The Ultimate Cold Email Guide

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Pop quiz. What is the first goal of any cold email?

To get it read.   

Makes sense, right?

So what’s the primary goal of your first sentence?

The surprisingly simple answer is…to get the second sentence read.

Each line of a cold email must persuade the reader to read the next one, all the way through to your close.

Good news: There’s a proven formula for that.

For years copywriters have used basic scientific principles of persuasion and influence to come up with a number of writing techniques that reliably draw readers into their content. These formulas just plain work  – and can stop people in their tracks and compel them to read your cold email.

Below are the nine best formulas we’ve come across, as seen in real-world cold email examples from Yesware sales reps and others. Give them a try and see how they might improve your reply rates.

1. Before-After-Bridge (BAB)

Before — Here’s your world now

After — Imagine what the world would be like if you solved this problem

Bridge — Here’s how to get there

Open by describing a problem that is relevant to your prospect, and then describe how the world would be different if that problem didn’t exist. Close by explaining how your product/idea/service can help them get there.

Why it works: According to behavioral psychologists, humans are motivated to take action by two things: pleasure and pain. The BAB formula uses this universal trigger to compel readers to respond.

Example: Here’s an email that was sent our way by a rep  (real name changed) from Xactly.


2. Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS)

Problem — Identify a pain point

Agitate — Agitate that pain point

Solve — Offer a solution

Instead of imagining life without the problem (the “After” stage), PAS calls out the dangers in the road from point A to B and explains how your product is the weapon they need to win.

Why it works: Because pain is even more motivating than pleasure. People want to avoid hassle, problems, and unnecessary burdens.



3. But You Are Free

You’re looking at one of the most effective persuasion techniques out there. Make a request and then tell your prospect “but you are free” to do whatever they’d like.

Why it works: If you give someone a way out, it will double the chance that they say yes. This practical persuasion tactic is supported by 42 psychological studies on over 22,000 people.



4. Star-Chain-Hook

Star — The big idea

Chain — A series of facts, sources, reasons, and benefits

Hook — The call to action

Introduce your idea with an attention-grabbing opening. Create a chain of supporting facts, sources, and benefits to build credibility and transform attention into interest. Then, hook them with a call to action that makes it easy to take the desired next step.

Why it works: The key element in this cold email formula is the chain. By introducing proof points that lend credibility to your argument, you have a better shot at convincing someone to follow through.

Example: This cold email was sent to us by someone (real name changed) at Conga Composer.

Star_-_Chain_-_Hook v2

5. Attention – Interest – Desire – Action (AIDA)

Attention — Grab the reader’s attention.

Interest — Make it personal to engage their interest.

Desire — Build desire for what you’re offering.

Action — Ask for a response.

Why the cold email example below works: 

  1. Attention: The opening line pulls the reader in by referencing a tweet she had sent earlier that day.
  2. Interest: It piques her interest by providing a reason why she should engage.
  3. Desire: Classic FOMO. The fear of missing out on something increases our desire for it.
  4. Action: There’s clear direction on what she should do after reading the email.


Want to try two formulas to see which works best? Save templates, get reporting. 

6. Star-Story-Solution

Star — The main character in your email. It could be you, your prospect, a product, etc.

Story — Talks about how the star faces the same problem your market does.

Solution — An explanation of how the star wins in the end.

Why it works: When we read a story, our brain acts as if we’re living it.

That’s because the brain does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life. In each instance, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

Used in a cold email, stories help your reader quickly wrap their head around the idea you’re to sell them. You’ll engage their attention and create an emotional connection that makes it easier to reply.

Example: This is the honest-to-goodness email I used two years ago to land a job at Yesware. The rest is history.

Yesware_cover_letter v2

7. The Reader’s Digest Model

In 1961, legendary copywriter John Caples analyzed Reader’s Digest to find its secrets for hooking readers in the opening paragraph. He found that the most-successful articles:

  • Are fact-packed
  • Are concise
  • Are specific
  • Contain few adjectives
  • Arouse curiosity

Why it works: A compelling introduction makes the difference whether your email gets a reply or passed over.

Example: This email from Yesware Business Development Associate, Dakota McKenzie, used many of these key elements to grab his prospect’s attention. (It also made a lasting impression.)

Reader_s_Digest_Formula v3

8. The 3-B Plan

Brevity — Keep it short

Blunt — Get to the point

Basic — Keep it simple

From Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout, this cold email technique is similar to the Reader’s Digest model, giving the reader a clear sense of who you are and what you want from them. He adds this key element: Be blunt.

Being blunt doesn’t mean not being persuasive, it simply means getting to the point without trying to be clever. Stories and jokes are essential for other forms of writing, but NOT for emails. Get to the incentive on why the other person should respond right away.

Why it works: Studies show that shorter emails result in quicker response time. If you make someone actually think about what you’re asking, it’s just another item on their to-do list.


9. Praise-Picture-Push (3P’s)

Praise — Open with a sincere, respectful compliment

Picture — Use cause-and-effect reasoning to paint a picture describing how your product/service/idea will deliver

Push — Ask them to commit

Why it works: The “3P” cold email formula is rooted in psychology.

  1. Praise — To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as receiving cash.
  2. Picture — Studies show that when a person explains cause-and-effect, it builds trust and lends more weight to their argument.
  3. Push — Explain some, but not all, of what the reader will get if they respond. It’s what we don’t know that makes us want to investigate, discover, and agree to learn more.


PPP final

Bottom Line: You Don’t Have To Reinvent The Wheel Every Time

These copywriting formulas have been tested and proven to mesmerize, captivate, and persuade all types of audiences. Find a formula that works with your prospects, and save it as a cold email template to reuse when you need it.

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