How to Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails

You managed to find early adopters for your startup, now what?

You can use the good ol’ telephone to reach out, connect via InMail (LinkedIn), direct messages (Twitter) or through Quora’s messaging system, but chances are, email will be your best bet.

Depending on how much research you do, the quality of your email template and the industry you target, you may be able to convert as many as 30% of your cold emails into interviews. To help you achieve those results, I created the following guide.

Here’s How I Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails:

Step 1: Get their Email Addresses

Gone are the days trying to guess email patterns on Google. With dozens of tools at your disposal, finding email addresses shouldn’t be a challenge anymore.

Among the tools available, I strongly recommend Clearbit Connect. Not only is it a nice alternative to LinkedIn, it’s fast, accurate (97% accuracy according to YesWare research), and gives you 100 free credits per email account. Think about that last point a bit. ;-)

Here’s how I use Clearbit Connect to find email addresses:

Step 2: Research the Prospects

This is where you’ll spend most of your time.

You need to personalize your emails in order to establish rapport. To do that, you’ll have to spend time researching prospects one by one. You can’t skip this step; it’s what separates your emails from the spammers’.

At a minimum, you’ll want to add the prospect’s first name and make it visible from the ledger (see image below).

Get Customer Interviews with Cold Emails - Email Ledgers

You’ll also want to add a personal note showing that you’ve done your research. Here are a few things you can comment on ranked by the order of what seems to work best:

  1. Personal success (job promotion, award, achievement, etc)
  2. Company news (related to them, their work function or a significant company achievement)
  3. A shared experience, acquaintance, hobby or interest (ideally, not something about work)
  4. Recent posts (on LinkedIn, Medium or on their blog)
  5. Recent LinkedIn or Twitter updates

You can decide to add more personalization, but don’t overdo it. According to research by the team at Growbots, personalization follows a law of diminishing return. In other words, adding more personalization doesn’t necessarily increase response rate; it can actually make your emails feel creepy.

Once you’ve found your style, you can decide to outsource some of the research to workers on Upwork or Fiverr.

Step 3: Write the Email

Nailing the email script makes a huge difference in your response rate. You have to be humble and remember that you need their help. To be successful, keep in mind:

  • It’s about them – You need to speak to their ego and make them feel smart and esteemed. It’s about their expertise and interests and it’s on their terms. Use compliments. Make the interaction as positive as possible.
  • Their time is important – It has to sound like it’s a short meeting. Twenty minutes is all you need. Any longer than that and you’re wasting their time.
  • You’re not selling – You have to build a relationship before you attempt to sell anything. Be informal, helpful and easy-going. Formal emails create doubts in the prospect’s mind.
  • It’s got to connect – The more certainty you have that the problem is – or was at some point – on their radar, the more likely you are to get a reply. You want to give them a reason why spending 20 minutes with you will be worth their time. It has to feel like you’re going to be of value to them.

To start, use a broadly defined problem. A looser problem in the subject line and in the email copy has a higher likelihood of getting people excited. Prospects will build their own perceptions of the problem and invent the product in their minds.

Here’s a sample script I’ve used before:

Subject: International growth

Hi Max,

I enjoyed your 2-part series on employee retention. I had tried to find a job with startups in Hong Kong when I was living there and I know it’s not easy.

I’m contacting you because I have a software company trying to improve how businesses expand internationally.

I’m not looking to sell anything, but since you have so much expertise with international growth, I’d love to get your input to make sure we don’t build the wrong thing.

Can I schedule a quick call with you next week? Monday or Tuesday perhaps?

Let me know, thank you.


Keep it short. Make it easy to respond to.

Step 4: Send the Emails

You can decide to send all emails manually, but that’s a lot of work, and it’s not very value-added work (you have better things to do!). In the past, I’ve used Mailchimp, but without a paid subscription, it’s very hard to send truly plain emails.

I discovered Streak through Alex Berman, who knows a lot more about cold emailing than I do.

Basically, Streak is a CRM that sits inside Gmail. It allows you to send mass personalized emails, manage pipelines, track replies, send followups and schedule email delivery from your inbox.

Here’s how I use it to send emails:

Before hitting send, I recommend setting up a new email account. Some of your emails might get marked as spam. The last thing you want is to have your main email account in the spam folder. It happened to me before, and it can be quite painful.

Schedule your emails carefully. Ask yourself: where are my prospects located? At what time do they get up? Go to work? When are they likely to have time to look at my email?

Start slow, don’t send too many emails (you need time to reply), make revisions to your script, and followup.

Getting customer interviews with cold emails is a learning process. Start from the top and practice.

More on Cold Emails:

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