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How to take the chill out of a cold email

With double digit below zero weather arriving in Montana this week, the last thing any of us need is a cold email.

What I call a cold email isn’t quite the same as a bulk email. While bulk email is indiscriminately sent to many thousands of people, a cold email might be sent to 10, 50 or 100 people. Bulk emails are seldom effective as lead generation tools, while cold emails can be an effective lead generation tool from a somewhat targeted list.

What is a cold email?

Cold emails are often written from templates and sometimes are pasted into an email program before they are sent. Sometimes, they’re mail merged (ie: personalized), sometimes not. Template-based, mail-merged emails aren’t a bad thing until you send a generic one to the decent quality lead with a message that makes little sense.

Who gets a cold email?

They’re often sent to people you might have seen or heard of at a Chamber of Commerce event – but you weren’t introduced to them and you didn’t meet. You might have their email because of a list you have (or bought) access to, such as an industry group list or a list of trade show attendees.

You might have manually harvested the email addresses from web sites of companies that might be a good fit for your services. For example, if you serve small bakeries, maybe you Google’d “bakery northwest montana”, found a list of bakeries within 100 miles, then grabbed the owner name and email from each site.

While that shows a little effort, it can all be lost depending on your next move.

The trouble with cold emails

Cold emails don’t often get a response, because their content simply doesn’t encourage you to read them, much less take action.

Cold email failures:

  • The subject line doesn’t provoke you to open the email. Instead it says something like “sender’s company name product category”. Example: “Smith-Jones Systems – Point of Sale Software”.
  • Your content is so general that it shows you made no effort to understand the recipient or their needs, so it reads like every other spam they receive.
  • The email is written from the “me, me, me” perspective (talks about the company and its services) rather than talking about the reader.
  • Your email reads as if it came from a template. While the slightest bit of work could make it personal, that effort wasn’t invested.

Making a cold email personal

This email is your proxy. If you read an email you sent last week, does it sound like you? Is it the introductory conversation you’d have in person with a prospect? My guess is that it doesn’t and it doesn’t.

The email needs to speak to a specific problem. What problem do most bakeries have that your point of sale (POS) software solves? Bakery owners don’t wake up in the morning thinking “Boy, I sure wish someone would try to sell me point of sale software today.” Yet these same bakery owners might be thinking about how annoyed they are about the inability to predict shift coverage based on sales levels, print tax reports, produce custom order tickets, add stations, or some other thing. Their staff may have complained about other problems with their POS.

40% of your clients may have used a specific POS and moved to yours because of three specific benefits, differences or improvements. Do you know what these prospect bakeries currently use? What do their people think about it? Given that 40% of your clients used that tool, you should have some specific info for bakeries still using that old POS. Send a specific email to users of that POS vs. bakeries using other software.


Have you been in their bakery and bought something so you can see how the staff reacts to working on their registers or POS stations? Did you sit there, as appropriate, and have a cup of coffee while observing how things go when they are busy? Did you listen for comments from the staff?

While you don’t want to fill an email with ALL of this info, this knowledge is critical to understanding why a baker would want your POS.

Sure, these emails are more laborious to produce, but your job is to get new clients, not see how many emails you can send.

You don’t send marketing email? This knowledge also applies to phone and in-person sales calls.

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Effective press releases for small business

Days after a EF4 tornado tore up Central Arkansas and killed 15 people, this press release arrived in the local TV weather team’s inbox:

Saying “enough with the tornado clean-up” to a media person in the area of a killer tornado in question is at best, someone being an inattentive and/or insensitive jerk. The media person who receives it is likely to not only delete your message, but put you on their email block list.

That isn’t why you send press releases.

Why press releases?

If you haven’t written for a newspaper or magazine, or worked for a media agency, you may not realize that many of the stories you see start with ideas seeded with press releases.

Sending press releases to your local media, and selected national media (such as the editor of a nationally-read newspaper, blog, magazine, podcast, etc) can make sense to draw attention to your business and what it’s up to, but only if you don’t make a few key mistakes.

What qualities do effective press releases for small business have, and what should you watch out for? As with any other marketing piece – what matters is your understanding of and ability to reach the audience.

That doesn’t mean your PR should grind to a halt every time there’s a disaster of some kind, but you should make these efforts with care.

What media people need from your press release

Media people need story ideas, but not just any old story idea.

They need story ideas of interest to their readers, which means you need to consider their audience and what’s on their mind.

This isn’t about how many people you can get to see your press release. It’s about how many of the RIGHT people see it.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like the kind of content that you’d create when direct marketing? Of course.

