Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Top 6 Rules for Writing Emails that Get a Response

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 12, 2017 @ 23:11 PM

How many times do you write an email to a prospect and get no response? How often do you think, "My product makes so much sense for this prospect that if they only agreed to have a conversation, we'd be doing business." Here's a recent real-life example from my work with a client that I believe will give you insights and tools to dramatically increase the likelihood of getting an actual response.

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The target for this email could be on your top 50 prospect list or it could even be an existing transactional customer who hasn’t been farmed in a few years, as was the case in this example from just two weeks ago, though the lessons are widely applicable.

In particular, this kind of email is useful when you believe it is squarely in your prospect's best interest to have a conversation with you. We often work and re-work those emails, sending them off into the darkness, and listening for a response, hearing nothing but crickets. We’re about to increase your odds of success. Read on.

So let's set this up. I received the following email from a sales manager at one of my client companies:

Good morning Dennis,

One of my sales reps is working on sending an existing customer an email to try to get a meeting to get reconnected. We’ve been doing business with some of their properties for years without fuss, but we know they have a lot more and there has always been reluctance from this gentleman to work with us or even see our value. He inherited our services when he took over the role he's in and he's always been skeptical. The old business is essentially just hanging on and frankly, we're a little afraid of calling attention to it.

We have not had a business review with this client for many years nor any communication. My rep’s initial attempt at an email to this guy was lengthy and provided a lot of information - probably too much. Thinking about what she learned in the training sessions, she shortened it to the note you will see below, which is much better, in my view, but still doesn’t seem quite right. Didn’t know if we could review it this morning in our regular coaching call.

Thanks,

Sarah, Sales Manager

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Here is the email that Sarah’s business development sales rep, Jill, wanted to send to this prospect, who was high on her target list for her company's initiative to farm old customers and grow their accounts:

Dear Mr. Janson,

Hope you are doing well today. I work for Agency Solutions, Inc. We work with management companies to help them find hidden sources of revenue on their properties without the burden of taking time to negotiate and administer all the ancillary contracts on their own, especially when they are usually unrelated to their main revenue sources. I would like the opportunity to come and meet with you in person. I have the following days/times available, please let me know which one of these will work for you:

  • November 16 – anytime from 8:00 – 1:00
  • November 17 – anytime from 8:00 – 10:00 or 1:00 – 5:00
  • November 20 – anytime from 8:00 – 5:00
  • November 21 – anytime from 8:00 – 5:00
  • November 22 – anytime from 8:00 – 5:00

Thank you,

Jill

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Take a look at her letter and ask yourself what you might change:

  • How is she positioning her company?
  • What's the message she's sending about herself?
  • What could make this email more effective?
  • Is the prospect likely to read the whole thing?

We will never know the answer to these questions because she never sent the email. Phew! But we can draw from our experience, make some educated guesses, and suggest changes that might increase the chances of a favorable outcome. Whether you're a salesperson, business development expert, or a sales manager, what edits would you suggest?

Later that morning, I met with Sarah and the President of Agency Solutions, her boss, so we could dig into this email and see if we could improve it. I'm going to share with you what we came up with, but first, let’s pick out the key points and make some comments:

