Notes on cold emails

In response to my post from day before yesterday on writing better copy for cold emails, Seth shared a thoughtful and passionate response –

“Cold email pitches are a trap.

Personalizing is different from personal.

Pretending that you’ve used someone’s software, listened to their podcast or used their onesie on your kid is a way of telegraphing your selfishness in just one sentence. 

Email costs nothing to send and a lot to read. When you (send a) cold pitch in email, you’re stealing–time, attention and trust.

Sorry, but the right advice is: don’t send cold email pitches.

Don’t build a business that depends on them.

You can do better.”

I reflected on this response and realized I had a couple of questions. The first – Cold emails are a key part of a growth marketer’s playbook. While I agree that we shouldn’t build businesses on these, aren’t they a key tool? And since so many of them are sent out, wouldn’t it be better if we learnt how to do them right?

To this, Seth shared that the difference in his mind was in whether this was in the context of a business or a person. There is no such thing as a cold email to a business as it is someone’s job to find the right products/services and respond. That is not the case when it comes to people. So, we’re better off making something people choose to talk about.

This distinction cleared it up in my mind. In case it was on your mind as well, I hope it clears it up for you too.

Some of the enduring lessons from writing this blog over the years have come from such exchanges and notes from you. So, to everyone who takes the time to write and add your own spin/perspective, I appreciate it. :-) Thanks for this one, Seth.

PS: While some of what I learn from Harry’s work on “Marketing Examples” is specific to certain kinds of advertising or marketing, most of my salient takeaways over the past 2 years has been in writing simpler copy. “Be plainspoken. Then write like you speak” is a lesson that never gets old.

Burnout

“I always thought burnout happened when you work too much. Now I get it. It’s investing emotionally and then not getting a return on that investment.” | Clint Byrum

This beautiful definition of burnout resonated.

Harry’s Marketing Examples

A newsletter I learn a lot from is “Harry’s Marketing Examples.” Every couple of weeks, Harry shares a collection of marketing and copywriting tips that are that nice mix of insightful and funny. Below are two examples from the latest edition.

1/ My favourite cold email pattern
Personalise. Pain point. Pitch.
Cold email pattern
2/Write with conviction
• Don’t say “a” say “the”
• Don’t say “help” say “how”
• Don’t say “alternative” say “replaces”
Conviction Copy

Thank you, Harry, for sharing these. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.

Encountering skeptics

Every time you build something new or different, you’ll encounter skeptics. I’ve learned over time that most of these skeptics come at this with nothing but good intentions. All they see, however, are the problems.

It is easy to find yourself getting angry, disappointed, or annoyed at the skepticism. But these are the useless default reactions.

Once we get past that, pay attention to the signal in their feedback, and use it to make our ideas better, we’ll find that our ideas are better for their skepticism. It just requires us to get over ourselves, focus on what they’re saying, and ignore how they’re saying it.

If you manage to get through this process (and I hope you do), you’ll find that the same skeptics will become the biggest believers.

Every good idea has skeptics.

It is just on us to follow our conviction, to stay focused on making our ideas better, and to do the work.

Short-form debate = low quality debate

A lesson I’ve learned over the past year – debates over short-form content including tweets and pithy one-liners is low quality debate.

Short-form content tends to strip all the nuance needed to have a thoughtful conversation. So, debates on such content end up serving just one purpose – entertainment – or in case of those on the opposing side – enragement.

Avoiding this guarantees a consistent happiness boost. It also allows us to direct our attention on topics and conversations that help us learn.

Win-win-win.

Buffer

The more the variables, the more valuable the buffer.

An extra few days on the delivery plan of a complex project.

Spare time in a week with an important deliverable.

Getting in earlier than needed to the airport when traveling with kids.

Three months worth of living expenses in liquid cash.

These are all examples of buffer that pay off in a big way when we face the inevitable and yet unexpected roadblock.

The more the variables, the more valuable the buffer needed.

