When was the last time you responded to an email from a complete stranger?
Even if you did so recently, chances are it’s not a frequent occurrence.
For better or worse, email outreach is a given for entrepreneurs, business owners, and sales and marketing professionals. The goal of such outreach could be any one of the following:
- Connect with investors
- Make a sales pitch
- Form a partnership or collaboration
- Promote a piece of content
- Pitch a guest post
While the exact purpose of your email outreach may vary, there’s one underlying objective across all of these goals: getting recipients to read your message and take action.
If you’re not seeing results with your current outreach strategy, it may be worth revisiting what exactly you’re sending. For more effective emails that resonate with your audience, follow these seven best practices.
1. When possible, do “pre-outreach”
The idea behind pre-outreach is to “warm-up” your email recipient to your later outreach. Think of it as the difference between chatting with someone you’ve seen in your neighborhood before and talking to a completely new face on your doorstep.
What might work as pre-outreach? You could:
- Write meaningful comments on their blog.
- Retweet or reply to a tweet.
- Follow their company’s Facebook page.
- Interact on LinkedIn.
Avoid going overboard, of course. You don’t want to overwhelm your recipient by coming across too strongly.
2. Personalize your message
One of the quickest ways to get your outreach email into someone’s trash is to serve up generic messaging. Remember, people are inundated with emails every day—in fact, the average office worker receives 121 per day.
To increase the odds of your email being opened and getting a response, personalization is key. Why? It shows a genuine interest in your recipient, and tells them that they’re not just receiving mass outreach.
Contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean spending a lot of extra time tailoring your message.
For starters, use the recipient’s first name, e.g. “Hello Walter” as opposed to “Hello there.” (If you don’t know the name of your recipient, it’s worth reconsidering your purpose for emailing.)
Similarly, rather than referring to “your business” or “your site” generally, include the name of the recipient’s company and spell it correctly. A typo in the name of the company—as I often see with strangers referring to “Compose.ly” as “Compose”—is a surefire way to tell recipients that you haven’t done your homework.
You might also want to include either the recipient’s first name or company name in the subject line, or another customized attribute. According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.
3. Write concisely
While small talk is the norm when initiating conversation, less is more when it comes to email outreach. In other words, save the pleasantries for phone calls and in-person conversations. Instead, get to the point quickly.
You may be trying to be polite, but consider this: your recipient might have a hundred other emails to read. Concise writing will save them time in the long run.
Not to mention, something generic like “I hope you are in good spirits and good health” feels robotic and hardly sincere, so it’s worth omitting altogether—which brings us to the next point.
4. Develop an interesting hook
The first line of your email is generally what appears as the preheader, the text that shows in recipients’ inboxes after your message’s subject line. It’s like a sneak peek of your email, and it also offers a chance to create allure for your recipient.
Yet many people squander this opportunity. For instance, check out how many messages in my inbox start off with something along the lines of “I hope you’re doing well.”
Though well-intentioned, this statement gives little reason for someone to read your message. So rather than wishing someone well, come up with something more compelling. For starters, try:
- Asking a question
- Diving into a personal anecdote
- Giving a very specific compliment
For some inspiration, check out this email I received from someone interested in a potential partnership.
The sender doesn’t waste any time with some kind of generic comment. Instead, they immediately provide context for why they’re reaching out—even better, it’s highly specific, referring to one of my published case studies.
5. Avoid deceptive practices
Getting someone to open, much less respond to, a cold email is difficult—but that doesn’t mean you should ever stoop to dishonest or misleading outreach. If you’ve considered taking such an approach, think again.
Here’s a message I received from someone claiming to have been in touch with my CEO and manager.
Its subject line effectively captured my attention: “[CEO Name] Meeting”. However, when I asked my manager about the message, he said he had never been in touch with this person. The realization that the sender had outright lied was infuriating!
Sure, this approach might work if you’re hoping to connect with someone at a large organization, where the recipient may not be in regular contact with whomever you’ve claimed to be in touch with. But even then, it’s not advised. Why?
- The basis of your first impression to the recipient is a lie—not a great way to build rapport.
- Even if your recipient falls for this type of approach and responds, they may have follow-up questions with the contact you claimed to be referred from. If they ask you, you’re forced to continue this web of lies!
Though a relatively small fib, if you get found out, chances are you’ll lose your credibility. Simply put, deceptive outreach is not a sustainable long-term strategy.
6. Review and proofread your message
Whether or not you’re an experienced copywriter, remember to review your outreach email before clicking send.
First impressions are important, even in email outreach. Harsh as it may be, a simple typo or error can undermine your authority. The same goes for odd phrasing or formatting. Consider the example below.
The poor and awkward writing of this email takes away from any legitimacy the sender might have. For instance:
- Though certainly creative, describing oneself as having an “ongoing affair with words” that happens to be a “commitment for eternity” is quite bizarre.
- Despite such a love for writing, the message comes across as rather sloppy because of typos like “I’ll brief”, “uLet”, and even the subject line: “would love to post blog with you!”
Although fewer eyes may read them, your email drafts ultimately deserve as much attention as your website copy. Review them first, no matter how crunched on time you may be.
7. Test different approaches
The odds of achieving a 100% response rate in email marketing and outreach are very low. That doesn’t make it a pointless effort, though. You can and should work on optimizing your outreach by regularly testing different approaches.
Treat your email outreach as an experiment. Rather than blasting out hundreds of the same templated email at once, try A/B testing variations in your subject line, opening line, request, and so on. Record the results in a spreadsheet, and then hone in further to find out what works best for your business.
A change could be as small as adding an emoji to your subject line. Whatever the case, testing your emails could mean drastic improvements!
While there is ultimately no silver bullet to email outreach, there is one general principle worth following: Be human in your approach.
That is, think of your recipients as unique individuals with their own lives and priorities. Personalize your message to speak to their interests. Don’t be rude or dishonest. Write clearly so there’s less room for misunderstanding.
In the long run, your emails will do better when they’re thoughtfully written with a genuine desire to start a conversation—and not just ask for something.
Joyce Chou is a Content Marketing Strategist at Compose.ly, a B2B content creation platform that matches businesses with seasoned freelance writers. Apart from managing and writing for Compose.ly’s blog, Joyce also contributes to other publications about digital marketing, personal finance, and business and ecommerce.