Cold Emails That Get Replies: Simple 4-Step Framework

Few tools are as essential to B2B marketing success as email.

Sure, in the old days, all you’d need is a phone, a stocked Rolodex, and 6 cups of coffee to be closing sales left and right. But today, business is done over email. And when you do it right, it’s the absolute most efficient way to turn cold contacts into hot leads.

So what happens when your cold emails aren’t getting the response rates you’re looking for? Do you just send out more of the same? Spamming the market and hoping the numbers play out?

Or do you switch things up? And do you use a strategic, targeted approach to creating cold emails that actually work?

This guide focuses on the latter (and far better) solution. Inside, you’ll learn how cold email has changed, the proven four-step framework to cold email success, and how you too can build a lead-generating machine with cold email.

What Is Cold Email? 

Let’s start with the basics—what is cold email anyway?

Similar to cold calling, cold email (or introductory sales email) is when you reach out to prospects using—you guessed it—email.

These aren’t warm prospects, though. Instead, they haven’t shown direct interest in your products. They may not have even heard of your company before. They’re “cold” leads, not “warm” ones.

Cold email campaigns can become your most valuable lead generation channel when implemented strategically.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this guide.

Cold Email Stats for B2B Marketers

Before we jump into the specifics, let’s look at a few statistics on cold email.

  • People spend an average of 2.5 hours each day checking emails (Adobe).
  • The return on investment (ROI) of email marketing is an unheard of 38 to 1 (Litmus).
  • The generally accepted measure for email campaign success is an open rate of 15%-25% (Campaign Monitor).
  • When it comes to lead nurturing, 31% of B2B marketers say email newsletters are the most effective (Content Marketing Institute).
  • Email is one of the top free organic distribution channels for 87% of B2B marketers (Content Marketing Institute).
  • Email is the primary customer acquisition channel for 81% of small to medium businesses (SMBs). And 4 out of 5 SMBs use primarily email for customer retention (Emarsys).

It’s clear emails work for marketers and businesses alike. But are cold emails the same as spam?

Are Cold Emails Spam?

Now, in the world of B2B marketing, there are two main types of cold emails: strategic cold emails and cold email spam.

We’ve all seen the spammy cold emails before. They…

  • Contain overly generic messaging (zero personalization).
  • Have nothing to do with you or your business (lack any relevancy).
  • Seem poorly written with little thought put into it (indicating a lack of effort).
  • Offer no value.

These are not the cold emails covered in this guide. 

Emails like this will hit your prospects spam folder and you'll never stand a chance of getting their attention.

Instead, we’ll be focusing on strategic cold outreach—the kind that relies on research, due diligence, and ultimately, effort.

And as you’ll see, a lot has changed in marketing that’s made spam email marketing virtually unusable (and strategic cold emails infinitely more effective).

How Has the Best Approach to Cold Email Changed?

The world of email has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades.

What was once a rarity in both business and personal life has become practically necessary to function in modern times.

This shift has changed the way we see email and the way we decide (or are told) what to read and what to ignore.

In general, four major changes have made spam emails less effective over the years. And consequently, why a more strategic cold email approach is so necessary.

Relationship Building

As it turns out, it’s taking longer than ever to turn prospects into buyers. According to Demand Gen Report, about 58% of buyers report their decision-making process is becoming longer year over year.

For the B2B industry, in particular, buyers are searching for problem solvers, not just salespeople. So when you craft cold emails that start a conversation rather than try to close a sale, you’re planting the first seed in the relationship-building process.

And for you, that translates into better, more ready-to-buy leads.

Spam Filters

In 2016, Statista reported that nearly 60% of all emails were spam. In 2008, a whopping 92.6%. Since then, spam filters have become significantly better at sending messages straight to the junk file. And in 2019, it’s estimated that just 28.5% of emails are spam (a sign marketers are catching on).

Even still, some filters are notoriously hard to get around. And that means your spammy email may not even be reaching your intended target.

If you're sending unsolicited emails of little value, you're going to end up in spam.

Overabundance of Emails

According to Statista, there were 306.4 billion emails sent and received each day in 2020. That’s expected to grow to 33.2 billion per day in 2022. With so many emails coming in and out each day, your prospects are only going to click on the ones that stand out as genuine—why would they waste their time with spam?

Valueless Content

Last but certainly not least, spam emails typically don’t offer any real value. And since users have so many emails to sift through at a moment’s notice, we’ve gotten particularly good at parsing out the “cream” of our inbox from the (let’s face it) crap.

The quicker and more precisly you can communicate value, the more likely you’ll score an “open” from a lead.

