Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.

You only get a few seconds and a very limited number of words to win a stranger's trust with a cold email.

This is where "social proof" comes in.

Social proof builds trust by using case studies and customer stories to paint a picture of what it's like to be your customer and why that's valuable. Celebrity endorsements are the classic example of social proof, but you can create trust and credibility in many different ways. For example, you might mention, in what I like to call a "case study line," something like, "We helped triple ACME's sales revenue in just 10 months by fixing bottlenecks in their sales pipeline."

Here's a list of tips for creating compelling social proof that you can use whenever you write a sales email:

  1. Tell a positive story: Paint a picture of how other companies have succeeded because they worked with you. Use details that show how you added value to their lives or solved a particularly cumbersome pain point.
  2. Include numbers: Numbers immediately catch the eye and stand out from all other text in an email. Use exact figures when you have them: "We saved the company $71,850 in project costs" is a lot more specific and believable than just saying, "We saved the company around $70,000 on the project."
  3. Prioritize your audience: Whatever you talk about should reflect the experience a prospective customer is likely to have with you. If you talk about problems your clients have, they should be problems buyers are likely to have or have experienced in the past. Any positive results should also discuss benefits your email recipient will actually care about and find obtainable themselves. Ideally, the potential will sit back and think, "If it worked for them, it could also work for my company."
  4. Be selective: Too many details will make your email long and overwhelming. Stick to one piece of social proof per email, with just a few specific details. Choose an anecdote that clearly illustrates what your company does and how it can provide strong benefits to the prospective customer.
  5. Make the text easy to understand: Use words everyone will understand, which means avoiding all jargon and buzzwords. It often helps to imagine you're writing an email to a great aunt or someone else completely disconnected to your industry.
  6. Name drop: If you can use the names of celebrities, "industry experts," or well-known companies with whom you have a business relationship, do so in a tasteful and relevant way.

How to Use Social Proof Selectively

A word of caution: no social proof in an email is better than poor social proof. If you don't have strong numbers to show, calling them out might hurt your argument. Likewise, outrageously high ones, like a "3666% increase," or vague claims about your customers results can also erode your trust and credibility. Instead, try to paint a picture of what it would be like to work with you, using scenarios and reputable industry statistics.

That said, make it a priority to develop strong social proof with your customers. If you're an early-stage startup, work to build deep relationships with your first customers that will make them strong advocates of your brand, so you can share their success stories to win new business. Likewise, invest in developing strong case studies if you already have happy customers. Not only will it help you close more deals, but you'll also gain a deeper understanding of why people do business with you.
Do you have any favorite tactics for using social proof in your cold emails? I'd love to hear about them.