How To Write Cold Emails That Get Responses (Steal This Script!)

by | Business / Work / Career

Most cold emails and reach outs are whack.

Some plain annoying.

In this guide, you’ll get a look at the power dynamics that play a role in why some cold emails get a “yes!” and others go to the spam bin.

First, let’s talk about the topic of whether or not you should use a template or write a custom, personalized email for each target.

The “Template” Cold Reach-Out: Do It! (So Long As You Do It Well…)

Let’s define an email template as:

A pre-formatted email with a pitch meant to be sent to a large list of people, but with a few fields to edit and customize for the individual receiver

Templates are great. They can increase your ROI by many folds. So, this is obviously not a knock on template reach-outs, which indeed I’d recommend as the way to go for larger campaigns.

The issue is with poorly thought-out templates.

Because a poor template reach-out is worse than a generic email with no customization whatsoever (or with only the “to field” as customization).

A poor template sub-communicates:

“I’m trying to make it seem like I actually know you, but it’s obvious that I don’t. And if you fall for it, you self-frame yourslef as easy to manipulate (= you self-frame as stupid).”

It comes across as low-level manipulation. And, low-level manipulations often annoy the receiver.

Here is an example:

  • “Love what you’re doing at + website” = typical template where you just add the website you’re just spamming
  • “While I was reviewing your impressive website” = typical generical compliment that the sender doesn’t have to adjust

And here comes the worst part:

  • Especially the work you did with “Money Master the Game” 
    • “The work” = generic sentence he doesn’t need to adjust

Issue #1: Complimenting the wrong thing…

…is worse than not complimenting at all.

The funny thing is, the sender probably thought that was the best part of his email because it’s the most “targeted”.

I indeed reviewed that book.

I’m guessing that this guy is targeting websites that reviewed a specific book.
Then probably scours the web for another book, or another program, and pesters any website with the same email, but a different “work” he “especially likes”.

It seems like a smart approach…on paper.

But there is one big issue with that:

The reviews that people do of other people’s work are usually not the work they’re most proud of.

I receive this email and I think, “Of all the cool things this website has done around power dynamics and social strategies, this dum**** thinks that the best thing is a review of a book on basic financial literacy?”

So, in the end, he ends up with only generic and lower quality websites that reply to his email—the ones that don’t have much own work to be proud of.

And, the higher authority websites that could better help him succeed instead will go ahead and mark his email for what it actually is: spam.

Poor Cold Reach-Out Examples: Avoid These!

Picking up the ball from the last issue, here’s the next one to avoid:

Issue #2: Trying to Flip the Power Tables

Here’s a cold reach-out with some interesting power moves:

  1. Tries to turn the power tables, to make me go to him asking for more: Drops a (supposedly) big “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) but with no details, so if I contact him to ask what the idea is, he gains in negotiation power. It would no longer be him pitching me (a cold reach out), but me asking (going to) him for more (which makes me a warm lead for him).
    Solution: if in a parallel universe I wanted to contact him, I’d just reply “please elaborate” to re-instate the correct power dynamics.
  2. (Fake) high-power self-frame: he is considering cooperating with (drops a couple of big names I couldn’t care less about—Beast has nothing to do with TPM).
    Solution: either ignore, or for the fun of it say, “I see, and what do you need to see from these guys to start working with them.” Such as, make him climb even higher on his pile of BS so that it becomes even more ridiculous.
  3. Fake giver (social scalping): and now that he’s assessing these supposedly big names I should want to join, he says that he also “thought about including me”. I suppose that if he hasn’t even started working with those deep-pocket big names, what the hell do I need to do to prove myself a worthy recipient of his great value offering?
    Solution: ignore and the “please elaborate” fixes everything in one fell swoop.

It’s interesting he did take at least some time to check TPM, and the email now is not so easy to find, so it’s probably true he dug around a bit.

Would have made for a much more effective reach-out if he had taken a look inside PU, rather than the sales page though.

The problem with this approach is that it’s too much.

Either the receiver is a total, complete idiot and a power blind naive or…he’ll consider you, the sender, a total idiot (and if one started a business that you heard about, guess which one is more likely?).

This is why here we generally promote more “fair value marketing” approaches. Not because there aren’t plenty of naive people in the world who would fall for the above, but because the people that you should want to associate with, usually do not fall for the above.

Here’s a similar case from Ali (with fewer power moves) when a stranger reached out to him with that “cold reach-out to warm lead” approach too:

They drop that (supposedly) big WIIFM (generating 53% more leads) with no added details.

Ali says his thoughts were:

Ali: “How do I know you’re not going to ask me to make major (possibly negative) changes to my website’s look and functions? And, for what? Leads? What if those changes block my ability to make an authentic impact? …It was a bit insulting that they would imply I’d make (potentially) major changes to my website only for leads — as if money is more important to me than my mission.”

Moral of the story: avoid playing these games of trying to flip the power tables. It doesn’t work well on the people who are worth collaborating with.

