10 Reasons Your Cold Sales Emails Aren’t Working (and How to Fix Them)

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Email marketing remains one of the most profitable platforms and marketing strategies to invest in, whether you’re sending warm sales emails or cold sales emails. 

Email return on investment for marketers chart

Think email is dead because of lack of results? You might just need a tweak in strategy.

A quick refresher, and so we can clearly define how we use these terms in the article: Warm sales emails are those sent to leads who opt in to your email list and likely agree to receive emails from your business.

On the other hand, cold sales emails are those sent to cold leads. These leads might not have opted in to receive your sales emails; however, if you found the right leads with proper sales prospecting, they may be the most qualified anyway.

This article isn’t out to answer which one is better. After all, different businesses benefit from different strategies. And sometimes it boils down to how well your business implements your chosen strategies.

For businesses that prefer to use cold sales emails, it may be for efficiency. Building up an email list of warm subscribers takes time and effort, and could require a different skill set. For example, in order to get those subscribers, a company might need to invest in content marketing—such as blog writers or content strategists—rather than email copywriters. 

They might also choose emailing cold leads over warm ones because of efficiency. Yes, you might need to find hundreds, if not thousands, of email addresses in order to get your desired results from cold emailing, however if those hundred or thousands of leads are qualified, it could mean a much shorter sales cycle.

With warm leads, you may need to take some time to nurture them before they’re ready to convert by sending them different kinds of emails before you even make the pitch—unlike with cold emails whose entire purpose is to close a sale from the get-go.

If you’re wondering why your cold email campaigns might not be working, let’s take a look at why.


What are the average open rates and response rates for cold emails? Data for 2021

Of course, if we’re going to look at whether or not your cold sales emails are actually working, we need to check out how your average cold email campaigns compare to the benchmarks out there.

Note of caution about benchmarks: Because cold emails work differently than typical warm email marketing campaigns, it would be best to take any of these benchmarks with a grain of salt. Benchmarks make sense about 99 percent of the time, but there are always rare exceptions to any given metric.

With that said, let’s take a look at some data.

GMass looked at the average data of thousands of cold emails sent from their platform. What they found was that the average cold email response rate hovers at around 1 percent to -5 percent.

It’s important to note, however, that when GMass looked at individual companies, it found that some businesses could reach response rates over 25 percent, while others may get even less than 1percent.

Take a minute to review your average response rates from your last cold email campaign. Are you part of the group that might not be hitting that even 1 percent response rate?

Whether you are or are looking to improve your cold sales email performance, we want to shed some light on 10 different reasons why your cold sales emails aren’t converting the way you want.


10 Reasons Your Cold Sales Emails Aren’t Converting 

Let’s take a look at 10 different mistakes you might be making that are harming your cold emails. And after you learn what they are, we make some recommendations about how to fix them so you’re well on your way to boosting your cold sales email responses and conversions.


1. Sending out canned email templates 

Did you know that the average professional receives about 120 new emails per day? Many of these emails likely come from colleagues, managers or clients and stakeholders. But we can make an educated guess that this number includes more than a few cold sales emails.

There’s often one glaring problem that makes sure recipients don’t even bother opening these cold emails.

Yaniv Masjedi⁩, Marketing Head at Aura shares the problem when he says, “The amount of unsolicited cold emails I get these days has quadrupled in the last year or so. The funny part is that you can see the people sending these did very little research about me, and in turn they all usually read like spam.”

Using canned email templates—or copy-pasting the exact same email—to hundreds, if not thousands, of emails is one of the biggest issues that could be hurting your cold sales emails.

We’re sure you’ve gotten an email that fits the bill. It’s not exactly spam; but it’s written to be vague, not very personalized and more than a little annoying.

One thing must be said: It’s not wrong to use canned templates. They definitely have their purpose, especially for sending out specific emails from client interview questions to job inquiry responses and the like. 

However, part of proper relationship-building email outreach is taking time to personalize your sales email templates to make sure it hits the right notes.

How to fix this issue

  • Take the extra time to research more information about your cold leads. Understand their business and their personal responsibilities for their job so you can tailor more personalized emails.
  • If you use email marketing software to automate cold email distribution, you can input personalized data or information you find. Variables like their job position and company name can make your targeted cold email seem more personal and sincere, as long as you’re reaching the right leads.

2. Your cold emails aren’t reaching the inbox 

Statista found that, as of March 2021, about 45.1 percent of all emails are spam. While this sounds alarming, these rates are much lower than recent years—in 2019, spam email rates peaked to nearly 60 percent.

