Ditch the Call to Action in Your Cold Email Strategy

Think about the last time a salesperson piqued your interest with a cold email, then stopped. They didn’t try to coerce or steer you. Instead, they were silent … acknowledging your right to choose to engage or walk away.

Think about the last time a salesperson piqued your interest with a cold email, then stopped. They didn’t try to coerce or steer you. Instead, they were silent … acknowledging your right to choose to engage or walk away.

We often walk away. But think about a time you chose to continue. Because you were curious, you asked for more details … to fully grasp what sounded intriguing.

Why did you make that choice? Probably because you were offered the chance to choose.

Now think about the last time a seller piqued your interest but told you what to do next.

That’s what a call to action is. It’s a directive, a guide. It’s a tool marketers use to tell the customer what to do next.

Ask yourself, as a sales person: What does giving directive do for you — in a cold email outreach context?

It directs the prospective buyer. It tells them what you want them to do next.

This is exactly why, in many cases, avoiding a call to action is the best way to provoke a conversation with decision-makers.

Psychologists and neuro-linguistic programming geeks have long studied the power of acknowledging the other side’s right to choose. You should too.

PDFs and Web Links Don’t Work

The use of PDFs and web links are usually applied in a persuasive context. Bad idea for cold sales email messages.

“I’ve attached a brief presentation explaining our value.” Or, “Please consider enrolling in this free demo of our tool …” are calls to action. And in most cases, they’re calling for action in ways working against the sales rep.

Your PDF should not out-sell you. The goal of your cold email should be to spark a conversation, not get your PDF reviewed, nor earn a demo or trial.

That’s a marketing outcome.

Generally, introduction of marketing constructs into cold sales email messages is proving disastrous. Mostly because decision-makers are, in comparison, open to having their curiosity piqued about a problem to be solved, or issue they’re grappling with.

They’ve had enough marketing shoved at them — from marketers and, lately, sales people who push marketing messages and calls to action.

Give Them a Choice

Letting the other side choose to engage or not allows both sides to mutually qualify if a discussion is worthwhile.

“The problem is choice.” It’s one of my favorite movie script lines. Indeed, in The Matrix, choice is the problem for Neo, the pesky Anomaly in The Architect’s tyrannical system. Yet for sales reps the removal of choice is the problem!

Think about it. Removing choice is the ultimate marketing outcome. The way it’s executed is persuasion. A call to action fit right in with that kind of bold, brash technique.

Grab attention — then direct it. Hurry, before the customer figures out a way to wriggle off the hook.

But calls to action rarely fit the cold sales email context. You cannot tell a customer to engage or meet. You must help them want to meet — if there is justification to meet.

I’m often told, “Jeff I need a better email message — to grab attention, gain credibility and convince a prospect to talk with me.”

Wrong. That model eliminates choice. It attempts to persuade and then coerce a decision. Result: A few meetings happen but with reluctant prospects.

Also, consider your decision-maker is bombarded with meeting requests — all asking to give sellers the chance to persuade them!

Instead, let the other side choose to engage or not. This allows both sides to mutually qualify if a discussion is worthwhile.

Acknowledge your prospects’ right to choose. This begins the process of helping customers to convince themselves to speak … if, in fact, the decision to engage is what they need.

Quick Example

Below is an actual example of how I helped Ben, a sales rep for a retail data analysis company targeting branded manufacturers of textiles and shoes. His original cold email call to action was not working … it was typical:

Do you have 15 mins to hop on a call so we can see what your needs are and how we can help?

We quickly created a curiosity-sparking way to structure the middle and end of an effective cold email — without a call to action. It’s working!

I have an idea for you. Not sure if it’s a fit. Ralph Lauren is using an unusual tactic to ensure price alignment, drive demand and increase revenue ~31%. Are you open to hearing how they are doing it?

Best regards,
Ben

No marketing-esque call to action. Pure provocation, focusing on the amazing story Ralph Lauren (Ben’s client) is creating for itself.

This technique is resulting in far more discussions for Ben. All without a call to action.

1 More Reason to Avoid a Call to Action

Context. Cold email arrives without any context. Your prospect has no expectation of the email. Unlike a marketing email, where the reader has opted in, the reader is not expecting nor giving permission to be told what to do.

