Cold Email Copywriting: How to Write Sales Emails That Convert

Cold email copywriting is an essential business skill for any sales professional. Mastering it gets you on the fast track to unlocking more booked meetings, more pipeline, and more career opportunities. This article will show you how.

Dan Moran
2023-11-01

A good cold email is like a magic trick.

You, the sender, reach out to someone who’s never heard from you before. With a handful of carefully selected words, you successfully capture your reader’s attention.

With a handful more, you have them hooked; nodding along in agreement and thinking, “wow, they really get it.”

And finally, the grand reveal: Getting your prospect to do something that until moments before they had no intention of doing. Like starting up a conversation with a perfect stranger. Or booking a sales call with you.

Of course, there’s not really any dark magic to writing a great cold sales email.

Cold email copywriting is a skill that can be learned and mastered. And once you do it’s one that will serve you well your entire career.

This article will break down what cold email copywriting is and why it’s an essential business skill to learn for sellers and marketers at all stages of their careers. We’ll break down cold email mistakes to avoid, how to write subject lines that get your emails opened, and golden rules to keep in mind for every email you write.

Let’s start with a breakdown of cold email copywriting and the real goal of a cold sales email.

What is cold email copywriting?


Cold email copywriting is the art and science of creating compelling outreach emails.

The “cold” in cold email refers to the fact that the recipients of these messages have no prior relationship with the sender. Unless you work for a well-known brand, they’ve also likely never heard of your company before, or the problem your product or service addresses.

Because cold sales emails are unsolicited—in other words, your prospect didn’t ask to be contacted—the line between cold email and spam can be thin. However, thoughtful and well-researched cold emails are a perfectly legitimate form of business communication that can be incredibly effective at generating new sales opportunities.

There’s a common misconception that the goal of cold sales email is to book a meeting or make a sale. This isn’t quite accurate.

The primary purpose of a cold email is to start a conversation.

Yes, booking a meeting and, ultimately, making a sale are important. But these are often several steps removed from the very first outreach, especially in industries and companies with long sales cycles.

If you're a sales rep who sends cold emails, or lead a team of reps who do, shifting your mindset from booking a meeting to starting a conversation will put you in the right frame of mind to create effective cold sales emails.

Cold email copywriting is the art of resonating with your prospect from the very first interaction. It demands a blend of:

  • Persuasive writing skills
  • A deep understanding of your prospect and their unique needs and challenges
  • An ability to convey value in a couple of sentences

It’s a vital business skill that, when mastered, unlocks opportunities that extend far beyond prospecting and outbound sales. This blog will unpack the nuances of effective cold email copywriting, and share tactics you can use to significantly improve your conversion rates.

Cold email mistakes: What NOT to do


Before we dive into how to write a really good cold sales email, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what NOT to do so you can avoid writing really bad ones.

The arena of cold email copy is quite unique and the rules of engagement are distinctly different from other forms of communication. While venturing into outbound sales email copywriting, especially in the cold emailing domain, it's crucial to know the common pitfalls that could derail your campaign.

Here are some of the mistakes you'll want to steer clear of:

Lack of personalization

This cold email no-no is perhaps the #1 culprit landing sales emails in the bin. Here’s why a lack of personalization is so detrimental to your prospecting success.

Generic content: If your sales email is written to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. Effective cold emails speak directly to the recipient’s unique priorities and challenges, while ineffective emails will attempt to generalize to a group.

Obviously automated: Automation is an awesome time-saver. But emails that are obviously automated, or obviously stick to a same sales email template, can come off as impersonal and even impolite. If you didn’t take the time to write an email, why should your prospect take the time to read it?

Robotic language: When it comes to cold email writing, how you say it is just as important as what you say. Details like someone’s full job title or responsibilities lifted straight off a LinkedIn profile can come off as awkward in the context of a cold sales email.

Hard to read

Your prospects are busy. If an email looks like it will take too much mental energy to read, it’s easier to just hit delete and move on. These are the tell-tale signs of a sales email that’s too hard to read.

Too long: Long cold emails are overwhelming. Keep them short and to the point.

Big blocks of text: White space is your friend when writing cold emails. If a prospect pulls up your sales email—especially on a smaller screen—and is hit by a dense wall of text, chances of that email being read are slim.

Long sentences and complex language: It’s logical to assume formal, academic writing makes you seem more professional and intelligent. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true. Simple, clear language and short, crisp sentences win every time. Leave ten-dollar words and meandering sentences for the academics and novelists.

All about you, not them

The harsh truth of cold outbound is no one cares about you. Not yet, anyway.

No prospect is expecting you to contact them, and they certainly aren't waiting around for your email. If you want your note to resonate, you need to make it about them.

Here's what to look out for in your emails:

Asks for something: Asking for something, like time, without offering anything in return can come across as self-centered and off-putting.

Pushy or salesy: A pushy tone can be a deterrent. It's important to build a rapport before jumping to the sales pitch.

Expect a reply is owed: Perhaps the most dire of cold email transgressions is the assumption that a prospect is obligated to reply to you. It’s entitled and untrue. A response must be earned and deserved.

