May 13, 2024

Cold Email for Deal Origination: The Complete Guide

In the fast-paced world of off-market M&A, cold email outreach is a powerful tool for connecting with business owners and beginning the acquisition journey. However, simply blasting out generic emails is a surefire way to end up in spam folders - and potentially miss out on great target companies. To truly leverage the power of cold emails, you need a strategic and personalised approach. This guide will walk you through the entire process, from building a targeted prospect list to optimising your campaigns and mail tools for maximum success.

Building a Targeted Prospect List

Before we can begin sending emails, we need a list of prospects to send them to! The quality of your prospect list can significantly influence the outcome of your outreach efforts. After all, reaching the right business owners and decision-makers is not just about sending emails — it’s about sending emails to the right people.

In M&A, the 'right people' are those who have the authority to make decisions and are likely to be interested in considering an offer. Targeting these individuals increases the likelihood of engaging in meaningful conversations and decreases the chances of your emails being disregarded. 

This is where BizCrunch comes into play. We offer access to our database of every acquirable SME in the UK (with a heap of M&A-focused features and filters designed to help you find the ideal target companies), and we specialise in providing reliable and accurate direct email addresses for business owners. No info@, or sales@ emails that have to be passed around the office, we provide the email addresses for majority shareholders & PSCs. 

Don’t just take my word for it - try it for free with 25 credits on the house

Now you have a great source for prospect emails, let’s begin the behind-the-scenes work of preparing your outreach. 

Warming Up & Improving Deliverability

This is a step that many people skip, with disastrous results. Please, before launching any cold email campaign, you must take steps to warm up your outreach and improve your deliverability. I have seen many people simply dump a list of 100s of emails into an email tool and hit send - this is a recipe for disaster. You will hit a ton of spam filters, potentially get your domain blacklisted and waste a whole bunch of time and email addresses. If you read one section of this article and one section only - make it this one!

Inbox Warming: What is it and why is it necessary?

Inbox warming is the process of gradually increasing the volume of emails you send from an email account to build a positive sender reputation. This step is particularly important if you are sending emails from a new domain. 

Email providers use sender reputation as a key metric to determine whether your emails should be delivered to the inbox or relegated to the spam folder. A warmed-up email account demonstrates to email providers that you engage in regular, legitimate email activity, which is essential for maintaining high deliverability rates. 

Practical Steps for Warming Up Your Inbox

  1. Start Small: Begin by sending a few emails per day and gradually increase the number over time. For instance, you might start with 5 emails a day in the first week, and increase this number by 5-10 emails each subsequent week until you reach your target volume. 

  2. Engage with Real Contacts: If this is a brand new email account, make sure those initial sends are to colleagues, friends, or business associates who are likely to respond. Replies to your emails are a positive signal to email providers that your interactions are legitimate and desired.

  3. Monitor Responses and Adjust: Keep a close eye on how your emails are performing in terms of opens and replies. This feedback is crucial for adjusting your warm-up schedule and approach if necessary.

Improving Email Deliverability

  1. Verify Your Email List: Before you send out your emails, make sure your list is clean and up-to-date. If you’re using BizCrunch to find your owner emails, this step is done for you! We validate all of our emails with a third party supplier, before we provide them to our users.

  2. Authenticate Your Email: Implement email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. This is done with your domain host - wherever your email domain is hosted (most likely the same place as your website!). These help verify your identity as a sender and protect against spoofing, increasing your trustworthiness with email providers. This sounds complicated, but it isn’t really! Here’s a great guide on how to complete these authentication steps for most major domain hosts (Google, GoDaddy, Microsoft, Zoho, NameCheap, Amazon) .

  3. Optimise Your Content: Avoid using spam trigger words in your emails. Certain words will alert a recipient’s spam filter and make your email less likely to deliver. This excellent blog offers a list of words and phrases to avoid. Word’s like “sale” and “cash” are on the list - so think carefully about that first message! Also, try to avoid sending links and images in the first email. 

  4. Monitor Your Metrics: Regularly review metrics such as open rates, click rates, bounce rates, and spam complaints. This data is invaluable for tweaking your campaigns to improve outcomes and maintain a good sender reputation.

Crafting Attention-Grabbing Subject Lines

The subject line of your email is often the first impression you make on a potential M&A target. It's the gatekeeper that decides whether your email gets opened or ignored. This is part art, part science. Over time you will get to know which subject lines work best for your particular audience, but there are some general rules for follow:

  1. Be Clear and Direct: Since you are reaching out to business owners who are likely very busy, it's important to be respectful of their time. Use clear, direct language that conveys the purpose of your email. For example, "Proposal for Strategic Acquisition" or "Opportunity for Business Expansion."

