Cold Emails

I learned with the last blog post that it is not strategically sound to write when annoyed. It’s like going to the grocery store when hungry. Everything sounds great in your head, but inevitably you will take it too far.

That said, thinking of something different to write about every month is challenging when you intentionally build your life around routine. Conflict drives content, which is why every book, movie, story follows this arc even though we all just want to skip to the happy montage at the end.

So admittedly, I am going to manufacture a bit of conflict to cover this month. The email was received March 16 and more or less forgotten about by March 17, but I dug it up for closer examination.

My job boils down to sales. Every job at its essence is about sales. The target audience and what you’re selling may not seem obvious, but ultimately you need someone to perceive value in order to get paid. Even an engineer with no customer interaction still has to sell his worth to some boss somewhere so the direct deposit doesn’t stop.

I focus on sales in more of the traditional sense. A significant chunk of my time is spent searching for new business. This means reaching out and making cold introductions. I don’t love that part. I’m not sure anybody really does.

All jobs require tasks you might not particularly enjoy and certainly wouldn’t do for free. There should be a universal empathy when you see someone plugging away at this.

Or at least don’t be a jerk about it. If I know a Burger King employee’s worst part of his day is cleaning the bathroom, I’m not going to leave an upper-decker. (This morally reprehensible technique entails taking a dump in the top compartment of a toilet.) There is no reason to give someone a hard time when you should be able to relate to chores requisite to making a living.

So here’s the email I got:

Sorry, [company name omitted] doesn’t hire outside contractors for that, nor do we accept cold calls like this as we are a federal agency. Please educate yourself about an organization before sending a message like this. It reflects poorly on our alumni network to spam people like this.

Please don’t ever email this account again.

This is a fair response to some extent. I generally appreciate candor and cherish the lost art of declining an invitation rather than ignoring. But if you can dish it, you should be able to take it too. And thus with clear conscience, I will attempt to annihilate this 53-word response with unfair granularity. (Nothing in life looks good up close, except Apple products and Zac Efron’s core.)

An apology, even a casual one, implies some level of regret or empathy on the part of the issuer. If a homeless person asks for money, you might say “Sorry, I don’t have cash” or “Sorry, not today.” But you wouldn’t then proceed to scold him over asking.

“nor do we accept cold calls like this as we are a federal agency”
I don’t know what a federal agency is exactly, but I presume some association with the federal government. Now is not the time to trumpet this with any amount of condescension. “Federal” people like this guy, a douche-and-a-half teetering between exaggerated self-importance and sheer arrogance, contributed to the logic-defying conditions that have made Donald Trump invincible.

All that should have been necessary to derail Trump’s candidacy was to let him speak for an extended amount of time. He has said enough by now, many times over. The fact that his delegate count still keeps going up is a clear indictment of the “federal” status quo. The douches are alarmingly deficient at their job if they can’t defeat a dangerous caricature.

Also: It is a near certainty a team competing and thriving in the private sector is more efficient, effective and productive than any federal one not named SEAL Team 6.

“Please educate yourself”
I did indeed peruse his company’s website beforehand to identify relevance. They build cool digital stuff. We build cool digital stuff and make sure people see it. A wild imagination is not needed to wonder whether we might be able to do business together.

Nowhere on the website does it say an email introduction would be inappropriate. Granted, most inquiries do not lead to new business. Maybe the prospect has an in-house team or no budget or a closed RFP process. I could try to “educate” myself by playing detective and conjecturing, which would be akin to sitting at the bar wondering if the pretty girl has a boyfriend, or doesn’t want to be bothered, or is about to leave. Alternatively, in a truly revolutionary strategy, I could just… ask.

“sending a message like this”
Like what? This wasn’t the dick pic I sent to my cousin in Vegas. Here’s what I did send:

Hi [first name omitted],

Hope this message finds you well. I am a thorough (albeit always delayed) reader of the NU alumni magazine and caught your class note.

HYFN is a digital agency that specializes in social, mobile and web. We recently launched dramatically effective lead gen campaigns and a new website for UFC GYM:

And on the media side, Facebook just put up a case study of our work for Taco Bell:

Would love to hop on a quick intro call to see if we can support [company name omitted]’s team, particularly in custom development and social amplification.

Thanks for listening,
Gerald, BSJ ‘06

“reflects poorly on our alumni network”
The alumni magazine has a class notes section at the end, and this guy submitted a lengthy description of his career success. Not exactly a humble recluse here. If you’re comfortable enough to share that in print, then shouldn’t you be comfortable enough to get an email? Or are only congratulatory notes acceptable?

My understanding of an alumni network is that it facilitates conversation and connections based on the shared misery of overpriced tuition. I would argue this is precisely the proper context for cold inquiries, and a response like his reflects more poorly on the network than my outreach. I have helped out numerous alumni strangers with questions and advice. If we can’t make the Tournament, the least we could do is be nice to each other.

Perhaps part of the problem was the douche did his masters at Northwestern, not undergrad. So while I was rushing Ryan Field after the Ohio State night game, he was at an off-campus coffee shop writing his thesis about alumni network decorum. Different worlds.

“spam people like this”
I didn’t ask him to wire me money in Nigeria. I addressed him by name and company, referenced his class note, and described services potentially in line with his needs. Sure I send variations of the same email to many others, but that’s because I am introducing the same thing.

This wasn’t spam. Spam is about volume, bulk lists and no personalization. I read about his company and his role and sent him an individual email. I am confident no email matching mine word-for-word has ever been composed in the history of email. His personality is probably closer to spam than my email.

“Please don’t ever email this account again.”
I get that salespeople circle back and follow up like mosquitos, but this was a little presumptuous. I was never going to email him again. Let’s go back to the pretty girl at the bar. She explains she has a boyfriend, so it would be best not to talk. Got it. Does she really need to wrap it up by clarifying that I should never speak to her again?

The douche could have blocked any future emails from me with a click of a button. He could have just ignored something that didn’t interest him, like a normal human being. He could have sent me a picture of his testicles.

All these things would have taken less time than writing a 53-word email that was jarring in its frigid tone. Out of thousands of cold emails, this was the coldest response I have ever received. Most people are either nice, or more likely, don’t go out of their way to be not nice.

Setting aside the glaring observation that the douche takes himself too seriously, I still need to defend the right to introduce myself. No one likes to be cold-called or emailed. Most people don’t enjoy being on the other end, either. But it is fundamental to a market economy. The products and services taken for granted on a daily basis exist because somebody at some point had to stick out his hand to a stranger, physically or figuratively. Though not always welcome or pleasant, it’s worthwhile in the long run for everybody. I’ll stand by that cold reality.



Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.