Martin here. Welcome to another edition of Founders’ Hustle!
I write about the “hustle” of entrepreneurship and startup building frameworks.
Today I’m sharing six turn offs that kill cold email response rates!
Improve your reply rate. 📈
Avoid poor signaling. ⚠️
Helps sales, hiring, fundraising. ✅
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As a founder for over ten years, I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of countless cold emails.
Most of those I receive into my inbox are poor.
You likely get them yourself and know exactly what I’m talking about.
They all pretty much sound the same. Close to zero effort goes into them, and it shows. 👀
Such emails do not inspire me or many others to respond.
They rarely pass standard tests which give confidence the sender was genuinely interested in conversing with me specifically.
In other words, a basic level of qualification has not gone into the process.
Plus, they’re just not engaging.
It feels like the equivalent of someone approaching you randomly in the street and reading from a generic script in a monotone voice.
When I first started sending cold emails I was not so great at it either.
But, over the years, I’ve figured out formats and techniques that lift response rates dramatically.
As part of that framework, I’ve developed a list of what I think are cold email ‘turn offs’ that kill response rates. ☠️
It’s a conscious effort to ensure sloppy practices don’t creep into my cold outreach writing. After all, when it’s so prevalent in business society, it can subconsciously creep in.
Most poor cold emails seem to utilize 2-3 of these turn-offs at any one time, so it’s important to avoid using them in order to differentiate yourself from all of that generic inbound noise.
Otherwise, you’re not exactly positioning yourself as an innovator.
This is important in most contexts for hot new startups—sales, hiring, fundraising.
Here’s six from my list that I commonly see and try to refrain from using.
1. “Hope you are doing well.”
Nearly everyone says this, or a version of it, in their opening line.
Why? It’s pretty obvious you hope they are doing well, unless you are a psychopath! 🔪
By stating this first you have immediately cognitively associated yourself, in the reader’s mind, with the hordes of other cold emailers sending generic and boring emails.
This line is also going to appear in the email preview in the recipient’s inbox, so if they assume it’s spam it may deter them from opening the email altogether.
It’s also a signal you’re not conscious of the reader’s time. My recommendation is to cut the pleasantries. Get to the point. 🎯
First impressions count. You want to instantly engage the reader. “Hope you are doing well” does not accomplish that. It doesn’t buy any favor attempting to take—what is perceived to be—pseudo-interest in their well-being.
The recipient knows you are contacting them for personal gain, whether that be knowledge, sales, funding, or something else.
And, that’s OK, because if you have qualified them well and approach thoughtfully, they should also stand to gain something out of it too—insight, opportunity, or even just a good feeling for helping someone out.
It’s better to be engaging straight away and to the point.
2. “I, we, my, our”
Cold emails that only communicate yourself and your interests, I’ve found, do not work nearly as well as cold emails that discuss the recipient and their interests.
So, try to minimize talking about yourself in the opening email. 🤐
Otherwise, readers struggle to connect with it. They won’t ‘get’ how your communication benefits or rewards them — which should be the goal of your email.
For example, this type of email will yield low response rates:
Hope you are well.
I’m co-founder of ABC company.
We spent the last 2 years building XYZ product. We use AI to do solve a major problem.
It can do this, that, etc. I’d like to show it to you.
I’m free next Weds to chat?
The reader is much more engaged with their own life than yours, so it’s better to connect on that basis. Leverage their own interests to break the ice. ⛏️
They need to view you as a person of value that’s worth listening too before they make the time and cognitive investment to engage in conversation.
You’re the one that’s asking a total stranger for their attention, so you need to earn it first. That’s the way I view it, anyway.
For example, this type of email will yield higher response rates:
Just downloaded your latest app, [insert name].
Love the way it solves ABC problem so quickly. I can’t believe folks used to do it so slowly by paperwork!
Think you could make it even better by solving XYZ problem.
This completely flips the initial touchpoint upside down. 🙃
You’re engaging the recipient on a subject matter they have a high-emotional investment in, and trying to be helpful, which demonstrates value.
This is just a basic example. The more personalized and helpful you can make it, the better.
3. “I really like [insert business]”
A common spam cold email technique tries to establish a veneer of personalization, but it’s painfully obvious the email is the result of a mass email blast.
