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How to start an email: 4 foolproof ways (and the psychology behind them)

These are the 4 best bullet-proof ways to start your email, and the subtle psychology behind why these opening lines work for any business email.

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    By James

    James has six years' experience as a Content Marketer, bylines on Left Foot Forward, Submittable, and INOMICS, and a Master's in History. In his free time he likes to read, play guitar, and write for his personal blog.

    Ever wonder how to start an email pitch? We all know the importance of having a good opening line in sales emails: it stirs up the readers’ interest and makes them curious about what you will offer.

    In this post, we will discuss the 4 best ways to start an email and the subtle psychology behind some of the most common fail-proof opening lines.

    Trigger event opening lines

    Emails shouldn’t be about you or your products, but about what your prospect needs. Referencing a recent change or update sets a more personalized tone in the email. It also introduces the presumption to your prospect that the email is about them, not you:

    • Congratulations to your recent <career move>! Are you also considering changing of <topic>?
    • I noticed <recent change> in your company. I was hoping to propose to you <topic> in regards to this…

    Question opening lines

    A good opening question should try to address positive collaborative efforts. For example, consider these two opening lines:

    1. “Do you have time to talk about <topic>?
    2. Should we consider together <topic> soon?

    What’s the difference?

    While both questions asked for availability, the former doesn’t suggest a common ground you want to form with your prospect. Instead, the second question shifts the focus from the pitch to your request for cooperative efforts.

    Similarly, consider these two questions:

    1. Have you considered how you might be affected by <news/statistics>?
    2. Considering <news/statistics>, are you thinking of <change> in your company?

    Even though both examples showcased your expertise, the former doesn’t bring as much value to your pitch. A more effective question would suggest a potential change you can contribute to your prospect.

    Shift the focus from the pitch to your request for cooperative efforts.

    Compliment opening lines

    We all know that it’s rooted in the human brain: praises are a form of social reward that helps to instantly build rapport. But what’s the difference between compliments and flattery? Consider these opening lines:

    1. I enjoyed reading your recent post on X — great content. This is why I want to propose to you about <topic>…
    2. Congratulations on the great feedback on your recent post. With your insight to X I think you would also love to hear about <topic>…

    What’s the difference?

    The former suggests you’re interested in X only because of what you want to offer. Instead, the latter compliments your prospect’s effort and insight.

    In psychology, self-attribution bias describes how we like to explain our own success with internal factors (e.g. ability) and bad outcomes with external factors (e.g. luck).

    Recommended reading: How to end an email professionally

    To avoid flattery, start an email by giving genuine compliments that show respect and appreciation for how much someone has contributed to their achievement.

    Connection/referral opening lines

    A common approach is to reference a mutual contact or an event both you and the recipient have attended. Another way is to mention a recent successful collaboration.

    • I was fortunate to have <contact> who suggested me to reach out to you
    • I heard your talk at <event> which I also attended because of <topic>
    • Mutual contacts or connections you made during events could be a start to a successful collaboration.

    In psychology, familiarity bias is a shortcut we use when making quick decisions. We tend to go for options that are within our comfort zones, or simply those we have more knowledge of.

    This is why commonalities between you and your recipient increase the success rate.

    If you're writing a cold email, personalization is the key.

    Using AI to personalize your opening lines

    Emerging artificial intelligence technologies can be a serious boon to your email communication. By entering just a few keywords, your AI assistant can compose a full email for you, or improve on an email you've already written.

    You could enter personal information about your relationship to your recipient into a program like ChatGPT, and the AI can formulate it for you in a professional manner. You can also tell it the style in which your email should be written - formal, chatty, etc. - and it will sort it all out for you.

    Using AI to help you improve and personalize your emails saves you valuable time and effort.

    How to find out if your opening line worked

    The first email is simply the beginning of successful outreach. With the helping hand of email tools like Mailbutler, you can leverage each email conversation with little to no effort.

    If you're dying to know whether your recipient is interested, try using Email Tracking to find out whether your leads are engaged.

    In this blog post, we explained the technology behind email tracking and the 3 most common use cases.


    gmail email tracking


    Email tracker notifies you when your email or link was clicked - you can even find out where, how often and on what device your email was opened.

    Moreover, if you use an IMAP or iCloud email address in Apple Mail, you can see exactly who has opened your email when you send a message to multiple recipients, using Mailbutler's Per Recipient Tracking feature.

    Check in again if you don't receive a reply

    Follow-ups are a must if you want to close your deal. To avoid losing track of important conversations again, you can set up reminders in your email to follow-up on outgoing messages. This is a part of the Mailbutler Tasks feature.

    For example, Mailbutler offers this feature for its Gmail extension (also available as an Apple Mail plugin and Outlook add-in), which notifies you when it's time to check in and follow up if you didn't receive a reply.

    If you haven't heard back, check again using Email Tracking to find out whether your recipients are still interested.

    The beginning of your email is make-or-break. Understanding the psychology behind some of the common tactics will help you come up with unique ideas next time you’re thinking of how to start an email.

    Mailbutler is a powerful productivity extension for Apple Mail, Outlook and Gmail that helps professionals and teams email smarter to get more meaningful work done. Get started today for free.

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