This could mean that fewer spam emails are being sent. That, partnered with another possibility: Email providers like Yahoo or Gmail are flagging and blocking more emails.

As these automated spam filters get more advanced, it’s possible that cold emails land in the spam folder, never to be read by its intended recipient.

To make things more complex, for businesses that rely on tracking data like open rates of their emails via email marketing software, there are new updates to iOS 15 that can skew the data. As Apple’s recent update suggests, tracking whether or not a subscriber has opened an email is no longer an option if a user opts out of this measure.

How to fix this issue

  • Adjust expectations about open rates if using a third-party email marketing service to send mass emails. It might take a while before you can make realistic adjustments in your forecasts, but note that any changes from Apple, Google or Yahoo ought to influence your metrics tracking.
  • Write emails like a human to avoid hitting spam folders.
  • Only include links when absolutely necessary, as links within emails are more likely to end up in spam or promotions. 

3. Your subject headline is MEH! 

One element that could help boost your cold sales emails’ performance is your subject line. After all, this is the first thing recipients will see when they open their inboxes. If they see a strong subject line they’re more likely to be interested to open your email and read its contents.

For warm sales emails, it’s often okay to have creative subject lines. For example, many companies use questions—e.g. “Is this you?” or “What do you think?”—or short curiosity-inducing phrases—e.g. “Sorry” or “We did it”—to compel warm subscribers to open their emails.

For cold sales emails, it takes a little more effort. Remember that you’ll be sending these emails to people who haven’t opted in to your list. Create subject lines that are clear and straightforward, but also elicit some kind of curiosity.

How to fix this issue

  • Create a list of different subject lines you can test in your cold sales email campaigns. 
  • Whenever possible, use A/B testing features to test different subject line versions at the same time for best results.
  • Make it a habit to change up subject lines from time to time, regardless of your use of email marketing software. Evaluate the results of each campaign and make intelligent guesses from the data you collect.

4. Your email copy is too pushy 

Getting people to open your cold email is one thing, but actually getting them to read through and respond is another.

After you’ve taken the time to create a great subject line that has cold leads opening your emails, how are you hooking them enough to stay interested in what you have to say? And how do you encourage them to take things to the next step if they’re interested in trying your product or service?

Some marketers and sales teams make the mistake of writing their cold sales emails to be too pushy. While this tactic seems like it’s a way to be persuasive, it’s not.

Pushy emails do end up pushing readers, alright, but it’s pushing them away. When you appear too pushy in emails, recipients may get the impression that you’re unprofessional, desperate, or both.

How to fix this issue

  • Practice the art of clear, persuasive email copywriting. Note that there may be a few tweaks you need to do to perfect cold sales email writing compared to writing to a warm audience.
  • Get other team members to do a read-through. Ask colleagues to read through your drafts and ask them for their thoughts and opinions about how your copy comes across.

5. They don’t have a clue who you are 

Another big mistake that could be killing your cold sales emails’ performance is the fact that email recipients just don’t know who you are.

People might open your email and read through the content, but then determine they have no idea who is reaching out to them, so they aren’t very likely to respond or engage. Worse, they may think it’s some sort of spam email, especially if the other mistakes above have been committed as well.

While it’s important to write clear, straightforward email copy, there should also be some effort to introduce yourself. Tell prospects who you are and why that might mean something in your reaching out to them.

How to fix this issue

  • Take a quick moment in your email to write about who you are and the company or products or opportunities you’re presenting.
  • If possible, take some time before sending your cold sales emails to develop relationships with leads via other means. You might connect via LinkedIn or social media to get on their radar before you hit them up in their inbox.

6. It’s all about you 

On the other hand, maybe your cold sales emails are too much about you. Prospects don’t need a paragraph explaining your company history—all they need is enough information about who you are and why you’re reaching out in order to make a decision about responding or not.

As tempting as it is to talk a lot about you, your work or your business—or even your long list of achievements—understand that you will lose people’s interest if that’s the majority of your email.

Your cold sales email has an objective, and that is to try and convert cold leads into paying customers. You’re not trying to pitch yourself for a press feature, so prospects only need to know just enough information about the person and the business reaching out to them.

How to fix this issue

  • If your cold sales emails have too many paragraphs about you, your business or your products, it’s time to remove these sections and convey the same information in one or two sentences.
  • Make your email more about the benefits for your prospect. Let them think, “What do I get out of this offer?” After introducing yourself, mention what you want from prospects and how they might proceed if they’re interested.

