Cold Emailing Executives: 10 Phrases to Avoid at All Costs

We all get a lot of emails. But if you ask anyone who has had a “C” or a “VP” at the front of their title, you’ll quickly learn that most modern executives face a firehose of sales reps, recruiters, marketers, and pick-your-brain-over-coffee-ers making direct requests for their time every day.

Executives read so many cold emails, they get a front-row seat to the most overused email templates and the worst email writing habits.

Let’s look at 10 of the most common phrases that executives see every day (and hate) that you need to avoid in your outreach emails.

But first…

Why Cold Outreach to Executives Is Hard

With so many people bidding for their attention, executives are particularly tough to connect with.

According to Crystal personality data, people with the “CEO” title tend to be more fast-paced than 90% of the general population, and they tend to be more dominant than almost 99% of others. We see similar personality trait trends with other C-level titles.

This means that when you email an executive, there’s a strong chance that they are naturally more intense, direct, and assertive than you.

That means one wrong step and your email is going straight to the trash. To reach executives you need to be direct and assertive, and above all, do not use template emails and phrases.

Let’s get started.

10 Phrases to Avoid in Cold Emails to Executives

#1. “I know you’re busy, but…”

Yes, most executives are busy, and while it may sound like you are being considerate, this is a very weak opening.

The first sentence is the most valuable real estate in your email. Don’t waste it on a passive phrase. Use the space for a compelling hook or value proposition.

#2. “Hope you’re doing well!”

If you have a relationship with the person already, by all means, wish them well! However, when you include this trite and common phrase into a cold email, it comes off as insincere.

It may even seem emotionally manipulative to an executive who is more skeptical of salespeople than most.

#3. “Can I get 15 minutes of your time?”

Every email should have a call to action (CTA). The key is to pick the right one.

Now, in 1998, a 15-minute phone call may have been a good CTA. However, we now have an abundance of digital resources that can move a conversation forward without tying a busy executive down with a scheduled meeting.

Why not start with a qualifying question that they can easily answer via email when it’s convenient, or link them to a useful piece of content?

#4. “I was hoping to…” or “I just wanted to…”

Company leaders often earn their positions by being direct and assertive about what they want, and they typically respond well when others do the same.

Using passive phrases like “I was hoping to…” can make it sound like you lack confidence in what you offer. If you want them to take action, be direct and clear about what you want.

#5. “It would be great if…”

This is another example of a confidence-killing filler phrase. It can be tempting to soften our requests by making them comfortably indirect (“if X happens, it would be good”), but this may actually come from a desire to avoid rejection.

Instead, use a phrase like “I want to…” or “Can you…?”

#6. “Sorry for my persistence…”

When you send 3, 4, or 5 follow-up emails, your persistence is clear (especially if the emails are clearly personalized and not automated). Many executives will see and appreciate that, and you do not need to point it out or apologize for it.

Just be sure that your follow-ups are personalized. Clearly automated follow-ups will likely come off as spammy.

#7. “Pick your brain”

Leaders, influencers, and other prominent people have no shortage of demands on their time. Therefore, they need to be extremely selective if they actually want to get things done.

Focus on their relationships, and think strategically about their business. This overused phrase is often seen as a red flag for a vague, unproductive, aimless meeting. If you want a meeting, give them a good, compelling reason for it.

#8. “To be honest…”

This is often more of a verbal tic than a written one, but it makes its way into email nonetheless. When you start a sentence by appealing to your honesty, you risk invalidating everything you have said or written up to that point.

It can make people wonder if you’ve been dishonest up to this point. It’s a subtle risk, but potentially destructive.

#9. “When you have a moment…”

Again, most executives have packed schedules, and they likely have a large list of tasks to accomplish in their “spare time.” If you are vague about the timing of your request, you will likely slide lower and lower on that list.

Instead of asking them to remember you at a vague time in the future, make it as easy as possible for them to work you into their schedule by sharing your calendar, or reaching out to others on their team.

#10. “Not sure if you saw my previous email…”

Follow-up emails often feel unnatural and uncomfortable — nobody wants to be a nag. So, we pepper our follow-ups with justifications like this.

If an executive is reading your follow-up, they almost certainly read your first one and didn’t respond for a reason. This kind of phrase is actually far more likely to be perceived as “naggy” than simply stating your compelling value proposition and/or call-to-action again, or (even better) offering something new.

Nailing Cold Outreach

There’s no exact science to emailing a busy executive, but there are simple, practical steps you can take to improve your chances.

The best cold email tips we can give you is to avoid these subtle, message-weakening mistakes. If you do, you will sound less and less like your noisy competitors, and more like a serious potential partner who can bring expertise and value to the table.

What would you add? Are there other phrases that you avoid when emailing executives?

Drew D’Agostino is the Founder and CEO of Crystal, the app that tells you anyone’s personality. He is also the co-author of the book Predicting Personality: Using AI to understand people and win more business, published in 2019 by Wiley. Thousands of professionals use Crystal every day to understand their coworkers, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships. Take the free personality test and create your Crystal profile to get started.

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