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The Best Cold Email Practices for 2021 Guaranteed To Drive Leads

This is a step-by-step guide on the best cold email practices that drive consistent leads.

If you’re a startup and need to quickly generate revenue, this is for you.

If you’re a sales manager, pass this on to your SDR’s as one of their training guides.

If you’re already a cold email sending rockstar, I’d still encourage you to review this. Why?

These are lessons we have learned from sending more than 150,000,000 emails over the last 20 years while working with over 40 marketing technology companies like ExactTarget,, LemList, Outreach, Salesloft, Acton, SharpSpring, and Eloqua, the leader in marketing automation.

Here are the stats from one cold email campaign we did this year for a Fortune 500 company that drove over $5,000,000 in closed business:

Outside of larger email campaigns like this, we see countless startups who are sending just 5000 cold emails a month and still driving tons of revenue for their company.

Save this guide and if you have any questions, please jump in our chat button below. We’ll be happy to clarify anything for you, whether you’re a client or not.

First An Important Note on Cold Email

Before we get started on the best practices in structuring your cold email, we’d like to share something with you.

There is a lot that goes into a successful cold email campaign.

First and foremost, you need to understand what options you have when it comes to targeting prospects.

Beyond the job title, industry, and company size, there are so many more targetable attributes you can use to find your ideal prospect who is “in the market” for your products and/or services.

Next, YOU MUST make sure the emails you are using are valid.

You don’t want to buy bad data and send emails to invalid addresses.

Third, it is crucial to avoid emailing spam traps. Spam traps have the potential to do the most harm as they are set up to intentionally ruin your email reputation and can destroy your efforts before you even get off the ground.

Here’s an example of a list we verified for a client who purchased this list from a top-rated data provider:

Look at this data closely. There are 80 Spam Traps, 17 Complainers, and nearly 1000 undeliverable emails in this list!

In fact, 65% of this list is bad or questionable which can be permanently ruinous to a person’s email reputation. If you send emails to this high dollar list, you might as well start all over because you are going to need a new email address and possibly a new domain and IP address.

Even if you followed everything in this guide, using this data would result in ultimate failure.

If you’re wondering how to avoid this happening to you, here is a 40-minute video on everything you need to do from (click-here):

  • Understanding the best targeting options for your prospects
  • Getting data i.e. the good vs. bad and cheap vs. expensive
  • Validating data- not all providers are equal
  • Setting and warming up your email account
  • Increasing email deliverability
  • The importance of reviewing analytics, open rates, replies
  • Cold email tools
  • Email subject lines
  • Cold email templates
  • So much more

Now, let’s get started on how to structure a cold email that will drive results!

How to Create Effective Cold Email Campaigns

With cold outreach or outbound marketing, you hear a lot about increasing the number of replies to your campaigns.

But to get that, your emails need to be opened first. Subject lines generate email opens. Body copy generates responses/replies.

While it is natural to assume that the more people you get to read your email message, the greater your reply rate will be, it’s not always that simple. 

Having an impressive open rate (40-75% or higher) doesn’t necessarily correlate to more responses. 

And this is why you need to use the strategy of A/B/C testing. Testing various subject lines will help you select the version that increases open rates and testing various versions of body copy will help you identify the version that gives you the best response rates. 

So, where to begin?

The subject line!

Subject Line Length 

Keep subject lines short and personal.

More often, emails are being opened on mobile devices where longer subject lines are cut off. Subject lines with 1-4 words are the most effective.

Use a Creative Subject

The first things your prospect sees when you email them are the subject line and who sent the email. The combination of these two elements determines whether your prospect will open your email (Step one).

Make sure that you come up with a subject line as creative as possible to achieve a desirable email open rate.

Questions in subject lines consistently perform well across all of our clients and their industries. 

Subject Line Examples

  • Who should I contact?
  • Is this a problem?
  • A big mistake!
  • Any chance you can help?
  • Introduction?
  • Our CEO wants to talk to you 
  • Your advice is needed
  • Looking for feedback

Personalized Subject Lines

If you’re trying to reach out to an employee at a certain company, including their name or the company name in the subject line can help in getting them to open your email.

Whenever I see my name or the name of my company in the subject, I’m willing to open the email and at least scan it in case there is something important there.

This type of tactic makes the email about the prospect, not about your goods or services. It touches on what matters to your prospects and highlights the fact that they are important to you.