  • “Dear Mr. Janson” – Let's start there. That kind of salutation works better for some but not all members of a certain age bracket and I recently read an article about email etiquette in the Middle East and it recommended starting off that same way. However, it’s usually better to position yourself as a peer. So let’s use “Hi Frank,” or “Dear Frank,” or simply, “Frank,” your choice. If you disagree with this and want to keep it formal, then continue doing it the other way, especially if it’s helping you engage better, differentiate yourself, develop rapport, and position yourself as an advisor at their level whom they can trust.
  • “Hope you are doing well today?” – The body of the letter starts with this. It usually means, “Warning, this is a sales letter so you can stop reading now.” If you wouldn’t kick off an email to your best friend that way, don’t do it here either. Oh, you mean Frank Janson isn’t your best friend? Fine. Pretend he is, and he just might become one.
  • “We work with management companies to help them…” – This is pretty good, but I’d rather use “I,” for starters because in sales today, and particularly when there is product parity, the best differentiator is often you. And the phrase “work with…companies” removes you too much from the specific people you help so perhaps you might dive right into “I help managers…” I love the whole rest of that sentence.
  • “I would like the opportunity to come and meet you…” – Wait a minute. Whose opportunity is this? So what you're saying is, “Please, oh mighty prospect, grant me your time for my personal opportunity, and while it’s possible there might be something in it for you too, at least you know that I have myself in mind from the outset.” The only opportunity here is a chance for your prospect to receive much-needed help. Don’t make it about you.
  • “I have the following times available…” After this sentence, the email continues to list times and dates that add up to 38 hours of available time over five consecutive business days. Now there's a message for you. “Listen, Mr. Janson, I’ll try to stay awake that week in case you call. In fact, I’ll put the phone next to the TV so I’ll be sure to hear it. With any luck, you’ll be my first customer in months. We’re going to have some fun together, buddy, cuz my schedule’s clear sailing to the new year!”

Okay, now that we’ve had some fun with this, let’s take a look at how we changed it during our 30-minute call later that morning. When we finished, Sarah, the sales manager, gave the copy to Jill to send off to Frank. Here's what she sent him:

Frank,

I’m sorry we haven’t contacted you in some time, even though we are already representing some of your properties. I wanted to reach out and introduce myself, to set up some time to understand your needs better and see if and how I can help.

Would you be available to meet in the next couple of weeks? I am available on the following dates:

  • November 16 – From 10:00 to Noon
  • November 17 – From 1:00 to 3:30

Please let me know what might work or suggest another date and time.

Thank you,

Jill

--

There are other methods we could have used and other approaches to this particular challenge including picking up and dialing the phone. And Jill surely had that on her tactical roadmap, but as everyone in the trenches knows, calling prospects on the phone is an increasingly frustrating method for making initial contact. I once cold-called a CSO of a Fortune 1000 company with whom I had never spoken. To my amazement, he answered the phone. However, before he’d even let me tell him why I called, he said, “I answered the phone because I happened to be expecting a call from someone with your area code, so can you call back another time?” Hey folks, this doesn’t only happen to you.

Almost immediately after our coaching session on the phone, Sarah sent the new email copy to Jill and two hours later, I received an email from Sarah who had forwarded a note she just received from Jill:

Sarah,

OMG! I got a reply within an hour of reaching out. I’ll forward it to you! Holy Crap – he even tells me some of the issues they have….

Jill

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Success! While not every email gets a response so quickly, if at all, what lessons can you take on how you might improve your email outcomes? Here are my top six rules for getting prospects to respond:

Top 6 Rules for Effective One-Off Email Prospecting So They Respond

  1. Position yourself as a peer on their level.
  2. Make it all about them.
  3. Don't talk about your stuff as it gives them a reason not to respond.
  4. Make the purpose about helping them if they need it.
  5. Your time is a scarce resource. Narrow the choices.
  6. Remember it's their opportunity, not yours.

If you took something valuable from this article, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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For those interested, a few times a year, we host an open-enrollment live online training series for individual salespeople in a group environment who are trying to improve their game and master the most effective and easiest to learn sales process ever. The next session can be found by clicking here.

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Topics: Sales Coaching, better coaching of sales people, advanced selling skills, prospecting emails that work, sales communication, writing

Sales Accountability Lessons from the Emergency Room

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

10127196_s_DoctorsRushing-1.jpg

I noticed the nurses and doctors rushing past me one afternoon as I lay on a gurney, parked in the hallway of a busy ER. Reasonably sure, by then that my spooky, painful experience was just kidney stones, I turned my focus to all that rushing about.

