Cold Email: The Definitive Guide

This post was originally created as a LinkedIn article, but it serves as a great example of our process. You’ll learn how we book meetings with million (and billion) dollar companies from start to finish, so you can too. Or, you can hire us to do it for you. Whatever floats your boat!

Here’s the deal:

Cold email is NOT dead. I used it to close more than $20,000 in sales in just 2 months — and in this guide I’m going to show you exactly how I did it, and how you can too.

Fair warning:

Only read this if your agency is prepared to grow rapidly. If you take my advice and execute properly, you’re going to have more meetings on your calendar than you know what to do with.

Let’s get started:

Stop Relying on Word of Mouth

A sales pipeline filled with qualified buyers is the key to agency growth, and yet too many agency owners can’t grow past a certain point because they rely solely on referrals for new business (85% according to Entrepreneur).

Of course, any good agency should expect to get new business on referrals. But when you’re relying on inbound to grow your business, it’s hard to know when your next client is going to come your way.

It’s even harder to grow your agency’s revenue every year when word-of-mouth is your primary channel of new business.

After a client leaves, they might refer another client, if you’re lucky — but instead of growing your monthly recurring revenue, the new client only replaces the last one, leaving your agency’s revenue struggling to grow month over month.

Unlike word-of-mouth or other inbound channels where you’re largely relying on luck, outbound marketing is a sustainable way to scale your business and create a consistent stream of meetings with your ideal buyer.

How I Closed More Than 10 Deals in 2 Months with Cold Email

When I started my first agency, Tuwiner SEO, I was young, dumb, and broke (shoutout Imagine Dragons). I didn’t have a budget for marketing, but I knew my link outreach service spoke for itself.

Everyone who heard about what I was offering wanted to work with me — I knew I’d be able to close more deals than I knew what to do with if I could get my offer in front of my ideal customer.

Since I built a cold email outreach system for my link outreach agency, I used the same infrastructure to send cold outreach emails to sell my service.

The result?

Over $20,000 in sales in just 2 months.

Here’s exactly how it works:

How to Cold Email

Like any other successful marketing campaign, it all begins with a sound strategy.

You can’t scrape the web for 1,000 emails and fire away using the “spray and pray approach”, hoping someone will respond.

That’s where most people get it wrong.

Instead, you need to come up with a plan of attack, which is why I begin by strategizing for both my outreach campaigns and my clients’ as well.

Here’s what you need to do:

Identify a Scalable Case Study

First, you need to find a case study that’s scalable, meaning you can do something similar for other agencies.

Let’s say you’re a Facebook Advertising agency and you helped a dentist double is monthly patients with a successful ad campaign.

That’s your case study — take it and run with it. You’ll want to use that case study to sell to other businesses that are similar, meaning other dentists in different areas.

Don’t have a case study? Get one. You’re going to need a case study before you can sell to anyone.

Here are some ways to get your first case study:

  1. Offer to work for free until you achieve a good result
  2. Reach out to former bosses, friends, or family who’d be willing to give you a shot
  3. Do something yourself to prove you know what you’re talking about

I helped my ex-girlfriend start her own video editing business. She’d been editing videos since she was young, but never offered to edit videos for others and didn’t have any case studies.

We walked through the same process I used to get 10 new clients in 2 months, but instead of charging for her service, she worked for free.

She sent 94 emails and got 9 meetings, nearly a 10% meeting book rate (that’s insane). One of the meetings was with a large travel YouTuber who let her edit a video for him.

He was stoked with the result, and she received her first testimonial from a reputable source. Now she has what she needs to sell her services.

That brings us to the next step:

Determine Your Target

With your case study in hand, it’s time to determine who you’re selling to — I’m going to continue using my ex-girlfriend for the rest of this example.

Since she did a terrific job for a travel YouTuber, you’d think she should continue selling to travel YouTubers.

But we ran into a few problems selling to YouTubers:

  1. Most YouTubers aren’t working with a big enough budget to pay her what she wants to be paid and would rather outsource video editing to cheap workers on Upwork
  2. Other travel YouTubers prefer to edit their own videos
  3. Some already have a video editor

Instead, we decided to sell to travel companies that take people on trips and tours around the world. This way her travel case study will still apply, and she can sell to companies that can actually afford to pay her.

But you need to get more specific than that.

You’re not selling to “travel” companies. You’re selling to the CEO of a tour company above 5 million in revenue.

The more specific you get with your targeting, the better your results will be.

On to the next step:

Find a Lead Pool

Once you have your target nailed down, it’s time to find a lead pool.