The Strategic Cold Email Framework


Spam sucks. And bad emails don’t get opened. That much is clear.

But how do you get great open rates from your cold emails? How do you develop effective, strategic introductory sales outreaches that drive real engagement? And how do you steer clear from coming off spammy?

You don't do it with generic cold email templates.

Instead, use the Strategic Cold Email Framework. This easy-to-implement system to create cold sales emails is built on four essential steps:

  1. Get Attention
  2. Demonstrate the Need
  3. Earn Their Trust
  4. Call To Action

A) Get Attention

Perhaps the most crucial step of any cold email outreach campaign is to first get your prospect’s attention. And since it’s so important, we’re going to spend a lot of time on this step in particular.

There’s a right and a wrong way to do this.

On the one hand, you can get your market’s attention through gimmicks. Stupid things. Extreme things. These can grab the eye of your buyer. But this tactic comes with the tradeoff of reducing confidence in your abilities as a solution provider (no one wants to buy from a clown).

The other technique is to grab attention while remaining professional. This, of course, takes a bit more tact to pull off correctly. But when done well, it accomplishes the dual effect of building intrigue and trust.

The problem, however, is that you need to grab attention strategically right off the bat—usually in the subject line of your email. And that means you don’t have a lot of space to work with.

According to Marketo, the cold email subject line length that gets the best response is seven words long—just seven!

So, how do you get attention while still maintaining trust?

The Four-Part Formula for a Perfect Subject Line.

This formula uses four points for maximum open rates and engagement. Let’s look at what’s involved in these four points and some cold email subject line examples that demonstrate each point.

1) Give ‘Em a Hook

Appealing to the reader’s self-interest is always a surefire way of avoiding that delete button. In the subject line below, try to appeal to what matters to them deep down, like Crest does.

Give your kids a fighting chance – Crest

Another great attention-getter is to deliver some exciting news. Headlines that include some of the following power words are great for boosting excitement.

  • New
  • Discover
  • Introducing
  • Announcing
  • Now
  • At last
  • Just arrived

Starbucks shows what the exciting news approach could look like in a subject line.

Discover our new dark roast taste – Starbucks

2) Qualify the Audience

Though short, your subject line goes a long way towards selecting the right audience for what you’re selling. Lead qualification can be a huge time drain. And with the right subject line, you can weed out the right buyers from the wrong ones.

Take the following examples.

  • Is your electricity bill too high? – This is looking for lower-income customers since anyone with any substantial wealth has no idea how much they’re paying each month in electricity bills.
  • Executive briefing for seven-figure entrepreneurs – This narrows down the people that will open the email to business owners turning over more than $1 million.

3) Deliver a Message

Space is limited with your subject line. Plus, many people don’t get past reading the subject line and just a few short sentences of your email before clicking off.

So why not get your message out as early as you can?

Try to include the basic premise of your product or the value you offer directly in the subject line. Then, added to that, put your brand name in there if possible, too. That way, if your prospect only reads the subject line, at least you’re helping boost your brand name recognition for later.

Check out Colgate for a great example.

Early tooth decay can be repaired by Colgate – Colgate Toothpaste

4) Draw the Reader In

Last but not least, try to draw the reader in by hinting at the valuable information inside the email.

“How to” starters are great for this, especially when they play to the most significant pain points your audience is currently facing.

Look to the example below to get ideas.

How to avoid firing people in 6 easy steps…

This email would have a great success rate among HR representatives because it touches on a genuine pain point—the emotionally difficult conversations of firing an employee.

Added to that, it uses the “how-to” structure to build intrigue about what’s inside.

Protip: Try using the five proven cold email subject line structures below for the best results.

The 5 Best Cold Email Subject Line Structure

Below are five time-tested subject line structures that do a great job of getting attention. These structures have sold billions of dollars worth of products over the decades.

  1. Direct Headlines – Direct headlines state the sales proposition directly with no wordplay, hidden meanings, or fancy bits stuck on the end. “The world’s fastest CRM tool – 20% off today” is a headline that is about as direct as you can get.
  2. Indirect Headlines – An indirect headline makes a direct point but in a roundabout way. The subject line for selling an industrial mixing machine could read, “10 million to one, we can mix it.” At first, this sounds like a wager, almost a bet. But then when you look into it a bit deeper, it explains the mixer’s ability to mix two fluids (i.e., we can evenly mix two solutions with 10 million to 1 parts ratios).
  3. News Headlines – This is great if there is some industry news about your product or service. It could be the introduction of a new product, a change in the law or legislation that affects your customers using your product, or something else newsworthy that’s along these lines. For example, “Law [X] has moved on. Has your insurance followed?
  4. How to Headlines – The words “how-to” are magic in email subject lines. “How to” headlines offer the promise of solid information, sound advice, and solutions to problems. For example, “How to reduce your advertising spend in 14 days”.
  5. Question Headlines – To be effective, question headlines must include a question that the person receiving the email will empathize with or love to see answered. Try something like “Is [X] costing you more to operate than it should?” or “Do you have the problem of [X] causing [Y]?

