Cold Email Best Practices

March 26, 2021

🌄 SDR Symposium | March, 2021

Last month, our symposium covered cold calling (check that out here if you haven’t already!).

We called it “one of the biggest components of the SDR role.” And since we’re filling out ‘core components,’ you can’t leave out cold calling’s ‘better half’ – cold email.

Cold email has been on the rise over the past few years – partly because of the rise in enablement tools, partly because it’s a really effective way of communicating with your prospects. And if an SDR can master both cold calling AND cold emailing? You’ve got yourself a pretty effective rep.

Stay tuned for the inevitable symposium on social selling – the third component of an effective outbound SDR.

Our training team grabbed 4 email wizards for this month’s recap. They each picked one of their top-performing emails for us to dissect and learn from, all to help our SDRs craft better, more effective messaging.

The Guests


Matt Berman

SDR Team Lead


Shahmir Ansari



Cecilia Underwood



Matt Geary

SDR Team Lead

Check out the highlight video from our Symposium below!

For this symposium, we broke down each email into 4 sections: subject line, opening line/statement, email body, and call to action (CTA). We’ll tackle each email separately, section by section, and then wrap it all up at the end.

Subject Lines

Ah, the humble subject line. A window into the content of your email. If you want your prospect to actually open and read your email, a compelling subject line is almost a necessity. Let’s dive into our panel’s subject lines and see why they picked them, and (more importantly) why they work.

Matt Berman

better in-store execution?

Matt is a big fan of short and sweet subject lines. The less spammy and more casual, the better – that’s why the subject line is all lowercase. It also stands out in his prospect’s inbox, as they usually receive marketing emails with very generic, formatted, subject lines.

Additionally, this subject line allows him to ask a high-level question right off the bat to pique/gauge the interest of his prospect. His goal is to have a high-level conversation to determine fit, so getting them interested in the ground level is step #1.

Shahmir Ansari

Can we connect | [COMPANY NAME]

Shahmir also likes to keep his subject lines short, but he prefers to keep it a bit vague. Ulike Matt, Shahmir doesn’t pitch a solution or piece of technology – it’s a service. So his goal is to just expose the prospect to the possibility of working together.

That being said, he does like to ask a question in his subject line. Like Matt, he’s trying to illicit some type of curiosity from the reader. Have they heard of his company? The name recognition alone should drive opens & engagement, but pairing it with a question has proven to work more effectively for him.

Cecilia Underwood

Meeting Timing? 

Another question! Cecilia, like Matt and Shahmir, likes to toss a question in her subject line. Like Shahmir, it’s vague. But unlike the two of them, she’s keeping it VERY vague. No mention of her company, product, or value. Why?

It’s all psychology. Cecilia keeps her subject line vague, casual, and assumptive because she has a lot of information to work off. The public information available to her means that her ICP is VERY defined, and for her it’s very cut and dry – either the timing is right, or it’s not. She prefers to cut through the noise and get right to the point.

Matt Geary

*STUDY NAME* | Patient recruitment & retention support

Matt differs from the rest of the panel in that his subject lines are very personal. He does some research to find a compelling event or trigger and uses that as the basis for his subject – in most cases it’s a study or trial that the prospect is currently running.

He also adds a value prop – but it’s not just any old value proposition. Based on the persona of the prospect + the type of study they’re running, he picks from a list of his top value props. This shows the prospect that not only has he done his research, but he understands the space really well. That authority and credibility are key for his overall success.

Subject Line Wrap-Up

All in all, our panel had a few key similarities amongst their subject lines that you can learn from.

  • In most cases, keep them short and sweet. The quicker you can relay value, the better – especially with the rise in emails being read on mobile phones,

  • Use open-ended questions to intrigue prospects and pique interest. Get them wanting to read your email by asking good questions.

  • You have to stand out. Tossing in your name, the company name, the client’s name, using weird punctuation (Matt loves the ‘|’ symbol)…you name it, our panel has tried it. If you don’t stand out, your email will never get read.


