The debate within sales right now is whether cold-calling works. Evidence shows that it does: Cold-calling distinguishes high-growth companies (see our report).

As a Senior Sales Development Representative (Sr. SDR), I think the phone is a lot like the late ‘90s Pontiac Grand-Am I drove back in high school. Sure, it got me from point A to point B, but it wasn’t flashy enough to catch the attention of my peers. Leveraging  DiscoverOrg’s direct-dial phone numbers for cold calling is kind of like putting premium gas in the tank. Much more efficient and much faster. If I really wanted to catch people’s attention, I would drive around my mom’s brand-new 3-series convertible BMW. Flashy wheels and shiny paint job were always eye catching.

Much like my mom’s BMW, I use personalized emails to catch the attention of my most important prospects. Why? It works: Almost every personalized email I send out yields some type of activity. Either I get responses from someone who forwarded my email, or the prospect who received the email responds themselves. My response rate hovers around 60% and engagement rate is around 80%.

But while prospecting with cold email might be a tempting way to avoid the awkwardness of rejection over the phone, you have to do it right.

If a 60% response rate and 80% rate of engagement sound good, read on for a process-oriented approach you can use to get similar results. Plus, see actual cold email exchanges that resulted in me scheduling a demo.

For me, it all comes down to taking an informed professional and personable approach. Instead of cramming features and benefits down someone’s throat, take a moment to connect with your prospect on a (virtually) human level: Find something they value, something you have in common – or even something you don’t have in common.

When is cold email appropriate?

Hyper-personalized cold emails are a main tenant of account-based sales development (ABSD), but they’re not appropriate all the time. So what situations are appropriate for this type of prospecting?

When can’t get your target on the phone

You want to call a prospect whom you know is a great fit, but you just can’t get them on the phone. DiscoverOrg has a higher percentage of direct-dial phone numbers than any other data provider … but prospects don’t always answer the phone.

When your prospect doesn’t respond to social touches

If your prospect has a social presence that allows you to do sufficient research, but they haven’t responded to your social touches (reaching out on LinkedIn, or a Twitter @mention, for example), your prospect might be ripe for a cold email.

When your prospect is a decision maker

It’s hard to get decision makers, department heads, and people of influence – the people you really want to reach – on the phone.

Let’s take a look at some five actual emails – and the prospect responses – to see how I craft a message that works.

1. The “Five by Five” method

ABSD requires time spent researching specific target prospects, which can be a time-suck. SDRs can easily fall into the trap of spending all their time researching a great prospect and too little time actually selling.

A best practices for me is what I call the “five-by-five” rule: I spend five minutes researching, and five minutes crafting a message. (I’ve heard this referred to as referred to as the “3-by-3” and done in a shorter period of time.) I usually recognize quickly when it’s going to take longer than 5 minutes, and then I walk away. If I don’t see anything jump out on their LinkedIn within 20-30 seconds, or do a quick Google search, I move on.

In this case, listening to a podcast was all it took:

Hey Kara –

I listened to you on the Sales Acceleration Podcast on my way to work this morning and loved your insight on the future of sales development.

I am curious, of the 60,000 inbound leads your team gets a month, how often do you have direct desk phone numbers, email addresses and a full reporting hierarchy to reference?

You might be familiar with DiscoverOrg – our Native App is one of the top rated apps on the Salesforce App Exchange.

Best regards,



Brevity and relevance closed the deal here. I spoke to a specific issue (Kara need for organizational hierarchy) and a specific solution (the DiscoverOrg Salesforce app). I didn’t try to fix everything or make sweeping promises.

My reference was specific enough to demonstrate that I really did know who Kara was, and understood her position. She was so impressed with the way I spoke directly to her individual situation, she did the unexpected: She responded.


Well I have to admit, I get about 10 basho emails a week… and in the last 2 years I’ve only responded to 2 emails… this one being the second.  Well done!!  

I’m copying my operations manager, Andrea.  We normally do have phone numbers, and email addresses… but I’d be interested to hear what kind of reporting hierarchy you’re talking about.  If you could provide her with some very high level information… she can take a look at see if indeed your app can add value for us.

Sound good?




2. Keep it personalized and relevant

In this next case, Diego, an SDR, was a previous user of DiscoverOrg. I reached out to him on the phone several times to try and win him back, but I was curtly rebuffed over and over again. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t see the value in our product!