With most email applications you can do this easily by using the {{company}} or {{first_name}} variable in your subject line.  


  • {{company}}
  • {{company}} + YourCompany = Success
  • Looking for HR contact at {{company}}
  • {{first_name}}, whom should I address?
  • {{first_name}}, is this worth consideration?

Sender Name

The sender name is something people often don’t put much thought into but should. Make sure your sender name is a real person and matches their profile on LinkedIn. 

Subject Lines Best Practices

  • Always test at least two subject lines (using the same body copy)
  • Test using your prospect’s name or company in the subject line
  • Don’t make it sound like a marketing email
  • Experiment with questions in your subject lines
  • Always deliver in your email body copy what you promised in your subject line

Now that you have a good idea of how to create/test your subject lines it’s time to look at how to write an effective email message and a series of messages.

Email Writing Basics

If your goal is to generate a reply or an action, construct emails that are 50-125 words.

Create emails that feel as though you physically wrote the email for that one particular prospect by using as much personalization possible. Today with the advancements of NLP you can automate a lot of the personalization, saving you a tremendous amount of time. 

You can write longer emails if you sell or offer what we call, “a considered purchase with a long and complex sales cycle”, but this type of email is best suited for marketing automation programs designed to nurture leads long term.

For longer sales automation emails, it can be effective to ask the prospect to take an action like download a whitepaper, share a relevant case study, or perhaps sign up for a webinar to showcase thought leadership.

Bottom line, prospects don’t mind receiving a cold email as long as the content is valuable and relevant.

Calls to Action

Don’t lose sight of what you want your prospects to do. Is it to take an action like getting on a call, signing up for a course, booking a demo, or downloading a whitepaper? Your emails need to have a clear purpose. Moreover, if you want to get a response, give the recipient a question to answer; asking 1-2 questions in your email gives you the best chance of getting a response.


If you include an offer to support your call to action, make sure it’s not a lazy one. A lazy offer or heap offer is no offer at all. Put some real value behind your offer and people will act.

Reading Level

Your text should be easy to read and presented in a logical order. Surprisingly, emails written at a 3rd-grade reading level are the most likely to get a response. Simpler words and shorter sentences yield better results, period.


The format of your emails is just as important and possibly more important than the actual copy. Why? People tend to scan emails.

So if your email is lengthy, play around with the format by bolding or highlighting words of importance. Using bullets is also a great way to improve readability. If you are sending HTML emails, test using colored headlines in your emails as well.


Positivity defines how positive or negative the tone of your email is. The highest email response rates come from emails that are slightly positive in tone. 

Spam Words

Limit the number of spam words you use as much as you can (1-3 words top). This increases the chances that your email will make it into the inbox.

Sample Cold Email

The very first email you should test is a basic introduction email. This email should be short and to the point and describe who you are, the pain you solve and for whom (Hopefully companies similar to your prospect’s.), and should include one or two clear calls to action.


Subject Line: Introduction?

Hello {{John}}, 

I noticed your title was {{VP of Procurement}} at {{Acme Company}} and I wanted to introduce myself (I hope you don’t mind).

Insert who you are and what pain you solve.

Insert clients like theirs/them that you have worked for or continue to do work for.

Add one clear call to action

Add Signature

Keep your email short and sweet; don’t send long advertising or sales copies – those emails are rarely read, are usually ignored, or worse, marked as spam!

Want Us To Review Your Email – Schedule A Call

Email Sequences Best Practices

Now that you have a good idea of how to create and test your first email message, it’s time to create your email sequence which is a series of emails sent over a given period of time.

Why do we use sequences?

The average person receives close to 150 emails a day.

Expecting a response from someone who doesn’t know you, after sending just one email is not realistic. Often it takes several emails over a period of time to generate a response.

Depending on your target audience it might only take 2 or 3 emails to generate a response. Other target audiences might take 6-16 messages before responding.

How long does it take to refine your email sequence?

It varies for each client, but in general, the first month is used to warm up your email account and test various subject lines for the best open rates.

On month two, you should begin to test email copy and offers using the best performing subject lines from month one.

On month three and beyond, you are working on the number of touches and delays between touches.

People often get frustrated when they begin planning their first email sequence.

So in this section, we’ve gathered the top performing email sequences from several of our customers to use as examples while creating your own email series.

We are going to assume you have already defined your ideal customer profile, downloaded and prepared your data for personalization, and are now ready to begin testing. If you’re unsure on how this is done, we cover this in detail during our webinar (click here to watch). 