  2. Incorporate Personalisation: Including the recipient's name or their company's name in the subject line can increase the likelihood of the email being opened. Personalisation shows that the email isn't just a generic blast but is specifically intended for them. For instance, "John, have you considered selling ABC Corp?". This doesn’t mean you need to write and send each email individually - this can be done by inserting custom fields that change for each business when mail merging (more on this in the mail merge section!).

  3. Spark Curiosity: You want to pique the interest of the recipient, but without resorting to clickbait tactics. Subject lines that include a hint of the potential benefits for the recipient can be effective. For example, "Exploring a Partnership Opportunity with [Your Company Name]" suggests a mutually beneficial arrangement.

  4. Convey Urgency Appropriately: Using urgency in the subject line can compel the recipient to open the email sooner rather than later. However, it's crucial that this is done authentically and not overly aggressively. Phrases like "Limited Opportunity for a Strategic Discussion" could work well.

  5. Test and Optimise: Don’t hesitate to experiment with different styles and formats to see what resonates best with your target audience. Use A/B testing on small segments of your mailing list (if your mail merge tool allows it) to determine which subject lines achieve higher open rates before rolling them out broadly.

  6. Keep it Short and Sweet: With many professionals accessing their email via mobile devices, shorter subject lines tend to perform better. Aim for 50 characters or less to ensure that the entire subject line is visible on mobile screens.

By crafting subject lines that are clear yet intriguing and personalised, you can significantly increase the chances that your cold emails will be opened. Also, the more emails that are opened and responded to, the safer your domain is considered to be - improving your deliverability. 

Remember, the goal is to start a conversation, and your subject line is your first opportunity to engage a potential seller in the M&A process. 

Writing Cold Email Copy

Too often, people can be a little lazy when it comes to crafting cold email copy. I understand that the rate of response is low and you have a dozen other things to do, but put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. You’re asking them to engage in a conversation about selling their business, perhaps a lifetime of work.  This email could change their life. If you seem disinterested, uninformed or generally as if you’re not taking this process seriously then you are starting on the back foot. The trust building between you and the potential seller begins here, in this email. So take the time to write copy that reflects this. The content of your email should resonate with the recipient, clearly communicating the potential benefits of engaging in a conversation with you, and encouraging them to take action. Here are key strategies to ensure your cold email copy is effective and compelling:

  1. Start With a Personal Connection (if possible): If you have the option, begin your email with a personalised greeting and a sentence that relates specifically to the recipient or their business. This could be a reference to a recent achievement, news about their company, or a mutual connection. Establishing relevance right from the start increases the likelihood of your message being well-received. This can be tough, especially if you’re new to this process. As an alternative, open with something relevant to the industry, perhaps a stat, fact, or piece of industry news that this owner may be aware of. This at least establishes that you have knowledge of the business.

  2. Be Concise and to the Point: Time is a precious commodity for business owners. Keep your email brief and focused. Clearly state the purpose of your email in the first few sentences. Avoid jargon and overly complex language. Aim to convey your message in a few short paragraphs.

  3. Use a Clear Call to Action: What do you want the recipient to do after reading your email? Whether it’s scheduling a call, providing more information, or simply replying to discuss further, your call to action should be clear and easy to follow. Use direct language like "Please reply by [date] to schedule a call" or "I would love to discuss this further over a quick phone call. Are you available this week?"

  4. Proofread for Clarity and Grammar: Before sending, make sure your email is free of typos and grammatical errors. A well-written, error-free email reflects your professionalism and attention to detail.

Taking these steps when writing your outreach copy will increase the chances of initiating meaningful dialogue with potential business sellers.

Following Up Effectively

Think about the last cold email you received - even if you were interested, did you reply right away? The likelihood is, no. In fact, cold outreach specialists Lemlist analysed millions of cold emails sent via their platform and found that the average reply rate to email 1 is just 4.5%. However, with 9 total emails sent across a follow-up campaign, the overall reply rate rises to 20%. Remember, this also isn’t your standard cold email. We’re not selling a list of leads or a consultation session here, we’re asking someone to contemplate selling their business, it will take some time and thought! Effectively follow-up, then, is critical. Your follow-up emails should reinforce the value of your initial message, remind the recipient of your interest, and gently nudge them towards engagement. Here’s how to manage the timing and content of your follow-up emails to increase the likelihood of a response without being pushy.

  1. Timing Your Follow-Up: The timing of your follow-up email can vary based on the urgency and the context of your proposal, but a general rule is to wait about a week after your initial email. This interval allows the recipient enough time to consider your proposal but is short enough to keep the conversation and the topic fresh in their mind. If the situation calls for more urgency, you might adjust this to a few days.

  2. Content of Your Follow-Up: Your follow-up email should be concise and to the point, focusing on reminding the recipient of your previous communication and reinforcing the value of your proposal. Start by referencing your initial email, perhaps by summarising the key points or the value proposition. For instance: "I wanted to touch base following my email last week about a potential strategic acquisition that could benefit [Company Name]. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this opportunity."

