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Cold Email Prospecting vs. Marketing Emails: The Difference Explained


Cold email prospecting and email marketing are two VERY different strategies, yet some marketers think they are the same thing or get them confused. We are here to clear up the differences while also discussing the advantages of each email strategy.

Email has got to be the greatest thing to happen to business communication since the invention of the Internet.

It’s that good.

We ask you, who has had the biggest impact on your business?

Your boss? Your customers? Your investors? Your sales team? Your mom? Meghan Markle? Chad the Starbucks barista?

Nope. Guess again.

It was Ray Tomlinson.

Yeah, that dude.

Ray Tomlinson invented email.

Ray is the reason you’re able to work from home right now. Why your finance department, sales team, and analytics gurus can talk shop without ever knowing what each other looks like. Why you always remember to pay your bills. Why no one ever has to spend full price at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Ray’s invention is pretty much single-handedly keeping the economy afloat.

Oh yeah, and it saves trees.

Sure, Chad makes one tasty Iced Caramel Macchiato, but he can’t send an attachment at three in the morning. Ray’s creation can.

If you’re a marketer, life is even more plush, thanks to Ray and his “electronic mail.”

Has any other marketing tool in the history of marketing tools provided a better return on investment?


On average, email generates $38 for every $1 spent. That’s a 3,800% return on investment! Amazing! Who knew percentages even went that high.

Email marketing is perhaps the best channel a business can use to build an authentic connection with customers. Even better, it is the best way to authentically connect with potential customers.

You know, those people who haven’t realized yet that they want to give you money.

Well, you’re just one email away from making that happen.

All thanks to Ray Tomlinson, and that one time back in 1971 when he sent out the first-ever initial unsolicited email to himself.

Come to think of it, that means Ray Tomlinson also invented cold email prospecting.

Alas, the wide world of emailing has changed a lot since then. No longer is an email just an email. Particularly for digital marketers.

Cold emails themselves have gotten a bad rap, relegated to the shadiest corners of emailing. This is really a shame because cold email prospecting can (and should) be an integral part of your online marketing strategy.

In fact, cold email prospecting is one of the best tools in your arsenal for business growth.

That’s right, we said it. Cold email prospecting. Your business. Lots of growth.

This is why it’s so important to understand the difference between cold email prospecting and marketing emails, and when to send each to incur the most benefit.

Email Marketing Explained in A Nifty Graphic

Email marketing is a lot of things. But very often email marketing gets muddled together as one single process.

It is not.

Email marketing is an umbrella term that covers several uniquely different forms of sending an online message to potential or current customers. Treating email marketing as a singular process can be kind of vague, confusing, and even detrimental to your email marketing strategy. When really, email marketing is a symbiosis of sales and marketing tactics.

So when you plan to implement “email marketing,” make sure you know what you’re getting into. That means differentiating email marketing into its distinct subsets.

Think of your email marketing strategy as a family tree. A happy family tree with marketing and sales as the parents. And their budding offspring are cold email prospecting and marketing emails.

Side Note….

As you might have noticed, it can get really confusing really quickly using the terms “marketing emails” and “email marketing.” Technically, they are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.

To help differentiate, it’s often easier to refer to “marketing emails” as “warm emails.”

The more you know.


Where were we?

That’s right…

Cold email prospecting and marketing emails are the one-two punch of customer outreach.

The best email marketing strategies tie one into the other as part of a bigger sales funnel, both with specific goals to either sell or nurture leads.

With us so far?

Great, now let’s get granular.

The Difference Between Cold Email Prospecting and Marketing Emails

Each aspect of email marketing serves a unique purpose and should be tailored to satisfy their separate goals.

If email marketing were a funnel, your cold emails would constitute the top, and marketing emails would comprise the middle and bottom sections. Here’s what else you need to know about the difference between cold email prospecting and marketing emails:

Cold Email Prospecting

Cold email Prospecting targets people who either have no idea who you are or have yet to engage with your brand. It is the first stage of lead generation and the first step to leading prospects down the sales funnel.


  • Target: New prospects
  • Objective: Introduce yourself, engage, and funnel into further interactions
  • Benefits:
    • Broadens your brand’s reach
    • Builds out your contact lists
    • Initiates people into your sales funnel
    • Helps convert customers currently using competitor solutions


When composing cold emails, write a short, simple, plain text message that is easy to read and promotes a singular call-to-action (CTA). Similar to if you were writing a friend an email, which would use very little graphics, if any.

Marketing Email Outreach

Marketing emails (also referred to as “warm mailing”) target specific audiences who have already engaged with your brand and opted in to receive emails from you. These are typically warmer leads, or are interested in learning more about your brand.