A call to action is out of context — because there is no context in a cold email.

Your cold email is fresh, new, unexpected; however, it’s also assumed to be delete-worthy (by default).

Think about your own inbox. If a sales person’s subject line “pushes a pain” you are presumed to have — delete key. If it requests a meeting — delete key. Offers a free demo — delete key.

These are the easy-to-spot, unsolicited come-ons plaguing inboxes of decision-makers. The more we all experience these patterns, the easier it is to delete without opening.

Remember: Most sales outreach is pushing self-centered marketing copy and ending with a cheesy call to action. This creates lack of distinction for sellers who use this approach.

You blend in.

Beware: “Is this of interest?” or “Would you like to learn more?” are soft calls to action that often fail too!

Bottom line: Calls to action are bossy. They either tell or suggest what the recipient should do. They eliminate choice and that’s the problem.

Eliminating customers’ choices works in marketing (sometimes) but never in sales.

Earning more conversations, faster, demands you avoid best practices. Literally. Instead, choose emerging “next practices” to create a modern, effective sales outreach strategy.

What has your experience been?

HubSpot Email Template Not Working? Here’s How to Fix It

Are your HubSpot email templates not working? The key to starting more conversations is to find and correct your blind spots, especially the ones that may be lurking in your email templates.

“I just finished a year of Lead Forensics putting 1,000 leads through email sequences using Hubspot. Not one sale,” said my reluctant email writing student, a successful entrepreneur. We’ll call him Jason to protect his identity.

“Before that, I hired a cold calling team. It was a one year effort. Zero sales. They gave a second effort on the house. That landed one sale that covered my costs.”

“Nothing is working,” outside of occasional referrals. But Jason’s successful, 22 year-old business can no longer rely on word-of-mouth alone.

He was frustrated. But not done. After all, he launched and is successfully operating this business for over two decades. He has what it takes. But he needs to grow.

Prospecting new customers is the lifeblood of his company. Always has been, always will be. Those are his words, not mine! Sure “inbound marketing” is trendy and, for some, it generates conversations with potential buyers.

But so far his HubSpot email templates have failed to engage customers in conversations.

“I need to increase gross sales … and I need a better process for doing that,” Jason told me. But, at the time, he was terribly reluctant to invest in email writing coaching.

Jason’s Blind Spots

Every seller has blind spots; portions of an email message we cannot see creating big problems. Because we are the source of these poisonous tendencies, they are difficult to spot. Bad word choice. Weak tone. Persuasive hooks.

I have blind spots. You do. We all do. And not just with email. In life!

The key to starting more conversations, using email, is spotting and fixing blind spots. Here is one of the most common examples: Biased “hook” questions.

In Jason’s case, he dripped six emails to organizations identified as visiting his website. Companies like Lead Forensics help identify the company, but the rest is rather like guesswork … trying to understand who within the company visited.

Once targeted, Jason was sending the six messages — seeking conversations with prospects. He used HubSpot to send and analyze open and response rates.

Jason’s messages were all problematic. But his third HubSpot email template asked these “hook” questions:

“Many companies have a product development process that follows a similar schedule year after year. Is that the case in your business? When a pattern exists, it is much easier to plan for the slow time as well as when things get completely crazy. If there is no pattern what do you do when more projects land on your desk than you can handle?”

These kinds of questions are typical in my experience as an email writing coach. Hook questions. Leading questions. Questions that “push on pain points.” Questions marketing people often write, hand to sales people and say, “try this approach.”

Big mistake. Persuasive tone and hook questions equals instant death in sales prospecting emails. Aiming to persuade targets to have a meeting is mostly a non-starter. This goal is a complete non-starter for B2B sellers of complex, longer sale-cycle products and services.

If you need to start a conversation, asking for a meeting (without being invited into one … based on a value-added conversation) is a great way to get rejected and/or secure meetings that go nowhere.

The Problem With Hooks

“Is that the case in your business?” and the other (above) questions communicate “I’m asking because I want you to confirm (for me) what I’m sure is your problem — so I can sell you something.”

