How to Turn Cold Emails Into Meetings

December 6, 2019 Richard Bayston

Cold emails are, at times, a necessary part of the sale process. It takes grit to succeed with cold emails, and getting meetings on the back of cold messages requires effort.

So how do you go about it? Here are some suggestions.

The Message

The Email

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These days, the average business professional receives 120 emails each day. The average email open rate across various industries is a little more than 21% -- so that's a lot of messages either being discarded or ignored.

The first challenge you have is to get prospects to look at your email. When you’re competing with more than 100 other messages for a prospect’s attention, you need to stand out.


The first thing to consider is timing. If you have data about response rates for emails for an industry, apply them to your cold emails. Keep all the data you can on them so you can mine it later. If you don’t have any data to work off, look at call times for the same industry. When do your prospects pick up the phone?


Sales emails should always be addressed to an actual person, not a catch-all email address within the organization. Don’t send company-wide mailing, and don’t send messages to or similar addresses. At the same time, you shouldn't feel you have to send an email only to one person. If you have the right information, send messages to whomever is likely to be involved in the decision you’re ultimately going to ask for.

Who’s It From?

Sending an email from a named account - rather than, for example - makes it more credible and more human-sounding. You’re reassuring the recipients that they’re not getting a robot-generated sales message. And you’re side-stepping the tendency to just scan straight past senders that recipients don't recognize. They know they don’t know Acme Company, but they might know a Ron or a Valerie.

You’ve hooked their attention. And having their attention long enough for them to read the subject line is the microconversion you’re looking for at this stage.

Subject Line

Many people skim read their emails and organize their inboxes so emails they consider valuable go to specific folders automatically, which reduces your chances of even being seen.

If you’re getting individual attention from your prospects, but they’re using it to flag you as spam, that’s not much of a step up over being totally ignored. How do we get prospects to open emails?

The key is the subject line. Variations in the subject line can have radical effects on open rates. 

For example, Bryan Kreuzberger, founder of Breakthrough Email, recommended including the term "appropriate person" in the subject line. He said it’s the most successful he’s tested, out of "literally tens of thousands" of targeted sales cold emails.

More general advice comes from Sujan Patel, founder of Mailshake. Good subject lines should accomplish one or more of these goals:

  • Be personalized and specific. Mention something about the recipient's website, offering, or space, as specifically as possible.
  • Create value. It’s a microconversion, so offer something useful or informative.
  • Strive to be genuine and avoid being deceptive in any way.
  • Keep subject lines as short as possible, and preferably lower case. "Make an effort to stand out. Using only three to four words in your subject line can help you do that, " Patel wrote.

Oh, and one more thing: Your email subject line is the thing most likely to set spam filters blaring, so make sure all these spammy words aren’t showing up, and if you think you might have a deliverability issue, check your Sender Score. Test it by sending a dummy email with your intended subject line and content (spam filters track content too) to a friend’s business email address and see what happens.

Address Errors?

There are two kinds of address errors: you’re talking to the wrong person, or you’re speaking to the wrong concerns.

1. Your Actual Email Goes To The Wrong Place

If your emails aren’t being delivered to the right person, they’re not being delivered. They’re failing before they even start. How do you fix this?

Finding the right person’s email address starts with finding the right person. You can use Google here - search for the name of the company and the job title you’re looking to send your email to, and you’re likely to find prospects buried in old press releases, blog posts, or even LinkedIn. You can also use data providers that offer validated business contacts (ZoomInfo, the publisher of this blog, is one of those providers).

For finding email addresses, check out this Yesware blog post that outlines the 10 best tools for finding anyone's contact information. 

2. You Speak To The Wrong Concerns

If you address someone at a company with 500 employees, you might ask: "Can we meet next week for an hour to discuss saving your company $250,000 a year?"

That’s a lot of money. But the person you’re talking to doesn’t get $250,000 a year out of this deal. They do have to find an extra hour in their day, though. In terms of the company’s pain points, you’re on the bull's-eye. But in terms of the actual person you’re talking to, you’re not even hitting the board. Before you can sell the offering to the company, you have to sell the meeting to the person.

A lot of the time, the big budget issue you’ll run into is time. How do you convince this person to give up precious time for a meeting to even talk?

Start with value. Again, think about the approach: Seek to offer value directly to the person you’re emailing, not their company. So find out what they like or care about, or address them in terms of their work responsibilities and talk about how you can solve a personal pain point that actually affects them. Remember, it’s not what you can do for the company - it’s what you can "do for me." If the benefit accrues to the company, but the work lands on me, I’m that much less inclined to arrange a meeting with you.