Issue #3: Putting the Onus On the Receiver

Look at this example:

reach out for guest post bad email example

The problem with this approach is that she does not give me any information to make a first assessment. She puts the onus of doing the work on the receiver (me).

Based on her email, it’s me who should take the time to do all the background information-gathering work, such as:

  • What’s your expertise?
  • What do you want to write about?
  • Can I see something you’ve written already?
  • Are you ready to go through a few iterations of reviews to make that post top-notch?

But since most people writing do not have great expertise, chances are that if I wrote that email, I would only be wasting time.

And that’s why, when you put the onus of work on the receiver, you are less likely to get an answer and more likely to come across as lazy.

Finally, from a power dynamics perspective, it’s the wrong approach towards this type of interaction.

She approaches me as if she had the power: the power of making me do the work for her.

But cold approaches are pure transaction-based interactions. Without any interpersonal goodwill yet, the power in cold approaches is based on the value people bring to the table.

And what happens if you don’t show any value?

Well, if you’re not showing value, then you’re showing an entitled mentality: the entitlement of believing you are owed an answer without even proving you can bring something to the table.

Indeed, when you’re reaching out to strangers, it always pays to see it as an exchange.

Learn the rules, and you will be immensely more effective and successful in life. On top of never coming across as awkward or annoying, but like a guy who “gets it” and who people want to have around.

This brings us to our next issue:

Issue #4: Forgetting the WIIFT

WIIFT is also sometimes called “What’s in it for me” (often abbreviated as “WIIFM”), and it means that you are putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and you seek to make the exchange worth their while.

When you take a WIIFT perspective, you seek to give something back for whatever you are asking, and you make it incredibly more likely that you’ll get what you’re asking for—and if not, you won’t come across as some socially-thick guy who just asks for things.

WIIFM is not “cold”, it’s the opposite: people who get the exchange nature of relationships have far better human relationships because they think about others, too—about other people’s needs and wants.

Look at this example:

WIIFM email example

Probably 70% of the emails I receive, people forget the WIIFM part.

So don’t be like most people: always remember what’s in it for them, the most important part.

Here is another bad example.

This person wants to be added to my list of best free book summary websites.

She forgot that she already reached out to me, we already talked about it, and I said “no” because it wasn’t a free resource.

So she hits me again with one of those BS-precompiled emails.

So I remind her she does not qualify:

bad reach out email example

And, of course, she ends up with the icing on the cake: what’s in it for her.

With cold email reach outs and when you are the asker, it always pays to find an angle that benefits the receiver. Or, at the very least, not to make it too blatant about what you are going to gain. Because that way it feels like you’re putting work on the receiver’s plate that is going to benefit you. And you do it with total disregard for the receiver’s work and time, which always feels aggressive and insensitive.

Furthermore, with cold reach outs, it always pays off to make it simple and intuitive for the receiver.

With a cold reach out, you are a nobody to the receiver. If you approach him with what’s in it for you, plus you put all the cognitive load on him… What’s his incentive to work for you?

On top of coming across as selfish, it also says that you’re a lazy person who’s tasking him. You become a nuisance.

If we had to further dissect her email, her “actually” is also wrong. It’s as if she was saying:

Her: Actually… You’re wrong. Because now… (look at this how wrong you are).”

The correct way of doing this would have been to say something like:

Hi Lucio,

You’re right.

Last time we spoke indeed it was indeed not free.

Luckily, in the meanwhile, we changed tack, and now… (brief description on what’s changed and why now it’s releveant for my article and my audience).

BTW: we’re happy to link back to you man, we love your work (WIIFM).

They sell business book summaries. Yet, they understand little about the people who fuel those businesses.

And, since WIIFT is so important, here’s another example:

By now, you probably already know many of the pros and cons of this cold reach-out.

If for you it’s important to talk to someone and the relationship is obviously one where you ask, they reply, it’s important that you also show you are willing to chip in something.

For example, invite them to lunch or dinner and make it obvious you’re inviting them.

A common mistake is to say, “I wanna pick your brain” because it means, “You will give me your time, sit there, and answer all of my questions (while I give you nothing).”

Then, the famous stock phrase:

Them: “I greatly appreciate your response”

It’s a covert judge power move, and all of its variants fit into that same category too (“I appreciate you… “, “your fast response is appreciated… “, etc.).

They say that:

  1. You are supposed to reply: it’s an indirect form of tasking (which is a power move).
    1. Plus, it tasks you with a guise of “professionalism”, which puts more distance between you and them.
  2. You will displease them if you don’t reply: they greatly appreciate you taking action for them (you make them happy, a positive judge role). But, it also implies that they will be greatly displeased if you don’t take the requested action (which is a negative judge role).

Every time an eagle reads that line at the end of an email from someone who has no real authority to demand their response (lateral tasking), they think, “One-up power move. F*ck that.”

If the cold emailer has no real authority over them, they also have no authority of demanding the receiver to take action—and with a judge frame, least of all!