These are hooks. Customers aren’t fish. Hence, they don’t bite.

Answering one of these questions will make early stage customers (with latent need) feel too vulnerable. Result: They don’t answer and increasingly hit delete. (or worse, spam … an even faster way to unsubscribe!)

Hook questions are biased to an answer the seller seeks. They are rooted in Jason’s  —  or any salesperson’s  — desire to “open the door” to a sales discussion.

Instead, Jason should be asking questions with inward focus … helping the client examine his/her decision-making process with regard to possible change. He should be asking questions about, for example, how the status quo was created.

What works is simple: Focusing clients on change they might direct — on their own terms, on their own schedules, if they decided it was appropriate and, possibly, with the help of a vendor like Jason.

Success demands you gain permission to help prospects decide on a meeting themselves. Thus, your email message templates must help prospects persuade themselves. Everything else fails.

However, it is impossible to have a 100% accurate perspective on communications effectiveness — unless you have trustworthy (and qualified) people giving honest feedback.

Finding your blind spots.

How Jason Fixed His HubSpot Email Templates

Within a few weeks, Jason got his drip sequence sorted and nabbed a lead. The response read:

Hi Jason-
Thanks for tracking me down. I am interested in your thoughts and am certainly open to discussing opportunities.

Philip W.

The target subsequently went on vacation … then “went dark” on Jason. But he’s still in hot pursuit as I write this.

Here’s how Jason earned the conversation: He asked an un-biased, inward-focused question … helping the prospect consider his own situation for a moment. This provoked thought, stood out from other email come-ons and encouraged Philip to read the next sentence.

Jason opened by asking, “How would you know if (and when) it’s time to consider a different or additional product development path?”

He asked a neutral question. Questions are dangerous (in general). But this question is neutral to Jason’s natural bias.

His second sentence (of three) was, “I’m asking after noticing the innovative baby bed on your site … Are you open to considering a conversation about change — if it is the right time?”

Notice how short this approach is. Notice how customer-centric the questions are — and how the seller does not discuss himself whatsoever. Most importantly, the question posed is not a self-serving marketing hook. Instead, it’s provocative.

Want to stand out from the pack? Write messages in ways others aren’t. This way. Write messages that do not serve you — as much as they serve (and provoke) the reader.

Who Is Helping You Find Blind Spots?

Sadly, people who support us rarely give brutally honest feedback. They usually have a horse in the race and tell us what we want to hear — rather than what we need to know. Increasingly, we take free advice from experts who aren’t experts at all.

Are your co-workers, marketing team, software vendors, friends, spouse and Uncle Google really the best sources to get sales outreach advice from?

Beware: Do writers of articles you’ve Google’ed have your best interest in mind? Or are they just offering simple answers to complex problems — as part of their lead generation ploy?

In most cases, no. Think about it this way: Jason has been driving sales outreach without checking blind spots. You wouldn’t drive a car that way. It’s too dangerous.

So why drive your outreach this way? It could be costing you a lot of money.

How will you find a better way to start client conversations?

 

Does the ‘Appropriate Person’ Cold Email Template Work?

It’s out-of-control popular. It’s a darling favorite. It’s the widely used, sequin-studded pop star of cold email templates for B2B: the appropriate person cold email template. However, consider this a public service announcement for cold email: This technique does not work in 90%-plus of cases.

"appropriate person" cold emailIt’s out-of-control popular. It’s a darling favorite. It’s the widely used, sequin-studded pop star of cold email templates for B2B: the appropriate person cold email template.

“This email helped me land a million-dollar deal.”

“This is the secret to writing one email to land a conversation with anyone.”

Consider this a public service announcement for cold email: This technique does not work in 90%-plus of cases.

Given how many people online claim it does work, I am compelled to share the truth: It doesn’t work for me nor our clients.

I’ll also share what is working lately when using cold email templates in B2B sales. I’ll present my (and my collective student clients) experience.

Forget about opinions; let’s look at experience with this tactic.

The Appropriate Person Cold Email in a Nutshell

Boston-based, Peter Mahoney, founder and CEO of plannuh, Inc. puts it this way:

“The basic format looks like this,” says Mahoney.

