Common Cold Email Mistakes
Common Cold Email Mistakes
Last updated:
January 18, 2022
Christian Bonnier
Christian Bonnier
Christian is creative director at ListKit and co-founder at KnowledgeX.

We’ve all gotten them before: A cold email that’s so long and poorly formatted that not only do you skip right by it, but you actually shake your head at how someone decided it would be a good idea to send it to you.

This is an extreme example of a poor cold email, but in our book the only thing that separates a good cold email from a bad cold email is if it generates replies.

The only real way to see if your email will convert at a high level is to go out and test different campaigns, but avoiding initial mistakes like the ones discussed in this blog will give your campaigns a fighting chance.

Let’s dive into common mistakes we’ve seen and ran into with cold email, and what can be done to fix them.

Ineffective Scripts

A good cold email comes down to two simple things…

Saying the right things to the right people.

If you’re able to communicate your offer in a way that piques the interest of your ideal prospects, you have yourself a good cold email that will generate sales calls and deal flow for your business!

If you aren’t able to communicate your offer effectively, your scripting needs work.

Here are some mistakes we see with cold email scripts.

Too Focused On You Instead Of Your Offer

Since you’re reaching out cold to a prospect, you have ~3-5 seconds to catch their attention before they glance past your email as they clean up their inbox.

Unfortunately, these prospects couldn’t give a damn about you and your business, even if you have accomplished tremendous things in your business.

They only care about what you can do for them.

Too many times, we’ve seen emails that discuss “my company”, “my services”, “my results”. Imagine getting an email from someone and all they tell you is how successful their business is.

It’s great to hear and all, but if this person doesn’t tell you what they can do for you, you have no reason to answer.

To avoid this, focus the email messaging on the outcomes you can deliver for the prospect.

Here’s an example:

“Would you be interested in signing 1-2 new clients each month without spending a dime on ads?”

Of course they would, and now you have their full attention to pitch your services in the inbox.

Bad Offer

This is probably the #1 most important mistake that people make.

Your offer is the entire backbone of your cold email outreach.

You could be:

  • Offering a good offer to the wrong market
  • Not differentiating your offer enough so you look like everyone else and become a commodity
  • Not lowering risk enough

Or many, many other variations.

This always comes back to how clear you have your ideal client profile (ICP). Know your audience and come up with an offer that removes risk, but still requires a commitment, so you can prove your value and upsell to a complete product or service.

No Clear CTA

Your email could have the best benefits-based copy in the world, but if you don’t give the prospect a clear next step you could ruin your chances at booking a call.

Rather than just wrapping the email with “Thoughts?” or “Interested?”, ask if they’re interested in more info or hopping on a call.

Here are a few CTAs that work well:

  • “Open to learning more about how we can help COMPANY sign more clients?”
  • “What would need to happen for us to get on a quick call?”
  • “When is a good time for a quick call to discuss?”
  • “What are some times that work for you this week for a call?”

No Personalization

Inboxes are hyper-competitive nowadays, with every single prospect in your leads list being solicited multiple times a day.

If an email doesn’t show the prospect that you at least did a few minutes of research on them or your company, it’s going to fall flat.

Personalization is more than just a name and company text replacement.

True personalization is a 1-2 sentence complimentary statement about the prospect, referencing something like a recent accomplishment, a recent press release on the company, or something they posted on social media.

Your prospect may appreciate the compliment, but it’s more about standing out in the inbox and getting them to read the entire message and consider the offer more than anything.

Salesly/Pitchy Messaging

If someone you’ve never met before approached you in the street and tried selling you on a $3k marketing retainer, you’d tell them to leave you alone!

Cold email is no different, and you should think about how your message will be received by prospects who have no clue who you are.

Using salesy wording like “Your business will benefit tremendously” or “I can almost guarantee a 2x ROI in working with me” will do much more harm than good for you.

Instead, avoid any adjectives or wording that a salesperson would use.

Instead of saying “boost results”, say “increase results”.

Instead of saying “Our process is extremely efficient and effective”, say “Our process has brought results to our other clients.”

Stating your offer in plain English with no adjectives to make it sound more enticing will convert best.

Ideal Client Profile Misalignment

The second part of a good cold email is targeting the right people.

The best cold email in the world to land new eCommerce clients won’t get any results if it’s being sent to local restaurants.

This sounds like common sense, but this line of thinking gets a lot less clear when your targeting is only off because the companies you target are too big or on the flip side maybe don’t have enough budget for your services.

A small misalignment with your ICP could cause the entire campaign to fail, so it’s important to really be intentional with the prospect lists you build and iterate them over time so they’re optimized.

