Lessons from editing prospecting emails

(Part 1 of 3)

I get to see, critique, and edit a lot of outreach emails written by consultants.

I always start by putting myself in their prospect’s shoes. Then I look at the email on an iPhone (with a 5 line preview*) and sense what I’d do. In the majority of cases I don’t even open it.

This is the first insight about outreach email. If the prospect doesn’t know you, and your first 30 words in the iPhone preview pane don’t grab their attention they’ll swipe left. Delete.

It’s heartbreaking isn’t it? You’ve spent hours crafting your message, thought hard about the best time to send it, and then your prospect doesn’t even read it.

Lesson 1: Rapid Context Setting

This first lesson is about getting your opening words to do their job. Which is getting the prospect to open and read the rest of the email.

Here are three examples of different emails that use Rapid Context Setting to establish significance early.

i) The referral email

If you’ve been referred to the prospect use that in the subject line. Then continue in the body text with the reason for the referral. Example:

James Davidson suggested we speak about sales growth

Hi Amanda,

James said you want to double revenues at SPN within 3 years. Several consultancy teams achieved similar results after we’d worked together. He thought you’d be interested in that.

ii) The event email
Search for events that signpost contexts where new ideas are of value to prospects. These might include newly hired executives, mergers and acquisitions, losing (or winning) a big client, etc. Example:
Acquired executives sink or swim

Hello John,

On-boarding for EMCA Digital’s executives must be high on your agenda following the recent acquisition.


iii) The strategy hijack email
Link your idea to the prospects key growth strategy. That might be something like moving into a new market segment, entering a joint venture partnership, setting new industry standards, etc.  Example:

Setting new standards for retail procurement

Hello Linda,

The article in the Grocer said your ambition is to set new standards for retail procurement This transformation is a huge challenge, which is why I’m writing to you.

You can see in each example how Rapid Context Setting gives the prospect a reason to open and read the full email. That’s the first outcome you want. I’ll be posting the second lesson soon, which is about opening the prospects mind and making it easy to accept your offer. Until then.


The bottom line

You have 30 words to get a prospect’s attention. Go back now and look at the iPhone preview panes. Put yourself in the shoes of a time-starved executive. Would you open these emails?


  • If the prospect has set less than 5 lines to preview then that increases the challenge.