Moving to the email itself, we start off with an introductory line. Flowing from the subject line to the introduction is key – if there’s a disjointed transition between the two, you’re going to lose interest. But if you can nail that jump, the prospect is going to keep reading…

Matt Berman

I really enjoyed the line on your LinkedIn about {!topic}, so what if you could ensure that {!brand} is reaching as many consumers as possible in stores nationwide, without spending more on brokers or an internal team?

Matt likes to start his intro off with a compliment or some kind of appreciation. It shows the prospect that you’ve done some research AND they think of you in a more positive light. It’s not a full ego-stroke, but it’s similar.

And when it comes to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of this intro, Matt employs a consistent format: ‘Could you do X without Y?’ It gets the prospect thinking about a particular pain point or challenge that his solution is built to solve. Getting them on that thought track has proven to be really effective for his overall responses.

Shahmir Ansari

I went over {!company}’s pipeline with my team and it appears that {!personalization about specific assets and their targets}.

For Shahmir, his intro does what his subject line didn’t – make the email personal. He spends a lot of time researching his prospects & their accounts before reaching out, and he uses the intro to prove that. Showing prospects that he can deliver relevant information isn’t just important, it’s almost a necessity.

Shahmir also noted that his intro is a bit assumptive, and that’s for a good reason. His goal is to qualify whether someone is in market or not with this first touch, and being assumptive lets the prospect self-select whether it’s best to connect now or later. That gives him a better handle on his workload and how to prioritize his accounts.

Cecilia Underwood

Hi {{first_name}},  

With {{prospect}}’s upcoming Phase II plans for {{drug_in_development}}, I was hoping to get a few minutes on your calendar to introduce you to [COMPANY] vision of a virtual, decentralized clinical trial.

Cecilia also leverages assumptions in her intro, but she couples that with existing knowledge. That gives her assumptions a bit of a power-up and adds an air of confidence to her messaging. If you KNOW something is true, don’t beat around the bush.

She also likes to bring up next steps at this time because she’d rather be upfront about her intentions. That honesty resonates with her prospects, especially when it’s coupled with the confident tone she’s using.

Matt Geary

Recently we’ve seen sponsors struggle with recruitment and patient retention. The percentage of oncology patients participating in clinical trials is around 8.1% – this is mainly due to access issues, eligibility restrictions, and patient misconception/failure to reach patients with study information

Matt uses his intro to follow-up on his subject line. The value prop he mentioned is the basis for his whole message, so he expands on it in the intro. This is where he can showcase that authority and credibility to his prospects.

He likes to put some extra research in this section to further hook his prospects. By using statistics and stories he’s able to keep the prospect intrigued while ramping up to his main points.

Intro Wrap-Up

When it comes to the intro of your email our panel agreed on one thing – it HAS to be personalized. If you want to hook someone and get them to read past the beginning of your message, it needs to be specific to them.

You can do this in a few ways – the most common of which is to research your prospect, their industry, and the account overall. Having an understanding of why you’re reaching out will frame the intro in a way that tells the prospect, “this SDR has done their research, and I should keep reading.”


The body of an email is where the real hard-hitting questions and value props live. So far, you’ve been leading your prospect up to this point – this is where you take everything you know (about your solution, the industry, & your prospect) and show your prospect that you have something that can help them.

Matt Berman

Asking because hundreds of large and emerging CPG brands like PepsiCo, HealthAde, and RxBar are partnering with [COMPANY] to do just that. 

Matt leverages customer stories to help hammer home the point he made in his intro. Tying together his process with some customer references only reinforces the credibility & authority he’s built, and it gives the prospect some examples as proof.

Plus, his email reads as one coherent thought. Each section flows into one another, so when read in totality it’s very casual & well-composed. So far, he hasn’t done anything but introduce his prospect to his company and the challenges they solve – much like you would if you were telling a friend what your product does.

Shahmir Ansari

We would like to introduce our experience in Companion Diagnostics that will aim to provide timely success of your CDx development program by navigating regulatory obstacles and market access strategy & reimbursement. 

We are looking for an opportunity to connect with you and discuss potential diagnostic strategies for {!DrugAsset}.

Shahmir uses the body of his email to really capitalize on the value proposition he’s already introduced. He’s doubling down on what’s already been said, and then adding another layer on top.