Once you land on an ICP that has an immediate need for your services, you’re set!

Targeting Wrong Roles

Targeting the wrong people at a company doesn’t mean you won’t get replies, it just means you’ll get a lot of replies that pass you off to someone else at the company or shoot you down because they’re not the decision maker.

Imagine you’re the CMO of a company and someone reaches out to you about sales or hiring…

Even if the offer is intriguing, since it’s outside your scope of responsibility you’ll either pass their info off to your partner or skip the email altogether.

To avoid this with your campaigns, make sure you target people who have the decision making power over the area of their business your offer involves.

As your campaigns run, if you notice a lot of “pass-off” replies that relay your info to a different department, it’s probably best for you to pivot your targeting to that department in your lead lists.

Wrong Company Sizes

There is no “wrong” company size for you to go after per se, but certain size companies may not be the best fit for your offer.

For example, a company with 1-10 employees may not be able to afford your $5k/mo retainer at this moment in time, while a company with 500-1000 employees probably isn’t interested in your services because they already contract it out or handle it in-house.

To account for this, find companies that have the budget to afford your services (will vary based on your offer) and will also have a need for your services.

Wrong Industry

The most glaringly obvious mistake with targeting is, of course, going after companies in the wrong industry!

The only way to dial in which industry you should be targeting is by actively testing. Your email marketing offer could be falling flat with SaaS companies, but by pivoting to eCommerce brands you’re able to book dozens of sales calls.

Once you land on the right industry, the rest will take care of itself. Pivoting on the fly is more than OK, and the best companies are able to pivot seamlessly.

Low-Intent Data

Intent data is the holy grail of prospecting… once you’re able to capitalize on it, you’ll never want to go back!

Intent data helps you get in touch with prospects that have real interest in what you’re offering.

Without intent data, you’ll essentially be taking blind shots in the dark that the prospects will be interested, which will obviously result in much lower conversion rates.

To avoid this guessing game, capitalizing on buying signals such as positions the company is hiring for, technologies they use, and any recent funding they’ve had will give you a much better chance at booking a call and closing the deal.

Emails Not Being Seen

The last piece of the puzzle… or perhaps the first? Getting eyeballs on your email.

We all know there’s only a few-second window to grab the reader’s attention with an email once it’s opened, and the same is true for getting it opened in the first place.

To ensure your email is even getting the opportunity to be seen, there are a few things to look at to avoid hitting spam filters and grab attention when it is in the inbox.

Low Deliverability/Poor Domain Health

The first and most important aspect of getting your emails seen is having a domain in good health.

If your domain is in poor health, you’ll have low deliverability rates and your campaigns will be doomed from the start.

To avoid this predicament, make sure your email is warmed up with a tool like Gmass so you’re ramping up the number of emails you send each day instead of mass sending hundreds of emails each day.

We recommend starting with 20-25 emails a day and increasing volume by 5 each week until you hit 50 a day.

Bad/Confusing Subject Line

Something so simple that gets messed up so often is the subject line!

If you try to get fancy with the subject line, you’ll just end up shooting yourself in the foot.

Remember… 3-5 seconds to grab attention.

We run dozens of campaigns, and the subject line is always “quick question”.

If you want to test a few against one another, plug in variations like “question for {{name}}” or “question about {{company}}”.

Keep it simple!

Using Links/Signature

Along the same line of thinking as the subject line, keep the body of your email simple, too.

Avoid sending links to your website or a landing page, and keep the signature super basic.

Our entire initial email consists of a first line, question script, and a simple signature.

Here’s what it looks like:

“Hey {{name}} – {{line}}

Quick question, are you/do you XYZ?


This simple format helps us reach the actual inbox and avoid spam filters that may come with using links in your email, and the basic signature makes the email look genuine.

Formatting Not Aligned

Another very important aspect of deliverability is having an email body that’s formatted in uniform.

If your email has text that’s different colors, fonts or font sizes, this will bring up huge red flags and may cause your email to land in spam.

Not to mention, emails with inconsistent text look spammy and unappealing.

Most sending platforms have a “clear formatting” feature to help you with this.


There are a few distinctions that separate a good cold email from a bad cold email, and these distinctions make all the difference in the world between getting interested replies from prospects and crickets.

Think about it as if you’re on the receiving end of a bad email. Not only are you very unlikely to reply, your first impression of the person sending it isn’t going to be very good.

To avoid sending these types of emails, it’s important your scripts, targeting and deliverability are all on point.

Once all 3 of these things are dialed in, cold email become an ROI-producing activity!

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