Media people don’t need spam. Like you, they get plenty.

Getting stuff you don’t want to read and aren’t interested in (ie: spam, junk mail) is an annoying waste of time. Why would you expect the reader of your press release to feel differently?

What media people don’t need from your press release

They don’t need you to waste their time

When you send a press release about your new sailboat trailer product line to a writer for a national magazine for electricians, the message they get is something like this:  “My story is more important than anything you’re doing, so I think it’s OK to waste your time by telling you about something that has nothing to do with your readers’ interest, much less your publication’s chosen subject matter.

Media people don’t need story ideas that have nothing to do with what they write about / what their publication covers.

If there’s a tangent that does apply for a seemingly off-topic press release, you’d better make your point quickly. Let’s use the sailboat press release as an example.

If your sailboat product line press release reads like something sailboat owners want to read – DON’T send it to the electrician publication.

On the other hand, if there is a unique technique or technology that you used during your manufacturing process handled grounding, wire protection, or wiring that spends time underwater, then write a press release specific to those topics. That’s something the electricians who don’t sail are more likely to care about.

Media people don’t want to see press releases about stuff their readers don’t care about.

I get press release emails quite often because of the weekly newspaper column I write. I can think of one in the last seven years that had anything to do with what I write about. That one press release was not about an author’s just released romance novel – and yes, I do get those releases.

Think twice before you send

If you look over the press release image, you’ll see that the PR agent’s client is an author and that author appears to have some sort of relationship with Wyndham resorts.

If you’re the author or an employee, manager or stockholder of Wyndham, would you want that PR email blast associated with you?

I sure wouldn’t.

You do PR so people will discuss and hopefully promote the subject matter in your press release. Take care what you send and send it to someone whose audience genuinely cares about the topic.

Simple, right?

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What’s in store for small business in 2013?

This infographic based on a survey of 3000 business owners by Aweber is pretty interesting. How does it compare to your efforts?

Data and infographic by AWeber

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Why they don’t take your calls and don’t read your mail

The enlightened leader
Creative Commons License photo credit: seeveeaar

Do your customers and prospects let your calls go to voice mail?

Do they open your emails? If they were, you’d know (or should).

Think about why *you* let calls go to voice mail and why you ignore certain emails.

While you might be busy and decide to let calls go to voice mail, more often than not, when the caller id appears – you can’t think of a reason to bother taking the call.

Is relevance the reason?

Get relevant

Lets discuss a few examples.

I get my internet from a local cable provider. While they offer telephone and cable service, we don’t use those services. About twice a week, the “(cable vendor) Robocall department” (as the number is named on my phone) calls me to ask what TV, phone and internet service I use.

Every time they call, they ask the same question. They want to know what service I use for internet / TV / phone. Funny thing is, they’re calling to get information they already know. The caller never has any idea that I am already their customer.

It doesn’t have to be that way, even with an outside telemarketing firm. While I’d be unlikely to use one, that doesn’t mean they can’t be effective.

Most modern telemarketing firms are well beyond the stone age “dialing for dollars” mode of the past. They’re capable of taking a list you provide to them and filtering out existing customers from their call list. They are also capable – automatically, if you use a good one – of changing the script used by the caller so that they don’t seem totally uninformed.

If instead of “who do you use?” they asked something like “I see you use our internet, but not our cable…” and started the conversation there – that would at least be in context. Someone experienced enough to run a huge cable firm’s marketing and sales department should know this.

On the other hand, if you’re a small business owner, this makes perfect sense, but you might never have considered its impact.

If you send email or make cold (or even warm) calls, are the conversations pertinent to those customers? If they were, you might get a better response.


I have a 401K plan. The vendor regularly emails me… sell me their 401K plan.

These emails are personalized – they know I have multiple accounts with them. Yet they send emails that talk as if they have no clue about our business relationship.

These things make your company (and you) look inept, or at the least, like the left hand has no idea what the right’s doing. It tells me your systems and the people running them are just going through the motions, wasting money that impacts other people’s livelihoods and perhaps driving up your prices.

Doing things this way:

  • Starts the conversation in the wrong direction. You have just seconds to get enough attention to get peoples’ attention. Don’t waste it by talking out of context.
  • Makes you look like you have no idea who I am. Not in the “Do you know who I am?” way, but the “Do you know / care that I’m already your customer?” way.
  • Leaves money on the table. Instead of trying to sell me the thing that clients like me buy after buying the last thing I bought from you, you’re trying to resell the thing I already have.
  • Wastes the opportunity to discuss something customers care about – the thing they already bought. IE: Rather than discussing how to get the most out of my 401K, they’re trying to sell one.

