Cold Email Marketing: Everything from the basics to best practices and tools

On March 13, 2023
9min read
Denys Kontorskyy Technical Content Writer @Mailtrap

Cold email marketing is a lot like being a door-to-door salesman, only you don’t get to see the door shut in your face, or even being opened in the first place. But just like with door-to-door sales, it can be a great asset for your business if done right.

Let’s navigate the landscape of cold email marketing and understand how to get to the top where people can’t help but respond.

What is cold email marketing?

Well, in the simplest form, cold email marketing is sending emails to promote your product or service…emails no one asked for. One of the reasons why its not the most popular technique out there.

But this definitely doesn’t mean you should get discouraged and forget about cold email outreach campaigns all together.

An effective cold email can still bring results. As a matter of fact, research done by Backlinko analyzed 12 million outreach emails and found that, on average, the reply rate is 8.5%.

And you might be rightfully asking, “Hold on. Just 8.5%?”. Yes, the percentage is low but put a dollar value to it, and that number has a different impact.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re a B2B software company selling its SaaS for $10,000 per year. You decide to send out 5,000 cold emails to potential customers over a few months. With a response rate of 8.5%, that’s 425 potential leads.

Now imagine, after a few phone calls, your sales team closed just 10% of those leads, that’s 42 new customers. At $10,000 per year per customer, that’s $420,000 in annual revenue generated from your cold email campaign. 

Of course, these are just hypothetical numbers we’re throwing around, and the result highly depends on different aspects such as your industry, target audience, quality of email copy, etc. 

But one thing is evident, cold email marketing still has potential in lead generation.

The principle behind cold emails is permission-based marketing. This means recipients can opt-out and unsubscribe, and they will do so if you overdo it with your emails. Spamming them will result in not only low open rates and wasted effort but also a ruined email senders’ reputation
So, the trick is picking the right cold email strategy that will not lead to the spam folder.

How to do cold email marketing: Tips and best practices

The biggest challenge in crafting successful cold emails is making the emails short and powerful enough to make the reader want to reply. But using well-written personalized cold email templates is just one step. It’s also important to follow different legal requirements, for example, those of the CAN-SPAM Act, as well as the latest sender requirements from Google and Yahoo.

Let’s dive deeper into each step, to understand what it takes to prepare and execute a successful cold outreach campaign. 

Step 1. Define cold email marketing strategy and do the prep work

🎯 No matter how good your “sales emails” are, they will have a zero conversion rate if you’re not targeting the right audience. So before drafting anything, sit down with your team and brainstorm to define your strategy. Understand who you need to target, determine if they’re the decision-makers, what message needs to be conveyed to address their pain points, how many email sequences are needed, and ultimately what you want to achieve.

Once all of this is done, research and choose the right sending tool (more on this below). This is also the right time to determine how to measure the success of your campaigns and what metrics are essential to you, keep in mind that most good sending tools come with analytical capabilities.

It’s also important to remember that email providers care about SPF, DKIM, and DMARC protocols, and so should you, since they impact email deliverability. So make sure to set up all of your email authentication protocols.

Step 2. Get the contacts

📧 You already brainstormed and decided who your target audience is, so now you “just” need their email address. There are a few methods to get the contact information of your potential customer:

  • List building

Having a strong email list is crucial to your success, and building one might be time-consuming, but in the long run, it’s worth the effort. 

Look at it this way, people who opted to give their emails went through somewhat of an audience warm-up stage. Of course, you still have to have a good cold email that is persuasive, but they’re already interested in what you have to offer.

To build your list of prospects, consider running LinkedIn Ads or any other audience-relevant social media platform. The idea is to drive traffic to a value-oriented landing page that captures interest and allows users to leave their email addresses for more information. Even if the landing page is promoted through paid traffic, don’t neglect the power of SEO optimization, it never hurts to get organic traffic. According to this webflow SEO agency you need to incorporate effective SEO alongside other marketing efforts, so you can attract more traffic without relying solely on paid promotions. 

  • Email scraping

Another method is email scraping, a process of extracting email information automatically from a source, which can be either publicly available or private, this largely depends on authorization settings and storage. 

