How NOT to Write a Cold Email: Real Life Example (Complete Breakdown)

This is a real life cold email example, fully broken down step by step, to show you exactly what NOT to do when engaging your prospects.

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Real Life Cold Email Example: Full Breakdown

This cold email was received as follows (desktop vs. phone)

how not to send a cold email

Figure 1. Email in browser/desktop and mobile format

To help you better understand the pitfalls within this cold email, I went ahead and dissected it.

1. Open-rate is Impacted by Subject line + First 50 Characters

Data shows60+% of all email gets read on a mobile device. 

email subject line example

Figure 2. Dissection of the email on a mobile device (iPhone 7+)

Areas of improvement

1. Send time: Most likely scheduled for a EST timezone as 7:22 but too early for PST. When we wake up around 7am we start de-spamming the inbox.  By the time we get to emails sent at 4:22 we’ve “swiped left” 20+ times. Muscle memory momentum is to continue swiping left.

Recommendation: Send at 7:22am local time

2. Subject: Self-Centered

Recommendation: Subject: Can you talk this week?

3. Opening sentence: The opening sentence is very important, in particular the first 50 characters.

What you see is self-centered information and redundant use of the rep’s name.

Recommendation:  Good morning <first name>

4. Compiler: Do not use capitals, bold, “!” without meaning.  It dis-incentivizes your readers early on.  You may need it later on with a call to action or stating a finding.

II. Storyline Must Tell a Story

Engagement is driven by the structure of the body of the message.  

5. Self-centered:  Too many “I” and “We” (5 in two sentences)- instead this should be about your customer.

how not to send a cold email example

Figure 4. Too many I’s and We’s in the email

6. Use of a voicemail story-line for email:  

how not to send a cold email storyboard analysis

Figure 5. Storyline used in the email

III. Call to Action

The key role of the Call To Action (CTA) is to create engagement.

7. 2-Step CTA:  Similar to web-traffic the more actions it takes the less likely it is a client responds. Research has shown 2-step CTA’s will reduce engagement in excess of 50%

Figure 6. Two-step call to action

Please feel free to click the link [step 1] below to schedule some time [step 2] on my calendar.   

8. Customer Centric: Current CTA requires customer to take action as if the sales person is too busy.

9. Lack of personalization:  No using first name.  When asking people to perform an action, they are programmed to respond to first name.


Figure 7. Revised call to action – making it customer centric

IV. Close

The close indicates the time frame of a response. For example “Have a great holiday weekend” vs. “Looking to hear from you before the holiday weekend” drives two very different time frames of action.

10. No action Close:  Use of “Thank you” indicates the conversation is over.  

Recommendation:  Looking forward to hearing from you.

However, in this case you get a better result by closing on the Call to action:

Recommendation:  Mike, can you talk later this week to review your account?

11. Use of extended footer:  An extended footer with HTML is prone to be caught by spam filters 


NAME OF REP    |   Direct line (XXX) XXX-XXXX   |  NAME@…..

12. PS:  The most read part of the email – but don’t make it generic like “check out this 90 sec demo video”


PS.  If it helps open your calendar, I start my days at 7am.

Jacco van der Kooij is the Founder and CEO of Winning By Design and Sales Mentor at Storm Ventures and Reach Capital. His life has been changed by helping his customers, and he strives to show others how it can do the same for them. He’s been a SaaS Keynote speaker for conferences around the world sharing his message of customer enablement along the way.

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