Your marketing systems should know your paying customers and engage them in THEIR context with you – not as total strangers.


Recently a 79 year old national magazine announced they will become digital-only as of January 2013. This couldn’t have been a rash decision, given the contracts in place for printing and distribution, much less the internal changes/considerations necessary to make a change like this.

Yet a subscriber tells me she just got a renewal offer in the mail – and it didn’t say a word about the fact that it wouldn’t be in print.

When you communicate with your customers, be in context.  If 10% more people responded positively, what’s that worth?

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They can tell I read their email?

Creative Commons License photo credit: solidstate_

Over the last 2 days, we’ve talked about poorly thought through emails.

Today, one more email that should have been thought about a bit more.

Last week, I received an email from a guy whose email newsletter I receive. The subject of this random email? “I saw you open my newsletter, any questions I can answer?”

On top of that, there was no email body text.

That’s right. An email that says “I saw you open my newsletter” with no other text.

Where’s the spy cam?

So how can emailers figure out that I opened an email? Several ways. Legal ones, of course.

Emailers can tell if you opened your email if they include an image in the email that has a unique “web address” (like If you open the email, that image is loaded from their web server.

Like any web server, it logs when a file is loaded into a browser (or elsewhere). If the name of the image is unique (or there is software on the server to make it appear that way internally to them), then it can record that someone (not necessarily you, but probably you) viewed that particular image.

It doesn’t see onto your computer or anything like that, it simply notes that a computer somewhere (yours or someone else’s) asked it to load an image file name associated with you.

Emailers can also tell if you opened if you click a link in the email – not because there’s a spycam – but because links in the email are customized by their email software to make them unique to you. Same principle.

These links still go to the page you wanted, of course.

All of this is decades old technology, but we haven’t gotten to the dumb part: The discomfort of the subject line of the email.

Discomfort leads to unsubscribes

A programmer (as others might) knows how the emailer might know I’ve opened (not necessarily read) their email, but for anyone else, saying “I saw you open my newsletter” is inviting them to unsubscribe.

Saying it to a programmer is kinda dumb (not that the emailer knows that). Saying it to anyone else could be fatal to their email list.

Be very careful with those who have chosen to value your thoughts enough to subscribe to your blog, newsletter or email address.

You can lose it all in a heartbeat with one inopportune comment.

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Dude, I caught your wife cheating last night at…

Are You There?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Renneville

Imagine you’re talking with a prospect or client on the phone and right before the critical word or phrase that almost always closes the deal, you suddenly hang up.

You’d never do that, right? Would make it kinda hard to close the sale, don’t you think?

Thing is, your email, social media and website might be hanging up on prospects, albeit in a slightly different way.

Let’s talk about paying attention to some details you might not be watching. They’re details that might completely change the message you’re trying to get across to a client or prospect.

I’m talking about the repercussions of being just a tad too wordy.

Isn’t that funny? Yeah, I know I have zero room to talk on that. It’s an effort I have to stay focused on, so today I’ll show you why it’s important.

Twitter Cutoff

In Twitter,  your message can be 140 characters long.

BUT…if the message is more than 120 characters long and someone retweets it (sends it to their followers, which is very desirable for you), the characters past 120 are cut off as shown below.

See the … after “Jonathan Bu”? You’ve been snipped. Cut off.

Twitter text clipped off

If there’s part of a URL or some other important info at the end of your message, bummer.

If there’s anything there that’s critical to your message, you’re not a happy camper.

Outlook Cutoff

Outlook’s notification window shows approximately 30 characters of the title of your email. The number varies slightly because a proportional font is used in that window, meaning that some letters and numbers are wider than others.

I had my friend, mountain photographer and graphic artist Leroy Schulz send me 2 emails with totally different subjects. As you can see below, they look the same in the notification box.

Outlook subject cutoff

Identical notifications, yet their messages are totally different: One says “Mark, Are you voting for Obama? You’d be crazy not to”, while the other says “Mark, Are you voting for Obama? I wouldn’t dream of it”.

How’d you like to make that mistake?

Sure, some people do it on purpose to provoke you to open the email, but are those the folks who gain your trust? I doubt it.

Likewise, at the default width, Outlook’s inbox shows you only a part of the email’s subject (see below).

Outlook cutoff

As you can see above, having the subject cut off might cause a big problem, especially if someone doesn’t bother to read the email (like that ever happened).

The actual subject of the email above is “Dude, I caught your wife cheating last night at our weekly poker game.”

In fact, the cut off subject might just keep your email from getting read – and that’s what this is really about.