B) Demonstrate the Need

Let’s face it: most people are selfish.

Sure, we keep up the veneer of politeness in the business world. But when it comes down to buying and selling, the most crucial question is, “what’s in it for me?”

That’s why when you’ve nabbed the buyer’s attention, you’ve got to be quick about showing why they need you. What can you offer? And why should they spend their valuable time hearing what you have to say?

Whereas the attention-getter mainly happens in the subject line, this step of the framework should be handled in the body of your cold email. It takes a bit longer to flesh out, so a mere seven words (ideal subject line length) will not do this step justice.

One of the best ways to demonstrate the need and show your value is by using the Reality Gap method. We cover the ins and outs of this method in much greater detail in the Simple Selling Method training workshop, but here’s a general overview.

The Reality Gap Method: A simple yet effective sales technique that:

  1. Acknowledges where the prospect is now (i.e., frustrated with their current software, not hitting sales quotas, etc.).
  2. Shows them where they could be (i.e., working 4X more efficiently, consistently exceeding monthly goals, etc.).
  3. Provides the generalized steps they need to take to get from where they are now to where they could be (i.e., incorporating this new software into their tech stack, implementing these proven sales frameworks, etc.).

This shouldn’t be overly complicated. And in fact, the simpler, the better in most cases. So here’s what it might look like.

Hi [NAME], 

I recently worked with [NAME], he is in the [INDUSTRY] like you. 

Traditional salespeople had failed [NAME]. Here is his story – [LINK TO INSIGHT POST]

He went from zero motivation, to proactively racing to get to his desk each morning to prospect. 

All by implementing proven frameworks to relieve the pressure of choice from his job.

Does it make sense to jump on a quick call to see if you can use these frameworks too? 



Current reality / Desired future reality / Reality bridge

See how that works?

Nothing clever. Nothing funny. Just an accurate prediction of the current reality of the buyer, their desired future reality, and the path to get there.

Protip: You’ll have to start with a hypothesis of what your buyer’s most significant pain points are and go from there. A great jumping-off point is by surveying your current top 10 buyers and ask them the following:

  • Why did they do business with you over everyone else in the market?
  • Why did they respond to your initial outreach?
  • After working with you, what problems did you solve that they didn’t know they had prior?

From there, you can deduce the best pain points to test in the market.

Try gathering four or five to test over the course of 100 or so emails. Then measure how effective each was at generating discovery calls and sales (separately). 

Remember, you’re paid for sales, not meetings. A low response rate might look bad, but if it results in more sales in the end, that’s the route to take. 

C) Build Trust

You’ve got the attention. You’ve explained the value. And if you were a naïve salesperson, you’d think you’ve got this cold email win in the bag.

Not so fast.

You still have to overcome one of the biggest hurdles to selling—building trust.

How does your buyer know you aren’t flat-out lying about what you can offer? What’s to say they aren’t putting their career, professional word, and company at risk by working with you? After all, only 3% of buyers trust what sales reps have to say, according to HubSpot.

And that’s where social proof comes into play.

Social Proof: Social proof is any endorsement from other individuals or organizations attesting to the quality of the service or product you provide. 

Some common forms of social proof include:

  • Written or video testimonials
  • Online or offline reviews (both comments and star ratings included)
  • Credentials and stats about the business (i.e., 1000s of customers served, etc.)
  • Awards or certifications
  • Media coverage
  • Celebrity or expert endorsement

As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as independent and logical thinkers, social opinions have a substantial effect on our decision-making process. And when you add social proof into your cold email strategy, you’re helping buyers overcome that massive hurdle of, “Is this guy for real?”

A few ways you can incorporate this into your emails include mentioning a mutual acquaintance, directing potential buyers to a testimonial page, or popping your credentials into your email signature.

Protip: Make testimonial collection from satisfied clients an automatic part of your process. That way, you can continually gather more social proof that you can use for bringing on more and more clients. 

The process doesn’t have to be complicated either. 

Just send a quick email after you’ve just completed a successful project or when the buyer is thrilled with the delivery of the product. You’ll want them to be as satisfied as possible, of course.

It might look something like this:

Subject: Can you help me out?


