How To Get Your Cold Emails Read Without Getting Shamed

In 1995, email was a novelty. Whenever I got an e-mail it was a big deal. Whenever anyone I was reaching out to got an email, it was a big deal.

It was cool it.

It was new.

60% of the time it worked every time. 

Way back when, and certainly prior to then, if you wanted to connect with someone in business, you picked up the phone and called them directly. In many cases they had gatekeepers or secretaries or admin assistants that would screen your calls so you couldn’t get through to them. It was a pain in the heinie (did he just say heinie in a business blog post?).

Email, however was a way into the fortress that very few people were using - especially as a cold pitching technique.

Yo, Back in the Day

Back in the day, I could email 100 companies directly, gathering emails from actual web pages that listed titles and contact information. I’d get 10 responses, or even 20 sometimes, from people that were open to my pitch and ready to purchase my services (copywriting).

That all went away very quickly because people started getting inundated with emails. Then came spam filters and the Gmail spam button. Remember SpamAssassin and Razor?

Aside: Please don’t go nuts about sales spam here. I’m talking about targeting business people that depend on vendors and solutions to help them do a better job. This isn’t about Nairobi financial scheme emails. Think about it. You’re not going to increase sales if you don’t try to get new people (who you have a reasonable suspicion can benefit from your product/solution/service) to listen to your cold pitch. Put in other terms: You’ll never get a date if you don’t approach girls you don’t know.

The evolution of social media allowed us to target specific types of people (even by their job title and company) and customize pitches. But the digital inbox gatekeepers got better and better, reducing the chances that we’d get through.

Poorly written emails or boring emails were the casualties.

How to Get Noticed Without Getting Shamed?

Ok, so how do you deal with this inbox craziness? First you need to find email addresses that are actually reachable. How to do this is another blog post. Let's say, however, you have a mechanism for finding people's email addresses. I don’t need to tell you that targeting is key. Find the right companies for your goals, the right titles of people, and the right people.

Once you have the right email addresses, you have an opportunity to pitch and make an impression.

You must break through the inbox noise and capture people's attention much in the same way advertisers capture the attention of TV viewers that have no interest in seeing their ads (great model, huh?). Seriously though, we’ve all been conditioned by ads to buy things like beer, insurance and Sham-WOW.

“This Is Professional Show Business”

One way to learn this skill is to pay attention to comedians. (In any given year, 53 to 81% of the super bowl ads are humorous).

The key is to study mechanisms that work. I like to revisit old goofballs like Steve Martin and his “reversals” on songs like “Grandmother’s Song.”

“Be courteous, kind and forgiving. . .”

“Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.”

“Be gentle and peaceful each day, and have a good thing to say. ..”

“Be pompous, obese and eat cactus..”

“Be dull and boring and omnipresent..”

“Criticize things you don’t know about. Be oblong and have your knees removed.”

“Put a live chicken in your underwear. Go into a closet and suck eggs.”

I could go on.

The point is - you can DO THIS in your emails. Of course, you can’t be as off-the-wall as Martin, but you can try to get close. It has to fit your personality. But you can be funny. You’re allowed to, just like you are at trade shows and in the office. Being in an inbox doesn’t mean you have to act like you’re wearing a three-piece suit!

So, you need a hook. A way to capture attention. Be careful, though. Humor can easily cross into shock, disgust, potty talk, and other socially unacceptable blunders. Interestingly, the same kinds of trouble humor gets you into . . humor can get you out of.

Humor can cover over shock, disgust and many other things by being itself. Humor is the babysitter that lets you get away with murder while the parents are gone. You can cover your tracks and be excused for all kinds of things. Humor lets you say and do stuff that’s not otherwise socially accepted - everything from the innocuous and subtle to the politically poisonous and downright horrific.

But for Business Communications?

Subtlety is best for communications with business people that you’ve never met. Here’s one of my openers from a cold email: “Your name came up when I ran a Salesforce script against a LinkedIn Sales Navigator search. . . then filtered by most captivating head shot.”

Here’s how I dissect it in terms of audience and approach: 1) The targets for this email are marketing directors and the like who know all about Salesforce and LinkedIn Navigator. 2) They’re also usually technology companies. 3) The gag is a vanity hook, but the fear that drives it is this notion that we’re all trackable and traceable. Everyone’s discoverable and “data mineable.” And, that’s a little unsettling. The vanity provides a little humorous relief.

The following is a little chart I crafted to show you the difference between formal stodginess and humorous accessibility:  

Enjoy it, and please let me know your thoughts below.

Why Truly Solid Marketing is About Customer Service - My Painter Story

Painters are at our house this weekend, doing the trim outside and a few rooms inside. My girlfriend is doing most of the direction, but I’ve asked the head guy (and owner of the company) to pay attention to a few details for me. I don’t get into interior design much, choosing between mauve and taupe, but I do have some input as far as the whole project goes.

I want them to make sure they clean up the “misses” on the outside, where some black trim paint has accidentally hit the white house paint. I need them to un-stick some of the windows and put all the screens back, as well.

They’re wrapping up the project today, and it’s starting to appear that the lead is ignoring some of my requests — namely the screens and window un-sticking. I love the work they’ve done, but now I’m obviously not so hot on their finishing skills. And this new feeling is coming at the end of the project, when the head guy should be going out with a celebration rather than with some gripes. He should lead me around, show me how great everything looks, show me the extra work he’s thrown in, and go down my list of requests one by one, demonstrating that he met my needs and respects my wishes.

If he performed these “finalizing” customer service/marketing steps, he’d have my 100% recommendation. I’d rave about him to friends, pass out his business cards and even write up a testimonial for him. I’d offer to help him out with his advertising materials, in fact. We’ll certainly have more painting jobs in the future, and I’d like to stay on good terms with him.