If your prospects and clients use some other email program, it’s bound to have similar limitations.

Google Cutoff

In Google results, page titles longer than 70 characters get cut off with a “…”.

This is the place where I get bit, because my blog post titles are occasionally too long.

Here’s an example:
Google Search result

In the example above, the title tag is too long (thus the … after “smart business moves”).

If the word after “moves” is important to finding your site, your prospect will never see it. For example, it might say “moves wisely to accept competitors’ cards” (which is what they did).

Sure, if the word is important, it should occur before that point if at all possible, but sometimes it isn’t.

Eliminating the … is the goal because you want the words in your title to be optimized for a) Google and b) those humans you want to see the title and be motivated to click on the link.

In each of these 3 cases, you typically want the truncated info to help answer the question that’s on their mind at that moment or provoke them to take an action.

Needless to say, “…” doesn’t even begin to do that.

Where are you getting cut off?

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Rhetoric, “privacy” and those Presidential campaign email lists

About a year ago, I ran some tests to see how clued in re: email use and mobile/internet marketing each Presidential campaign was.

Each campaign got an email address all to themselves, one that I use for no other purpose so that I could track what their campaign did. In fact, the candidate name was the part before the @ sign in the email address – hard to mistake for another campaign:)

One of the reasons I didn’t leave the lists after the election: I wanted to see what they did with the lists after the campaign – something you should be very aware of as you build an email list in your business.

Here’s a summary of what happened:

Ron Paul

The Ron Paul list ended up in the hands of a number of what I would categorize as “freedom fighter” lists as well as on Mr. Paul’s fundraising list. The email from this list was of such volume and high rhetoric that I finally had to unsubscribe out of annoyance: the interruption factor was just too high. Examples include the “Free Foundation” (Mr. Paul’s Foundation for Rational Economics and Education) and “Campaign for Liberty”.

I wasn’t asked to opt-in, they simply included me on their list because that email address specific to Ron Paul’s campaign was on Paul’s Presidential campaign list. They had it, they used it. I suspect someone there simply hasn’t taken the time to understand the written (and unwritten) rules/laws about email marketing, opt-in, etc.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary’s list ended up in the hands of HillaryPAC (which may be on hiatus now that she is U.S. Secretary of State) and while I was sent an email from Hillary’s list asking me to sign up for the “American Democracy Institute” ( list, I wasn’t added to it without permission. The same type of attempt was made by MediaMatters. Since she was named SoS, no emails have been sent by anyone to this Hillary-specific address, which makes sense:)

John McCain

McCain’s list ended up going to the Republican National Committee (RNC). That one probably annoys me the most because it is most like the lists related to Mr. Paul’s original campaign email list. I now get emails about Norm Chapman and any other issue RNC Chairman Richard Steele thinks I simply must know about – and in a tone that is just about unreadable. Think “National Enquirer” with a little Rosanne Rosannadanna added in, along with an Obama-esque donation button at the bottom.

Barack Obama

Obama’s list appears to still be in the campaign’s hands (yes, he’s still campaigning, but that’s a post for someone else’s blog), as I’ve received nothing from other lists to that address.

Mitt Romney

Last but not least, the list from Mitt Romney: Amazingly, I havent received a single email from his list since he quit the campaign and it appears that his campaign didn’t give the list to anyone else.

Treat them like customers, not list members

With the exception of Mr. Paul’s list (primarily because of the volume), I’ve decided to remain on these lists to see what happens to these specific-to-the-campaign email addresses as time moves forward.

How you treat your customers’ email addresses will reflect back upon you. Stay on topic, stay on message and NEVER, EVER give your list to another vendor, business or associate.

What Hillary did (sending an email to her list, suggesting that you might check out another entity) is somewhat common – and still acceptable – business practice, but automatically signing up your customers to umpteen other lists as Mr. Paul’s campaign people did is not.

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Make your automation personal, not just automatic

Automatic Caution Door
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zesmerelda

After requesting a beta invitation to a web-based service, I received the activation email.

*ONE* minute later, I got an email from the CEO asking how I liked the service. 

Careful there, Sparky. 

While I’d be the first to encourage such emails, you have to think about how – and particularly, when – you send them. 

It doesn’t make sense to send them 1 minute after sending an activation email unless you want to send the wrong signals.

IE: “I’m sending everyone the same email even though my email is worded otherwise” and “I don’t really want your feedback since you couldn’t possibly have any yet”. 

Neither one is really what the sender wants. 

