Many cold emails and cover letters (i.e. those sent to people you don’t know asking for a meeting or an interview) are not even read by the recipient; the email subject line doesn’t resonate, or the content is too dense, boring, irrelevant or seemingly pointless to engage the reader. Clients who have applied the following 10 rules, however, have seen big improvements in their email response rates.
Rule #1: Make your letter easily “scannable”
These days, work is too fast-paced to allow time for reading through a long, dense letter. DON’T take a page out of your English Literature 101 class. DO make your letter a quick, easy read, by applying these formatting techniques:
- Use short paragraphs– no more than seven lines in any one paragraph (using an 8.5×11 Word document, Arial 11 font as a guide). Less than seven lines is better.
- Use bullet points (e.g. like this).
- Use bold-face and/or underlining of key phrases to bring them out. Make sure you use this technique sparingly– too much bolding or underlining will defeat the purpose and look terrible.
- Consider the use of sub-headings, as I do with this post.
- Minimize repetition. You don’t need to mention your extensive marketing background three times– once is enough. So make sure you minimize repetition.
Rule #2: Default to using email
Start with the presumption that you are going to write your letter of introduction or cover letter as an email. The reasons you want to default to email: first, it works (as I see every day with clients), second, sending an email is so much faster (you can skip buying stamps, getting the envelope to print, and remembering to mail the letter), and third, letters can make you look too old fashioned. Plus it’s much easier for the recipient to respond to an email.
Your job search and business prospecting time is valuable. Email instead of postal mail saves you time without sacrificing results. That said, there are a couple of situations where sending a letter by mail may get you a better result.
- If you feel the person to whom you are reaching out is more “old school,” e.g. from an older generation, more conservative, etc. then a letter may be more appropriate.
- A letter might stand out more than an email since it’s so unusual to receive a letter these days. To help a letter stand out even more, consider sending it by “Priority Mail.” If you have the time, you could send an email and, if no response, then a letter.
Rule #3: Always include your correspondence in the body of the email, as people don’t like to open email attachments, especially from strangers!
Rule #4: Engage them with the Email Subject Line
The subject line is key to your email message being read if you don’t know the recipient. The more specific and relevant the subject line, the more likely the email will be read. “Hello” is NOT a good subject line. Examples of good subject lines include:
- Your article about Database Marketing in AdWeek
- Referred by Susan Smith, re: Latin American expansion
- Open to discussing Fundraising at Ivy University?
- Our three mutual connections on LinkedIn
Rule #5: Make sure your email address is professional
firstname.lastname@example.org won’t cut it. FirstnameLastname@gmail.com will make a better impression and improve the odds of your email getting past the spam filters.
Rule #6: Focus on them
I get so many drafts that are all about “me me me,” when instead the focus should be on solving the recipient’s problems and issues. Examples of language to use include “Our meeting could be mutually beneficial since…” or “Your company’s mission to…resonates” or “My background in … could be of help, given your expansion into Health Care.”
Try to make the meeting you are seeking mutually beneficial. If you can find a way to do that (and follow these other rules as well), you’ll get a positive response to your inquiry the majority of the time. Making the meeting mutually beneficial could be as simple as writing “I would be happy to introduce you to people in my LinkedIn network…”
Sometimes you might see something on their LinkedIn profile or elsewhere that might inspire you to tailor the email further, to make it more personal. Examples include “I noticed from your profile that you also made the transition from corporate to non-profit that I am seeking,” or “The point you made about x in last week’s talk reminded me…”
What you don’t want to do however, is sound insincere.”Your company is great” is the kind of generic phrase that could be applied to any company, and will turn off the reader. So if you don’t have something genuine and sincere to say, don’t force it– better to say nothing.
On a similar note, if your email is about asking for help or advice, show appreciation, as in “I would greatly appreciate…” A simple “thank you” can of course go a long way. Sounds easy and obvious but too many clients forget these basic rules of relationships in their drafts.
Rule #7: Tell them your purpose early on
You have got to tell them the reason for your reaching out to them, ideally in paragraph one or paragraph two at the latest. Otherwise you are risking impatience; your letter may not be read all the way through. On a side note: the goal here is to get a meeting whether or not there is a current job opening or business opportunity. Once you meet, you’ve established a relationship that can lead to referrals or opportunities down the road if there’s nothing right then. See this blog post for more on the overall strategy for getting meetings and interviews.
Rule #8: Include your pitch
Summarize your background in one or two sentences, link it to how you can help them, and then share some relevant background highlights by including a few “bulleted” accomplishments. Strangers will, naturally, want to know from whom they are hearing. A powerful pitch in your email can really help to get the reader interested in meeting with you. Here’s an example:
…I bring nearly 14 years of Database Marketing expertise—that is, turning raw data into actionable knowledge for Marketing or Sales teams. My background includes database design, modeling, reporting, and campaign analytics. I believe your University would find this experience valuable in optimizing fundraising contacts, targeting enrollment prospects, and improving retention. Highlights from my background include:
- Doubled Marketing’s ROI to 23% through a “test-learn-enhance” approach to campaigns, and an innovative segmentation strategy.
- Increased retention by 57% for high potential customers.
- Increased account acquisition revenue by 79% through better targeting.
- Built three Databases, each containing millions of records, for a Fortune 100 institution.
Using this example as a model, your pitch should include:
- How they should “categorize” you (“…Database Marketing expertise…”),
- What differentiates you from the competition (“…14 years…My background includes <list of differentiators>…“), and
- Concise examples to back it up (the bulleted accomplishments).
Rule #9: End with a clear call to action
Say “Would you have 15-20 minutes available to talk?” (it’s so easy for them to hit reply on an email and say yes, and everyone has that time somewhere on their calendar.) And/or, say “I’ll contact your office to see if I can get on your calendar in a few days, assuming I don’t hear from you first.” Check out this blog post to see how to follow up effectively with a phone call.
Rule #10: Avoid Spelling & Grammar mistakes!
Sounds obvious, but I receive so many drafts with long run-on sentences, simple spelling mistakes, and more. I see these problems more often of course with clients whose first language is something other than English. My advice:
- Put the email away overnight and read it again the next morning before sending it out. You will wake up with a fresh perspective that enables you to spot problems you didn’t see the night before (I routinely do this myself).
- Have someone else look over your drafts before you send them out, if writing (or writing in English) isn’t your thing.
Simple issues with your written communication can sabotage otherwise great content, making you look unprofessional or careless. Try to get the basic rules of written communication right.