If the essence of a bad cold email is it’s all about the person sending it, then a key element of a good cold email is making it all about the reader.

9 Golden Rules of Cold Email Copywriting


Every prospect is different. They have different priorities, needs, and challenges.

That means no two effective cold emails are exactly alike. If your cold email outreach is ever going to achieve the goal of resonating with your prospect and prompting a reply, it needs to hit on their unique circumstances.

So while we’ll never be able to shoehorn effective cold email copywriting into one neat checklist, there are some fundamental rules that you can apply to every message you write to make it more effective.

1. Make it about them (not about you)

Cold emails destined to be deleted all have one thing in common—they’re all about the person sending them. As we've established, your prospects don’t care about you or your company. (Not yet, anyway.)

They care about themselves—their priorities, their stress, the pressure they're under, their deadlines. This doesn’t make them selfish, it makes them human.

Effective cold email copywriting leans into this fundamental and inescapable human tendency.

Your email needs to address the unique challenges and priorities of the person receiving it. It must resonate with these challenges and offer a logical solution. That’s how you get your prospect caring about your offer.

💡 Tip: Scan your emails for mentions of I/we/us/our. Too many? It’s not going to resonate with your prospect. Think of how you can swap them out for more you/your.

Example: Before (focused on the sender):
We are a Global B2B Database Provider. We can provide you all kinds of database according to your requirement.

After (focused more value on the recipient):
As the head of global demand generation, you know the importance of clean data better than anyone. Are you satisfied with the data your team is using now?

2. Keep subject lines short

Countless research shows 1-3 word subject lines consistently perform better.

There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Mobile optimization: A short subject line fits better on mobile screens and displays more of the body text
  • Clarity & precision: Concise subject lines stand out in inboxes and convey messages more clearly.
  • Less is more: Succinct subject lines pique interest without overwhelming the reader.
  • Avoidance of spam filters: Short subject lines reduce the risk of triggering spam filters.
  • Easier to read: A brief subject line is easier to process, leading to higher open rates.
  • More authentic: A short subject line often feel more personal and genuine to the recipient.

We dig deeper into how to write an effective subject line below.

3. Tone: professional but not stiff

How you speak has a massive impact on whether or not your message gets through.

It’s important to always remain professional and polite. But professional doesn’t mean your writing should be stiff and overly formal. It’s entirely possible, and preferable, to adopt a conversational and confident tone in your cold emails.

This also means eliminating the jargon. Unless it’s specific to your prospect’s industry and/or company—in which case a little industry jargon is actually a sign that you’ve done your research—it’s best to ditch the marketing speak and talk like a real human instead.

The content of your email (what you say) is super important. But so is how you say it.

4. Personalize the first line

Personalization is critical to making sure your cold emails are relevant and worth replying to.

Opening with a personalized line is effective for more clients for two reasons:

  • It’s the first thing your prospect will read, so including something unique to them demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to do some research and make your offer relevant to them specifically, rather than send an irrelevant generic message.
  • It’s visible in the inbox. If your prospect is scanning through his or her inbox, the opening line of the email will be be visible. If it's personalized, it increases the chances of your prospect opening the email to read the entire thing.

5. Tie a relevant insight to your value proposition

This is one of the more difficult elements of cold email copywriting. But getting it right instantly puts your emails in the top 1%.

Connect a relevant piece of information about your prospect to your value proposition.

This can be something difficult that they’re struggling with (that you can solve), a recent accomplishment, or a quirky hobby, among other things.

These insights are also known as triggers, because they act as the catalyst for you to reach out in the first place—the reason you believe your product or service can help.

Coming up with this “connective tissue” is an exercise that requires creativity and judgment. But the payoff can be immense—by showing your prospect that you’ve taken the time to do your homework, understand what they’re struggling with, tie it to a potential solution, and package it up in a way that is relevant to them, they’re more likely to engage with and respond to your email.

A (very quick and rough) example:

  • Relevant insight: Prospect is a VP of Sales who enjoys fishing in his spare time.
  • Your value proposition: Our AI agents search within your CRM for hidden opportunities.
  • Segue: Imagine if you could search the entire lake at once for the biggest fish.

Bonus points if you can make this connection between something they’ve said that you found in your research—like one of their LinkedIn posts or an article they’re quoted in.

6. Write like you talk

If the goal of a cold email is to start a conversation, then you need to come across as someone worth having a conversation with.

That means writing like you talk.

No one wants the corporate version of you. The big words, academic language, and a level of formality best left in the Victorian era; while they may seem like a sure-fire way to come across as intelligent and authoritative, in reality all they do is make it hard to understand what you really want.

Contractions are okay. First names are okay. Keep the tone friendly, conversational, and professional.

💡 Tip: Read your email out loud before you send it. Would you actually say this to your prospect if they were standing in front of you? If not, change it.

7. Keep emails under ~120 words

If your reader has to scroll on their phone to read your email, it’s too long.

Use short, sharp sentences to get your message across. Use simple words and contractions in your writing. Leave plenty of white space, and break up ideas into their own paragraphs.

Writing short isn’t easy, but it is a necessity to effectively compel your prospect to read, understand, and act on your message.

