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How to Write Compelling Sales Emails That Don’t Turn People Off

How to Write Compelling Sales Emails That Don’t Turn People Off
For most people, writing is just a part of their job. For me, it’s been my entire job for the past decade or so. Here are my top tips that you can put to use today to take your sales team’s cold emails from embarrassing and ignored to opened and acted upon.



The page is blank. You can’t take the mocking blink of the cursor anymore. You have to write something, anything. You start.

Hi [first_name],

Yes, that’s how you start a super persuasive email! Okay, what do I write next?

*blink blink blink blink*

Ever found yourself in this fun situation? You don’t want to just copy an email template you found online, one that probably millions of people have seen land in their inbox a million times before.

But what comes after that dang salutation?

So, hello! I’m here to talk about how to write a kickass, targeted, sales-driven email. No big deal, your sales email only needs to:

  • Be concise and fluff-free;
  • Have an intriguing, but not click-baiting, subject line;
  • Build trust and speak to emotions;
  • Be personal (at scale!);
  • Give an easy call to action.

Now you’re probably the one going *blink blink blink* back at me.

It’s okay. There’s a solution.

8 powerful ways to improve your sales team’s sales emails

  1. Watch your wording
  2. Grab good attention with your subject line
  3. Inject some emotion
  4. Research, research, research
  5. Cut to the chilli to stay concise
  6. Offer the right kind of proof
  7. Use personalization that doesn't feel impersonal
  8. Make it easy for them to reply

These techniques are pulled directly from my years of writing online, reading countless bad email sales pitches, and that one time I embarrassed myself. (“One time.”)

Here are eight tactics you can use to edit your team’s cold emails into something that recipients will actually respond to.

1. Watch your wording—avoid jargon and stale cliches like the plague

Filler words. Five-dollar words when 50-cent ones will do. Vague corporate-speak. Sales jargon. Oh, and cliches. Avoid ‘em.

What are some other common words or phrases that make your email recipients cringe and close your message?

Tactic: Avoid these words and phrases
Checking in
This signals a lack of a reason to reach out other than ‘I want your money and there seems to be some delay in my getting it’. Every touchpoint with a prospect should be providing value for the prospect, not the salesperson.

Really, very, just
Filler words are there to fill space, which undermines any attempt you make to be concise. If you find it easier, write with them in and then go back and either edit them out or replace them with a stronger word. An easy example is to change “really good” to “great”.

Vague words
Do you like stuff? It’s a hard question to answer because you have no idea what ‘stuff’ refers to. Likewise in your emails, be specific and name the thing you’re talking about. For example, don’t say metrics when you mean quotas.

Free
Avoid discount-y sounding words, especially if you’re selling more upmarket. Words like free or discount might signal that your offering is low value or low quality.

I wanted to… or I’d love to...
Prospects don’t care about what you want. They care even less about what you’d love to do. Prospects only care about what’s in it for them and these phrases are all about you.

Words that tell and don’t show
Into this category fall any words or phrases that are sales jargon. It might sound good to you to write that your solution is ‘cutting-edge’ or ‘customer-focused’. But it’s better to show how your product team has ‘launched three new never-before-seen features in the past quarter’ or offer testimonials that glowingly detail the wonderful response your customer support team provides.

2. Grab some attention with an intriguingly truthful subject line

For a subject line to work, it needs to be compelling but it can’t be writing cheques that the content of the email can’t cash.

A subject line or headline that’s fascinating but has nothing to do with what’s inside is click bait. You may get a lot of people clicking through on that first email, but once they realize they’ve been had, any trust or goodwill you may have had will evaporate fast.

Let’s look at a real-world example of how to balance fascination and facts. In the blog world, Buzzfeed is notorious for their curiosity-provoking blog post headlines. The headlines are designed to get people to click, WITHOUT being click-bait.

The top Buzzfeed post from 2018 is 18 American Quirks That Are Actually Kind of Weird. If you click on it, it serves up exactly what the title says it will.

Is ~whatever this is~ one of them? You have to click to find out!

This title appeals on multiple levels. If you’re an American, you might be wondering if you do any of these weird things. If you’re not, you might want to see if you recognize any of them (and maybe have a little laugh at your U.S. friends and their quirkiness). In any case, your curiosity is piqued.

This is what your email subject lines need to do. They need to act as the title of your emails, that get people to keep reading.

Tactic: Write a great subject line that’s specific and about the recipient
There is no ‘I’ in subject lines. This is a real cold email subject line I received recently: “I thought it’d be good to connect!”

My reaction? Good for you! DELETE.

The moral of the story? Make the subject lines about all about them, not you, if you want them to open it.

