I haven't written about email marketing in a while, so here goes. Earlier today, a reader forwarded a  cold email that illustrates a emailing technique that seems effective but which actually reduces the likelihood that you'll get a response.

Here's the beginning of the cold email with names changed:

From: Kat Jones [mailto:kjones.mktg@outlook.com]
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2018 12:15 AM
To: Jon Dee jdee@deeco.com
Subject: Phone Meeting on Monday, Jdee

Hello Jdee,
I'm trying to get in touch with you to see if there is a mutual fit between our company expertise and your goals around sales prospecting strategies...

The most obvious problem with this cold email is that the email marketing app is grabbing the first part of the prospect's email and treating it as the prospect's first name. This flags the email as SPAM and almost guarantees a delete.

However, even if that programming error is fixed, this cold email would still get a chilly reception. The reason? The subject line tries to trick the prospect into opening the email by disguising itself as part of an ongoing conversation.

This is called a "bait and switch" subject line.

In this case, the "bait" implies that the prospect has already committed to a meeting and even identifies a specific day when that meeting was supposed to take place. Seeing this, prospects might easily think they've forgotten an appointment and thus open the email.

The "switch" is a sales pitch.

While I don't have specific statistics on this specific subject line, I've seen a couple of studies showing that a similar technique--using just the subject line "RE:"--has a very high open rate. Marketers use bait and switch to get their open rates up.

However, the true measurement of the effectiveness of a cold email isn't how many prospects open an email, but how many prospects read and respond to the email. 

In my experience, "bait and switch" subject lines do indeed get relatively high open rates (compared to the number of emails sent) but they also get correspondingly low response rates (compared to the number of emails opened).

There are three reasons for the poor performance of such emails.

First, prospects get annoyed and resentful when they think they're opening an email that contains something relevant and instead get a sales pitch.

Case in point: the reader who sent me the cold email was so annoyed that he wrote a detailed complaint which I'll include in the next issue of my free newsletter. For now, here's how he started his response:

"Your email below is the most frustrating one I've received in quite some time."

So, while the cold email in question did get a response in this case, it wasn't at all the response that the marketer wanted.

Second, pulling "bait and switch" is starting the relationship with a lie. Most prospects are predisposed to mistrust salespeople anyway. They aren't likely to respond to (much less by from) somebody they now mistrust even more.

Third and finally, sending one-size-fits-all cold emails to a list of prospects is SPAMming, plain and simple. People hate being SPAMmed and resent people and companies who SPAM them.

Which leads us to the two overriding rules of email marketing:

  1. Only send mass emails to people who have subscribed to your list.
  2. If you must send cold emails, carefully customize each email to match each individual recipient.
Published on: Jan 12, 2018