  • Target: Existing prospects (or customers)
  • Objective: Inform, build brand credibility, and convert leads
  • Benefits:
    • Creates trust between your brand and contacts
    • Provides insight into how people engage with your brand and service
    • Funnels marketing qualified leads into sales-qualified leads
    • Helps convert leads into customers


When composing warm emails, write informative, HTML-based messages. Ideally, this includes offering something of value to attract and engage your audience.

Going from Cold to Warm: Outbound vs. Inbound Marketing

Aside from the by-the-book definitions above, there is another way to differentiate cold email prospecting from sending warm, marketing emails.

This difference lies in who initiates contact.

Marketing, in general, can be broken up into two types: outbound marketing and inbound marketing.

With outbound marketing, the business contacts the prospect first. A business gathers contact information and sends out messaging to prospects. Outbound is considered the “traditional method” for outreach, contacting potential customers with cold emailing and cold calls.

Marketing emails, on the other hand, are a form of inbound marketing.

With inbound marketing, the prospect starts the sales process. Prospects come across a brand’s messaging and decide whether or not to engage with it. Inbound is considered the “modern method” for outreach, attracting potential customers with creative content, and lead magnets.

To summarize: cold emails are initiated by you (the business) while marketing emails are initiated by the prospect (your potential customer).

Do a quick Google search, and you’ll see what the Internet thinks of outbound marketing.

Spoiler: It’s not good.

You’d think anyone doing outbound marketing was a greedy, diabolical villain.

Whereas inbound marketing is depicted as all rainbowy, unicorny, and Taylor Swifty, presenting a wonderfully welcoming way to engage and converse with customers, outbound marketing is shown as an unwanted one-way conversation to doom, providing no value and seeking solely to steal the soul of your customers.

Unfortunately, a lot of this has to do with the stigma of spam and telemarketing.

But this bad rap can actually be a good thing for your business.

Because sometimes the “villain” is actually the lovable hero all along.

Why Outbound Email Marketing Can Beat Inbound Marketing

Most will tell you that sending marketing emails is always a better bet. But when people say cold email prospecting is a waste of time, we beg to differ.

In fact, when done right, cold email prospecting can be more cost-effective than inbound marketing.

Which is a taboo thing to say these days.

Well, guess what? It used to be taboo to have a tattoo and look at us now.

What do taboos know?

But just like how Post Malone’s face art might have put off a colonial puritan from enjoying the lyrical masterpiece that is Sunflower, the spammy stigma of cold email prospecting turns off a lot of businesses from outbound email marketing.

You can tell because there’s such a big emphasis on improving SEO and enhancing CRO and boosting PPC and streamlining marketing emails and social media and content creation and other forms of inbound marketing.

Less so with outbound email marketing.

Alas, most businesses’ loss is your brand’s gain.

Few pushing hard to do cold email prospecting (save for maybe link building or influencer marketing) means there is a low-hanging fruit opportunity to stand out from your competitors.

That’s the first way outbound marketing can outshine inbound marketing.

The second is by saving time. (Outbound marketing is a long game with its lengthy marketing email drip campaigns and long-winded lead nurturing.)

And the third is by better optimizing your budget for lead generation.

The list building software company LeadFuze sums up how by noting:

Outbound funnels are a lot shorter than inbound, making them ideal for early growth.

To understand why, let’s take a look at this funnel.

The outbound funnel starts right where your inbound ends.

With marketing emails, selling is equated to nurturing. In cold email prospecting, selling is equated to — well — selling.

The outbound sales funnel is so much shorter because it goes right after sales qualified leads from the start. It foregoes taking the time to nurture leads, most of whom will never convert anyway.

Instead, outbound efforts like cold emailing is a more proactive strategy that relies less on waiting around for leads to decide whether or not they like you, and more on directly engaging leads who you already know do.

In other words, with cold email prospecting, you cut right to the chase.

So don’t discount outbound marketing from your email marketing strategy. While there is little doubt sending warm emails is a tried-and-true method to funneling prospects into becoming customers, cold emails can be just as effective in winning the day.

Cold Email vs. Warm Email: The Choice Between Nature and Nurture

Which email marketing strategy should your business go with?

A definitive both.

The best marketing strategies are the most diversified. You wouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, would you?

Of course not. That’s just silly.

So why would you bank all your email marketing efforts on just one type?

What you want to do is use cold email to reach new prospects naturally ready to purchase and use warm marketing emails to nurture existing prospects into making a purchase.

That’s the one-two punch of email marketing in action. No leads left behind.

It’s the reason why email was invented in the first place. To communicate with others when, where, and how you want. Open your email marketing strategy up to all cold emails and marketing emails have to offer, and you’ll reach every kind of prospect that could benefit your business.

Now doesn’t that sound nice?

Ray Tomlinson would be proud.

Not sure where to start with your cold email prospecting or want to know the most common mistakes we see?

Get in touch with our cold emailing experts for ways you can grow the profitability of your email marketing today.