Over the course of a few minutes, a nurse, then another nurse, then a doctor, and several more, rushed by, all moving quickly to the same place past the central desk and part way down one of the halls. They weren’t running, exactly, but they were moving pretty fast.

Then I overheard one of them yelling over her shoulder, “I’ll look that up in five minutes,” she said, “I have to get to our huddle!” I felt like a kid hearing a siren and waiting to see the fire trucks, only to realize that it’s just the noon alarm in the center of town.

One of the more indispensible tools for the world-class sales manager is the huddle. Yet it is often neglected due to real or imagined time constraints. Why?

For sales managers, the morning huddle is primarily an accountability tool, to help salespeople stay focused on the most important top-line pro-active behaviors that will help lead to the results they want. That might seem like something salespeople wouldn’t love. However, executed properly, by a sales manager that has embraced the huddle, sees the value in it, and wouldn’t live without it, the salespeople in turn, also love it. And here are the top reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Love the Huddle

  1. Gets everyone feeling like they a part of something bigger.
  2. Creates a team spirit.
  3. Leaves them uplifted and energized 

And here are the Top Three Reasons Why Sales Managers Love the Huddle

  1. Creates peer-oriented accountability
  2. Builds bonds and energizes the group
  3. Provides a daily conduit to provide strategy, direction, and clarity to the team

Of course, this assumes it is done right. On the flip side, can you imagine that it doesn't always go this way? It’s probably not hard to believe that there are some real time-wasting huddles out there. Welcome to the land of Dilbert, where the manager drones on and everyone is checking their emails. Okay, when I hear about how much people don’t like it, these are the usual reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Hate the Huddle

  1. Too much criticism or too negative
  2. Always runs long so cannot plan around it
  3. Types of activities reported are inconsistent with stated goals
  4. Boring waste of time

When the Huddle has been commanded from above because of something an executive read about online or learned at a conference, and the manager herself is not bought in, the results are predictable.

For the past 30 years starting with my first introduction to huddles from a coating manufacturer, I have found this tool to be one of the most indispensible for the well rounded sales manager who shapes their environment and gets results; the same kind of manager who has mastered coaching. For more on coaching, read this article. I consistently hear that huddles are the one thing they would never give up. 

If doctors and nurses in a busy emergency room put saving lives on hold to have their daily huddle, we can certainly take 10 minutes a day from our 50-plus-hour weeks to make sure all those hours are used in such a way that success is unavoidable.

Topics: Sales Coaching, accountability, top sales leadership, sales managerment, daily huddle

The Emperor's New Sales Brochure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

In a coaching call early this week, my client asked me a marketing question that I hear quite often but never wrote about until now. To answer their question, I am going to divulge research results from a study we did here at Kurlan & Associates that up to this point, has not been widely shared by Dave Kurlan, who conducted the study.

We get a lot of marketing questions but it should be noted that our primary area of expertise is sales and not marketing. We are concerned with the “top of funnel” hand-off from marketing to sales, however. And we are also concerned with the role that marketing can play to position products and services in alignment with sales messaging so salespeople will have better conversations. That's why we tend to get questions related to this crucial hand-off period.

So what was the question? It was this: “Would it help our cold-calling efforts to send out a brochure to prospects prior to calling them?” Have you ever asked that question? Have you tried it? Did it work? I bet it did. But I bet you’ll be surprised by the results of our study.

Here’s how the study worked. We divided prospects randomly into three groups. Let’s call them Group A, Group B, and Group C. To each group, we either sent a brochure ahead of the cold call or we didn’t, according to this schedule:

Group A
To Group A, we instructed our client to make a normal cold call. We did not send a brochure prior to this call. This was our “Control” group.

Group B
To Group B, we sent out a brochure to prospects. We then followed up with a call that started with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?”

Group C
To Group C, similar to Group A, we did not send a brochure, but we made a cold call and instructed our client to start the conversation with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?” If you noticed that Group B and Group C said the same thing, then you are one very astute reader.

