Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Cold Emails
Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Cold Emails
Last updated:
March 25, 2022
Christian Bonnier
Christian Bonnier
Christian is creative director at ListKit and co-founder at KnowledgeX.

With cold email, there are a lot of small intricacies that can make or break your campaign.

Even if your scripts look great, you’re set up with a ListKit filled with people you believe are your ideal prospects, and you have a full sequence set up on Mailshake, there can still be a few little things you aren’t noticing that can kill your chances at getting interested replies.

Here’s a quick list of general “do’s” and “don’ts” you should keep in mind when you’re setting up an outreach campaign on Mailshake.

The Purpose of Cold Email

Before we dive into a few pointers with your cold email strategy, it’s important to give some context into the whole purpose of cold email as a form of outbound marketing.

Grabbing Attention In Seconds

When you’re sending emails to complete strangers, it’s key to remember that unless you’re an A-list celebrity or world renowned entrepreneur, they most likely don’t have the time or energy to sit down and read multiple paragraphs from you.

Keeping this in mind, it’s important to keep your emails short so you can grab prospects’ attention within a few seconds and interest them enough to reply back to you.

If the first thing a prospect reads is an introduction about you and your company, your email will likely be passed over.

If prospects open your email and see enough paragraphs to fill up a chapter of a book, they’ll be overwhelmed and move on. Even if you’re giving away $50,000 for free in the hook of your email at the very bottom, it will almost never be read!

With this in mind, be sure that the first thing prospects read with your email is interesting enough to grab their attention, intrigue them enough to read the rest of the email, and push them to reply back to you.

Start A Conversation

Cold email isn’t supposed to result in closed deals. Rather, the whole goal of sending an initial cold email is to get replies from prospects that open the door for you to start a conversation with them.

Once you do generate an initial reply, this is where you’ll be able to introduce your services to them in a relevant way that gets them interested in hearing more about what you have to offer.

A few ways to do this include:

  • Sending them case studies of work you’ve done for a company similar to theirs
  • Sending them a Loom video highlighting some things you’d be able to help them improve on with your services (like their email opt-in or Google search results, for example)
  • Clearing up any high-level questions they might have about your services

Just to name a few… No matter which approach you take, the ultimate goal with a cold email conversation is to ultimately get a time booked with prospects on calendar to see if they’d be a good fit for your services.

Moving The Conversation To A Call

Since the end goal of a cold email is a booked call, you should aim to turn an initial reply with a prospect into a booked call in as few steps as possible.

This can be a challenge if the prospect doesn’t come out and explicitly say they’re interested in speaking with you, and you’re likely going to face some objections.

Here are the most common objections we’ve seen and how to move past them:

The Colleague Referral

This one is extremely common, where the prospect will deflect us to their partner or colleague and tell us to follow up with them.

Rather than moving on to the next opportunity, use this referral as leverage. Here’s an example:

“I was speaking with NAME via email in regards to a call discussing OFFER, and they recommended I reach out to you.”

Pick up the conversation where you left it off with the original contact, and try to book a call with the person you’re referred to.

“What’s The Cost?”

Here’s how we handle this:

“Happy to discuss pricing with you over a call so we don’t waste both our times over email. Our services are highly personalized and it would be better to discuss a custom pricing structure over the phone.This might not be a fit, and I know it’s not the answer you’re looking for, but let me know if this helps and you’re open to chatting.”

Tell Me More

This is the prospect giving you the chance to prove yourself rather than flat-out telling you no. To keep the momentum moving towards a call, we give them a brief overview of our offer with a CTA of jumping on a call to learn more.

An example for lead generation:

I’ll keep it brief. We would reach out to your ideal prospects leveraging LinkedIn and cold email, and you only pay us for the calls we book you. If you’re open to discussing further, send me some times that work for you for a quick call.”

Once you do get a verbal agreement to hop on a call, always ask prospects what times work best for them and manually book them on your calendar. Avoid sending them your calendar link, as this comes off as inconsiderate and can ruin your chances at a call.

If you do get a call booked, congrats! You just created a brand new opportunity from your business all with cold outreach.

Things You Should Be Doing With Your Email Outreach

The entire process of cold email, from the initial setup on Mailshake all the way to handling objections from prospects and booking calls manually on calendar, is a long one.

There are a lot of little details along the way that can determine whether or not you get good results with your campaigns, and the only way to really become aware of these things is with months of reps and experience.

These tips will help reduce the learning curve with cold email so you can get results quicker without making the same mistakes we’ve made at our agency.