Uvalde

Another mass shooting. 18 children. 2 adults. May they rest in peace.

This was the 30th school shooting in the United States in 2022. That is a line that wouldn’t make sense in most countries around the world. Besides, there are many more gory details about the impact of bullets on a child’s skin that makes “shooting” sound like a benign word.

It begs that next recurring question – at what point will we tell the kinds of stories that result in legislation for tighter gun control in the United States?

Stories… because, let’s face it, this isn’t a problem caused by an absence of facts.

Facilitating team events – feat. icebergs, smiles, tears, and intensity

A note for new subscribers: This post is part of a series on my notes on technology product management (this is what I do for a living). You might notice that these posts often link to older posts in the series on LinkedIn even though they are all available on this blog. That is intended for folks who only want to follow future product management related posts. Finally, for all those of you who don’t build tech products for a living, I believe many of these notes have broader applicability. And I hope you find that to be the case as well…

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A quick overview of what we’ve covered on “Notes on Product Management” so far – 

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A healthy product team has 3 elements that come together – context, communication, and trust. Communication is the lifeblood of this trifecta as it helps both establish and maintain context and trust.

The more the trust and the context, the lesser we need to communicate. But, given how often we have turnover in teams, it is a good rule to default to over-communication to ensure shared context and trust.

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While shared context – powered by good communication – is best done consistently in the office and help maintain trust, they rarely help accelerate the building of trust. Intense experiences do that. And while teams go through intense experiences from time to time when they’re in the trenches, these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

My belief is that in-person team events outside the office are the most powerful way to accelerate the process of building trust. As a result, I think these events shouldn’t spend a lot of time attempting to converge on strategy or roadmaps. Those context-building activities can be done in the office with a good meeting. It is worth inserting activities that encourage divergent thinking – e.g., a brainstorm – on the agenda to get juices flowing. But, for teams that don’t operate with high levels of trust, I think the sole focus of team events should be to build trust.

How do you know if your team operates with high levels of trust? I don’t think there is an easy metric to measure this. Employee feedback/voice surveys can point to it. My experience is that this is in the category of “you just know.” It is easy for folks on the team to be honest about what they’re struggling with, conversations about scope flow easily, and so on. If you are operating with high levels of trust, you feel it.

With that said, there are 2 kinds of team events – those that go above the iceberg and those that go below the iceberg.

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I. Above the iceberg – fun but don’t do a great job building trust

The purpose of “above the iceberg” events is for the team to spend time together outside the office. 

What’s great: Helpful first activity for a new team or a large group to break the ice, easy to organize as there are so many places you can go to.

What’s not great: They don’t accelerate trust or deep bonds. 

What they require: Light prep and cash/a decent budget. :-)

 How to prepare – 2 ingredients of good “Above the iceberg” events:

(1) Moderately intense activity: Good activities often involve some form of lightweight competition.

(2) Space to talk: This can either be during or after the activity

There are a whole host of activities that do a good job here – bowling, bocce ball, a good dinner, picnic, mini golf, hikes, and so on. These activities combine a moderately intense activity with space to talk.  

Other activities dial up the intensity – e.g., go-karting, laser tag, escape rooms, fencing, virtual reality game – and need to be complemented with a nice lunch or a lightweight activity elsewhere to enable conversation.

Such activities are needed from time to time – they just work much better for brand new teams or teams that already operate with high levels of trust. 

II. Below the iceberg – these build trust by facilitating meaningful conversations

Most teams end up organizing a series of “Above the iceberg” events when a “Below the iceberg” event is actually what they need. The purpose of these events is to facilitate conversation that enables the team to REALLY get to know each other. These go beyond surface introductions to help people understand what makes them tick.

As I’ve shared before, they accelerate the creation of trust – and in rare cases, mistrust. Either way, you’re going to see acceleration.

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What’s great: They do a fantastic job building trust.

What’s not great: They can be intense (which isn’t for everyone) and require significant preparation to ensure they’re hitting the right notes depending on the stage of the team.