Subject: Appropriate Person?

Email body:

Hi Bob,
I wonder if you could direct me to the person in your organization responsible for [buying something that is usually not directly related to my job]. My company makes the world’s best [thing that I don’t really care about] it would really be to your advantage to hear more about it.

My senior vice president (also known as another sales rep) is going to be in your area next week and he would like to meet with you.

Sincerely,
A. Lazy Guy
Senior Executive Salesperson

“They don’t really have the right contact for their solution — so they would like me to do their research for them,” says Mahoney.

“There is a popular book in the market today promoting this type of technique,” says Jason Panici, Business Development Manager at CompTIA. “The book is ‘Predictable Revenue’… Many modern sales departments are employing the techniques found in it.”

Panici says the appropriate person email is one of many cold email templates sales professionals have in their sales toolkit. He recommends it.

However, he says, “Sales professionals are being lazy if this is the only tactic they use to get to the decision maker.”

Does the Appropriate Person Cold Email Work?

What’s the bottom line on the appropriate person cold email technique? It seems to depend on what you sell and to whom. There’s plenty of debate.

“Why do you (Peter Mahoney) call the email prospectors lazy?” asked Frank Stellato, VP Sales at American Lazer, in a recent LinkedIn conversation.

“Did you stop to think the email was only one method they were using?”

Point taken. But what does diligence of sellers have to do with what matters most — does this approach actually work?

Increasingly, no. Not in our students’ experience, nor in my practice.

The inbound emails have gotten so intense Peter Mahoney (a chief executive) set up an automated email filter — targeting subject lines with “appropriate person” for instant deletion.

Here are a few reasons why this B2B email template fails. The technique:

  • Is targeted for deletion by humans and spam filters (machine learning)
  • Signals “I’m not willing to do the homework on your organization” (in an age where research tools like LinkedIn abound)
  • Is a cut-and-paste template (contains nothing original/personalized)

So what do others say about this rabidly popular, highly template-able (cut-paste-send) and impersonal technique?

“That whole generic ‘who’s the right person?’ approach isn’t credible anymore because LinkedIn enables us to see quite a few things about our customers,” says Heather Morgan of Salesfolk.com.

“The idea that you’re just looking for the right person, and don’t know who it is, is only credible if your prospect has a title that is very ambiguous or a role that could belong to different titles.”

Cathy Patalas of email provider Woodpecker.co sees it similarly. “When I see the [appropriate person] subject line, I know right away what I’ll find inside… a sales pitch,” says Patalas.

“I know what the sender will expect me to do in the call-to-action. It feels like an old trick and I don’t want to get tricked. So my reflex is to ignore, or even delete, the email immediately.”

Jeb Blount is a sales trainer and author of “Fanatical Prospecting,” with plenty (decades) of sales experience under his belt.

“Statistically speaking it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. It is and always has been losing strategy,” says Blount.

In fact, he recently wrote back to a rep using the appropriate person cold email on him. He said:

“Dear Ryan: (Rather than ask if I’m the right person) The better question to have asked is: ‘Is your firm large enough to use our software?’

I visited your company’s site — did you visit ours? In the time it took you to write/send me four emails, you easily could have looked at our site, determined we’re not a fit, and removed us from your list after the first unanswered contact.

Looks like a cool product for the right customer. Best of luck targeting your prospects.”

In Defense of Appropriate Person Cold Email Technique

“In my experience it does work,” says Isaac Liebes of Green Light Energy Conservation.

But only when you:

  1. approach someone who actually has the ability to point you in the right direction;
  2. present enough compelling information to the incorrect (initial) point of contact—where they now see a benefit to forward the sender onward.

“Your phone call (or email) should start with a phrase that sounds like this: ‘Hi, I’m calling to inquire as to whether or not you’re the appropriate person to evaluate our Gizmo 98. If you are not the appropriate person, who would you suggest I talk to?’” says Gil Cargill of Cargill Consulting Group.

“By approaching your customers with this tactic, you are coming across far less confrontational and far less like the classic, late-night infomercial, TV pitching salesperson,” says Cargill.

But is the sleazy-sounding salesperson approach the only other option?