I looked at his Twitter feed, and noticed that he followed only a handful of people – and they were all Golden State Warriors players. I reached out one last time, personalizing my note as much as possible. I was thinking of the last email exchange Diego and I had, where he said their current data provider was “good enough.”

My  email subject line was: “Steph Curry was a free agent,” and the NBA analogy cinched the deal:

Hey Diego,

Is there any reason why you feel DiscoverOrg isn’t the best tool to have in place for you and your teams?

Reason I ask is, you told me you were “pretty happy” with your current provider — and that is a lot different than saying “we’re crushing it with our current provider and I don’t see any reason to change” — which is what DiscoverOrg’s clients say, judging by our incredibly high retention rate.

If Steph Curry was a free agent – do you think any team would pass on him because they were “pretty happy” with their current PG?


– Josh


I signed off with WYSIM, “With Your Success In Mind,” as a bit of wry humor, betting that my sports-loving prospect might appreciate it. It also showed that I was paying attention. Diego recognized that, and replied:

Love the email Joshua thank you. If you are ever interested in coming to (company), we are hiring in a city near you. I could use a go-getter like yourself on the team. Very creative.

I’ll be honest that we have made a pretty big investment in [competitor] given our focus on Outbound Prospecting this year. I would say that 80% of the team are power users and proponents of [competitor] and while I know DiscoverOrg is a great tool as well there is not much I can do to sway the pendulum at this point. As the sales team grows and is now going to be 100% enabled with a license and they are expecting close to 100% adoption it would be an uphill battle to replace [competitor] (at least for now).

That does not mean there is no chance but nothing would happen until we all start to use the tool. Get back to me end of summer (August) to see where we are and we can talk then.

Thanks again



Diego was so impressed, he went on to use my email in training sessions (and offered me a job)! I was able to schedule a demo that resulted in an ongoing opportunity, and we’re working to replace Diego’s current data provider.

3. Quote a prospect’s own words

A little flattery never hurts. In this next example, I was researching a prospect at a target account and came across a video of my prospect accepting a new position at the company. I took a chance and quoted the prospect back to himself.

I also name-dropped a couple of my prospects competitors, thinking he might be interested to know that they were also using my product:

Hey Kyle,

When you accepted the position as COO for N–, you said, “I’m excited to be part of N– as we play a pivotal role in helping large companies adapt their sales and marketing organizations.”

Companies like Televerde, Intelemark and InsideSalesTeam are leveraging DiscoverOrg’s incredibly accurate contact data to drive their growth into new business opportunities AND increase ROI for their current clients.

That said, do you have 15 minutes to see how DiscoverOrg can help you make that excitement a quicker reality?

Thanks in advance,

– Josh


I caught his attention with the reference to his speech, demonstrating that I was paying attention and we had something in common – and Kyle couldn’t help but respond:


Thanks much.  Aaron leads our efforts to improve the lists we buy and integrate those lists into our campaigns.  Please follow up with Aaron and let’s get the conversation started.



Again, I was able to schedule a demo with Kyle, and we have an opportunity to make a great deal – all from a cold email!

4. Take a good-will approach

In this example, my five minutes of research revealed that Josiah, my prospect, was an enthusiastic fan of Northwestern University. I used that to hook Josiah, and then closed closed by including screenshots of a feature of our product that would impact my prospect directly, which showed that I understood his industry – and therefore his needs. I like cold emails that are personalized, relevant – and generous:

Hey Josiah,

It was a crazy run this year for Northwestern’s basketball team. I’m sure it was a bummer to see them exit in the 2nd round, but I bet it made your year better after Vibes was award the Marketo Technology Partner of the Year this week.

Companies like Rocket Fuel, Turn, and Sprout Social are leveraging DiscoverOrg’s incredibly accurate data to connect with more stakeholders in their target accounts, fill pipeline with high-quality opportunities and rapidly increase revenue.

Do you have 15 minutes on Friday at 1pm CT to discuss moving the needle and continuing this year’s success?

Here’s a Mobile Marketing project happening at Takeda Pharmaceutical and a screenshot of their Marketing Org Chart as a quick example of our sales intelligence.