He also uses the body to bring up the intent of the email – a follow-up call to discuss strategy. Adding that here gives the prospect a bit of an out. They either want to set-up a call, or they don’t. For Shahmir, as discussed earlier, the more he can weed out prospects who aren’t in market, the better.

Cecilia Underwood

[COMPANY] is the industry-leader in configurable eClinical solutions (EDC, ePRO, eConsent, and eSource). We offer:

  • Fastest implementation timeline (avg 2.8 weeks)

  • Ability to enter data real-time, remotely 

  • Intuitive and user-friendly, drag-and-drop interface

  • Cost-free, mid-study changes, with zero downtime

  • Total lowest cost of ownership (start-up costs, training fees, database build/maintenance, etc) 

Cecilia leverages bullet points in her body to display the value that her company brings to the table. Instead of having a huge block of text for prospects to digest (which they simply won’t do), she breaks it up into more digestible bullets.

This process allows her to establish trust and summarize the benefits of working together. Like Shahmir, this is a great way for her to find prospects who are in market. She’s covering a lot of bases with her bullets, and if none of them stick then it signals to her that this is a lower-priority account or someone to reach out to in the future.

Matt Geary

For (*study name*), are you utilizing tools that allow for cost-free simple mid-study changes, remote functionality on your patient’s preferred device, and provide quizzes/videos for improved protocol comprehension?

The body of the email is where Matt really proves his credibility and expertise. He adds in more details around the value prop he brought up in his subject line & intro and gets his prospect thinking about it on a deeper & personal level. As he says, this is where he ‘talks the talk.’

Matt shows that he has his prospect’s success in mind by asking these questions. His goal is to get to the bottom of his value prop – is it something they also see value in? Are they already addressing it? If not, how can he help them get there?

Email Body Wrap-Up

The body of the email is where our panel really hammer home a few points – either personalization, assumptions, value, or credibility/expertise. The body of your email is what the subject + intro were leading up to – give the prospect something to think about when they get there! Whether it’s the value your solution brings, the companies you’ve worked with, questions to ponder, or a chance to strategize, the email body should be treated as a little gift to the prospect.

CTA (Call to Action)

The CTA is where you take all of that value, question-asking, and name dropping, and wrap it up into some kind of ask. Whether it’s trying to book a meeting with your prospect or probing them with open ended questions, this is the final destination of your message.

Matt Berman

Would you be opposed to a high-level overview next week?

Matt keeps his CTA interest-based, especially since this is his first touch. He’s found that instead of asking for something concrete like time on the calendar, an interest-based CTA yields his more positive responses.

First off, it helps him make sure he’s in the right place. If the prospect isn’t responsible for solutions like his, it’s easier for them to tell him when the CTA is a question. He gets tons of referrals this way. Second, it’s much easier to say ‘no’ than ‘yes.’ A question like ‘would you be opposed…?’ is framed in a way where it’s easy for the prospect to say something like “no, I wouldn’t be opposed” vs. “yes, I’m interested.” It’s subtle, but it makes a difference.

Shahmir Ansari

Does Tuesday afternoon work for a brief 15-minute exploratory call?

Almost the opposite of Matt, Shahmir gets really specific with his CTA. Scheduling has proven to be tough for him – balancing his sales rep’s calendars is more of a hassle than he anticipated. To make that easier on himself, he’s forcibly pigeon-holed his team into a couple of days – Tuesdays and Thursdays. He knows that scheduling something on those days is safe, so he pushes for them out of convenience.

His meeting ask is also only 15 minutes, even though they often run a bit long. He’s found that it’s easier for someone to agree to a 15 minute meeting vs. 30 minutes.

Cecilia Underwood

Do you have any availability {{3 days from now}} for a quick call? Or, when would be better timing for me to check back in?

Cecilia also gets specific with the day of the week when asking for a meeting in her CTA. That specificity gets the prospect thinking about their calendar and when it would make sense for them to connect. It just adds a bit of concrete-ness to the process.

She’s also remaining assumptive like in the rest of her email. If they aren’t free on the specified date, she’s assuming they will want the meeting, but at a later date. Cecilia does a good job at leveraging the authority and assumptions she’s made throughout the email in her CTA.

