Even with the incredible popularity of social media, streaming videos, voice search, and personal assistants, email marketing -- along with its decades of history -- continues to be a compelling way to achieve measurable business goals.

This, of course, makes the critical leap of faith that email marketing adds value to its recipients and that basic email marketing best practices are adhered to.

Given that, one of the most common questions I get is, “Can you send out cold emails to get qualified leads?”

Yes and no. Effectively sending cold emails for generating leads done right is no easy feat. Let’s start with the basics.

Inbound Methodology Framework

Pioneered by HubSpot, the Inbound Methodology helps you connect the dots, or more aptly, spin the flywheel, so you can:

  • Attract (the right people)
  • Engage (with those people in a way that educates and builds trust, so they eventually purchase)
  • Delight (your customers, so they become positive brand ambassadors, promoters, and evangelists -- which helps the flywheel turn faster)


With that in mind, email marketing tends to be most effective when used to Engage with know contacts or leads that already know of your company and brand, as well as to Delight existing customers with additional context, content, and resources that show them how to get more value from your products and services.

Sending cold emails can attract (the right people) who could become qualified leads. But the question is, should cold emails be used to attract strangers? And if you insist on sending out cold emails, are there best practices that increase the likelihood of successful lead generation without self-inflicted brand damage.

Buyer’s Journey Framework

Even nearly identical people in the same customer segment or buyer persona will have different needs and wants -- depending on where each person is in the journey from strangers to buyers.

The buyer’s journey is the active research process someone goes through when first surfacing a problem that person needs to solve or a goal that person is trying to achieve -- through to when that person ultimately makes their purchase.

Buyer’s journeys typically have three distinct phases:

  • Awareness (expressing and experiencing symptoms of a challenge or goal to achieve)
  • Consideration (clearly defined name to the challenge or goal; and comparing different approaches)
  • Decision (decided on solution or approach, and evaluating various products, services, and companies)


All too often, when sending cold emails, the copywriter or sales development rep is trying to take the recipient from a complete stranger (pre-Awareness) and accelerate them into a bona fide Consideration-stage sales opportunity. This premature obsession with begging for a 15-minute meeting is what dooms many a cold email campaign, as it’s akin to proposing marriage on a first date.

Instead, more successful cold email campaigns focus on generating awareness- (primarily) and consideration-stage leads (sometimes) rather than insisting on a one-on-one meeting or demo when the prospect knows nothing about you, your company, and your products/services.

In the Awareness and Consideration stages of the buyer’s journey, effective cold emails would typically promote downloadable content such as eBooks, checklists, reports, or white papers --- as well as upcoming events, such as webinars.

Sending Better Cold Emails

Most people are **not** lying awake at 2:00 a.m., worried that they won’t get enough cold emails in their inbox during the upcoming day. Generally, it’s the opposite sentiment; why the heck do these people keep flooding my email inbox with their junk emails?

And even when executed flawlessly, cold emails can still cause a lot of collateral damage to your brand, prevent legit emails from getting through to your customers’ inboxes because of your email sender reputation, and even expose you to potential legal liability. (Strong disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. For legal advice on sending cold emails that are specific to your company’s location, business model, and tech stack, consult a qualified lead advisor in your local area.)

Best Practices

  1. Invest in customer insight research to create detailed buyer personas to know what kind of content is likely to be well-received with certain kinds of prospects and customers.
  2. Segment your lists in your CRM or marketing automation platform, so you can quickly identify smaller segments of your larger list based on (a) who the list members are (buyer persona) and (b) where each person is in their buyer’s journey with your firm (buyer’s journey stage or lifecycle stage)
  3. Review recipient’s LinkedIn profiles to look for something hyper-relevant you can anchor your email messaging to
  4. Keep your message super-short, focused on adding value to your reader (rather than begging for attention), and generally all about them; their goals, challenges, and potential opportunities.

What’s your strategy for sending more effective and less-loathed, cold emails? Let me know in the comments below.

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