So Here’s the Summary
Group A: No brochure sent. Cold-called the prospect.
Group B: Brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.
Group C: No brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.


Photo Credit: ©blotty/123RF.COM and Dennis Connelly

And Here’s the Results
Group A, the cold-callers, were able to convert the call into a meeting one out of 10 times. 1 in 10.

Group B, the folks who sent the brochure out first and then followed up with a call, did much better, converting twice as many calls into meetings. 2 in 10. So now you know the answer to at least one question. It’s better to send out a brochure first and then call. You will have a much better conversation rate than simply cold calling by itself.

Putting ethics aside for a moment, there are two reasons why you might want to try what Group C did – either you are pressed for time and don’t want to wait for a mailing, or you are short on stamps and don’t want all that return mail clogging your actual brick and mortar (or aluminum) mailbox. There’s a third reason I should mention that you might want to try what Group C did, which is that their conversion rate was three out of 10 calls. 3 in 10. This is 50% more than group B and 200% more than Group A. This result surprised us. We were expecting it to be the same as Group A and certainly no better than Group B.

How can this be? There are a few explanations that appear to be at work in Group C and not in the other two. 

  • Group C knew in advance that the prospect hadn’t seen the brochure so there was no worry about their opinion of it
  • They had a useful conversation starter
  • The prospect, feeling a little guilty for not seeing it, might have given them a little extra consideration
  • Knowing the prospect’s answer ahead of time gave the salesperson more confidence

So now let’s get back to ethics. Do you really want to start off your relationship with your prospect with a lie, acting as if you did something you didn’t do? Keep in mind that with Group C, there was no brochure sent at all. What made the difference was the mindset of the salesperson.

So how can we learn to bring the more successful, Group C mindset to the call every time without dishing all the bullcrap? Which skills and what hidden weaknesses might be holding us back?

  • Do your salespeople develop early rapport?
  • Are they confident and credible?
  • Do they ask questions easily, and listen carefully?
  • Are their positioning statements aligned with prospects real issues?
  • Can they create urgency?
  • Do they recover from rejection quickly?
  • Do they have excellent sales posturing?

How many of your salespeople can be developed to hunt and close new business effectively? How well does management coach them and hold them accountable? How motivated are they and what actually motivates them? Are you training the right people? How many cannot be trained? If these are top of mind questions for you, a sales force evaluation will answer them. Click here if you would like to learn more about that.

By getting salesperson selection right, training and coaching existing salespeople, and ensuring alignment with leadership and corporate goals, you will improve the quality of your sales organization. You will improve sales efficiency, preserve margins, and create more success for you and your people.

 

Photo Credit (Top): ©MarinaGallud/123RF.COM

Topics: sales force evaluation, sales training, sales recruiting, sales candidate selection, Sales Coaching, coaching salespeople, hiring sales candidates, coaching sales managers,

Retail Selling, the Role of the Salesperson, and Missed Opportunities

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:11 AM

LuxuryStore Mall 250pxJust yesterday, I was walking through the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York with my son. After getting our free chocolate truffle from the Godiva store, we stumbled into a famous luxury goods store while we enjoyed our little confections. I should note that if you like chocolate, the Godiva membership is one of the few that gives away something for nothing. One need only wait until the calendar changes to the next month to get your yummy treat. You don’t need points; you don’t need to buy ten to get one; you don’t need to spend a nickel – ever. You just show up and get your free truffle. 

This isn’t a marketing blog but there’s something there worth noting. I know Godiva fully expects that I’ll buy stuff along the way. But that’s beside the point. While other companies work to build “relationships” with their customers with all kinds of strings, caveats, and quid pro quos, Godiva is acting more like a friend. “Here, have one. I ask for nothing from you.” Seth Godin writes copiously about this kind of behavior toward customers becoming increasingly important in a noisy, information-rich world of companies desperate for your narrowing spans of attention. And Frank Belzer, whose new book Sales Shift is in the running for Top Sales World "Top Sales & Marketing Book" of the year. Vote here.