Matt Geary

If one or more of these resonates with you, I’m happy to discuss possible solutions at your earliest convenience. 

For Matt, he prefers to focus on helping his prospect instead of selling them on something. Instead of offering up a meeting for some kind of follow-up step, he chooses a less pushy alternative – offering himself up as a resource.

Why does this work? He’s already done a great job at painting himself as an expert throughout the email. He can afford to be a bit more laid back in his CTA because he’s earned the trust of his prospects. That trust is key in establishing a strong relationship and setting up effective follow-up calls.

CTA Wrap-Up

At the end of the day, your CTA has to follow the tone and pattern you set-up in the rest of your email. If you kept your message high level and focused on asking questions, do the same with your CTA. If you made it abundantly clear that your goal is to set a meeting, the CTA should reflect that. But more than anything, you have to keep testing. Our panelists don’t have perfect CTAs – but the ones they use work well for their specific emails. It takes time and many iterations to find the one that works best – and even then, you should keep testing new ones to see if you can improve engagement rates.

Wrapping It All Up

Our panelists had a few more best practices to share that help wrap up a lot of the ponts they talked about above:

Matt Berman

The more relevant you can make your email, the better. In his case, Matt lists out a few companies as examples of clients they work with. He changes those client references based on the persona of the account he’s reaching out to. Why? Because if you’re a small SaaS company that targets HR, you really don’t care if a product can help the likes of Nike and Oracle – you want to know it’s worked for companies like yours.

It takes a bit more effort, but the more you can make a message resonate with your prospect the better your responses will be.

Shahmir Ansari

You have to keep experimenting. Cass in point, the rise of mobile. People are opening emails on phones more than ever, and that means you have to change up your messaging to fit on a smaller screen. Shahmir realized that his ‘hook’ needed to be stronger and closer to the top of his email, so he changed it. And he’ll keep monitoring its success and overall trends until he has to change it again. It doesn’t pay to be rigid with cold email.

Cecilia Underwood

Formatting matters. Whether it’s bullet points, bold words, italics…it all draws attention. As an SDR you can use that to your advantage – especially if you’re reaching out to executives. They’re mostly scanning emails (if they get opened at all), so you can really help yourself by drawing attention to the most important parts of your message. In most cases, it’s things like:

  • Your value proposition (or at least key phrases within it)

  • Challenges you’ve helped solve

  • Anything you researched about the company/prospect (problems they’re facing, goals, etc.)

  • Times you’re available to meet in the future

If your email looks like one big block of plain text, engagement will go down. But if you make it easy to digest and draw attention to important pieces of information, you can expect engagement to increase.

Matt Geary

Extend your cadence by breaking up value propositions. Most of the time, email cadences are too short. It’s one message packed with a ton of information, and then 2-3 follow ups. But if you take that first message and break up the information into 3 or 4 solid emails, you can extend the length of your cadence and add a few more value touches along with it. It demonstrates your expertise and builds credibility instead of having you come across as an annoying salesperson.


At the end of the day, it pays to know cold email best practices. Email send rates are at all time highs, while engagement is at an all time low. If you want email to be part of your outbound strategy (and let’s face it, you wouldn’t have read this whole recap if that wasn’t the case) then you need to know how to stand out from the crowd. The tips and best practices from our panel are a great first step at building a knowledge-base around cold email, and they should set you up for success as you continue outbound prospecting.

If you’re looking for more resources around cold email, make sure to check out the live show we help produce!


SDRevolution is a community focused on helping sales development pros level up, and dishing out weekly cold email advice and rewrites is part of that mission.

Watch some past episodes to see what we’re all about, and tune in on Mondays at 11:30am ET for new episodes! 

aj alonzo

AJ Alonzo is the Head of Marketing at demandDrive. A former SDR turned marketing leader, he's made it his goal to develop resources for sales reps who are looking to level up and for managers who are looking for guidance. Outside of work you can find him trying to shoot under par at his local disc golf course, sipping on a bourbon on the rocks, or continuing his quest to be the very best like no one ever was.
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