A Common Sales Email Tactic That Works Less and Less

They can be the kiss of death: Questions. True — I coach sellers who are using questions in cold email messages. Some are successful. But questions cut both ways. They can help, or hinder you. In most cases response rates are low — and for a very good reason.

Go for the Hmmm

The provocation looks like this:

“Hmmm … I never heard anyone put it that way before.”

“Hmmm … I’m aware that could hurt me/our company but have been putting off addressing it.”

“Yikes! I didn’t realize I was overlooking that … this sounds important for me to at least know about, if not act on.”

These provocations earn replies that ask for more details — about the thought you just provoked, not your solution. This is similar to Challenger sales methodology, but it is also part Sandler.

Your success isn’t about getting a meeting.

You need to get into the conversation first.

The best technique is to help the prospect lead themself toward conclusions, in your cold email and every subsequent email.

In this way the urge to meet with you is a natural extension of the email exchange.

The type of question that earns deletion? These are the questions YOU delete from your inbox all the time.

Example: A Torpedo Question

The below example recently hit my inbox. It is a very popular template — popular and ineffective. I’m obfuscating the company’s name to protect the innocent.

Hi Jeff,

Would you like to increase distribution of your training modules? I am contacting you because I would like to bring [company] to your attention.

See that first sentence? And do you see why someone like me would just roll my eyes and hit delete without hesitation?

Because it is a “leading question.” If a question feels like it’s leading you somewhere? That’s trouble. Because these feel like a set-up to a sales pitch.

This provokes deletion, not response. Don’t let questions torpedo you.

If it is odd, encapsulates tension and provokes introspection, it may work. But questions are risky.

The Problem for Sales Is Marketing

Marketing is typically good at writing content that drives brand awareness and inbound lead flow — for people who have expressed interest in the product. My sales training hero, John Barrows, puts it bluntly:

“The problem comes when providing the sales team messaging they can use … when making calls and engaging with people who haven’t heard of the company before. In today’s world, we literally have seconds to get someone’s attention, which is why the typical elevator pitch that marketing develops fails when using it to make calls. It’s usually way too long, too general and filled with buzz words that are not natural for a sales rep (or any normal human being) to say.”

Most questions I see my students writing are imprinted with an obvious marketing mentality. Marketing departments often encourage sellers to ask questions. Don’t!

If you’re in marketing (or were), don’t take offense. It’s just not the same as sales prospecting — not at all.

For me to open a message, I need a question to make me want to read on, to provoke me.

What do you think?


Author: Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on making social media sell. He co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc., where he built the sales team. Today, he is the authority on effective prospecting communications techniques as founder of Communications Edge Inc. (formerly Molander & Associates Inc.) He's been in sales for over 2 decades. He is author of the first social selling book, Off the Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You.Jeff is a sales communications coach and creator of the Spark Selling technique—a means to spark more conversations with customers "from cold," speeding them toward qualification.

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