Please Don't Start Your Cold Email With a Question

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Consider this question:

Zak, do you care about your health?

Well, yes, but I don't care about replying to your email.

I see this all the time in my Spam box and in email teardowns I do for folks. Somebody sends a cold email with a question, either in the subject line or in the first line of the email, thinking that it will pique the reader's interest and make them want to learn more. I even had a reader send an email to me the other day for a teardown that started off this way. I told her as much - don't start this way.

This smells of spam and rarely works.

The classic example of this is:

Zak, do you consider yourself helpful/charitable/care about the environment?

This comes from the world of street canvassing. You've probably seen it. You're walking to your favorite coffeeshop and a nubile-faced young person comes your way and asks you if you care about the environment, or inequality, or justice, or if you consider yourself charitable, helpful, or some other good word.

The psychological trick here that the canvasser's training is trying to evoke in you is that of social pressure and self-identity. Nobody wants to look like the guy who hates the environment with his friends. Nobody wants to look like the guy who hates charity. Everybody likes to think of themselves as charitable or helpful or caring, too. So a question like, "do you consider yourself [something good and laudable]?" should easily evoke a response of "yes!" This often does work when the people you're questioning on the streets are walking with friends.

The problem is that sending an email is not like canvassing on the street.

To Reply or Not Reply, That is the Question

Sending an email is more like sending a piece of physical mail.

You need the person to do more than make awkward eye contact with you and acknowledge your nonprofit that is trying to save the pandas.

You need the reader to look at the email (like looking at an envelope), open the email (like opening an envelope), read the first like (like reading the first line of a letter), and decide to keep reading instead of tossing it in the trash.

Questions like "Do you consider yourself charitable?" are what I call ego questions. They evoke somebody's ego's response but they also are well-known tactics that will make somebody toss your email immediately.

The question running through somebody's mind when they open your email is not, "am I charitable?"

No!

It's "who the heck are you and why are you emailing me?"

This is why, when I do teardowns for my clients or readers, I preach the importance of Slayback's Golden Rule of Cold Emailing: 

Introduce Yourself!

If you just walked up to a stranger on the street and immediately started telling them about the business you're building or the product you're selling or the job you want, you'd have the cops called on you. You'd look weird and nobody would want to talk to you.

Why is it any different via email?

Don't open your email with a question - people can sense when you're sidestepping their questions.

Open your email with an introduction. Tell the person why you're emailing them and how you came across them.

Only after you've done this and given them sufficient reason to listen to you should you ask them a question.

This is something I go into in my email scripts. If there is one thing you can do to improve your emails, it's actually introducing yourself at the beginning.

I'm Zak. I'm a venture capital professional and writer focusing on how to build a great career. You can find my writings here or reach out to me at zak@1517fund.com.

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