Every business needs to follow these same steps in order to build business and collect loyal customers. On the Web, you need to send customers follow-up emails that confirm what customers bought, what kind of deal you’re giving them (on shipping, bonuses, etc.), and how you appreciate their business and would welcome any questions they may have. You need to offer them targeted cross-sell and up-sell items as they bid and shop. And, you need to quickly address their concerns as they come up. All this attention and service ensures that your customers refer you to others, leave positive feedback, and return to do more business with you.

Don’t be like my painter. Pay attention to detail and your business will grow at a healthy pace.

Phil Dunn - Personal Value Bio

I hate to brag, but when I come across unqualified, inexperienced pitchmen out there in the marketing wild . . sometimes I feel like I must. 

A bulleted story of me below:

  • Bestselling marketing author (McGraw-Hill). Ask me about how this happened (pdunn [at] It's a pretty cool story.

  • A journalist that sold out! Ask me why and how, and we can go deep into the real weirdness behind this.

  • A technology buff (more than that - a tech student of 40 years). I’ve been in the game since the Apple II+ and Pong. But I followed through as a software developer, consultant, and as a copywriter for big enterprise software and hardware companies, including: Microsoft, HP, CA, Hyperion-Oracle, Hughes, Message Broadcast, SGI, NetApp, Deloitte . . .  and many small businesses in similar markets.

  • Son of a programmer (that’s how I got the Apple II+) and a graphic designer. I’ve got the tech chops plus the artist’s eye. Dad built occupancy sensor systems for controlling lighting and HVAC in commercial and office buildings. He also programmed energy monitoring systems in supermarkets and high-rise buildings (for Honeywell) . . and created the first CD-ROM encyclopedias of the 1980’s and 90’s - everything from butterfly reference books to Chinese herbal medicine guides that are the bedrock of today’s Ayurvedic and Eastern medicine trends. Mom crafted logos, letterhead and storyboards for advertising in the 1960’s through 1980’s. She worked for Young & Rubicam (Y&R), the ad agency that produced the first American color TV commercials in the 1960s. We’re all UC Berkeley grads. Sister went to UCSB and is a locally famous landscape architect.

  • A fine artist who paints impressionistic nature and people scenes in oil. I also sketch in pencil and take unique, smartphone-composed photos.

  • Design snob. I have a rare taste for layout, design, color and space that comes from 22 years of working in both online and offline marketing. . . and my family background/education.

  • Research maniac. I have a history B.A. from UC Berkeley and a journalism M.A. from USC (Trojans not Gamecocks). 

  • Video-interview crazed marketing fiend. My team started a 3-year odyssey into chef interviews and restaurant/food promotion.

This experience translates to value for you. Use our services and create epic marketing resources for your customers and fans!

7 Copy Tips For Better Business Writing . . Plus 3 Bonus Tips

  1. Establish the audience right away and keep focused on them
  2. Forgo ‘style copy’ and use ‘selling copy’
  3. Break complex sentences into shorter, clearer sentences
  4. Arouse the curiosity of the reader (rather than satisfy it)
  5. Provide readers smooth transitions so they don’t look up and get distracted from the piece
  6. Write compelling benefits into heads and subheads
  7. Support ideas with vivid examples

And the bonus round:

  1. Use real facts and numbers (i.e. ’57 satisfied customers’ vs. ‘dozens of satisfied customers’)
  2. Go back and weed out excessive adjectives
  3. Provide a compelling call to action at the end of every piece (or prominently in an ad)

New post on LinkedIn: Is your creative career under attack?

I've been experimenting with posting content to LinkedIn, and I'm seeing some pretty good numbers there.

Here's the latest (with my lead abstracted below). 

Warning to Creatives PART I: Your Careers Are Under Attack

"If you’re a creative professional, you may have noticed a bothersome trend. In an effort to reduce expenses, clients are getting crafty with the ways they deconstruct projects, bid them out and re-assemble the final product. (This applies to lots of different creatives including, freelance copywriters, strategy folks, designers, social media marketers, SEO specialists, content developers and Web developers)."

Big Gun: Why the White Paper is Still Your Biggest Ammo

Boom. . 


In the world of technology, white papers are so very important. Yes, I know, they can be a major slog to deal with — to produce, edit and read. . . and to get everybody to sign off on. However, they really are a valuable complement to traditional marketing.

White papers help companies introduce new business solutions and their underlying technologies. They bridge the gap between technical detail and the 40,000-foot level of generalized understanding and bottom line decision-making. Non-specialists can quickly learn the basics about subjects that cannot be easily explained in an elevator or on a data sheet. Specific issues and markets are often better addressed in white papers than in promotional materials, and companies that share their expertise without blatantly pitching products often engender more respect from prospects and industry analysts.

As an example, I recently wrote a white paper on XBRL (a financial reporting standard based on XML – eXtensible Markup Language) for Software AG. Consider the fact that XML has been both excessively hyped and incisively attacked by all kinds of highly qualified industry analysts. Our goal was to establish expertise, clear some of the smoke, explain some very technically challenging and abstract concepts, and outline some case studies about how XBRL is being used in a variety of financial industries. We were successful because we stuck to the facts, explained concepts in clear and simple English, and presented promotional information with complete candor. Actually, we kept the promotional information to a strict minimum.

Keep in mind that white papers are not academic studies that exist outside the realm of promotion. White papers are part of integrated marketing strategies that are designed to elicit buying action on the part of the reader. Think of the brochure or data sheet as the elevator pitch. All parties understand that they are promotional and biased. With complex technologies, brochures are designed to pique interest and offer proof of value. White papers establish expertise and competence while also serving to educate potential users on complex subjects.