But I want to talk about the luxury good store experience because we can learn something about selling. We walked in, turned right (just like the research showed we would), and started looking at stuff in the glass cases. Art deco lighters, fancy cigar holders, and thousand-dollar pens were among the items so you get the idea of the type of store we were visiting. The young salesperson walked toward us and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “No.” He said, “Okay,” and backed away. That was it. Poor “ol’ sport,” I thought, having just seen Gatsby and having not yet completely purged that phrase from my head.

How do you spend a fortune renting retail space at Time Warner on the ground floor, with carefully-designed layout (the result, no doubt, of all the latest in psychological testing), and the best in customer acquisition strategy, and still manage to neglect the part about actually getting the sale? If inbound marketing gets you 70% of the way to making the sale (their figure), in this modern era, the upscale retail shop is designed to go even further. It has to, after all, given the expense of all the bricks and mortar they took the time to assemble. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them. Humans, occasionally, like to get up from their computers and move around. We get cabin fever, eventually, and continue our voracious shopping habits in person.

The mentality that led to such poor salespersonship at “Luxury Store” reminds me of the approach that car dealers take, where the role of sales is misunderstood and misdirected. (More on that in another article.) The corporate executives undervalue the role of sales, rely on imagecraft, market positioning, aesthetics, and prestige, etc. and for the most part, it works. People walk into the Honda dealership because they already like Hondas, not because they have no idea what they want and lucky for them, the nice salesperson is there to help them figure it out. Gazillions are spent on advertising to help minimize the role of the salesperson, whose job is to get the person to stay long enough to experience the paper-shuffling, manager-approving Jedi tricks and sign on the bottom line.

The good ones don’t lose the sale. The lousy ones make people furious. Really, haven’t you had that experience, or know someone who has? Don’t you know people who will never buy a car from so and so till the fiery underworld remodels itself as an arctic getaway? But what about real salespeople? Can’t they make a sale where there wasn’t one? Of course they can.

Let’s replay that conversation with Ol’ Sport using a simple conversational technique I learned from TopSalesWorld Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. “Hi! Should I say welcome, or welcome back?” Me: “I haven’t walked in here before.” OS: “Then welcome. What made you walk in here today?” Me: “You were across from Godiva and I was too busy enjoying my chocolate to notice which store I was wandering into.” OS: “Perfect! If there were a reason to wander in here, what would it be?” Me: “I like cool pens.” OS: “Do you have a pen collection?” And so on, which might include questions like, What’s your favorite pen? Why? Is it sentimental or design or quality? Etc. “You know,” I might think to myself, “I wasn’t expecting to have a real conversation.”

Instead, OS stood back, afraid to say anything more, and eliminated the risk that he would lose a sale that he thinks might otherwise automatically happen. Why is this allowed? It happens because the leadership of Luxury Store, the manager, the marketing department, the board of directors, the finance team, and the sales staff are all on the same page. They undervalue the role of sales. Sales is increased, in their thinking, by the clever product creation, history, story, reputation, design, store layout, inbound strategy and marketing. The sales associate is there to open the glass cabinet, make light conversation, and ring up the purchase, right?

This is a missed opportunity because it’s possible to dramatically increase sales.

  • How many of your sales people are falling into this trap?
  • Is your company fostering the problem?
  • How much pressure do salespeople have to not blow the sale?
  • Do your sales people have the necessary selling skills?
  • Do they have the DNA to overcome their own weaknesses?
  • Can they listen?
  • Can they react in the moment?
  • Do they have the presence to be the added value themselves?

Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization? Maybe it’s time to look at what you might be missing from your sales team. What are their current capabilities? How much better could they be? What would it take to make them better? And how long would it take?

Someday, I’ll buy a super nice pen because I like pens. When that happens, there was nothing about my experience at Luxury Store that puts them on the short list. But there could have been. It was a missed opportunity to make a sale much more than it was a careful execution to not lose one.