This conveys a lack of qualification, so clearly distancing yourself from this perception is critical.
“I really like what you’re doing at [insert business]”
“[insert business] looks interesting.”
“I’ve researched [insert business] and think we’d be a great fit.”
These comments fall down on their own. They need to be backed up by examples in order to engage the reader and gain their trust.
In order to stand out from spammers and email blasters, you have to prove why you like the business or what you uncovered in your research to get better response rates.
Give evidence. Why is the business interesting to you? What did you learn in your research? Why, specifically, is it a good fit? 🧐
This will get you passed the bulk email or spambot screening test, so the reader has confidence what you are proposing or requesting is relevant or valuable to them.
4. “Jump on a call”
Asking someone, particularly a busy person, to jump on a call is a big ask for an opening email.
Think about it. You’re requesting them to carve out a material amount of time in the future. And, demanding their full attention throughout the duration.
Before that happens, they need to get comfortable with the idea it’s worth investing the time to talk to you.
Focus your email copy on building that confidence and interest first. This should be the goal. An engaged reply should be your success metric. ✅
If you prioritize organizing a call in the first email your copy will naturally center around this, and it will suffer because of it.
Soon, your outreach strategy becomes optimized towards pushing for a call for the sake of having a call. It loses enticement, value, and clarity.
Eventually, it becomes “can I pick your brains?”— a reply killer. 👇
And, those who do jump on a call are less qualified. The call is needed to convey what the email didn’t—a non-optimal use of time.
It comes across as “can I have 30 minutes of your time to talk about myself and figure out if you’re a good target customer?”
I think there’s a misconception that ‘calls mean closes’.
Psychologically, it can feel productive to jump on calls in that having real time dialogue provides a sensation of progress. But, it can be unsubstantiated.
If you’re not engaging prospects with your email copy very well, you won’t get many replies.
Those that do jump on a call will be less informed about your proposition, so the mismatch rate of incompatibility will be higher. This will yield low conversion rates and a lot of wasted time.
The key to a successful outreach campaign is to put most of your energy into crafting engaging, value-driving, and informing email copy.
If you engage your recipient, and they want to jump on a call right away, they will suggest it. You don’t need too.
That’s when you know your email copy is working. 😃
Historically, I am a big offender of sending long emails!
This newsletter is a case in point. 😂
When you receive a long cold email from a stranger, it’s intense.
Unless it’s extremely well written (hard and very time consuming) and the subject matter is red hot (like a complaint) response rates will be low.
Most cold emailers consciously know this, but do it anyway. Why?
Founders and operators are burned with the ‘curse of knowledge’.
They know all the minutiae of detail, and it’s hard to filter out the noise. Too much subject matter is considered critical and winds up in the initial outreach.
Writing emails that are concise and only communicate exactly what is needed at the first touchpoint is such a powerful skillset to hone.
Cut, cut, cut. ✂️
Try to keep your opening email within 3–5 (short to medium-sized) sentences. Each one should be loaded with engaging detail or comment.
Heavy editing is key to producing engaging copy.
Distil the narrative down to one or two basic concepts.
Keep it light and leave out the detail. That can come later if need be.
Think of it as ‘progressive discovery’—manageable instalments of information drip-fed with each email.
6. Weak context explainers
Providing context to the recipient within the first one or two sentences of why you’re reaching out to them specifically is a key part of gaining their trust.
I’ve found if you skip this or provide a generic or uninspiring contextual reason, response rates will go down (depending upon the circumstances).
For example, this is not an inspiring contextual explainer:
“I stumbled upon your profile.”
I like to approach with reference to a piece of content they’ve been involved in like a podcast, article, or presentation. Or, a product or organisation they’ve been involved in. And, provide insight or commentary. 🗣️
“Just read your article on ABC. Agree with your thesis. We’ve just conducted some research on this. Did you know XYZ?”
By doing this, you’re passing the spam test and connecting via a commonly held interest. It’s intuitive to the reader and will capture their attention.
Bottom line, you need to stand out from the generic cold emails your recipients receive and engage them quickly.
Avoiding turn-offs is a starting point, but don’t be afraid to move away from conventional formats and try new things. Be bold!
Do you have any cold email turn-offs that you try to avoid using?
Tap ‘Leave a comment’ and share below! 👇