Here are a couple ways to do that:

  • Include a personal tidbit.. “Ever golfed Cabot Links?”
  • Use the prospect’s name. “Hey Ian, ever golfed Cabot Links?”
  • Tie it to the positive results they’d see from working with you. “Hit your annual target in only 9 months”
  • Be specific about what your email wants. Ask a question, like “Talk on Wednesday at 10:45?” or “Who is in charge of catering contracts at [their company]?”

Make sure the subject line relates directly to what the email is about. Yeah, a subject line like “Meet LeBron James” or “Free beer!” might get some eyeballs on your email, but no one will take you seriously when you’re baiting and switching. (Plus, besides those bad vibes, you could get in big legal trouble if you’re breaking anti-spamming laws.)

Oh, and don’t do that thing where you put RE: in front of your subject line so it looks like YOU are responding to them. You’re too smart for that kind of cheap trick.

Not this kind of Cheap Trick.

3. Once more, with feeling (not selling)

Your email shouldn’t sell.

No, that’s not a typo. No one likes to be sold, especially not in their inbox and definitely not by someone they don’t know. Your email needs to be helpful. It needs to solve a problem, a specific one your recipient has.

In the battle between facts and feelings, feelings will be the winner every time.

C’mon, prove Buffy wrong.

If your team’s cold emails read too, well, cold, you won’t see any traction with recipients. Your prospects are likely smart people. If you’re only reiterating the facts of their situation to them, they’re going to say, “Duh, I know that we struggle with X. Stop reminding me.”

Orrrrr, you could get them to use emotions and imagination, picturing a world where they DON’T struggle with X. And your salesperson is the one who can help them get there.

This all sounds easy. Just talk about the easy-peasy outcomes! But there are ways to do this so you don’t end up coming off like an infomercial.

Tactic: Open the email with a qualifying question and then get specific.
What do infomercials do? They make the pain point seem universal. Even if you’ve never had a problem maneuvering a blanket while you watch TV, you might see an infomercial for a Snuggie and think, I do have trouble getting my arms out from under a blanket.

That’s great if you want to sell blankets with arm holes. If you’re selling something more niche, your openers are going to have to be more specific and further qualify the recipient at the same time to make sure they’re a good lead.

Here’s an example of a non-specific and a specific opening paragraph:

Non-specific: “Our quotation platform will revolutionize your complicated bidding process, saving you time and making you tons of money.”

OR

Specific: “Are you wasting valuable time going back and forth on bids? We help construction companies like yours streamline the bidding process so you can win more projects and finish them on time and on budget.”

The specific opener makes the reader feel more seen. If they identify with the pain point, they’ll keep reading, which is what you want your opening lines to encourage.

4. Research is the sincerest form of flattery

If people can sense emotions in your email, they can also see insincerity a mile away. You can’t throw compliments and flattery around like confetti if you don’t mean it. Or if you don’t know the full story.

Back when I was starting out in communications, I reached out to an industry pro. I had read that her company was undertaking an extensive website redesign. (That’s how you know this wasn’t yesterday—a redesign was actually big news back then.)

I opened my email gushing about how much I loved the new site. Her reply? “Our new site isn’t live yet, but I’m glad you’re excited.”

I hadn’t done my homework. I faked more familiarity with her website than I actually had. In the big scheme of things, this was a relatively minor faux pas. But it did teach me an important lesson: research, research, research.

Tactic: Tips for researching cold leads
Here's how to avoid my mistake:

  • Do some social media sleuthing. Are they part of a niche group on LinkedIn? Do they often tweet photos of their dog or retweet a particular sports team? Do you have any mutual contacts?
  • Watch for trigger events. What’s new at their company? Are they recruiting and hiring heavily? Check Google News, LinkedIn, or the company website for the latest news.
  • Don’t forget to check your own CRM. Have you reached out to someone else at the company before? Has enough time passed that a follow-up is warranted?
  • Industry ‘watering-holes’. Do you have knowledge about the prospect’s field or business niche that could give you an in with them? If not, check out industry-related pages on sites like Reddit or browse trade publications to get up to speed. This not only makes you look smart, but can provide insight into pain points or use cases you may not have previously considered.

5. Stay concise and cut to the chilli

Have you ever browsed the internet looking for a recipe to try? It’s become an internet in-joke about how most of these food blogs introduce even the simplest of dishes with a 1000-word story about something completely unrelated.

You’re standing in the kitchen on your phone, ready to cook. You don’t need to know about every food allergy the blogger’s partner has. You’re focused on you and what you really want is to make some chilli.

This applies to your sales emails, too. Your team’s emails are a distraction in your prospects’ busy day. Busy people want you to get to the point without the preamble, so serve them that piping hot chilli right up top.

Same, Kev, same.

Tactic: Write long to stay concise
Here’s how I make sure I’m not rambling on in my openers: I write a really long opener.