Targeting A Specific ICP

Effective cold outreach starts with being crystal clear on who you’re targeting.

To do this, you need to run outreach to a specific Ideal Client Profile, or ICP.

There are a few reasons you need to target a specific ICP:

  • You can get very targeted with your messaging
  • You’ll be targeting prospects you can deliver results for
  • You will position yourself as an authority figure in one specific niche
  • You can leverage niche-specific case studies relevant to your prospects

Of course, you aren’t going to know who your ideal ICP is if you’re just starting out with your agency. But over time, as you figure out which types of businesses you can deliver results for and which ones you like working with, your ICP will become clear and you’ll be able to hone in on one niche.

Here’s a great exercise you can do to get very clear on your ICP based on several different targeting parameters:

The good news is, your ICP is not set in stone! If you need to pivot or broaden the scope of your target market, there is no rule saying you can’t.

Using Short, Personalized Scripts Focused On The Prospect

Once you’re set on your targeting, scripting is the next most important thing you need to focus on with your cold email strategy. Without a strong cold email script, you won’t have any replies to handle and move towards booked calls because prospects won’t be interested in hearing more from you!

Cold email scripts should be short, personalized, and focused on prospects rather than on you.

Let’s break each of these aspects down:


As we’ve already discussed, it’s your job to grab a prospect’s attention within seconds of them viewing your email to get a reply back from them. To do this, your scripts need to be short and concise without coming across as pushy or “salesy”.

A great framework to follow that generates a consistent flow of conversations is the “one sentence cold email”.

Here’s a template to base your messaging off:

“Hi {{name}} – {{line}} Do you/are you (insert pain point, desire, software they’re using)?”

Here are a few examples:

  • “Do you use Klaviyo for email marketing?”
  • “Are you looking to fix your Shopify site speed score?”
  • “Are you able to take on new clients for {{company}}?”

These questions can easily be answered with a “yes” or “no”, are not salesy, and leave no room for interpretation because of how direct they are.

The goal here is to get a “yes”, then take the conversation from there once you do get a reply.


If you want any hope of standing out to prospects, including some form of personalization is key. When we say personalization, we don’t just mean including the prospect’s name and company name in your email.

Real personalization is including a line about the prospect that was specifically written based on research you did on them and their company.

A few examples:

  • “Saw you graduated from North Carolina – cool to see Michael Jordan also went there, you’re in great company!”
  • “Congrats on being nominated by Inc Magazine as a top marketing firm in 2021 – huge accomplishment!”
  • “Really impressed by your move from Google to Nike – would love to hear more about that transition.”

Writing these lines one by one is a hassle, which is why each ListKit comes with personalized first lines written for each prospect!

Focused On The Prospect

By default, it’s in our nature as humans to be more focused on ourselves than other people. Because of this, it can be easy to frame your messaging around yourself…

Saying things like “I would love to” or “I’d be interested in” are a natural thing to say in cold emails, but they should be avoided at all costs.

Instead of framing the message around you, re-frame the messaging around your prospects.

A few great sentence openers:

  • “Would you be open to…”
  • “Would you like to…”
  • “Are you interested in…”
  • “Might you be open to…”

By keeping the prospects’ interests in mind, you’re guaranteed to get more positive replies and more calls booked.

Deferring Most Information To A Call

With the idea that you should attempt to book a call in as few email exchanges as possible in mind, try your best to defer most questions about your services to a call.

If you get questions about things like:

  • Pricing
  • Commitments
  • What type of results you can guarantee
  • Other companies you’ve worked with in the past

It’s good practice to push the prospect towards scheduling a call with you on calendar to discuss in more detail.

Here’s an example of how this exchange might look:

Prospect: “Sounds great, but what’s the cost of your services?”

Your response: “Happy to discuss pricing with you over a call so we don’t waste both our times over email.

Our services are highly flexible and it would be better to discuss a custom pricing structure on the phone.”

Spacing Out Follow-Ups

This tip is twofold. First, you should space out your initial Mailshake sequence enough so you’re not overwhelming prospects with emails and leaving a bad impression on them.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for spacing out your sequence:

  • First follow up 4 days after the initial email
  • Second follow up 3 days after the first
  • Third follow up 5 days after the second
  • Any additional follow ups 7+ days apart

The same rules apply when you receive a response from a prospect and you’re trying to get them re engaged in the conversation.

Instead of following up with them every single day like you may be tempted to do, be sure to space your follow ups 3-5 days apart so you’re not overwhelming the prospect and ending any chances you had at booking a call with them.