It doesn’t make sense to send the emails until some period of time after the activation email has been clicked on, since they couldn’t have any feedback for you until they’ve activated the service and had at least a little bit of time to use it and see what it’s really like. 

You see the same thing in blogs where you can generate emails automatically the first time someone comments. Sounds great in theory, but if the email comes 20 seconds after you post the comment, it isn’t personal.

Instead of doing that – what if the automated email was sent to the blog owner, giving them time to check the commenter’s website, find out a little about them, much less actually read their comment – then a personal touch can be applied to the partly pre-written email thanking someone for their comment. 

That’s the kind of personal follow up that is appreciated – and it’s still mostly automatic.

There are some hacks to existing tools that auto-email first time commenters. If you use those tools, I suggest using the hacks. Keep it personal.

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Ignore those 2 posts. Direct mail is dead. RIP.

With all that direct mail talk over the last couple of posts, I can just hear the eyes rolling.

After all, direct mail is dead, right?

Perhaps in your market it is. Or, no one needs to use it because other things work better in your market, or because everyone in your market uses it poorly.

Regardless of the reason, if you’re convinced that direct mail is irrelevant – or at least no longer useful – in your market, those last couple of posts were a big waste of your time, right?

Psst…Think about them again, but replace “direct mail” with “email”. Or “face to face sales”, “telephone”, “television”.

Likewise for radio, newspaper ads and any other media you use to communicate with your clients and prospects – including Twitter, blogs, video and other social media tools.

After all, if this message wasn’t carefully crafted to be of use to you…you wouldn’t likely be here.

Each of these tools are simply another way to have or start a conversation with a person.

Never, ever forget that.

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Permission to market, sir?

People don’t want to buy from people who place sales calls to them during dinner (duh). It isn’t because they don’t want to buy your item. They just don’t want to buy it from someone they don’t know. Someone they don’t know hasn’t got “permission” to sell to them, because there isn’t yet a relationship with someone who knows better than to call during dinner.

People can get violent – electronically, at least – when people they don’t know send them an email asking them to buy something. Usually it’s a poorly written email, so it wouldn’t sell anything to most people in the first place.

Of course, because email costs so little to send, when you send out 62 million emails, the .0001% that buy (and yes, they actually do) make it worthwhile to the slimy character who sends them. That is, until their internet provider cuts them off. More on that shortly.

It isn’t as bad with U.S. Mail because you don’t have to pay to receive it, but so-called junk email still gets some people pretty steamed up.

The message itself determines a lot of what happens when it gets delivered.

If you send email, you can be a total putz and not think about your message at all. Send it to everyone with a heartbeat. Who cares if you try to sell a comb to a bald guy? Maybe he collects them.

Direct mail has a way of sorting out the lazy. They go broke rather quickly if they mail poorly.

Not many people have my cell number. I only get text messages only from my kids, my wife, kids in the Scout troop, and from my kids’ friends.

Parents of teenagers know what happens when text messages go big: Big cell bills. Imagine if you got even 10% as many spam text messages as you do spam emails. Suddenly, we’re talking real money unless you’re paying for unlimited texting.

For the most part, you have two choices: Get all text messages or get none. Some cell carriers have filtering tools, but they are mostly all or none choices. As in “filter all text messages that arrive by email” or “allow all text messages that arrive by email”. Not much of a choice, particularly if you’re the parent of a young adult, or if your business automation uses emailed text messages to alert you to various situations.

But today’s column isn’t about Verizon, most days I actually like them – especially the nice folks in the office in C-Falls.

It’s about not making the mistakes that lazy marketers make, and they make them in every media there is.

For example, I recently received a poorly targeted pitch via text message. It says “Four Phones sharing UNLIMITED minutes only $xxx.xx/month. Quality, Service, Value. Cellular ONE in Polson. 885-xxxx.”


First of all, if you emailed this text message to every other 406-249-xxxx number in the Valley, you probably got a lot of nasty phone calls and emails. That probably wasted your time. Wasting time is not typically the goal of your marketing:)

Second, I don’t live in Polson. Why in the world would everyone in the North Valley want a cell number that’s local to Polson – over an hour south of us?

The really unfortunate part was using a Bresnan email account to send your message. See, Bresnan’s terms of service for internet service include a clause that says you can’t spam people. So when Bresnan gets all of the complaints about your message, they’ll probably terminate your account. And of course, since you don’t use a email like you should, any legitimate email to your Bresnan account will just disappear when they cancel your account for being a spammer.

That’s probably not the desired effect.

Fine tune your message. Send it to the right people. Send it at the right time (which is likely “more than once”).

And for heaven’s sake, don’t call during dinner.