What they require: A great location, vulnerability from the leader and facilitator (if they’re different people).

How to prepare – decide what kind of event you want: Below is a menu of example conversations that range from –

(a) Lightweight to intense: While lightweight events can be done in the office, the “great location” requirement still holds. These can’t be done well in the typical window-less conference room. You’ll need to either find an outdoor location or at least find a great room with a view where you can rearrange the furniture and ideally sit in a circle. 

The intensity mentioned here is emotional and not necessarily correlated with the preparation required. 

(b) Smiles to tears: Some types of conversations inspire smiles, others inspire tears. There’s no right answer here – you just have to pick based on your leadership style, the stage of the team, and so on. 

I’ve shared example conversations/activities in each box. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Instead, they’re meant to illustrate various kinds of activities and conversations. Most great events involve getting to know what really drives others on the team and some form of sharing genuine appreciation.

Once again, there is no right way to do these – you just have to pick one that works based on what you’re going for.

The only truth is that the more the intensity and the tears, the deeper the bonds. :-)

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3 lessons I’ve learnt about these “below-the-iceberg” events over the years – 

(1) You set the tone. If you’re the facilitator, I can’t say this enough. The more intense the experience, the more vulnerable you have to be willing to be.

(2) Don’t enforce time for more intense activities. Great activities can sometimes take hours. Exercises that involve sharing gratitude nearly always go long. That’s okay.

For example, I’ve been part of an activity with a group of 15 folks that took 7 hours. Similarly, there was another with 7 folks that took us 3 hours. Everyone had something to say about every other person. It took time. But it was so memorable.

(3) The environment has to be just right. Location, mood, external stressors, and size of the group all contribute to the right environment. Sometimes, despite our best attempts, it doesn’t quite work. And in other times, everything just slides into place.

I was recently in an event where we didn’t plan for this sort of a conversation. It just clicked into gear around a fireplace – inspired by a great location, good food, and a good mood. When that happens, you just have to learn to recognize and go with it.

All this said, it is worth putting in the effort to create a great environment. Done right, the effect of such events on the relationships and trust within the team is magical.

The anatomy of a mistake and the response

I made a mistake today.

We love biking outdoors and take our bikes on a bike rack. I’ve done this many times over the past couple of years with no issues.

Today, I wanted to take 3 out of the 4 bikes for a tune up. Out of habit, I put the 4th bike in as well. It is newer and didn’t need a tune up. So I did find myself wondering why I was doing it. I ignored that impulse and put it on the rack.

Except I didn’t. I fastened the back wheel but didn’t fasten the front. A complete miss.

As we started driving, I noticed the bike jump as we went on a speed bump near our place. My instinct was to stop the car and check. But this had happened before and we were going to stop in 5 minutes anyway. So I ignored that instinct. A miss.

It ended up falling off the stand somewhere on the way and we ended up with damaged brakes and a flat tire. On a new bike that didn’t need to be on the journey.

An unnecessary mistake that was both expensive and stupid.

A few reflections –

(1) I start by being harsh (terming these kinds of mistakes stupid/moronic) and then remind myself to be kind. I find this middle path to be productive as it channels the emotion from the harshness into a constructive, forward looking, learning.

(2) Listen to your instincts. Especially in situations where we’re better safe than sorry.

(3) It is so much easier to break stuff vs. build.

(4) It could definitely been much worse. If this had been an adult bike, the damage could have been a lot more. Similarly, if the frame was affected, the bike would have been irreparable.

(5) Consciousness and focus in our daily activities matter. It helps to be present.

(6) It is a huge consolation that it is a problem that can be solved with money vs. a health problem for example.

(7) There’s a very positive philosophical idea that any bad thing that happens just helps prevent something worse. :-) It helps ensure I’m internalizing the learning and moving on with that tinge of positivity.

(8) There’s so much to learn from our experiences in life. Reflecting on a mistake like this one never fails to drive that home.