Email is a tricky beast. On one hand, it can be a powerful direct line to people you wish to talk to. On the other hand, a person gets so many messages each day, they are likely to skim and skip if it doesn't quickly convey why they should care.

So, how do you stand out in their inbox? How do you get a response from someone you never imagined you’d be able to talk to?

I’ve been writing sales emails and outreach messaging for clients (and my own businesses) for years. Here’s what I’ve found works best:

Make it All about “You” When You’re Talking to Them

You are emailing someone cold in hopes of getting something out of it. It’s selfish, right? One way to help you come across as less “gimme gimme” is to immediately start talking about them.

The word “you” should be the first, second, or third word in the body of your email. As long as you are talking about them, people will normally read as much as you want to write. That means do your research so you can be specific and prove you know what you’re talking about.

Here’s an email I sent to the owner of one of the country’s top marketing agencies:

Hi Aaron, on your BBC segment, you got paired with the fastest-talking interviewer I have ever witnessed. I honestly paused the video to see if I had accidentally increased the playback speed. Too funny.

With your path from Company A to Company B to running Company C for so long now, asking you about your experience and approach would be true guidance. Would you allow me a short phone call?

This got me a response from Aaron within 18 minutes. We eventually talked on the phone. To this day I contact Aaron for business advice when needed.

Flattery is Key…as Long as It’s Honest

My friend taught me this. He owns a recording studio, and early in his career, wanted to connect with some of the top music producers in the country so he could learn their techniques. He found great success with his outreach, eventually being mentored by people who record Wilco, Tom Petty (RIP), Blink 182 and many more. The key, my friend claimed, was to lay on the praise. The more specific the references you make, the better chance of getting a response—it shows that you actually did your homework—like Sean Evans on Hot Ones.

I put my friend’s advice in to practice the next time I needed to cold email some people. In this case, I needed to learn more about furniture design. So, I found the top current designers and emailed them about which of their pieces I loved.

Dear Daniela,

Your Aura banquet is beyond gorgeous. I love how the felt ruffles just beyond the wooden leg. And your Flinter chair with the invisible backing—how in the world do you bend wood that far? Jaw dropping. No wonder you won Best in Show at NeoCon this year.

From there I moved into asking for a short phone call to ask about her design process. Only one of the six designers I reached out to did not respond. The ones who did were quite generous with their time—at least 30 minutes of Q&A, one artist even gave me 90 minutes of invaluable insights. I'm grateful.

Avoid Sending Copy and Paste Messages

Sure, you can easily blast out 200 copies of the same shitty email in hopes of getting a couple responses, but wouldn’t you rather send out five awesome emails and make four amazing connections?

For some reason, too many marketers still rely on the shotgun approach—and talking about themselves. Just look at these opening lines I’ve found in my email and LinkedIn from the past month:

  • I am Jett, Head of Operations at Bookairfreight. I’m looking to have a meeting with someone in logistics at your company. (I don’t have any reason to care yet)

  • I'm an Investment Associate at LQC SP1 LLC an affiliate of Liquidity Group, a non-dilutive growth capital provider. (Dude, I don’t know what these words mean.)

  • We just published our full June calendar of giveaways and I wanted to share them with you, as I think your brand could be a good fit for one. (how does this apply to me?)

  • A few days back, we sent you an email about "How to get the most out of Shopify 2.0. (didn’t read it then, not going to read this one now)

  • I just wanted to assure you as we move through the quarter that I am always here to help make your Amazon selling experience the best it can be. (who the fuck are you?)

These people should have immediately started by telling me something about why I should care, what it means for me and my business, and maybe we can talk more. Other than that, the message is getting skipped and/or deleted.

What’s Your Question?

This is especially useful with someone you haven't connected with in a long time. Just open with your important question and explain why you're asking. There's no guarantee you'll get the answer you want, but at least you get an answer. I've read that ending with pleasantries—"Hope you're well." or "Hows the new job?" or "Saw a photo of the kids on IG, their mohawks are so tall!"—is more warmly received than opening with small talk and then switching to business mode.

Dear Bill,

Are you still taking new projects at your studio? Sandy Smith said you’re the best in town. I’m producing a radio project and would love to talk more.

Too much info up front and you risk intimidating your recipient. If you bury your question they may not ever see it. Short and sweet. You can always talk more later.


Tips for successful emailing

1.     Make it about your recipient
2.     Avoid copy and paste form letters
3.     Flattery gets you farther
4.     Open with your question 


Take the Identical Perspective of Your Audience

The most successful marketers understand that every person is a narcissist to some degree. To create a stronger connection, Identical helps make your messaging all about who you're talking to. We view our clients through the eyes of their audience to shape brand names and copywriting that resonate.

If you're in need of better words, let's talk. Please email me

Joe Nafziger