7. You’re emailing the wrong person 

Sometimes it’s not the content of your sales emails. Sometimes it’s not your subject line.

Instead, it’s whom you’re emailing.

Cold emails can already be tricky enough, but if you aren’t emailing the right person your efforts are going to be wasted.

Depending on the type of products you’re offering, you may have to deal with more than one decision-maker. If it’s a marketing manager who needs to make the decision about whether or not your product or offer is right for their team, sending an email to the marketing assistant might not be your way in.

How to fix this issue

  • Do your due diligence about your cold prospects. Understand how their business might be set up and try to learn who is in what position at the company. This way, you can find the most qualified prospects and reach out to them so your email is reaching the right person every time.
  • Include a short note in your emails about helping you reach the right decision-maker, if needed. Some emails will ask recipients to forward their email or provide the right email address of the person who might be most qualified to handle the request or pitch.

Search less. Close more.

With Crunchbase’s verified contact data and email integration, you can find and engage the right decision-makers at the right time–all in one platform.


8. You’re not testing your emails 

Albert Einstein was the one who said that doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Same goes for cold sales emails. 

If you send the same unsuccessful cold email campaign that’s gotten no sales over and over again, you may be wasting valuable time and resources.

This is where the importance of testing your emails comes in. We’ve already mentioned a couple of things you can test: from subject lines down to the copy itself. But if you want to truly make the most of your cold sales email efforts, you’ll want to always be testing to find the best fit.

How to fix this issue

  • Make a list of different elements you can test in your cold sales email campaigns. These might be templates, copy options, subject lines, calls to action and the like.
  • Invest in tools that allow you to A/B test emails.
  • Review your campaigns’ performances as you test different elements. Continue to test to get the best results, and use your top-performing variations against new tests.

9. You’re not following up 

When you first start sending out cold emails, expect that not very many people will respond. Cold leads often need a lot more engagement and priming before they take action.

This is where following up becomes a must.

It may seem tedious, and it seems like a lot of effort for what feels like very little result. However, we want to share a case study from another company that did some cold emailing, and then followed up with prospects a few times.

Ambition.com is a software development company that creates programs to help increase employee productivity. It set a goal to get 73 new leads via cold emailing. To meet its goal, they figured they would have to email about 600 prospects, which garnered a response rate of 1 percent.

While this is generally the average you might expect from a cold email campaign, Ambition took things further by using follow-up emails that increased their response rates to about 12.6 percent. 

The beauty of doing follow ups is you might already be reaching the right prospects, but following up with them just ensures that you could be reaching them at the right time, when they’re more willing to engage with your email and send a response.

How to fix this issue

  • Make a plan to do two or three more follow-up emails after your initial cold email. You might set this up as an autoresponder in your email marketing software.
  • Make each follow-up email succinct but engaging. No need to rewrite your entire email. It could be enough to just ask if your prospect has seen your first pitch.
  • As usual, test these follow-up emails to see which might get the best response rates. Test your copy to see how you might encourage people to go back to your first email and actually take action.

10. You’re nagging your leads 

On the other hand, you might take following up too far and are just downright nagging your leads. While not following up is a terrible habit, following up too much that you’re being borderline annoying is not a good strategy either.

Instead, practice the art of knowing exactly how many times it may be worth following up with a lead—and know when it’s appropriate.

For instance, you might follow the recommended rule to follow up with prospects anywhere between two and seven times, but following up every day or every couple of  days can rub prospects the wrong way.

Follow-ups, to truly be effective, require the right timing to work. It’s not enough to email your leads nearly daily. It takes some patience to be able to get the results you want, and annoying your leads is not the right way to go.

How to fix this issue

  • Space out your follow-up emails so you’re only following up about once a week or further apart.
  • Make sure your follow-up emails get creative. Sometimes you might want to send leads new data or case studies or introduce them to new angles with which to consider your proposals.
  • Know when to call it quits. Sometimes a lead, no matter how qualified, just isn’t meant to be. Know when it’s time to stop following up, even if for a while, and commit to finding more cold prospects down the road.

Key Takeaways

Sending cold sales emails can be a daunting and time-consuming task for any business. But when you make these common mistakes, you might be wasting even more time and resources. Follow the tips above to help make sure you’re avoiding these common cold sales email mistakes and get on the path to writing emails that convert.

Kevin Payne is a content marketing consultant who helps software companies build marketing funnels and implement content marketing campaigns to increase leads.

  • Originally published December 27, 2021, updated January 10, 2022