or… What Faulkner and Twain Knew About Career Communications
Faster than a job board troll, more powerful than networking, and much less intimidating than picking up the phone and calling someone you don’t know… I bring you: COLD MAIL!
Why do you “cold mail?”
Any salesperson worth their salt knows that to really make things happen, they need to go beyond their network and reach out to new contacts. It’s called cold calling.
As you “sell yourself” (I’m not fond of that term, but more on that another time) on the job market, your field of possibilities expands almost infinitely if you go beyond your network and make these “cold” contacts. Detective work and phone calls are highly effective if that is your strong suit. You can even hire an “executive talent agent” to make these calls for you.
But if you’re not comfortable with the idea of cold calling or you’re hesitant to invest 5 figures to have someone do it for you, cold mailing is an excellent option.
What do you “cold mail?”
Send a brief letter, 150 words or less, called a value proposition letter. These letters were perfected brought to prominence by the late Mark Hovind. Mary Elizabeth Bradford, who was mentored by Mark, introduced me to them, and I’ve found them highly effective.
It’s important to know what NOT to send. Do not send a resume. Firstly, the psychological impact of a resume either, “I’ll read that later” or “Not another one! Where’s the recycling bin?” It is lengthy, kind of like discussing your ex or childhood traumas on a first date. Additionally, many companies have a universal policy that all resumes must go through HR. Well, so much for dealing directly with the decision-maker, which was the whole point.
Do not send a lengthy letter! It may seem easier to send a shorter letter, but this is not the case. As you’ll see from the example at the end of this article, it’s a challenge to crystallize the most important points in 150 words or less. But the calculated brevity does two things. Firstly, at less than half a page, it looks completely unintimidating to read. The recipient will often go ahead and consume its contents right away. Secondly, the tone will naturally be to-the-point which is how executives tend to communicate. You’ll be speaking in the reader’s language and as their peer.
By the way, who is the reader?
Who do you “cold mail?”
Cold mail hiring managers or others in a position to influence hiring, such as board members or executives at venture capital (VC) or private equity (PE) firms. If you are a high level executive or your market is smaller companies, you’ll want to reach out to C-level folks. If you are at a mid-manager or director level looking at a larger organization, include VPs in your search.
You can find these people with the help of your reference librarian (most libraries have a business database available to patrons), by researching online at websites such as ZoomInfo, or by hiring someone to generate a list for you (I like Career Solvers and Profile Research).
How do you “cold mail?”
Lots of labels and lickin’! You may have forgotten what it’s like to send out actual items of mail via the USPS, but it’s time to remember. Alternately, you can hire a service to take care of fulfillment for you. Warning: fulfillment services are sometimes used to sending a resume and cover letter. Don’t do this! Insist that you only want to send the value proposition letter.
Keep in mind, this is a numbers game. While I’ve seen response rates up to 30% for someone with in-demand skills, if you count on a 3% response rate, you should be fairly safe. This means if you send out 100 letters and get 3 calls, you’re doing something right. 800 to 1,000 letters is usually a good amount, but balance that with quality of data. There point in spending time and money approaching random people. When putting together your list, be clear on the size and type of company, industry, and job function you are interested in.
Note: Though not the traditional way to do this, my clients have had great success sending their value proposition letter through LinkedIn messages. Join groups containing the audience you seek (i.e. biotech executives), and reach out to members via the group’s messaging service. If you do this be absolutely certain that your LinkedIn profile is up to snuff. In fact, you’ll want to do that in any case as your letter should include the link to your LinkedIn profile.
The value proposition letter has a very low success rate if sent via email.
What does a “cold mail” look like?
It is bare bones. Neat, but without much extra formatting. The body of the letter should be no more than 150 words. Oh, how I struggled with this word limit in the beginning. A 150-word letter would never win an award for best cover letter! I love all of my clients and want nothing more than to extol their virtues all day long.
But beauty is as beauty does. 150 words gets interviews. 200 words doesn’t.
The format goes:
1. Open with an engaging question about what the reader needs for his/her business.
2. In one short sentence, give a big-picture example of how you’ve achieved #1 for your current employer.
3. Provide 3 brief, bulleted examples either breaking down the details of #2 or expressing your top career accomplishments in light of your opening question.
4. Tell the person how you’d like to help them and what you want in return. Suggest setting a time to speak.
5. Thank them for their time.
6. Include a P.S. It’s kind of like how Colombo would turn back after speaking with a witness and say, “Just one more question.” It’s a way to sneak in a zinger. That zinger can often be the URL for your LinkedIn profile where they can learn more about you. Your P.S. could also be a way to mention something critical like your connection to the industry or your upcoming master’s degree.
Example: Here is a value proposition letter I wrote for a client. It’s edited down to a 148-word body
Do you need a sales and marketing leader who can exceed revenue goals, reinforce culture, and develop products that out-innovate competitors?
As the executive head of sales and marketing at my current company, I’ve grown revenue 93% in the last year. In my career I’ve:
Led capture of dozens of 7- and 8-figure deals with Fortune 500 companies and government organizations.
Realized drastic YOY revenue increases (high double and triple digits) by rethinking markets and product application.
Accelerated growth with due diligence and go/no-go M&A decisions.
I’ve helped multiple companies realize profitable exit strategies. Now, I’m looking to make a long-term impact on culture and products where I have a stake in the outcome. If this is of interest to you, let’s set up a time to speak.
Thank you in advance for your interest. I look forward to learning more about your most pressing challenges.
P.S. You can learn more about my experience here: [insert LinkedIn profile URL]
The letter at the end of this post was my first attempt to write for the same client. At 187 words, it was too long! I felt I’d whittled it down to the essentials, but my word count told me otherwise. You must, as Faulkner quipped, “Murder your darlings.” If you imagine yourself a busy decision maker and look at each of these, you’ll quickly understand why the above is better.
It takes time to write tight! As Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” But if you’re serious about job search, you better make the time!
(Disclaimer for the sticklers out there: some people say the above quotes were erroneously attributed to Faulkner and Twain. That may be the case, but whoever really posited these thoughts would have made great resume writers!)
Do you need a sales and marketing leader who can exceed revenue goals, reinforce strong corporate values, and develop product portfolios that out-innovate competitors?
As a member of the executive team at my current company, I’ve grown sales 93% in the last year. Additional results that may interest you:
Closed dozens of 7- and 8-figure deals with Fortune 500 companies and government organizations—both through personal contributions and team leadership.
Realized drastic YOY revenue increases (high double digits and triple digits) by rethinking customer base and product application and creating segmented marketing campaigns and sales strategies.
Accelerated growth and supported profitable exits by performing due diligence and making go/no-go merger and acquisition decisions.
I’ve helped multiple companies realize profitable exits through sales. Now, I’m looking for a place where I can make a long-term impact on culture and products and have a stake in the outcome. If this is of interest to you, let’s set up a time to speak.
I thank you in advance for your interest, and I look forward to learning more about your most pressing sales, marketing, and business challenges.
P.S. You can learn more about my experience here: [insert LinkedIn profile URL]