And, now that we’re on the topic of judge power moves…

Issue #5: Pulling Judge Power Moves

This is a snapshot of an email I received that I shared in my forum.

In red are the “bad” parts that can be improved (see if you can guess why) and in green is the value proposition which I think is solid:

For starters, “Hi Lucio” would have been much better, and removed the “template feel” you get with just “hi” (and it wouldn’t have been hard to get that information).

But, here’s the power move:

Him: “Because of that, I decided…”

It’s not too bad, but it’s a bit of a judge, slightly power-taking power move. As if to say, “I chose to extend you this great invitation (based on my stringent analysis that you were lucky to pass).”

The moment I reply, that frames me as chasing his picky “invitation”.

A different format could be used to convey the same message while building the receiver up. For example, saying, “Since your content is so good and people like it, then I think this can work great for you.”

Again, not too bad, it’s in yellow flag territory.

Issue #6: Devaluing the Value Proposition

Did you notice the second issue with that last cold reach-out?

He said:

Him: “Each Friday, I block out 4 hours to create a short, custom email sequence…”

The issue with this is that the feeling is that of a conveyor-belt, cookie-cutter type of work.

So this guy each single Friday blocks 4 hours to create a custom template?

What if it takes 2 hours?
OK, maybe he’ll cut it short, no big issues there.
But what if one product requires more than 4 hours? Then we’ll get a poor job, I suppose.

His pitch loses even more influence with anyone who believes to be selling a high-value and/or complex product (which is probably most good authors).

If he had said, “I’ll do one for Power University“, then it would have worked better, as the frame would be that he already looked into the product. Then his “4-hour block” sounded already tailored.

But since he says “share a link to the product”, then the “4-hour block” feels like a template, cookie-cutter type of work.

Still, this was a fairly top-notch reach-out that many could learn from.

Some great takeaways are that it:

  1. Makes a big claim of value
  2. Asks for a chance to deliver that value (does not directly ask for money)
  3. Makes it costless for the receiver to test it (if it doesn’t work, no money, and if it works, up to the receiver to decide how much it’s worth it paying)
  4. And #2 and #3 lend credibility to #1, so he self-frames as a highly capable professional (only a highly capable professional with a track record would forego payment in exchange for a percentage up to the customer to decide, and for a chance at future business)

Because his pitch was so strong, he only needed a few minor adjustments.

Here’s another example that was far from perfect (which is why the main issues will still be highlighted) and had some power moves in it as well, but also had several solid elements.

Issue #6: Glossing Over the Fundamentals

Not everyone knows the fundamentals of good cold reach-out practice.

But, some of those who do sometimes forget that the fundamentals are often very important for one’s effectiveness:

There is some stuff that I personally disagree with in this email and the issues are all on a fairly fundamental level:

  • “Aside from that”: feels manipulative, as if to want to minimize the biggest point in her email—her what’s in it for me, and the request for me.
    • Fundamental lesson: it’s better to avoid that minimization and go straight to the point instead.
  • She uses the word “your coverage”: which betrays the idea that it’s personalized and makes it seem like it’s probably a copy-paste she’s using to target online publications. We never use that word here, which also suggests she knows little of TPM.
    • Fundamental lesson: remember, if you’re going to do a template, that’s OK, just make sure to do it well (such as by avoiding poor wording and doing your due diligence).
  • Vague “and I’d want to include your story in it“: I think she means a link. But, this is the WIFM, so this is what she should have expanded more on.
    • Fundamental lesson: always remember WIIFT.

Plus, she chased way too early, way too much, and not well:

However, with all of that said, the format itself is still solid.

There were good pros:

  • “I am (name)”: high-power and straight
  • Personal / relatable feel: she manages to make it feel like a human being behind that email rather than a copy-paste (even though it may as well be, and likely is, a copy-paste)

Note: the feminist angle was dubious, it can work because it’s very polarizing. And, if she sends it to some other feminist or partisan folk, it can especially work well in those cases. Even for someone who doesn’t care, it can still have a “grab attention” effect. On the other hand, if you don’t know the receiver, it may not be the best self-description for several reasons. But, let’s skip that for brevity.

Now, with those pros, that last cold email can be considered good.

But, here’s how to take your cold emails from good to great:

How To Write a Persuasive Cold Email (Just Copy Paste This!)

Consider the following:

Sending an email like this takes pretty much the same time it takes you to send a poor, generic one. You can build the template and then just change the details.

But the ROI on this type of email is 10x greater. Possibly more.


The main things to keep in mind when doing your cold reach-outs are:

  • WIIFT: to maximize your chances of a favorable response despite the newness of the relationship
  • Power dynamics: to avoid pulling annoying power moves on the receiver (as well as avoidable mistakes like too much chasing)
  • Personability/relatability: if you decide to go the custom email route (to make the email stand out as authentic and coming from someone who cares about the receiver and the receiver’s work)

About The Author

About The Author