Another quick tip for these types of follow ups… Get right to the point. Instead of asking if they had a great weekend, open the email with your “ask” so you don’t waste their time.

Also focus the “ask” on them, saying “Would you be open to a call” instead of “I’d love to hop on a quick call”.

A/B Test

A massive aspect of cold outreach is all of the testing and iterating you’ll be doing to dial in your campaigns.

You won’t always get results on the first go around, which is why A/B tests will be your best friend.

A good rule of thumb with A/B testing is to set up at least 2 variations of your initial email, and have different tests set up for your follow up emails as well.

A/B tests will help you figure out if a simple wording change makes a difference in response rates, or if one drastically different scripting strategy works better.

You may have an opinion on which script will perform better, but the only way to truly find out is to set up an A/B test and let those emails send!

If you’re really curious to find a winning script, you can even set up an A/B/C/D test so you have 4 unique emails sending at the same time.

Once you have enough sending data to identify a winner, eliminate the losing script and either run with the winner fully or test out a brand new strategy.

Things You Should Avoid

Of course, for every winning strategy you should be utilizing with your email campaigns, there’s an equal number of things that can sabotage your campaigns you should be looking to avoid.

None of these pitfalls are things you’d do intentionally, so don’t beat yourself up if you have done them in the past when sending cold emails.

The important thing is to avoid them moving forward so you can start seeing real results from cold email.

Spammy Outreach

There is a level of courtesy associated with cold outreach that, while it isn’t a written rule, is something you should follow if you want to keep your personal brand intact and generate meaningful leads and connections.

If you stray from a courteous outreach approach, like sending follow-ups consecutive days in a row and being pushy with your wording, you’re venturing into dangerous territory that can wind up getting you into trouble with angry prospects.

By spamming prospects with several follow ups without giving them room to breathe, using salesy jargon in your emails, and putting prospects into multiple campaigns if they don’t reply, you’re giving yourself a bad look and run the risk of having prospects reporting you as spam and even leaving your company a bad review.

Short of the story, space your follow ups out, use neutral, direct wording with your email scripts, and move onto the next prospect rather than trying to revive a dead-end lead.

Spray-N-Pray Sending

These types of messages are very vague, don’t include any personalization, and make generalizations about prospects that might not even be true about them or their business.

To top off the lazy scripting, using a “spray and pray” method also involves reaching out to a very broad ICP that most likely isn’t even a fit to work with you anyways.

This kind of outreach is very scalable and doesn’t require much input, so it may seem advantageous to utilize it in your marketing strategy.

But, contrary to what you may think, this type of outreach is a net negative to your brand and most likely won’t result in any traction.

If your messaging isn’t speaking to a specific niche, like health & wellness eCommerce brands for example, doesn’t have a personalized first line, and is essentially a sales pitch disguised as an email, there’s a good chance you’ll need to rethink your strategy to get your campaigns on track.

Long-Winded Copy

This mistake is an easy one to make. In an effort to show prospects why they should care about your services, you can easily wind up writing a cold email script that looks like a full page of a book.

We’ve all been there before, writing a paragraph about your company… then some case studies… then how you can help the prospect… then ending with a call-to-action.

The good news is, you’ll have plenty of time to elaborate on your services once the prospect responds to your email, and then again on the sales call.

The entire goal of your initial email is to generate a reply that you can then turn into a booked call, so be sure to keep this in mind when you’re writing your script copy.

Remember… Your entire message should be read and understood in under 5 or so seconds, otherwise you run the risk of having your email get skimmed over and moved to trash.

Discussing Details of Your Offer In The Inbox

Once again, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to tell the prospect all about your business.

But if you get questions regarding pricing, logistics of your offer, minimum contractual commitments, or things of that sort, the best step is always to defer it all to a call.

From our experience, any time we’ve shared pricing with prospects in the inbox, it completely kills all forward momentum with them and a call is never booked. The same thing goes for specifics with your service agreement or your fulfillment…

Prospects just aren’t as willing to hear you out through email as they would be on a face-to-face Zoom call.

Always push for a call to answer these types of questions!


Cold email is a very efficient, scalable method of outbound marketing, and it’s been proven time and time again as an effective way of generating leads for your business and filling a pipeline with hot leads.

Along the way, however, there are a lot of small details to pay attention to that can make or break your chances at booking calls consistently with prospects. Without any experience to draw on, these small things are extremely hard to pick up on and attribute to your campaigns’ performance.

With some of the do’s and don’ts mentioned above, you should be able to make some tweaks to your overall strategy and see an almost-immediate boost in results.


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