You can use a tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator for this step, as it’s an awesome tool. However, I prefer to find a lead pool online instead.

A lead pool is a place online where your target customer hangs out. Since I’m primarily selling to digital agencies, I primarily use Clutch.co as a lead pool. It’s a place where digital agencies hang out that probably want marketing services (since they’re listed on a directory).

My ex-girlfriend looked up “top travel companies” and found this insane lead pool over 1,000 companies to work with. The lead pool even has advanced filters she can use to get super specific with her targeting.

Once you find a lead pool like that, you’ve struck gold.

Create a ‘Yes’ Offer

Alright, at this point you:

  1. Have a strong case study
  2. Know exactly who you’re selling to
  3. Generated a list of leads from the lead pool

Now it’s time to create a ‘yes’ offer — something so good, it sells itself. This way, even if you absolutely suck at sales, you can close the deal.

When I was using cold email to sell link building services, my ‘yes’ offer was:

“Give me a list of 10 websites in your niche and I’ll get you a link from (at least) one of them using stone-cold email”.

You don’t have to know what link building is — what’s important is my target market bought that offer like hotcakes. I was closing so many deals I had to raise my prices and turn people away.

Your ‘yes’ offer may not be apparent at first, and that’s okay. You’ve gotta come up with several different offers and test the market.

Once you find the one, you’ll know it because people will be buying like crazy. Ask any of your previous customers what they think of your offer, and test it out on new prospects as well.

After coming up with your ‘yes’ offer, you’re going to be (practically) unstoppable.

Outreach

With your leads recorded and offer in mind, it’s time to reach out.

Outbound marketing is all about putting your goods or services in front of your target customer, and a (calibrated) cold email is a terrific way to do that.

But remember:

The goal of outbound marketing is starting a conversation, not closing a deal.

Nobody is negotiating with you via email, much less signing an agreement. In fact, trying to sell to your leads off the bat is a great way to piss them off and end up in spam.

Instead, the sole purpose of an outreach email is to book a meeting.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t list a menu of your services

A lot of people think their targets will want to buy right away when they list 50 different services, hoping they’ll want (at least) one of them.

That couldn’t be further from the truth…

The only thing they’ll want is to never hear from you again. Their eyes will glaze over your terrible email as they press delete, or worse, report you as spam.

Don’t talk about yourself and all of your service’s benefits

Here’s the thing:

Nobody cares about you — at least, not until you give them a reason to care.

If you’ve ever read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, you’ll know people care about themselves more than anyone else.

And if you haven’t, read it — it’s one of the best business and relationship books of all time in my opinion.

The key to making someone like you is making them feel important, and a huge part of closing a deal is making the other person like you.

Moral of the story?

Don’t talk about yourself, talk about them instead.

Crafting an Outreach Email

When it comes time to craft an outreach email, there’s no “one size fits all” template, which is why I hate seeing a bunch of “best cold email template” blog posts and YouTube videos everywhere.

Templates only work when you’re emailing a specific set of people that all have something in common. There’s riches in the niches, as they say.

That being said, you can still apply a general framework to your outreach email.

Here’s a cold email template for a meeting if you’re selling to service business owners:

Hi {name},

{personalized first line about them}

{Who I am and what I do in 1 sentence}

{1 sentence case study relevant to their industry}

{Call To Action ending with a ?}

Thanks for your time {name},

{signature}

This email framework is usually less than 100 words. It works incredibly well because it’s short, sweet, and to the point.

It’s a value-oozing email that says a lot, with a little — in other words, it conveys enough information so the recipient understands why you’re reaching out, without being too wordy.

In practice, it looks something like this:

Hi John,

Congrats on winning the Executive of the Year award — your peers had nothing but great things to say about you.

My name is Jacob and I help digital agency owners book more meetings with their ideal clients.

Recently helped another SEO agency implement a cold email outreach campaign which resulted in more than $21,000 in sales after 2 months. Would love to help Agency Name do the same.

Mind if I send over a few times for a quick call to discuss?

Thanks for your time John,

Jacob Tuwiner

Founder of Outreach Gurus

Make sure to craft several different versions of your email script. This way you’ll be able to A/B test them later on.

A/B Testing

Most people send a few emails, don’t book any meetings, and give up.

Like all marketing campaigns, you probably won’t strike gold immediately — it takes time to figure out what works in your industry, and you’ll probably stumble along the way.

But once you find your stride, it’s game over.