Note: Having a solid database of ideal prospects makes it much easier to build an extremely efficient and effective email marketing sequence, turning your cold prospects into warm leads. The list is everything!

This is also a good time to identify potential segments.

For example, you might want to have different messaging for each industry. Or you might want to have different messages for various job titles or seniority levels.

For this reason, we recommend having specific messages for at least three personas: The “End-User” of your product or service, the “Decision Maker” who ultimately approves the sale of your product or service and, the “Financial Authority”.

Each Persona has different motivations. The “End-User” only wants to know if this product or service will make his or her life easier and how hard it is to learn. The “Decision-Maker” is primarily concerned with whether this solution will make his or her team more efficient and effective. The “Financial Authority” is only concerned with terms and conditions, escalation policies, and ROI.

If you do decide to add additional segments, keep in mind you will need to write two versions of copy for each new segment for testing purposes.

Just because one segment responds well to one message doesn’t mean the other segment will respond in kind.

A/B Test Splits

We recommend writing at least two different series of emails or sequences for every campaign/segment. This is known as “A/B test splits”.

It is a rare instance where you should run an email sequence with only one version. This is especially true if you have no experience in sending cold emails to a particular segment of prospects.

Normally we would create what we call a “Response Campaign” which is designed to do one thing, generate a response/reply from our target audience.

Then, we like to create a completely different campaign that we like to call an “Action Campaign”.

Responses Campaigns are designed to ask a question like, “Do you have this xxxx problem?”, “Are you the right person to talk to about xxxxx?”, “Would you be interested in xxxx?”, or “Can you help me?”.

Action Campaigns are designed to get your target audience to take an action (i.e. download a whitepaper or case study, click on a link, sign up for a demo, register for a webinar, etc.). 

The goal is to determine which body copy works best for generating your desired outcome. In some cases, you might want to establish credibility, share content, and expertise before asking for the meeting. In other cases, you might only be interested in getting a prospect on the phone.

When building your email sequence, you can mix in a combination of response messages and action messages into your email series. But you have to be careful you don’t ruin your testing efforts by offering too many versions of emails. Why? It will be very hard to determine which email version or sequence is performing the best and why, if you have too many variables.

Example Email Sequence Below

Response Campaign A

Email 1A

Subject line: Introduction?

Hello {{first_name}},

I noticed you are the {{title}} at {{company}} and wanted to introduce myself (I hope you don’t mind).

I help companies like yours (describe the pain point).

We work with clients like (insert companies you work with within similar industries and sizes).

Would you be up for a conversation?

Any feedback is appreciated.


(Insert your Signature)

Email 1B

Subject line: Introduction?

Hello {{first_name}},

My company recently wrote a whitepaper on xxxxxxx that I thought you would be interested in based on your title at {company}.

You can download the whitepaper here, if interested. 

I’d love to get your feedback.


(Insert your Signature)

As you can see, we have two completely different messages to the same target audience. Over time, (ideally, after 1000 email sends or 300 email opens) we can determine which message generates the best response rate.

Note: In this example, we have already tested the subject line, “Introduction?”. To date “Introduction?” is one of the best performing subject lines across all of our clients.

Email 2 in the Sequence

The second email in your sequence goes to people who didn’t respond to the first email you sent (i.e. Email 1A or 1B with the subject line “Introduction?”) after x number of days. 

You can send this follow-up message the day after the first email, 3 days after, or even a week later. It’s up to you. (100% customizable!)

We generally recommend that you send the second email 3 to 4 days after the first email to give prospects time to open up all of their emails. However, in some cases, it’s best to send one email a day for two weeks until you get the response you want.

Regarding the subject line for the follow-up email, you have two options. Leaving the subject line blank will use the same subject line used in the first email “Introduction?” and include the original message of the first email below the second email. So the prospect sees that you sent two messages in the same email. Or, you can create an entirely new subject line for this follow-up email i.e. “Reconnect?”.

Email 2A

Subject Line: Reconnect?


I hate to bug you but I am still hoping you can help me. I shot you an email hoping to talk to you about how we help companies like yours (insert the pain you solve).

We help several companies in your industry and would like to see if we can’t help you.

Any feedback is appreciated.


(Insert your signature)

Email 2B

Subject Line: Reconnect?