A/B Testing

If you regularly use cold emails for prospecting, A/B test them. Most of them will be fairly similar, so even though you might not be pumping out the volume a marketing firm would, you’re still hitting numbers where it’s worthwhile testing changes in subject lines, copy, design, and timing to see what gets better results.

The Response

The Response

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If you do get a response, your work is just beginning. Managing that response is key to moving to a meeting when 80% of leads will require five to 12 touches to buy. Moving from the first cold email to a relationship that can turn into a sale requires more than just sending a bunch of emails. That’s assuming you even get a response...

No Response?

Average cold email response rates are under 1%. You got this far. But there’s still nothing happening. Why? Because while you managed to appeal to prospects enough to read the email - and that’s a triumph in itself - they never answered. How do you get prospects to respond?

Often the thing that may be stopping them from responding is that the recipients only read half of your message. The same process prospects used to skim their email inboxes is replicated in the email itself: It’s going to get skimmed, with little real interest earned yet. Again, you're looking for a microconversion.

You want to sell the email body with the subject line, then sell the meeting with the email body. So if you know your emails are getting opened and read but there’s no response, maybe you’re talking to the wrong people - or maybe you need to look to your copy.

If you want them to respond and set up a meeting or even a phone call, make that the focus of your email. Don’t email people War and Peace; they’re not going to read it. The good news is that, interestingly, email attention spans are increasing, particularly among mobile users, according to research from Litmus. The average time someone reads an email is 11 seconds.

That's still not a ton of time, so cold email copy should be short and value packed - try to fit the whole thing into 11 seconds’ worth of reading aloud. And don’t ask a bunch of questions.

Think of your call to action like a road sign: Make it big, make it clear, and make it point in one direction.

They Respond, But Their Answer Is A Firm No

Awesome. Your prospect got back to you. Give yourself a high five. (OK, don’t do that; it looks crazy dumb.) But when the person replied, what did he or she say?


And that points up a huge problem in the whole sales training ethos. Any half-decent sales rep has a few objection-handling tricks up the sleeve. But reps start objection-handling after dialog with the prospect has begun. Busy prospects start objecting before that process can begin. So how do you start the process of handling objections right in your first communications with prospects?

The most common "no" you’ll get falls into one of these categories:

  • "We already work with one of your competitors."
  • "What you’re offering isn’t a priority right now."
  • "Can you email me some more information?"
  • "We’re not interested in this."

All of these responses are familiar to any sales rep, but the context in which they’re appearing, right at the beginning of an email-based dialog, makes them unique, and many reps are nonplussed (if they even get this far).

If you get "We work with a competitor," change the parameters and re-orient the terms of your offer. If you can offer complementary functionality to your competitor, then position yourself as the missing piece. If you sell for Intercom and your prospect is already using Salesforce, you’d trumpet your integrations and point out how the two together cover even more bases. (In a way, they’ve qualified themselves by saying they’re already using a competitor. In this scenario, you don’t have to convince them of the value of using a CRM.)

If you get a "Not a priority" objection, re-orient the discussion not by taking a different angle but by zooming out. Many leads aren’t ready to buy today, but will be one day. Zooming out to a broader view of the situation keeps you in the conversation by steering away from uncomfortable areas of discussion.

When it comes to "Email me more info," Hubspot suggests taking it as opportunity to verify interests. For example, you could respond back, "I want to make sure the materials I send are relevant to you. What are you interested in learning about?"

Finally, if you just get ‘We’re not interested," try to figure out why. Talk to the prospect, offer help, address pain points, stay on topic, and consider using content to help move the person toward sales readiness in followups.

Track Your Emails

If you’re sending emails out blind, you may have no idea what's happening with your messages if you aren't tracking them.

If you don’t get a response, you know you didn’t get a response. But as to whether your email was read, shuffled off into a spam folder, or suffered some other fate, you don’t know if you don’t track your emails. Email tracking comes as part of several tools with various functions, up to software that will tell you what device was used, when, for how long, and any other metric you can imagine. Some packages even offer real-time analytics.


Cold email is tough, no doubt. But it can deliver. From the first moment your prospects see your email in their inboxes, it has to be talking directly to them, delivering value, and addressing their personal pain points. Do that and you can see a big bump in responses, and you'll reap the reward in calls, meetings, and, finally, in sales numbers.

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