A/B testing is the name of the game, and it’s why I love cold email so damn much.

Once you hit your numbers, you can scale up your campaign and book consistent meetings every month.

By the way, the email template shown above is not mine — it was created by an awesome guy named Alex Berman over at Experiment 27. He’s insane at cold email and has a ton of value-oozing content on his channel.

Optimizing Open Rate

Open rate is the first metric you want to look at. If you’re not getting opened, you’re not getting replied to and you’re definitely not getting meetings booked.

A lot of people will send 100 emails, get 4 replies, 0 meetings, and give up.

“Cold email doesn’t work man, I just sent 100 emails and I got nothing.”

No shit man, look at your open rate!

A 20% open rate is average for a cold email campaign, but I don’t stop testing until I hit 80% open rate.

Why?

A 20% open rate translates to 20 opens on 100 sends. 4 replies on 20 opens is a 20% response rate based on the total opens divided by replies.

That means there’s nothing wrong with the email itself in terms of getting a response — your problem isn’t the email body, it’s your subject line!

Sure, your overall response rate was just 4%, but if you had 4x more opened emails, you’ll have 4x more replies, and eventually 4x more meetings.

With an 80% open rate, that’s 80 opens and 16 replies. Not too shabby.

How to Increase Email Open Rate

The best way to increase your open rate is testing different subject lines. Send small batches of emails — between 10 and 20 at a time — testing a different subject line. Having a personalized first line of an email also helps, since your targets will see your subject line and a preview of the first line.

Using neutral subject lines that get them to open without turning them off is pretty important.

Here are some winning subject lines with some customization (remember, each subject line’s performance will vary by industry):

  • Question about {company name}
  • Quick question about {company name}
  • {their company} and {your company}
  • Hi {name}
  • Hi {name}, quick question
  • {their company} → {your company}

Or, you can try going fully generic:

  • (no subject)
  • Hi
  • Hi from {your name}
  • Quick question
  • Quick Q
  • Question

Hell, you can even try using an emoji. Test everything, see what works, and roll with it.

Scaling Up

Once you hit your targets in terms of open rate, response rate, and most importantly, meeting book rate, you can scale up your email campaign.

A good open rate is at least 80%, and you should shoot for at least a 20% response rate.

Most important of all, however, is your meeting book rate — I usually shoot for 4-10%, depending on the industry. Some are easier than others.

For example, I helped my girlfriend book 11 meetings in a week with her ideal clients after sending 94 emails. That’s a 11.7% meeting book rate!

The campaign was actually pretty insane. It got a 96% open rate, a 35% response rate, and an 11.7% meeting book rate.

And the winning subject line?

“Hi {name}, big fan” 

She was emailing travel vloggers, so I knew they’d be eager to open any email from a fan, especially with a nice compliment in the first line.

Anyway, once you hit your numbers, you can scale up your campaign and book a ton of meetings every month.

But don’t make the mistake of using a winning email campaign on an entirely different industry. What works selling to hairdressers probably won’t work selling to fortune 500 CEOs. Keep that in mind.

Discovery Call

Now it’s time to close some deals!

The whole point of emailing your leads was setting an appointment.

They’ve agreed to a time, and you’ve both marked it on your calendar.

What’s next?

I like to begin with a discovery call. It’s nothing crazy, and I don’t try to sell them anything.

You can’t create a proper proposal without fully understanding their needs, and their budget. In fact, this call is one of the most important parts of the sales process.

No pressure.

Here’s how I handle a discovery call:

1. Build Rapport

Building rapport with your prospect is the name of the game. Getting them to like you is half the battle — once they like and trust you, it’s game over )assuming you can solve their problem and they can afford you.)

I like to start out by letting them know I appreciate their time, and asking them a question that’ll get them talking about themselves.

People love talking about themselves.

At this point, I’ll let them talk for as long as they want, building rapport along the way.

2. Give the One Sentence Pitch

After building rapport, I set the tone for the rest of the call.

I’ll normally say something like:

“On this phone call I’d like to learn more about your business and what motivated you to get on the phone today. Assuming it’s a good fit, we’ll schedule a follow up call to discuss a custom plan for you, and if it’s not a good fit, that’s perfectly fine too. Sound good?”

Then I’ll give them my 30 second pitch about who I am and what I do. That normally sounds something like this:

“My name is Jacob Tuwiner. When I was 19, I started an SEO agency that primarily focused on link building. I was terrific at email outreach, booking meetings, and getting clients, but building links sucked and I didn’t see it as a viable path forward. Instead, I decided to help other business owners book meetings for their agencies instead.”

