How to write compelling outreach emails
How to write compelling outreach emails

Sending a cold email is a delicate art.

Well-written outreach lands dream hires or huge sales. But poorly written outreach is skimmed and ignored, or worse, blocked.

Emails that seize interest, build rapport, and achieve your goals can seem difficult to craft — but they don’t have to be. By following a few simple rules, your cold emails will yield incredible results.

What is an outreach email?

It's an email you send to someone you don’t have a relationship with… yet! But you're looking for a sale, an interview, or an exciting new collaboration, and it all starts with one outreach email.

You might send outreach as part of a larger campaign, if you're capturing new leads in marketing or sales. Or you might send one-off outreach as the need arises — like when you’re recruiting for a role that requires a very particular set of skills, à la Liam Neeson in Taken.

Anatomy of an cold email

There are certain elements you must include when crafting outreach emails — regardless of whether you're wooing a potential new hire, selling your software to enterprise supply chain managers, or winning press coverage for your brand-new product.

1. Craft an enticing subject line

If you can't pique their interest with your subject line, they'll never even open your email. You'll probably be relegated to the trash folder, with all the other cold emails, or worse, marked as spam!

Your subject line should be clear and not overly clever. By reading the subject line, your reader should know exactly what the email is about, and be intrigued enough to open it.

For great subject lines, Hubspot created a list of 100 examples from top brands. You can use some of these examples of promotional, curious, funny, pain point, and social proof subject lines to craft the perfect subject line for your own outreach.

2. Use hyper-personalization to build connection

Personalizing outreach or cold emails can make the difference between responding to your email and junking you.

Make sure that you mention something that is public, and not too personal — but make it something that shows you actually know something about their work.

The degree of hyper-personalization can seem difficult to nail — but if you do your homework, it doesn't have to be. A recent product launch or rebrand, a tweet they posted that went viral, or an award they recently received, are just a few Google clicks away.

3. Include a simple and singular call to action

A cold email needs to have a call to action (CTA). This is what you want them to do once they've read your email.

Should they schedule a meeting via your Calendly? Sign up for a free trial of your product? RSVP to an event by a certain date?

Don't ask them to do more than one thing, and make it easy for them to do that thing. Anything more — or worse, no call to action at all — and the recipient won't know what to do.

4. Add humor sparingly

Most outreach emails require a level of professionalism. You're introducing yourself to the recipient, and you want them to take action — so you want them to see you in the best possible light.

But your recipient is human, and all humans like to smile and laugh. So taking a more casual approach to writing your outreach, and incorporating a little well-judged humor, often goes a long way in breaking the ice. Just don't overdo it, and use humor sparingly.  

The rules of engagement for outreach emails

One email can change everything, especially for a startup.

When we first emailed Emuye Reynolds — who later became our head of engineering — she was already choosing between 7 jobs!

Why did this email work? We followed 3 key rules… Response to our outreach more than doubled when we opened with our mission, optimized for F-shaped scanning, and cut our email length in half!

1. Lead with the "reciprocity principle"

Sincere, personal invitations increase the likelihood of reply. Social psychologists call this the reciprocity principle.

Our subject line seeks connection, not transaction. We tailor the opener to Emuye's expertise, without being overly familiar. And we don't bury the lede; the opportunity is captured in the very first line.

Just as importantly, the email came directly from our co-founder, Vivek — inviting Emuye to connect with a key decision-maker.

Writing Tip: Tighten greetings and delete apologetic openers. ("I hope you don't mind me emailing…" They do mind, now you've put the idea in their head!)

2. Optimize for "F-shaped scanning"

Your recipient isn't reading — they're performing "F-shaped scanning".

You've already loaded vital information up top. Now write bullet points to match their F-shaped scanning.

What should you include?

  • Highlight the company's wins and wows!

  • Then answer the 5 Ws (who, what, where, why, when) to pre-empt possible questions.
Writing Tip: Assume impatience — so capture the opportunity and company mission succinctly. We sometimes add "[read time: 43 secs]" to subject lines, to assure recipients of a quick read!

3. Edit down to <100 words

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead," Mark Twain famously wrote.

It's true: writing concisely is incredibly difficult. But it's worth the effort. Emails between 75 and 100 words achieve the highest response rates.

Writing Tip: Writing less means writing more! Rewrite each sentence 3 times, making it shorter in each draft.

Automating cold emails

Once you get the hang of how to write cold emails, the next step is making it easier to send them. With a tool like Superhuman, you can make sending outreach emails easier and perfectly timed.

Get started with Superhuman

Email templates

If you're thinking, "But you just told me to always write customized outreach emails," you'd be right. Email templates (or Snippets in Superhuman), allow you to store pre-written templates which you can then customize for each of your emails.

The structure of your email doesn't always have to change, but the specifics do — that's why Superhuman makes it incredibly fast to personalize emails with names, and even attachments and other recipients in the CC field!

Undo send

We've all been there: we press "send", and not a microsecond later we realize we forgot to attach a file, include that all-important link, or give the day and time of the meeting.

If you're in marketing or journalism, an email with typos can damage your brand. If you're in recruiting, spelling a candidate's name wrong (or calling them by the wrong name altogether!) can harm your credibility and ruin goodwill.

Those email whoopsies are why it's invaluable to undo sending cold email. Otherwise, you'll make the opposite of a good first impression. Superhuman's Undo Send feature allows you to avoid these costly mistakes.

Schedule send and Remind Me

Another game-changer when sending out cold emails is scheduling them for a later date and time. This can be particularly helpful if you're working late and don't want the recipient to know you were up at 4:04 AM…  Instead, schedule your email to go out at 8:15 AM, when they'll be getting ready to start their day and more likely to read it. In Superhuman, you can even schedule a send for different time zones, without having to calculate them yourself.

Scheduling reminders can be just as helpful. In Superhuman, you can schedule reminders to follow up on your outreach emails if you don't hear back within a week, or a fortnight.

You're ready to send powerful outreach emails

At Superhuman, we are building the fastest email experience in the world — part of our wider mission to help everyone feel happier, more productive, and closer to achieving their potential. Sign up now!