The actual scraping can be done with the help of software that collects publicly available data online. This is a fast, cost-effective way to build a large email list. The second option is to use the services of any international SEO company and get the data delivered to you. This will allow you to write personalized emails since you can figure out not just the name of the prospect but their job title, company name, and other helpful information.

Despite being widely used in digital marketing, email scraping has its downsides. Firstly, the quality of the leads will not be the best.

Secondly, website owners may have implemented privacy measures to prevent email scraping, such as using CAPTCHAs or other security features to restrict access to certain pages. In rare cases, an email scraper tool can accidentally bypass these security features or ignore the website’s terms of service and collect email addresses not intended for public distribution.

Now this is a rare case, and probably the tool is not the best out there, but the slight risk is still there. To avoid this, choose a scraping tool that doesn’t just collect data but also has strong validation algorithms.

  • Purchasing

The first thing to say here is DON’T buy an email list.

No, really, you don’t want to do that. 🙂

Trustworthy, quality email lists are just not for sale. Your email deliverability and IP reputation never forgiving you for doing this will be the least of your problems. Although you can buy leads, there are 100 more reasons why you shouldn’t do this, from serious legal to quality aspects. 

Step 3. Write a cold email

✍️ Time to put on your copywriter’s hat.

Before you start writing, remember the main goal of a cold email is to get a positive response (an engagement with your CTA is also a response).

Some suggest that a cold email subject line needs to be personalized, short, and creative…and that’s true. But above all, it should be truthful. Here’s a quick anecdote on this point.

Dr. Alex Oshmyansky, a radiologist, had a great start-up idea that would disrupt the drug industry and make prescription medicine highly affordable in the US. He needed an investor, so in 2018 he sent a cold email to the famous entrepreneur Mark Cuban. Long story short, he got a reply, an investment, and now has a 2,000 m2 drug manufacturing plant in Dallas… oh and that cold email, the subject was simply “Cold Pitch”. 🧊 💸

Of course, this is one in a million, but the point is don’t overthink it, and don’t be misleading. 

The email body is where you can overthink it. The idea is to catch the prospect’s attention from the get-go and, again, be truthful. Don’t do the unoriginal, tasteless “dirty trick” of saying something provocative and then “now that I got your attention…”.

Instead, you can state something you have in common or ask a relevant question that addresses a “pain point” and keep it short—just a slight attention grabber with a bit of humor

From there, move to what you have to offer. Can’t stress this more, be short and concise. No one want’s to or has the time to read a lengthy email. One way to understand what information to include in the email is to ask yourself:

“If this was a cold call and I had 60 seconds, would I say this?”

Since you’re not giving tons of information, give a where more details can be found.  

End your email showing appreciation, and go beyond the standard “Thank you”. After all, someone is taking the time to read your email. 

All that’s left is to craft another version of the email.🙂
Same idea as with the first email. Once the campaign is launched, you want to do A/B testing to see what version brings better results.

This is also a good time to consider the copy for the follow-up emails. A drip campaign where a sequence of emails goes out can effectively get more replies. But it can also increase the chances of being marked as spam. So listen to your intuition, do you really want to follow up more than once?

Step 4. Launch a campaign

That’s it, you made all the steps, and you can now schedule your emails using a cold email outreach tool like Reply, Saleshandy or Smartlead, sit back, and relax. Not quite. 

Yes, email automation is important, and we’ll cover some top tools for that below, but this is where the hard part comes in…metrics.

It’s hard, not because you need to “stand there” and manually count each KPI, various CRM integrations and other tools can do that for you.

It’s hard because it requires continuous monitoring, analysis, and decision-making based on the data you collect. Making data-driven decisions is hard, but like anything, it becomes easier with lots of practice (and some research).

Here is the best material we have that’ll help you understand all the metrics from A to Z and make the right decisions:

Example of a cold email marketing campaign

Natalia, our Outreach Specialist, recently conducted an interesting experiment to test the effectiveness of her cold emails. She sent out two types of emails to potential leads – a standard cold email that follows best practices and another that includes a personal touch. 

The latter featured Natalia’s image along with her furry friend, introducing herself and her dog to the recipient, the rest of the copy was exactly the same. The personalized email with the dog received significantly higher engagement and replies than the standard one.

This demonstrates the power of adding a personal touch to your cold email campaigns and how it can help establish a connection with your potential customers right from the start.