Now that they know who you are and what you do, the rest of the call is all about them.

3. Learn More About Them and Their Business

Next, I’ll ask them to tell me more about their company.

What do they do?

Who do they primarily serve?

How did they start?

What’s their role at the company (are they the decision maker?)

Gathering all of this information is important. The prospect will love talking about his or her business, and you can discover (no pun intended) what their role is at the company (i.e. are they the decision maker?)

Later on during the proposal phase, they might object saying “I need to ask my partner” or “I should talk to my wife first” or something like that.

While these objections sometimes have some truth to them, they’re usually a version of “no”. Knowing they’re the decision maker is an easy way to handle the objection.

If that objection comes up, you can say something like:

“It seems like you need to consult with your partner before moving forward to make sure you’re not stepping on anybody’s toes. That makes a lot of sense. On the last call, you told me you were the decision maker — what’s changed since then?”

And if they’re not the decision maker, you can get in touch with the right person after the call is over.

4. Ask About Their Goals

This step is crucial — you need to find out about what they want.

Since I sell meetings with my customers’ ideal clients, I’ll ask questions to learn more about their desire to grow their business.

How many new clients can you handle, how many do you want? and how soon do you want them?

What would that growth do for you, and what would a home run project look like for you?

Those are the sorts of questions I ask, but these questions are specific to your business. Ask calibrated questions that’ll get to the bottom of what they want.

If it aligns with your service, you’re in business (literally).

5. Ask About Their Pain Points

Why do your customers pay you?

They want you to solve their problems for them.

Understanding your prospects pain points is crucial. Without knowing what their problems are, it doesn’t matter how well you wrote your email, they still won’t buy from you.

Figuring out what their problems are is a crucial part of the discovery process. If you can solve their problems, you’re the guy for the job — if not, it’s a bad fit, and you should move on.

Either way, you’re gathering crucial data that’ll help you down the road.

6. Ask About Past Work

When I was selling SEO services, I’d ask about any past work they’d done, whether they did it themselves or hired someone to do it for them.

Asking about past work was a great way to learn about what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. Sometimes they’ll tell you about a nightmare experience that you should do everything in your power to avoid.

In addition, you can usually ask them how much they were spending on the past work, which will give you a feel for their budget before having to ask.

7. Ask for a Budget

Whatever you do, don’t talk about budget until the end of the call. You want to build rapport and learn more about their needs and wants before discussing price.

And if you’re in the B2B space, you should frame their budget as an investment, not an expense. After all, if you’re a good businessman, you’ll help them make more money.

Anyway, I’ll usually ask something like “do you have a budget in mind for the project?”

This is usually where you’ll get a lot of pushback — most people won’t want to talk about budget until you’ve told them your price.

They’ll respond with “it depends on the value of what you’re offering”, or “what do you normally charge for this type of work?”

It’s annoying, and it happens often.

Fear not, there are plenty of ways to handle price objections, but that’s a whole other topic altogether. For now, let’s assume they’re easy and cough up a number.

Great!

You have built rapport, know more about their business, have figured out exactly what they want, what their problems are, and roughly how much they can spend on the project.

Now it’s time for the last step:

8. Schedule a Follow Up Call

If the prospect sounds like a good fit, make sure to schedule a follow up call to go over your proposal.

You don’t want to hang up without a time nailed down because you’ll end up chasing them down with a flurry of cold emails just to schedule a time.

It’s not a good position to be in, and it’s an easy headache to avoid. Before you get off the proposal call, say something like:

“Okay Mr. Prospect, this sounds great. Let’s schedule a time for a follow up call to discuss a custom proposal that’ll take you from where you are now to where you want to go. How does next Tuesday at 2PM work for you?”

With a time nailed down, you’ve done a great job.

In the meantime, analyze your notes and create a custom plan for your prospect that works for the both of you. You’ll be presenting it to them on the final call.

Proposal Call

If the discovery call went well, your proposal call should go smoothly.

All you have to do is present your prospect with the solution to their problem, exactly as they laid it out to you beforehand. They already like you, and if you can show them you’re the solution to their problem, they’ll gladly work with you.

Of course, closing a deal isn’t always as simple as that — prospects can have all sorts of objections, but I could write another 4,000 words about handling objections. We’ll save that for another day.

Conclusion

Using the information outlined above, you have everything you need to craft, optimize, and execute your first cold email outreach campaign.

Have any questions? Feel free to fill out the contact form on the site and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Thanks!