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.
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.
Sarah, Sales Manager
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
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:
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.
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:
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….
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
- Position yourself as a peer on their level.
- Make it all about them.
- Don't talk about your stuff as it gives them a reason not to respond.
- Make the purpose about helping them if they need it.
- Your time is a scarce resource. Narrow the choices.
- 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.
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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