Instead Use Research and Provocation

Ninety percent of B2B cold email templates are … wel l… templates. They fail to exploit the most powerful conversation-starting tactic available: Proving you’ve done research on the prospect. Showing you’ve done homework on the prospect takes you into top 10% range.

When you demonstrate “I did my homework” your message isn’t perceived as spam. It’s also not targeted for removal by spam guard systems and machine learning tools!

From this point you can roll forward — avoiding other traps. For example, talking about your clients, listing benefits, positioning yourself as a problem solver … and asking for a meeting rather than a conversation.

Avoid looking like every other lazy sales slug — pushing non-researched messages asking customers to meet before they realize they need to. Or asking them to do homework for you.

Instead, get to work. Pulling, attracting clients to have conversation with you isn’t easy. Pushing is. Your prospects see the difference in every message you send.

Sales email templates help you customize — not send — faster.

Just like a good call script, effective email templates are easily personalized. Flexible. They use mental triggers.

Scripted call and email templates fail. They’re rigid and sound canned. They’re not relevant, nor personal.

Want to start more discussions with buyers — and scale your time? Personalize your templates. Open them up. Allow for insertion of information that:

  • Proves you’ve researched the prospect
  • Sparks curiosity
  • Provokes a reply inviting a discussion

This is what I’m learning from my most creative, diligent students. The truth about what works is in your grasp. Challenge your buyer to invite you into a discussion. Good luck!

Email Subject Lines: The Worst Advice You’re Probably Taking

How believable are these statements about email subject lines? This cold email subject line earns a 34% open rate for a B2B software company: “[first name], quick call next Tuesday?” This subject line earns a 42% open rate: “Time to meet?” If you’ve sent any cold email lately, you’ll be laughing right about now.

How believable are these statements about email subject lines? This cold email subject line earns a 34% open rate for a B2B software company: “[first name], quick call next Tuesday?” This subject line earns a 42% open rate: “Time to meet?”

If you’ve sent any cold email lately, you’ll be laughing right about now. These are two of the worst performing subject lines these days …  based on my personal experience sending cold email, as well as my wider experience coaching B2B sales reps.

Yet, these claims are being made by a sales email automation software provider. In fact, these particular subject line claims come from a respected, growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. They’re publishing a guide book of subject line advice.

So are these subject line claims fact or fiction? It matters not. What matters is there’s a fox in the hen house.

Who Do You Trust With Sales Email Strategy?

Where do you/your reps turn for sales email best practices? How are you educating sales reps … or how are they educating themselves on email subject lines? Who do you trust with the email writing portion of your sales prospecting strategy?

Googling templates can be dangerous. You won’t find a better-than-average way to start email conversations via Google. Because Almighty G is everyone’s top go-to source for subject line short-cuts.

Most demand generation, marketing, sales enablement pros and reps are turning to software vendors claiming communication expertise. Yet 95% of folks I meet experience complete lack of success using these tips.

Here’s why: The tips and advice are garbage. There’s no other way to put it and I won’t single-out any one provider.

Yes, I admit, it seems logical … turning to vendors providing sales email automation tools. But most organizations fail to realize: trusting software vendors ensures sending sellers to market with sub-par email subject lines and messages.

In fact, it guarantees:

  • sending them to battle with messages competitors are using
  • encouraging reps to form self-defeating communications habits

You cannot afford to invest in this kind of advice. It’s free but it’s not serving your best interest. It threatens you/your team.

The Truth About Your Software Vendor

Software companies are not communications experts. Period.

No, sales automation and engagement software providers aren’t evil. I get that. Many of these tools are quite handy. But setting email strategy based on advice from software providers is dangerous and foolish. Because they are not communications experts. They are tool experts whose clients need communications expertise … to use the tools.

It’s easy (for SaaS providers) to provide communications advice that won’t hurt clients, but won’t help either. Investing in quality communications expertise for software companies is not part of the SaaS business model. Even LinkedIn has invested in communications expertise to support its larger Sales Navigator clients, investing upwards of $200,000 annually.

Yet many of these sales teams end up knocking on my door… asking for help with communications technique. They often recognize LinkedIn’s communications tips aren’t on par and, in fact, are being handed out to competitors.