Thanks in advance,
– Josh


I was also trying to show Josiah that he wasn’t just a number for a quota. I went to some trouble (in less than five minutes, of course) to research both my prospect – and my prospect’s prospects, to prove it. Although Josiah wasn’t the right decision maker, he was persuaded enough to refer me directly to the person who was:


Solid email. Looks like you did your research on me. I would have been even more impressed if you had mentioned Northwestern football since I played linebacker for the cats.

I do not make decisions like this for our company and 50% of our sales team works remotely. Once a quarter our 150 employees get together to discuss our successes etc.

My recommendation is reach out to John G– our SVP of sales as he would be the decision maker.

Thanks again for the email.

Josiah D–
Sales Director


As the marketing manager for a huge company, Josiah was in an influential position, and our connection here is cinching a large potential deal.

5. Value matters more than cadence

In this next example, I’m targeting Megan, a marketer. That means I need to show that I understand challenges specific to marketing and use appropriate language – and that means ABM. I know that marketing judges success based on responses and engagement, so I offered a targeted, marketing-specific value prop – with hyper-personalized presentation.

First, I referenced the locally famous “PDX carpet” background she used in her LinkedIn profile:

Hey Megan,

The PDX carpet background is awesome – I sent you a LinkedIn message, but wanted to send you a quick email as I know those inboxes turn into spam targets.

DiscoverOrg just launched it’s HR dataset that is a great fit for [your company’s] marketing and sales teams. Here’s our profile of Chanel’s HR Department. Notice Christine E–, VP of Development in charge of Training and Development, her direct desk phone number, verified email and reporting structure?

We have this type of data on thousands of companies that fit [your company’s] ideal customer profile. I would love the opportunity to discuss how DiscoverOrg can help fill the funnel with qualified leads and fuel those leads through the funnel with the most up-to-date information.

15 minutes next week to connect?

Talk soon,
– Josh


No response. So the next business day, I followed up again:

Hey Megan – below is a screenshot taken to help support my previous message, in case you didn’t have a chance to click the link.

Do you have 15 minutes to pull up some data that fits your ICP?


Again, no response.

So I tried a third the next day, this time making the email even more personal. I wasn’t spamming Megan, because my email delivered value. (Here’s the difference between cold email and spam.) I emailed her three times in three business days, all without a response – and it was still not invasive, because I was personal and diligent.

From her LinkedIn profile, I noticed that Megan liked micro brews; I also referenced the weather, to further create a personal connection:

Hey Megan,

I hope you enjoyed the “heat wave” we had over the weekend here in Portland. I met some friends for happy hour on Sunday at 10Barrel Brewing and thought it was kind of ironic being up on the rooftop enjoying their “Pray For Snow” seasonal in mid-February — have you had it before?

Anyways, I wanted to check in and see if you had a chance to review the information I provided last week, and send over another little tidbit.

If your teams do list building for outbound email campaigns, DiscoverOrg makes it extremely easy to search for keywords within job titles and descriptions and then push that data directly to your CRM or MAT through our integrations. Here’s a screenshot of folks with “Learning & Development in their job title or description at a manager level or higher.


Finally, after three attempts, I got a response!

Hey Josh,

My colleague and I would like to learn more. Are you free Friday at 11am?


As it turned out, I knew someone else who worked in the business development team at Megan’s company. He forwarded me an email that Megan to his team, about my tactic:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Megan C– <[email protected]—>
Date: Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 4:51 PM
Subject: Fwd: Real person just north of you
To: Business Development Team <[email protected]—>

A cold email that worked! I was immediately impressed by this guy’s emails and immediately interested, and I still didn’t even respond till the third email. I like how he gave me links to the product and even included screenshots. Being a fellow PacNW-er helped, too. 🙂


I’ve had people tell me “no,” – but no one has ever told me that I’m bugging them, as long as I take the time to do a little research.

Great prospecting emails really aren’t that hard to do. Being professional means being helpful, empathetic, and doing your homework. Turns out, people really like that!

See how DiscoverOrg delivers the direct-dial phone numbers, reporting structure, tech stack details, and other intelligence that makes top-notch sales and marketing efforts scalable and effective.


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Joshua Sutton
About the author

Joshua Sutton

Josh A. Sutton is a Senior Sales Development Representative at DiscoverOrg, specializing in using creative methods to gain the attention of top-level executives and breaking into top accounts. He received his B.A. in Applied Business and Economics from the University of Oregon. In his free time, Josh enjoys playing golf and cheering on his favorite sports teams.