So, if you want to step up your cold email game, try incorporating a personal element like Natalia did with her furry friend.

Best cold email marketing tools

Using the right tools to set up and launch your cold email campaign will help you save time and ultimately increase your chances of success (provided the copy is spot on 😉). So here’s a quick rundown of the top 5 cold email marketing tools to consider. The pros and cons of each tool are based on publicly available user feedback.

1. Woodpecker is a cold email marketing software with native, one-click integration with Gmail and Outlook, allowing you to send personalized emails and follow-ups and track them.

Key Features:

  • Follow-up sequence automation 
  • Security feature (auto duplicate detection, email validation, bounce tracking, blacklist)
  • Teamwork feature (prevention of multiple team members sending emails to the same prospect, ‘Team view’ section to monitor campaigns)
  • A/B Testing


  • Great tracking system
  • Clean email validation and list cleaning
  • Ability to create various follow-up scenarios
  • Quick and helpful customer support


  • Inconvenient process to change the email sequence order
  • Analytics is not as thorough or precise as other software
  • Not a smooth opt-out link solution

2. Overloop (formerly is a lead generation and email automation tool that helps companies and freelancers find leads and reach out to them via cold emails.

Key Features:

  • Search or verify the email IDs of your list of prospects
  • Create personalized campaigns, including drip sequences
  • Customize and share email templates with your sales team
  • Reply detection, including tracking bounce rates and out-of-office responses


  • Accurate email finder extension
  • Powerful integrations with Salesforce and HubSpot CRM, and other top tools
  • Comprehensive outbound sales automation at a low cost 
  • Simple to use yet powerful with customizable workflows
  • Quick and effective customer support
  • User-friendly intuitive design


  • Manual steps are still required when integrated with LinkedIn
  • Not as affordable for small to medium businesses

3. SalesHandy is a sales workflow automation and email marketing tool that enables you to send cold emails and engage with leads.

Key Features:

  • Send personalized emails to multiple recipients
  • Automate follow-ups to individual emails or entire email campaigns
  • Built-in email limiter ensures domain reputation
  • Email verification tool helps check the validity of email addresses before sending emails


  • Extensive scheduling features for campaigns
  • Great customer service
  • Simple email campaign set-up process
  • Good analytics with regular feature updates
  • Cost-effective for small sales teams
  • Seamless integration with Chrome


  • Usability on a mobile device
  • No XLS file format support (only CSV) 

4. Mailshake is an email outreach software and sales engagement platform that helps you easily send emails from Gmail and G Suite, personalize them, schedule and track email campaigns.

Key Features:

  • Personalize anything in your cold emails or other sales outreach methods (like LinkedIn)
  • Advanced integrations (such as Zapier, Slack, Pipedrive, etc.)
  • Advanced analytics for your email campaigns


  • Easy to use with a user-friendly interface
  • Core features at an affordable price
  • Great customer service and helpful resources
  • Good chrome extension


  • Lacks some advanced flow features
  • Cannot tag emails
  • Limited team members (extra cost to add) 

5. Lemlist is a popular email tool that lets you personalize anything in your cold emails or other outreach methods.

Key Features:

  • Email personalization using customized variables and personalized images
  • Automated follow-ups and personalized email sequences
  • Custom tracking domains for improved email deliverability


  • User-friendly tools to build campaigns
  • Strong support team 
  • Great warming-up tool
  • Large collection of email templates 


  • Time-consuming flow to create personal email templates
  • High price compared to other platforms
  • Lack of complex campaign automation 

Wrapping up

In conclusion, cold email marketing, while not the most popular technique out there, still has the potential to be an effective tool for generating leads if done right. One of the biggest challenges is creating a short and powerful email that will engage and make the reader want to reply. To increase the chances of success, targeting the right audience is crucial, as is determining the message to convey and choosing the right cold email sending tool

We hope you found this article useful, and always remember to balance persistence and courtesy while respecting the recipient’s right to opt-out and unsubscribe. 

Article by Denys Kontorskyy Technical Content Writer @Mailtrap

I am an experienced Technical Content Writer specializing in email infrastructure, offering insights on sending, testing, and optimizing emails. I also have a strong interest in product marketing, creating engaging content that drives audience engagement and supports business growth.