Counter-intuitive, I know, but sometimes it’s the easiest way to figure out what you want to say (and it solves that pesky blank-screen problem at the same time). Write whatever you want, be long-winded, make up words if you want. The point is that 99% of it isn’t staying.

Find the heart of what you’re trying to say. The prospect doesn’t need to know EVERYTHING right now. Figure out exactly what piece of information you want to convey and put that up top. Then STOP. WRITING. YOUR. OPENER.

6. The proof is in the portfolio

So you have a great subject line and a killer opener. Now, why should anyone believe any part of what you just wrote?

You need to include proof, ideally in the form of case studies, testimonials, or trusted reviews. 

But here’s the thing: you can’t just slap in the name of your biggest client or most well-known customer. You have to be strategic here, too.

Tactic: Pick a case study that will pique their interest
Here’s a real email opener I received in my inbox recently:

“The reason I’m reaching out is that other companies and organizations have been finding success with my solution, CompanyName.”

The salesperson then linked to a case study featuring a giant multinational corporation. While Proposify is growing, we have very little in common with this company. So the email ends up just a not-so-humble brag on the sender’s behalf.

Choose the proof you include wisely. You need to pick a company that will resonate with the prospect and help them see themselves in the position of that business. Look for similarities in industry, company size, or location.

If you don’t have a wide enough range of case studies, creating those should be your first priority before you send emails out.

7. Don’t draw a blank on personalization

Fill in the blank: Most email mail-merged templates ____.

Add weird spaces to your emails? Come off as apathetic? Stink up inboxes the world over with their cookie-cutter coldness and off-kilter grammar?

Yes.

I knew immediately that the sales email I talked about above in tip #6 was also a fill-in-the-blank template. Why? Well, first of all, it included only the bare-bones version of personalization, my name and company. Second, I don’t usually spell my first name with an extra space at the end.

Hi Lauren ,

I’m now The Content Marketer Formerly Known as Lauren

Yeah, it’s a small detail, but lots of small details add up to big issues. You probably wouldn’t take anything I wrote in this blog post seriously if it was riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, right? Small mistakes add up to a lack of care, which kills any chance for trust.

Tactic: Use the right personalization at scale
So if templates aren’t your friend, what is? In-depth personalization. Not only does it improve the chances of a reply it also helps with deliverability, since each email will be unique and less likely to set off spam detectors.

And yes, you can do it at scale. It’s about mail merging more fields than just [first_name] and [company_name].

Mention where you found them, like through a Quora answer, or something specific they’ve done, like a blog post or recent speaking engagement. Include a targeted case study that directly relates to their industry or situation (name-dropping your biggest client likely won’t get you much traction.)

8. CTA friction is not your friend

“Sound off in the comments below!” Do you remember when everyone ended their blog post with some variation of that ‘see you in the comments’ line?

It’s not my favourite way to wrap up a post, but I get why it was (and sometimes still is) popular: it works. It gives readers clear and easy next steps. It puts them in control without asking them to invest too much time or make a full commitment. It’s just a quick comment with their thoughts. No big deal.

Take a look at your team’s sales emails. Do they provide a ‘what next?’ If so, how much friction is involved in what your salespeople are asking their email recipients to do?

Tactic: Provide an easy call to action
Let’s look at two approaches. Here are the next steps instructions from that sales email I received:

I’d love an opportunity to share how other companies are finding success with our solution and give you a demo of our product. Have some time this week or next?

And, here’s a next-steps email sign-off recommended by Steli Efti, CEO at Close.

After listing out three common pain points his product solves, he writes: Choose which applies to you and reply with the number. I’ll send something to help fix the problem.

In the first example, it’s again all about the sender and what he wants, while also managing to shift the responsibility for that onto me. He’s already asking for a commitment. I have to let him know when I have an unspecified amount of time to devote to learning more about his product, which I don’t even know if I need.

In Steli’s example, he asks the recipient to do something that’s virtually friction-free. It’s quick and there’s no uncertainty about what happens next: he’s going to send ‘something.’ That bit of mystery alone might be enough to prompt people to reply. And there’s little inherent risk that it’ll be completely useless since he so eloquently outlined the recipient’s biggest challenge.

This approach puts the commitment back on Steli, not the prospect. He has committed to sending something back and the pressure is on him to make it worth the prospect’s time so the conversation continues.

It’s not about making it easy for your salesperson to move the relationship along. It’s about making it easy for your prospect to find value in your content and respond to it.

Conclusion

Like Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

With all due respect to Mr. Hemingway, he never had to write sales emails. He never had to face the blinking cursor of death. (I can be hyperbolic, too, Ernie.)

But, armed with these tips and tactics, you and your sales team can get out there and write sales emails that people actually enjoy receiving, no bloodshed required.

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