 

 

 

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring, Baseline Selling, Sales Coaching, retail sales, retail, adapting to changing sales environments, roleplay, role play, alignment of sales and marketing, alienate the prospect, CEO, changes that sales people need to make, change sales behavior, developing better sales teams, gimmicks in sales, getting your foot in the door, dysfunction, improve sales, hard selling, losing the attention of the prospect, losing the business, sales competency, losing the sale, sales mistakes, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales strengths, SOB Quality, selling process, what gets in the way of selling, amazon, sales shift, frank belzer, David Kurlan, Kurlan & Associates, Living Sales Excellence, sales excellence

Sales Coaching - When is Critical Feedback Appropriate

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sat, Oct 20, 2012 @ 09:10 AM

criticism sandwich, broken sandwich, feedback, foodback, coaching, bread, sandwich meat

What if you ordered a deli sandwich and after they thought about it for a moment, carefully made the perfect specimen, handed it to you with pride and suddenly took back the bread?  After the initial shock of such odd behavior, I’m guessing you might feel a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.  When coaching your staff, feedback is an important tool.  However, we often use the same idea as the sandwich. We give useful criticism but sandwich it between two pieces of positive encouragement.  Recent research has shown that this approach is surprisingly ineffective.  It turns out it’s a bit like handing out a thoughtful criticism sandwich and then taking back the two pieces of bread.  It’s more like “foodback” than feedback.  Let’s find out why.

This practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Computer.  The brain goes into full alert when hearing negative criticism and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in nearly total memory loss of anything prior to the criticism.  It might take minutes, hours or a couple days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply forgets those previous words of praise.  If asked later if there was any positive feedback in the discussion, one simply can’t remember.  Oops!  There goes one slice of bread from your sandwich.

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when giving criticism.  In that same heightened alert state, one also experiences a new sense of awareness that Nass calls “proactive enhancement.”  You’ve got their attention, so now they are ready to listen and absorb whatever you say next.  This is where the opportunity is often wasted.  Most managers provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities.  That’s the bread slice on the other side of the sandwich.  Generalities, by their very nature, are hard to remember.  So, we soon miss that slice as well.  With the bread missing, what remains might leave us a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.

How can we improve on this model?  When coaching your sales force, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback.  Criticism is important if you want to improve a specific behavior.  And positive comments are also important to ensure you get more of the behaviors that are already working.  When both forms of feedback are delivered in the same conversation and you want both to be remembered, you need a better strategy.

Here are three crucial steps for effective criticism:

  1. Tone – How you say it is more important than what you say.  Your tone provides the signal for how you feel about someone. Is the person the problem or is it just their behaviors? If we stick to the behaviors, then we can still smile at them, be filled with gratitude for them and remain firm that the behavior needs to change. Keep the list of negatives short and specific. Too many criticisms will feel like a barrage which can be depressing rather than instructive. A few helpful points will provide focus.
  2. Order – Negative first, positive second.  Order matters. Tell them the positive comments after the negative ones and make the list of positives long and specific, rather than general. “You’re basically doing a great job.” can be replaced by, “You’ve been growing the front end of your pipeline by making more calls, which is really going to help you in the last quarter.”
  3. Actionable – We handle criticism better when given the recipe for improvement.  Always provide actionable feedback alongside the criticism so that they understand how to correct the problem.  Don’t leave them hanging and wondering what it all means.  General negativity makes us anxious and frustrated.  Specific criticism, with the steps to make it better, leaves us empowered and provides a sense that someone is looking out for us. 

Is coaching an important part of your culture?  Do your people regularly come to you for help?  Do you look for advice and feedback in your own organization?  When it’s time to serve feedback to your staff, what steps do you take to keep all food on their plate?

Topics: sales, coaching, sales management, Criticism, Sandwich, Clifford Nass, Feedback, Behavior, Management, Sales Coaching, Salesforce, Sales Force



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