If you recall, I sent you a whitepaper last week on how companies like yours use artificial intelligence to take the guesswork out of which prospects your salespeople should call today vs. tomorrow?

I’d like to show you how we help companies become more effective in their sales and customer support efforts using our AI technology.

Would you be up for a quick conversation?


(Insert your Signature)

Next – Third Email in the Sequence

This email goes to people who didn’t respond to either the first or second email. At this point, you can test various versions of email copy with different forms of calls to action, from sharing content to download, directing them to a video on what you do, inviting them to a webinar or a recorded demo of your application (action campaign).

Most businesses ask us how many touches or emails they should send before giving up and the answer is always the same. It depends on the data, the number of contacts you have to test, as well as the number of messages you send over x amount of time. 

Some clients send as many as 17 emails over 14 days. Other clients send 3 messages over 2 weeks. As a rule of thumb, you should base your tests on the number of contacts you have who match your ideal customer profile. I’ll explain in more detail after we look at these next emails.

After two emails and no responses, it’s fair to think they might not have seen your email, they are not interested in your product or service (for whatever reason), or they are the wrong person to talk to. Hence this third email might be the next logical message to send.

Email 3A

Subject line: {{first_name}}, whom should I address?


I’m still hoping you can help me.

I am trying to find the right person at {{company}} who is responsible for xxxxxx.

I’d like to send them some information about our (insert pain and value proposition).

Can you help point me in the right direction?


Email 3B

Subject line: {{first_name}}, who should I address?


I have sent you a couple of messages regarding a whitepaper I shared with you, but I’m starting to think you might not be the right person to talk about xxxxxxx at {{company]].

I have 3 more whitepapers (below) I’d like to share with the appropriate person but I’m not 100% sure who that is.

  • Top 5 ways to xxxxx
  • Latest trends in xxxxx
  • Latest Research Study on xxxxx

Any help is appreciated in pointing me in the right direction.

Thank You

When creating your sequences, you can send as many emails as you want over any period of time you like. That’s why we put so much emphasis on testing. These are the primary areas you need to test: Subject lines, body copy, offers, calls to action, and the number of touches over x amount of time.

Reach vs. Touches

When you build your sequences you must take into consideration the impact sending multiple emails (touches) will have on your market reach. In order to safely send outbound emails, you must limit the number of emails you send to 150-250 a day or risk getting your email blacklisted and your emails going into the spam folder.

So, if you have 5000 contacts in your email campaign and you are only sending one email at a rate of 250 emails a day, it will take 20 days to send everyone on your list the first message. However, since you are sending three emails to each person (“Introduction?”, “Reconnect?” and “Who should I address?”) and you only wait 4 days in between each step (in this example) your actual email volume looks like this below:

First 4 days you send 250 emails = 1,000 emails

Day 5 you are now sending 125 step one emails and 125 step two emails

And by Day 9 you are now sending 83 step one, two, and three emails.

So the number of new contacts being added to your campaign is less than the number of emails being sent to people who are receiving step two and three emails each day (i.e. 83 emails vs. 166 emails). This limits your reach. So the number of touches is the same but the rate at which you are adding new prospects declines.

So keep this (reach vs. touches) in mind as you decide how many emails you want to send in your sequences.

Hopefully, we have given you some ideas on how to plan and execute your sales automation efforts, and generate either responses or actions using a series or sequence of text-based emails.

Summary: Best Cold Email Practices for 2021

As you can see there is a lot that goes into setting up and executing a cold email campaign that drives results.

The important thing for you to realize is it’s not difficult. It simply requires discipline and patience.

It takes discipline to acknowledge that you need to test all your messaging and you need to have the patience to let the tests play out.

The one thing we can share for sure after sending over 150,000,000 emails is that the numbers don’t lie. You have to test, and make sure that the data you are emailing both matches your ideal customer profile and is verified.

If you’re unsure of how to do that, join us for our one-hour presentation where you can watch over our shoulder and we’ll show you everything you need to do (and more). It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or already a cold email outreach rockstar, you’ll find value in this presentation (click here to watch).

If you have any questions after watching the presentation or from reading this guide, please click the chat button below, and we’ll be happy to help in any way.

Just know that when done right, cold email outreach works and will be your highest converting marketing campaign, at the lowest cost.

You’ll connect with more prospects, gain more leads, book even more meetings, and generate more sales!

We wish you luck and hope you can join us during one of our live demo tutorials. Happy Selling!

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