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How to Catch the Attention of People with High Demands on Their Time

The ability to convert cold emails into conversations is an important skill that I am slowly learning…

Jack Mara     |     Sep 19, 2015


Mind blowing revelation – a warm introduction is better than a cold introduction. But what happens when you can’t get a warm introduction? For us early career folks, no matter how great our network, there are many people that sit outside of it. The only way to connect is to go in cold. The ability to catch the attention of a person who is difficult to reach is an extremely important skill. In the entrepreneur world it is vital to your ability to sell, partner and raise capital. Over the last month I spent a lot of time cold emailing, I do not see this changing anytime soon. I sucked at it at first, I am probably still bad, but I am getting better and learning.

For some, looking to reach person with role ‘X’ at company ‘Y,’ the first step is simply trying to figure out who it is you want to reach. Most of the time this information is available with a quick search of LinkedIn. If not, call the general company number and explain who you are trying to reach – sometimes they will tell you, not always. Sleuthing for information with a cold call is a nice little skill, I’m not great at it.

Once you know who you are trying to reach, you need to figure out their email address. You can do this by asking a connection that works at the company or just searching for the companies email format. You may need to try a couple of options. By the way, this is a lot of effort to find just one email address. Repeating this process over and over again every single day is a big part of my life right now. This is part of the unglamorous side of entrepreneurship, trust me it is not fun.

Now you have the email address, how do you get the person to respond? Again, I am not great at this yet by I am getting better. Here are a couple things I learned:

  1. The email needs to be very short. This is so obvious, but I still initially insisted on ensuring the receiver had a full picture, as if my offering was some special exception to the rule.

  2. My ‘ask’ used to be to demo our offering. I changed it to “can we speak for 15 minutes so I can introduce myself and see if there is a potential fit.” This is quick, not as salesy and less of a commitment. I generally can convert a high amount of these conversations to a demo.

  3. You need to hit a cord with a problem they are experiencing. In an initial email it is more important to communicate that you can solve one of their pressing problems than it is to communicate how you do it. If they believe there is a chance you can solve a major problem, they will give you 15 minutes to explain how.

  4. My mentor told me this – a great subject line for a cold email is “Intro” – he was right.

You need to catch the person’s attention in the email. They are not going to respond to a boring vanilla email. This piece is very difficult, this is something I have not fully cracked. I often try to start with the problem I am trying to solve. This seems intuitive but it is difficult to know what problems a specific individual in a company considers most pressing. You are essentially guessing and hoping the problem resonates.

If you are networking and picked out a specific person you can personalize the email. For example, reference media appearances, published work or a particular initiative they spearheaded. I had a little success starting the email with a joke. This is a dangerous move (and you risk looking unprofessional) but it certainly catches people’s attention.

Regardless, the most important thing is follow up. Be persistent. Your first email will likely get ignored, your second and third probably will as well. I follow up once a week. I am committed to doing that until people either say they are not interested or speak with me. If your approach is not working you need to try another approach. Do not fall in love with your initial template. You need to iterate until you find an approach that works. If it is not working, convincing yourself that it will work with the next batch of emails is stupid. Trust me, I tried. You need to change it up. If I have a particular good conversation with someone I connected with through cold emailing I sometimes ask what grabbed their attention, what made them willing to speak with me. This is really useful intel.

Once the answer was, I agreed to a call because I was really confused about your offering. So there is a strategy…be so confusing that people speak with you just to figure out what the hell is going on!

Written by Jack Mara - Please submit all responses to jackmara@10Thoughts.com

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