A Fundamental Misconception About Cold Email

There are so many ebooks and websites all pushing cold email templates that “work.” Problem is, they don’t because the theoretical basis of most cold email techniques is outdated. Most advice is based on a flawed belief in how B2B decision-makers use email: Email is conversational. Fact is, it’s not. Those days are gone. Today, business email is transactional. Especially cold emails.

When Do Email Autoresponder Subject Lines Cross the Line?There are so many ebooks and websites all pushing cold email templates that “work.” Problem is, they don’t because the theoretical basis of most cold email techniques is outdated.

Most advice is based on a flawed belief in how B2B decision-makers use email: Email is conversational.

Fact is, it’s not. Those days are gone. Today, business email is transactional. Especially cold emails.

Email Is Transactional, Not Conversational

B2B decision-makers are on a mission. Just like you are: delete the inbox noise. Day in, day out. Multiple times a day, decision-makers delete spammy come-ons from reps. But they also make quick replies. Transactions.

The way decision-makers are using email today is transactional. Choices are:

  1. Delete
  2. Reply immediately
  3. Reply later (as good as deleting)

Which cold emails are earning response? The shortest ones. Those that waste no time getting to the point. The emails that best allow prospects to get back to work earn more response!

Everything else is deleted immediately or put off (just as good as deleting).

So why are you trying to start conversations with decision-makers who are excellent at spotting and deleting people wanting to converse?

Why are you still trying to persuade clients to talk in the first, cold email message?

Don’t Qualify and Persuade, Provoke

Most sellers are trying to persuade rather than transact. For example, are you trying to be relevant in your cold email? Are you referencing yourself or your business? (at all) Are you working to build credibility … and building a case for prospects to meet with you?

You’re probably failing. Instead, start provoking. Provoke. Irritate. Cause an immediate response based on a sense of curiosity or a nagging fear. Transact with the customer.

For example, one of my students uses this kind of approach:


Noticing you added chat to your contact center mix 3 months ago. This triggers me to ask: How would you know when it’s time to consider adding screen sharing?

Brief, blunt. Provocative. This message proves the seller researched the client’s organization and ties the observation about John’s current situation to his decision-making process … in a way that helps John think about his situation.

Notice: This provocation is not asking for a meeting, nor positioning the seller as credible. The message is not trying to create a sense of urgency or pushing a call-to-action. This message asks a question that doesn’t lead John to a conclusion the seller wants. Instead, it asks a question that John needs to be asking himself in the future.

See the difference? This is a “grabber.”

The message isn’t conversational. It’s transactional. John doesn’t need to scroll on his mobile device to read it and quickly respond.

This is what works in cold email. Transactions that provoke conversations. Short, pithy messages that stand out by not talking about anything other than the prospect.

The above message isn’t accidentally signaling “mass email social selling approach.” It avoids recognizing the prospect’s:

  • recent accomplishment or promotion
  • blog article or post
  • social media trigger
  • decision-making authority

These tactics are working less in cold email. Because everyone is using them. They’re cheap and lazy … and commonplace. Clients are being deluged by long, conversational emails that just plain take too long to read and signal “this person wants a premature meeting.”

Instead, provoke the conversation and progress it to a meeting.

Why Conversations Won’t Serve You

A sales training company uses the below as a good example of a second paragraph in a cold email. The below paragraph provides relevancy to the target’s work life and puts forward an issue the seller believes is of interest to the buyer.

But is this effective lately? Have a look:

“I understand you are overseeing the demand generation strategy, Phil. We’ve been speaking with a lot of marketers who tell us they are not satisfied with the conversion rate of MQL to opportunity. If you ask them why they point to the skills of the sales team. The ones who conduct training internally say they do a great job training on products and internal systems and processes — they just don’t have enough time to cover sales training.”

How long did that take you to read? Multiply that by four and you’ve got the size of the complete email I borrowed this from.

You have less than 15 seconds to transact. After 15 seconds you’re deleted. The above is too conversational  where the seller is trying to demonstrate:

  • Research: Stating his/her authority
  • Relevancy: Stating an issue known to be of concern
  • Clarity: The answer is sales training

Here’s the problem: The client doesn’t have time to cozy up to 30 or 40 of these types of messages per week. That quantity of messages equates to a full hour or two of lost time per week … even if the emails take 90 seconds on average to read!

Besides, on a cold approach, don’t state customers’ decision authority as research. They see “I see you’re in charge of what I sell” as a prelude to a spammy pitch. They’ve been trained to based on all the spam they receive each day.

Clients are not open to your introduction of issues you think are challenges for them. Simply because every sales person on the planet is making the exact same approach. Bet on it.

Again, they see it as spam. And frankly it is.

Never Persuade or Posture

Email is here to serve us as a means to get into a discussion about a sale … not to conduct the sale. As you read your cold email draft aloud to yourself (and you should), make sure you aren’t trying to persuade, posture or qualify yourself.

The moment you begin an attempt to persuade STOP. You’ve crossed the line.

Don’t walk your customer down a road that leads to your sales pitch. They’ll cut you off. Believe me.

For example, read this paragraph and tell me how long it takes you to figure out what I’m up to …

“When speaking with our high-growth clients, we’re hearing that hitting revenue targets is dependent on the sales team’s ability to consistently develop new business. The sales leaders say the problem with most training programs is they presume sellers already have an opportunity in the funnel – rather than teaching them how to qualify an opportunity.”

Maybe it was the first sentence — where I spoke all about myself and told you something so obvious it insulted your intelligence. I tossed in words like “high-growth.” Why? To communicate I have them … and imply that my sales training is helping create growth. Something I know you want.


