thousands of people easily. In theory, this will maximize your chances of securing a large number of important relationships.
Therefore, we have an onus to find out how to preserve that outreach efficiency process while still writing great emails.
The antithesis: Inefficient over-personalization
While they’re on the right track, there’s a class of people that insist on doing deep analysis on each and every contact they come across. Deep contact research is not always inappropriate, but it’s simply unnecessary in the vast majority of cases.
These writers will perform much better than spammers, but they’re also going to be grossly inefficient with their time. That inefficiency will slow their outreach to a crawl and lead to burnout.
These authors are also prone to sending long, overly-detailed emails that take an excessive amount of time to read. As a result, while they may be achieving great opening rates, they’re going to find their emails often being not wholly read and thus not responded to.
Here’s an example email I’ve created to illustrate:
While it’s not a bad email, many of the ideas can be heavily condensed or eliminated altogether. Irrespective of how genuine the email is, most recipients will flinch at the sight of a cold email longer than 150 words.
Just for the sake of your sanity, it’s imperative to keep both your pre-writing and writing processes as efficient as possible. Unfortunately, no matter how great or efficient your emails are, a lot of them are going to go without a response due to factors entirely out of your control. So you need to minimize the amount of time wasted instead of going crazy writing super in-depth emails to each person.
It’s not just about mental wellbeing, either – cold emails should always be as to-the-point as possible for recipient-friendliness. In fact, in-depth research from Boomerang suggests that your cold emails should be between 50 and 125 words.
Back to research, just because you don’t know every detail of a contact’s interests does not mean you can’t write an incredibly effective cold email. You only need to do as much background research as you need to find something that will pique their interest and relate to your writing purpose – no more, no less.
The synthesis: The brief, efficient, and personal cold email formula
The primary strength of an over-reusable outreach email is its brevity and conciseness. Conversely, the primary power of a long, over-personalized email is that it communicates genuine care to the recipient. Our goal is to synthesize these two strengths into one reliable and effective formula.
In my journey of cold emailing, trial and error have allowed me to find a formula that’s very effective in optimizing my outreach and making incredible connections. The truth is that a good cold email is not a wordy love letter sucking up to a potential contact, but a brief, concise message that intelligently piques their interest.
All you need to do is find something that interests your contact and relates to the reason you’re contacting them. The perfect cold email exists in a Goldilocks zone: Not too cut-and-dry and not too sappy and long-winded with an excessive pre-writing process.
To illustrate, I’ll provide an example from my professional outreach:
Notice the structure of this email:
- Salutation: “Hello/Hi/Hey [Target Name],”
- Introduction: Here, I introduce myself and add a hyperlink to my website for further context. If you have any shared contacts (coworkers, friends, et cetera), include them here.
- Common point of interest: Here, I discuss something that the recipient and I are both interested in (in this case, it was one of their articles). This provides the foundation for our relationship.
- Purpose of email: Unless you’re just emailing them to say hi, here’s where you’re going to state your purpose for emailing them in a way that relates to your common point of interest. Remember: Your common point of interest must relate to your purpose for contacting them so that you can make a smooth transition.
- Closing: Write a friendly conclusion with an implicit call to action, such as “talk soon” or “looking forward to hearing from you.” More explicit ones, such as “should I send ideas your way?” are good too.
Following this formula, you’ll be able to quickly produce succinct, potent cold emails that reach your contacts effectively. “How effectively,” you may ask? In the example above, I secured a guest post with a significant e-commerce merchant processing billions of dollars in transactions annually.
Cold outreach is not a complicated science. As long as you’re providing actual value to your recipients, you’re going to see great results if you can communicate your message effectively. Just make sure you’ve got a great subject line to maximize your open rates.
Brief is beautiful
The greatest strength of the copy and paste outreach email is its brevity (you can only say so much when you know nothing about a contact). So even though your recipient isn’t likely to respond, they won’t have to take much time to discern your intentions. In our synthesis, our goal is to maintain that strength while including personability.
You don’t need to include any more details than you have to, and I’m not saying that just to be lazy. In my experience, I’ve found that brief, to-the-point messages have much better response rates than long-winded love letters.
As long as your message includes sufficient personability, recipients will prefer messages that are easy to skim through. This anecdotal experience serves to confirm the conclusions Boomerang came to in their study, as mentioned earlier.
This principle also holds true for follow-up emails. Keep those brief and to-the-point in order to direct the recipient’s attention back to your initial message.
It’s not hard to understand why brief messages are effective – your cold contact is a busy person. So as they open your email, they’re going to be asking themselves a few questions:
- Who is this?
- Is this spam?
- What do they want?
- Why should I care?
Your cold email’s introduction will tell them who you are, your personability will express your authenticity, and your brevity will make it easy to discern your intentions. Finally, your common point of interest will show them why they should care and take the time to respond.
Your contact will take a few seconds to skim your email at first – if you’re lucky. Your email needs to answer those four fundamental questions quickly and without difficulty. If you’re writing essays, you’re going to find a great many of your emails ignored. Your contact does not have the time to decode your intentions from a book-length email – it’s just that simple.
Concise messages save both your time and your response rates. So say it with me: “Succinct is sexy!”
Researching with efficiency
When researching a cold contact, your research goal is to find a common point of interest to convince the recipient why they should care – no more, no less. Of course, you already know why you’re contacting them, but they need to understand why they should care.
This common point of interest will get you off on the right foot and allow you to transition to the purpose of you contacting them. But again, that’s the purpose of your background research – you don’t need to write their autobiography.
I knew my recipient was a published author and editor of her organization’s blog in my above example. Instantly, I understood that she placed great value on her writing and would be amenable to a compliment on her work.
Even if she weren’t interested in my offer of a guest contribution, she likely would have responded to thank me for my praise. Discussing a recipient’s passion project is a reliable way to get them interested in what you have to say.
In addition to being relevant to her professional life, our common point of interest related to my purpose in contacting them: to contribute to her blog. It’s critical that your common interest point relates to your purpose for contacting them, or else you will be forced to make a jarring transition to something unrelated. In that case, your email would come off as inorganic and self-promotional.
It’s up to you to find that relatable common point of interest, but it’s typically not hard to do so. For instance, in my above example, I complimented the recipient on her article in a way that indicated I had actually taken the time to read it. Writing an article is hard work, and therefore you’ll always find an author happy to receive compliments! That sort of outreach will consistently provide positive results.
Imagine the amount of time that’s been wasted sending out copy-and-paste cold outreach emails that only serve to fill the spam box. Conversely, consider how much more productive someone spending hours on each email could be if they optimized their writing process.
In this article, my goal was to find the goldilocks zone in the cold email process and give you the most significant return on your time investment. Not only is a balanced approach to outreach more efficient, but it’s also massively more effective in skyrocketing your response rate.
Remember that cold outreach is hard work that involves lots of trial and error no matter which way you cut it. Creating great emails requires serious time and dedication, even with the most optimized methodology.
That’s why we must be as efficient with your output as possible. We can only do so much work in one day, so we need to have a plan of attack when emailing any potential contact. With this article, I’ve provided a strategy for you to run into battle.
Samuel Szuchan is the founder of SamSzu.com, where entrepreneurs are learning to scale their businesses like never before. His experience in the e-commerce industry derives from his previous ventures and his current entrepreneurial pursuits. When he’s not teaching online business to others, he can be found playing the amateur food critic around town. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Hungry for more cold email tips? Check out our free resource, Cold Email Hacks: How to Get More Customers with Winning Sales Emails.