Hi [NAME],

I have a quick favor to ask.

Could you write a brief testimonial that I can add to my list of satisfied customers?

I am not looking for a novel or anything—just a few sentences describing your experience with me. Prospective clients do not care so much about what I say about myself, but they do care what my clients have to say.

For an idea of what other clients have written, please click here – [LINK]

All you have to do is simply reply to this email with your testimonial. 

Thanks so much [NAME].

D) Call to Action

Last but not least, it’s time to ask for the meeting.

Again, it’s worth remembering here that you aren’t trying to close the sale with a single email (duh). Instead, you’re getting your prospects thinking about your business. And you’re warming them up so you can move them onto the next step of the buyer’s journey.

It’s essential to close your cold email by actually asking for the meeting. It’s simple to do, too. Just pop the question at the end.

One closing question in particular that works fantastic is “Does it make sense to…” I’ve seen incredible results with this strategy. It’s to the point. Unassuming. And it’s effective.

So putting all the steps of the Strategic Cold Email Framework into a cold email template might look something like this.

Subject: Referral from [NAME] at [COMPANY]: Should we connect?


Hi [NAME],

I was chatting with [NAME] last week, and he said [INDUSTRY] is tough at the moment. 

I told him that we help [INDUSTRY] salespeople close more sales in just 28 days, guaranteed! He was a little shocked… 

That is a bold statement, right? 

Well, we have helped [RELEVANT COMPANY] increase their sales by X% in the past few months. [NAME] their sales manager is dancing on tables right now. 

Does it make sense to jump on a quick call to see if we can increase your sales too? 



The Strategic Cold Email Framework = Get attention > Show their need > Give proof > Call to action

Protip: Don’t spend too much time on creating your email templates—30 minutes or so should do the trick. 

Instead, focus most of your efforts on 1) getting your emails out there and 2) testing and refining those emails. 

You’re much more likely to happen upon an email that works wonders when you can work off the data. And while it might be tempting to spend hours and hours crafting that “perfect” email, you might be wasting more time than necessary. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are just a few of the most frequently asked questions about cold emails in the B2B marketing space.

How Long Should a Cold Email Be?

You don’t want to overload a prospect with way too much detail in your cold email.

Research from HubSpot shows highly effective cold emails should be between just 50 and 125 words.

When Is the Best Time to Send a Cold Email?

CoSchedule analyzed a number of studies and found the following:

  • The best time to send a cold email is at 10 am.
  • The best day to send a cold email is on Tuesday, followed by Thursday (#2) and Wednesday (#3).

That being said, your specific business and industry may differ. Therefore, it’s best to do your own testing to find out when the optimal send time and date are for you.

When & How Do You Follow Up?

This depends on a couple of factors.

If you don’t have email tracking software, you’ll want to give your prospect a day or two to get to your email before following up.

A good rule of thumb is to wait three days and follow up three times.

If you have email tracking or automation software, you should be notified when a prospect opens your cold email. And that means you can follow up quickly after they’ve shown an interest.

I recommend following up early the following day for the best results.

You may want to at first follow up via email and then switch off between phone calls and email after that. A varied approach is the best way to keep you at the top of their mind.

Should I Use Software to Automate?

If this is not your first cold email campaign, then yes—you should use email automation software.

Cold email software can take the hassle out of following up with prospects so no one falls through the cracks. Plus, they usually include features that let you see whether an email has been opened and tracks engagement so you can keep on refining your templates.

It’s no wonder Instapage found that companies leveraging marketing automation software were 2x more effective in lead generation than those using only blast email software.

Wrapping Up

Cold emailing is a fickle beast. If you send out loads of valueless emails and spam the market, you’re bound to see nothing but paltry response rates and agitated replies.

But when you approach cold emailing with a strategic, value-driven method, you’ll be well on your way to creating a sustainable and effective lead generation machine.

This four-step cold email framework is designed to make that journey infinitely more manageable (and shorter). With it, you can capture your audience’s attention, demonstrate your worth, prove your trustworthiness, and drive concrete action—all in a single email.

And for you, that means more leads, better leads, and a monthly sales quota that doesn’t stand a chance.

Table of contents
Get your free book today:
Selling Made Simple
Find and close more sales, like clockwork, using 15 proven, step-by-step frameworks.
100% Free sales skill quiz:
Do you have the 15 traits of high performing sellers?
Learn your strengths and weaknesses in an instant. Don't get left behind.
illustration-web-4 1
Do you have the 15 traits of high performing sales people?
Learn your strengths and weaknesses in an instant. Taken by over 10,000+ of your competitors. Don't get left behind.