  3. Persistence Without Being Pushy: It’s important to strike a balance between being persistent and respecting the recipient's space and decision-making process. If you haven’t received a response after the first follow-up, it’s acceptable to send another one, possibly a week later, perhaps offering additional information or a new angle on the proposal. However, always include an option for the recipient to opt out of further communications gracefully, which demonstrates respect for their decision and professionalism on your part.

  4. Add a Personal Touch: Even in your follow-up, a personal touch can be very effective. Mention any new development or upcoming event relevant to their business that ties back to your proposal to keep the email timely and relevant.

  5. Call to Action: Reinforce a clear, easy-to-follow call to action. This could be a request for a meeting, a phone call, or simply a reply. For example, "Could we schedule a 20-minute call next week to discuss this further? I believe there is great potential for synergy between our companies."

  6. Using Gentle Reminders: Sometimes, simply reminding the recipient of your previous communication and showing your continued interest can prompt a response. A gentle reminder could be phrased as, "I understand you have a busy schedule, but I would appreciate any feedback you might have on my previous message."

By following these guidelines, you can maintain a balance between persistence and respectfulness, increasing the likelihood of a response without compromising the professional relationship. Effective follow-up can make all the difference in M&A - don’t give up after the first email!

Cold Outreach Tools 

Mail merge  is a powerful tool that significantly enhances the efficiency and scale of your cold email campaigns. A good mail merge process, or cold outreach tool, will allow you to send emails with personalisation at scale. Here’s how you can use mail merge effectively to maintain the personal touch necessary for successful outreach while managing large volumes of email.

  1. Choosing the Right Tool: For those starting out or working with smaller volumes, you can combine Gmail with Google Sheets for simple, free mail merges. This is great for getting started, but it does have limits. For example, you cannot program follow up campaigns, monitor open rates, etc. If you’re serious about cold outreach and need to send more than a dozen or so emails on a regular basis, try a dedicated cold outreach tool such as Lemlist, Instantly, or one of the other many cold outreach tools on the market. Pick the one with the features and price range that suits you best. Some can combine multiple channels, such as email and LinkedIn, others will include mailbox warmups (which we covered earlier). Do not use a newsletter-sending tool, such as Mailchimp - we will cover this in more detail in the compliance section of this article. Pick a platform design for cold email that suits your needs. 

  2. Maintaining Personalisation:

    • Custom Fields: Make use of custom fields in your outreach. These fields can pull data directly from your spreadsheet (like first names, recent company achievements, etc.) into your emails. The more specific you can get with your data, the better. For example, referencing a recent business milestone or a common industry challenge can make the email feel more tailored and relevant. Your cold outreach software should guide you through this process when you sign up. 

    • Segmentation: Divide your email list into segments based on factors like industry, company size, or previous interactions. Tailoring your message to each segment can drastically increase the relevance of your emails and, consequently, your response rates.

  3. Tracking and Analysing Results: Most mail merge tools come with built-in analytics. Monitor metrics such as open rates, click rates, and reply rates to gauge the effectiveness of your emails. Use this data to continually refine your approach, segment lists more accurately, and improve your email content. If you find, for instance, that your bounce rate is over 10% then pause that campaign and re-assess. If your open rates are low, try experimenting with different subject lines. I said earlier that cold outreach is part art and part science - this where the science comes in! 

If you’re sending emails en-masse, utilise mail merge or a cold outreach tool to streamline your emailing process effectively while keeping each message personalised and engaging. 


When conducting cold email campaigns, adhering to legal standards and best practices is imperative. This blog is aimed at those based in the UK, so I will talk here about GDPR but if you are reading this in the US please research CAN-SPAM! 


Firstly, it is legal under GDPR to send cold emails, however there are some stipulations. Firstly, the service or product you are offering must provide genuine value to the individuals or companies you contact. Regulatory frameworks like GDPR are designed to stop spam, not to hinder legitimate business and outreach. If you’re serious about potentially buying someone’s business, it certainly falls under a legitimate offer. 

Secondly, you must be transparent about how you handle the recipient’s data. Ensure that your emails clearly inform recipients about the usage of their data and provide them with an easy option to opt-out and remove their information from your database at any time. Furthermore, it’s wise to not retain data for longer than necessary. For instance, if a prospect has not responded within 90 days, consider removing their data from your system. 

In this guide, we’ve explored the foundational aspects of cold emailing for M&A—from crafting compelling subject lines and personalising your messages to following up effectively and using mail merge!  We've also touched on the importance of maintaining compliance with email regulations to ensure your campaigns are not only effective but also lawful.

As you begin to implement these strategies, remember that the goal of your cold email campaign is to open a dialogue with potential M&A targets. Each email should be crafted thoughtfully, balancing professionalism with personalization, to maximise the chances of a positive response.

Good luck and happy prospecting! 

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