8. Send follow up emails

Your prospects are receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of emails every day. Things get buried. It’s okay to follow up.

When Jared Robin was building RevGenius, he would reach out to folks he wanted to join his community on LinkedIn. If the first message didn’t get a response, he’d follow up.

“Most of the time the response to the follow-up was ‘Sorry, I didn’t see the first one’. And they’d sign up.”

(Btw if you want to hear Jared reveal the secrets behind how he skyrocketed RevGenius using foundational sales tactics, don’t miss this episode of the OneShot podcast.)

The key to successful follow-up is to be sure your emails are polite and professional. Do that by following these rules:

  1. Don’t send a one-word follow-up like “Thoughts?” or “Bump.” They’re tacky and they get deleted.
  2. Keep your follow-ups in the same thread as your first email. That way people can refer back to the original reason you reached out.
  3. Keep your CTAs consistent. Don’t ask for different things across different emails.
  4. Keep your follow-up emails short. Shorter than your initial email.

Follow-ups can be very effective if you do them the right way. If you stay polite and tasteful, a little professional persistence can get you a long way.

9. Ask for interest, not time, in your CTA

What started as quirky datapoint uncovered by the team at Gong has turned into cold email gospel.

Asking if a prospect is interested is the highest performing cold email CTA.

This goes back to the #1 goal of cold email: starting a conversation. Your prospect likely won’t know all they need to know about your offer before agreeing to speak with you from one email.

Asking for 15 minutes of someone's time when they know nothing about you is a big ask. Asking if they’re interested in what you have to offer, on the other hand, is far more lightweight.

Remember: The goal of cold email is to start a conversation.

How to write an effective cold email subject line


The subject line is the first impression of your cold email.

It’s the factor that determines whether your message even gets opened. A poorly crafted subject line can get your otherwise carefully constructed email a one-way ticket to the trash, or worse, the spam folder.

Here's how to make your subject lines stand out:

  1. Brevity is key: Aim for 1-3 words in your subject line. Not only does this ensure mobile optimization, but a concise subject line often piques curiosity. Think "Deliverability strategy" over "Opportunity to Discuss Comprehensive Deliverability Services."
  2. Mimic Internal Emails: Craft your subject line to look like an email your prospect might get from a teammate or internal department. This approach feels more personal and less salesy. Examples include “low reply rates” and “Q4 targets”.
  3. Steer Clear of Spam Trigger Words: Many email systems flag emails based on a spammy sounding subject line. Words or phrases like "Free," "Buy Now," "Limited Time Offer," or excessive use of punctuation can raise red flags. Always be genuine in your approach and avoid using overly promotional language.

Consistently A/B testing your subject lines is a great way to determine what gets you the highest open rate. After all, your prospect can’t reply to your email if they never open it.

💡 Tip: A strong subject line is also key for deliverability. For more, read our ultimate guide to email deliverability for sales pros.

Cold Email Copywriting: More Important Than Ever

The ability to write an effective outbound sales email is more important now than ever.

Even in the age of AI. Especially in the age of AI.

AI is incredible technology. Just look at OneShot—our tech is all powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. But AI presents new challenges for outbound sales pros who generate opportunities and revenue through email. But it also presents opportunities. Here’s why:

Writing skills become MORE important with AI, not less.

There's no doubt AI can massively speed up your output. AI is fantastic at generating a first draft in no time, but it’s on you to give it the polish that only a human can. Plus, the output is only as good as the input. The more concise and clear your input, the better.

There’s still a need for a human in the loop.

Outbound sales, and sales more broadly, is an inherently human-to-human endeavour. It hinges on fundamental human emotion and psychology—two things AI will (hopefully) never replace. Prospecting is about fostering connection and building trust with your target audience and the people to whom you connect with.

AI doesn’t always get it right.

And it’s on you to fact check and ensure details are accurate. Human guidance means you get the most of AI’s superhuman speed without impacting the quality and integrity necessary for success.

AI won’t replace you, but someone who knows how to use AI might.

AI itself is not a replacement, but it is an accelerant. As we’ve established, AI systems require intelligent, empathetic humans to set guidelines and check for accuracy. Yet because AI makes work so much more efficient, businesses need fewer humans to get the same amount of output. The better you understand and know how to use this revolutionary technology, the more valuable (and employable) you are.

Write Better Cold Emails with OneShot

If you’re looking for the perfect blend between superhuman AI speed and irreplaceable human ingenuity when it comes to cold outbound emails, look no further than OneShot.ai.

OneShot uses advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence to eliminate all the tedious manual prospecting work from your your outbound email workflow.

No more digging through giant databases for leads.

No more adding giant lists of contacts to email sequences that aren’t working.

No more wondering what’s working and what’s falling flat.

With OneShot.ai, all that is taken care of. Prospecting now becomes reviewing the concise research summaries our AI generates on each prospect's company plus the person you're reaching out to, and editing the hyper-personalized AI-generated email copy for your campaigns.

It’s prospecting on autopilot. Want to see how it works for yourself? Grab a 1-1 demo of the platform right here.

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