A Surprising Cold Email Best Practice
By the time a “best practice” is best, it's mainstream—common. A cold email best practice is most often a "worst practice" in the realm of sales outreach. Starting conversations with decision-makers using LinkedIn InMail or standard email requires breaking away from the usual cold email best practices.
Sending cold email messages and follow-ups using sequences or campaigns is working less and less. Mostly because of a widely-accepted best practice: Adding value to cold email messages.
What?! I thought everyone knows—earning response means adding value to email messages when prospecting.
Today, I’ll challenge this cold email best practice. I’m basing the challenge less on opinion, more on experience.
Offering value—without having earned the chance to provide it—is failing most sellers. Beware.
The Case for Adding Value
"Here's the problem with emails today: They lack value," says Jim Keenan of A Sales Guy Inc.
"If you don't think an email needs to offer value, then you are most likely one of the perpetrators of horrific emails. Emails have to offer value,” he says.
However, our clients, our sales team and I myself are living proof: Cold emails not offering value do earn response.
Likewise when prospecting, most sales reps believe email messages need to be seen as credible by prospects. Not always true either. Trying to add value, and be seen as credible, can sabotage success.
That said, Keenan makes a compelling argument for what many believe is the No. 1, golden cold email best practice.
Your email, he says, must offer value, “Because you're asking for something.” A meeting.
“I'm regularly bombarded with horrific emails, almost always asking for 15 or 30 minutes of my time, these emails offer nothing of value to me and just end up cluttering my inbox. I delete them as fast as I can,” says Keenan.
“Why should someone open your email or give you 15 minutes of their time if there is no value in it for them? They shouldn't and they won't.”
But what if your cold email didn’t strive to prove value—at all? What if you also skipped asking for a meeting?
Increasingly, clients are opening emails based on curiosity about what’s inside the email—not anticipation of value they’ll receive. Likewise, compelling a customer to take your meeting without having established a need to is an outdated cold email best practice.
An Unusual, But Effective Best Practice
Want a meeting with your decision-maker? Stop requesting them. Instead, start provoking discussions, piquing curiosity.
Stop trying to give-give-give, add value and clearly present offers. Start trying to quickly provoke. Be un-clear.
“The offer is what you are offering or giving the reader. Yes! I said giving. If you're not offering the reader anything, why should they open it, read it, respond or even agree to what you're asking for?” asks Keenan.
Because they’re curious. They’ve been provoked. Not because you offered clear, compelling value. This is sales, not marketing.
My colleagues and students are earning more meetings by not asking for them; instead, provoking curiosity about an issue, idea or claim which may lead to (justify) customers’ desire to meet.
Yet Keenan makes the argument we hear so often.
“To get your buyers and prospects to open your emails you need to craft an email that compels the buyer to open it, (your first ask), read it, (your second ask), then respond (your third ask) and then agree to your request for a meeting or demo or whatever you're ultimately asking for (your fourth ask).”
In a marketing context, yes. Sales is different.
When sales people try to earn meetings by providing value, and proving themselves credible, they often fail. My opinion? Sure. But this is also my experience.
Why Adding Value Fails
In a cold email context customers aren’t asking for your value. They’re not sitting around waiting for value to arrive from a stranger. You can offer value on the first touch, and then again, and again in a follow-up sequence.
But you're just pushing value at people—hoping they'll find your words valuable enough to respond. Clients aren't triggered by sellers pushing "just enough" unsolicited value at them.
Consider also: That valuable tidbit in your email message is often information clients often already know. (don't value!)
Instead, help prospects ask you for a discussion by piquing their interest in one. Not by offering value; rather, by being vague and not asking for a meeting. (like everyone else does)
“What's the point of sending a cold email if you're not going to ask for anything,” argues Keenan. “The key is to make sure the ask is clear; 15-minutes of time and introduction to the CEO agreeing to 30-minute demo, etc. These are clear asks. Asking to discuss their challenges, or asking if the prospect would be open to a call are not clear asks.”
Increasingly, our students do better by not asking for the meeting in a cold email; instead, attempting to pique interest in a discussion. (which may lead to a meeting)
This helps your message stand out from the pack. It’s unusual in how it breaks the typical cold email best practice (pushing value) pattern.
Adding value doesn’t work anymore … logically and in our collective experiences. Instead, what if you could earn better response to cold email messages by not asking for a meeting?
What if your message contained no “asks.” What if your email’s goal was purely to provoke curiosity—rather than earn a meeting?
Make your cold email “smartphone short.” Do homework on the prospect. Research them. Make it obvious this is not another templated piece of spam. Avoid persuading. Avoid posturing for credibility. Care a little less.
Increasingly, clients are opening emails based on curiosity about what’s inside the email—not anticipation of value they’ll receive. Likewise, prospects are replying to cold messages based on curiosity, not value received in the message, nor anticipating value in a meeting.
What is your experience?