Or maybe it was the last sentence where I position to know the secret to success: Sales training qualifies prospects. We write these words hoping clients will think, “Hmm. That’s something to consider. I wonder how Jeff can help?” and hit reply.

Truth is, we’re wrong. We are insulting clients’ intelligence, blending in with the carpet, and training customers to not respond and engage in conversations.

What is your experience?

Author: Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on making social media sell. He co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc., where he built the sales team. Today, he is the authority on effective prospecting communications techniques as founder of Communications Edge Inc. (formerly Molander & Associates Inc.) He's been in sales for over 2 decades. He is author of the first social selling book, Off the Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You.Jeff is a sales communications coach and creator of the Spark Selling technique—a means to spark more conversations with customers "from cold," speeding them toward qualification.

16 thoughts on “A Fundamental Misconception About Cold Email”

  1. I send a million emails a month to my own list, and my clients send many times more than that of emails with my copy to their house and rented lists — and I could not disagree with you more. Recently a conversational email I wrote for a major financial services firm generated a click-through rate more than 6 times greater than their control, which was transactional. What I believe you are missing is that B2B buyers are people too, and people respond to a human touch and a human voice. I have seen this to be universally true in the almost 4 decades I have been doing B2B marketing.

    1. I agree. The very suggestion made here by Mr. Mollander caused me to read this. He is obviously dead wrong. I don’t send a million emails, but I’ve been in advertising and marketing for more than 35 years, and I know there is a human element to everything we do to sell. If one does not recognize this then one does not have the understanding required to communicate well.
      B2B makes no difference. There are still people at the other end of the communication. No one of any value will respond to a transactional message.

      1. Read my comment — I said both YOUR subscriber list and RENTED lists — prospecting emails. The principles are the same. I know this from testing, including split testing both approaches, on countless millions of emails.

        1. Bob, I am not following. Sorry. We are speaking 2 different languages. I am not using the term “transactional” as you are understanding it. This seems to be one of the many disconnects. We are not on the same page. If you are sending mass prospecting emails (as you and your clients are) success principles are not the same as one-to-one prospecting emails. This is my experience. Also, if you are so sure that I am wrong… well, it’s a pretty short conversation. But I will say, for sure, we are on 2 different channels.

          1. Good copy and content, whether email or articles, a sales letter or a collection letter, a blog post or an order confirmation, is conversational.

          2. This isn’t about my agreeing with you, Bob. It’s about my experience. And the context does matter — in my experience. “Good (effective) copy” gets is defined by the context it lives within.

            When my clients (and I) write in a way that I am terming “conversationally” (long form, chatty) in cold prospecting emails response rates go down. When we provoke “transactionally” (1-3 sentences) they go up. We start more conversations by provoking. Just my experience.

          3. “Conversational” does not mean long form. I have written successful emails in conversational style that were just 3 short paragraphs of a sentence or two (or even a sentence fragment). I am not talking about long vs. short copy. I am talking about tone and style. But I know you and your work and respect it, so I will make this my last comment here.

          4. No worries, sir! 🙂 I am using the words in an unorthodox way. This may not a) work (I may end up being more unclear!) or b) be Kosher with people! Right, right. Tone and style. I totally understand. I am trying (perhaps failing) to draw attention to how longer cold emails tend to have fantastic conversational tone. Yet they are so long-winded they don’t fit the context of how decision-makers (who are not subscribed) use email. Maybe that makes sense? 🙂 Anyway, respect!!

          5. Maybe this will blow your mind? But the more clear and concise and compelling cold emails are in my experience, the LESS response they get 🙂 The more tension within a Subject line or message (vague but still somehow relevant enough to provoke curiosity) the more replies. For example: The more specific we are about what we are communicating in cold email–the less response we get. In most cases. Again, just relating my experience. 4Cs are great. Just not working in the context I work in.

          6. The 4Cs apply to the body copy. And they are not diametrically opposed to tension, curiosity, or the tease approach. Maybe it is unclear to me what context you work in. But I have found conversational works across the board — and it is highly unlikely (though possible) I have not done emails in the same context as yours.

    2. I’m here because I subscribe to your comments.. and since the headline promised clarity about cold emails, I had to look.

      I was disappointed to see it was Jeff pushing the pushy salesman approach. Every one of his points, every example was like a recipe to piss off good prospects.

      I get his point to you. He’s not writing good copy, he’s harassing prospects. Picking fights to get attention and hoping that breaks through the clutter of other bad marketing and give him a chance to use his macho man sales skills.

      I did sell things directly to prospects back in the day. I even did door to door selling. All the “foot in the door” and “cold calling” BS was better than sheepishly mumbling a script.. but BARELY.

      As soon as I learned that people hate to be sold but love to buy, I started all conversations with the assumption that rapport was my goal. The LAST thing I want to do is piss off a prospect.

      I don’t do anything cold these days. It’s so easy to do a WARM or HOT call/email/message to someone who you know, knows you through referral or networking and build rapport before selling.

      In fact, I now assume that people will want to do business with me when I help them get what they want. There’s no need to push credentials and product offering lists. That’s the old dumb way. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2b4c1c5e94e03782dd7510bc34286329040f43ead334d7e9ab7f76c8640784de.png

  2. Transactional or not, it’s all just SPAM. I’m one of the unfortunate Decision Makers you guys are always targeting. I look forward to the day when everyone has email software that can accurately bounce 100% of your junk messages right back in your face.

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