The One Question Cold Email Template

I send a ton of email. Usually that of the unsolicited kind.

My first foray into cold emailing came during an inside sales stint I did right out of college. Our sales manager made me send 200 cold emails per day...by hand.

It was as terrible as it sounds. I'd leave every shift wondering if I had early onset carpal tunnel syndrome. What made matters worse was that my cold emails were absolute shite. Our reply rates were abysmal and the few leads that got back to me left a simple UNSUBSCRIBE! in the subject line more often than not.

After self-proclaimed sales manager bought a list of 10,000 leads that had a 90% bounce rate, I knew it was time for a change of scenery.

With that experience, I now knew exactly what not to do. Inversion technique for the win! Cold emailing still intrigued me so I began digesting an endless number of blog posts on the topic. Email template listicles, subject line tricks, sequence automation...the list goes on and on.

After much trial an error, I'm now pretty damn good at cold emailing. I leverage it all the time in my growth marketing work and you should too. While cold emailing is only the first step in the success of any outbound campaign, doing it well can unlock so many business opportunities at the fraction of the cost of paid acquisition.

This tweet sums up my thoughts exactly:

This shit just works.

The One Question Cold Email Template

This template is super simple. Here's the setup.

The Subject Line

For the subject line, we're going to use quick question. That's it. This subject line gets me a 70-80% open rate.

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It helps that the body of the email is literally one question. So there's no surprises here for your lead. You can try split testing it for personalization. I didn't see any big gains from my tests.

The Email Body

The key here is to ask one qualifying question. This question, when answered, should give you insight into if they are familiar with your product.

When I did an outreach campaign for Kettle & Fire, my leads consisted of a bunch of independent grocery stores. Since we sell bone broth, I needed to know if they carried it in their store. Here's the body of that email:

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This is an easy question to answer which brings me to my second key point:

Your lead needs to be able to reply with either a yes or no.

Don't get cute with your question and force your lead to think. The more time they spend thinking about what to type, the less chance you'll get a reply.

The third and final key point to this is a little sneaky. To increase reply rates, it helps if your question could be mistaken as coming from a customer. Using my example above, a store might think that my question is from a curious grocery shopper looking for bone broth. If this is their initial thought process that's totally fine. Regardless of their reply, I'm still getting valuable information that I can use in my followup pitch.

So to reiterate, the 3 key points to the email body:

  • Ask one (and only one) qualifying question
  • The question must be answerable with a simple YES or NO.
  • If possible, create a question that could also come from your lead's customers.

The First Reply

Before blasting out emails, you need to setup a reply template. The reply consists of you thanking them for getting back to you plus two short paragraphs. The first paragraph is your pitch. The second paragraph is a question that gets your lead to take a desired action. Let's look at an example.

This first screenshot is a reply from one of my grocery store leads.

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As you can see, I got a hard NO. A novice SDR would stop at this point and move on to the next lead. I love turning a no into a FUCK YES so I used this as my reply.

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I did tweak my original reply template to this lead's response. You'll find yourself doing this as you field different types of responses. If you start seeing the same reply patterns, save as a new template so you don't have to retype each time.

Let's breakdown my tweaked reply:

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Self-explanatory thank you.

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Quick sentence about our company followed by our unique selling proposition and a link to more info. Notice how I positioned us being shelf-stable as it relates to his store. This is admittedly not the best pitch.

To make this even stronger I should change the last bit to say something like, "350+ stores love us because our stuff tastes amazing and they can literally stock us anywhere (unlike other commercial frozen bone broths)." Always iterate on your email templates.

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I should have been a more aggressive here and asked directly if we could send them samples + wholesale pricing. Luckily, my reply still worked.

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After a few more nudge emails, this turned in a new wholesale order from a medium sized grocery chain. Not too shabby.

After sending out this outreach campaign, you'll see responses trickle into your inbox. I found that 1/2 the time they'll click through your email signature and figure out why you sent an email. The ones that are interested get right down to business which allows you to avoid giving the pitch. For the leads that reply with a 'yes' or 'no', simply use your reply template and tweak as needed.

Next Steps

Once you complete a couple outreach sequences, build out an email decision tree to add to your outreach playbook. The decision tree should map out each email response based on the action your lead takes. This will come in handy when you decide to hire on an SDR to do outreach full-time.

Last thought - To truly scale outreach, you must use an email scheduling and tracking tool. I highly recommend Mixmax for this. It'll give your inbox superpowers and is by far the best email scheduling tool I've used.

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Jack Meredith

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