Relying on software vendors ensures zero competitive edge. Your tool is great. But your tactics are outdated.

Flawed Logic and Secret Formulas

Here are just a few examples of what sales automation software providers are telling prospects and customers who use their tools. They go as far as claiming to have “secret formulas.”

Catchy, compelling email subject lines will vastly increase your email open rates and engage prospects. 

This is simply not true. Catchy fails terribly. In practice, attempts to compel also fail miserably. What software vendors don’t understand is how readers are numb to catchy, see right through such attempts. They are also spotting anyone who tries to compel them into opening. Catchy & compelling don’t work. This kind of advice is clearly coming from a marketing person.

Effective email subject lines are direct, straight to the point and crystal clear.

Wrong again. Cold email arrives without context. Prospects have not opted-in to receive it. The more specific your subject is about the message contents (and your goal as a seller) the lower open and response rates it earns. From your target’s perspective, they don’t need to open when the subject indicates, “this is a cold email about a subject that 15 sellers per day email me about… to sell me.”

They delete, without hesitation.

Performing email subject lines are personal, directly reference the company or the prospect’s name.

While this is true in a minority of cases it is a disingenuous statement. Truth is, this is an old marketing ploy that also fails to work in most B2B contexts. As time progresses this tactic is trending negative. Using a database merge from your list into the subject line is, actually, a tell-tale sign of spam for humans and machines. Prospects and spam guard tools easily find and mark these subject lines as spam. Again, not in all cases but increasingly across B2B.

Marketing Creep

In most cases, marketing staff write B2B email messages for reps to apply. And/or reps turn to marketing materials, cut-and-paste into emails and press send. Marketing is creeping into sales emails and it’s not helping. For example, calls to action. We are told:

Good subject lines include a call to action.

I honestly don’t know how anyone could take this seriously… yet many folks are. Calls-to-action are inherently marketing-oriented. If you want your B2B sales prospecting email to get opened, and read, do not include a call to action. Using a call to action in your subject is a tired marketing concept, not appropriate for sales.

“RE:” and “FWD:” are powerful when used appropriately.

In other words, tricking your target prospect (into believing your cold email is, actually, part of an on-going conversation) is good practice, “when used appropriately.”

Is there ever a time to trick your prospect into believing your communication is part of something it is not? Only a marketing person could suggest this filthy tactic.

Do yourself a favor: Don’t use this technique. I know many people who do (and are successful at starting conversations through trickery) but be careful of the negative repercussions… including forming habits that, ultimately, will sabotage good communications habits. Use your precious time to start honest dialogues with prospects. Don’t insult their intelligence.

“[first name], quick call next Tuesday?” is effective at earning opens because prospects like to see their name & appreciate yes/no emails.

Truth is, in a B2B context this stopped working for 90% of us about 10 years ago. Most B2B decision-makers receive dozens of pre-mature, cold meeting requests per day. Some receive over 100 per day. If you’d like to signal, “One of the steady stream of sales reps asking for your time to sell you something” feel free to use this subject line and subscribe to this outdated logic.

Remember: You won’t find a superior (let alone effective) way to start conversations by copying everyone else, based on what you found on Google. Avoid turning to software vendors claiming communication expertise. Otherwise, what has your experience been?

Why 97% of Sales Email Messages With Questions Don’t Work

Two of the most popular writing strategies in B2B sales email messages fail to provoke desired behaviors. Especially replies. Instead, they put your customer in a vulnerable position.

sales email messagesTwo of the most popular writing strategies in B2B sales email messages fail to provoke desired behaviors. Especially replies. Instead, they put your customer in a vulnerable position.

Literally.

I’m talking about asking prospects questions and/or offering persuasive research.

Both tactics fail or under-perform. Because both result in tipping-off customers to your motive:

To sell … before they’re ready to be sold to.

These tactics reek of persuasion. While marketers think persuasive copywriting is good, it’s not.

Copy that openly allows customers to persuade themselves — if, and when, they’re ready for it — delivers consistently more value to both sides. Especially if you are trying to get a meeting with the CEO using email.

Are You Asking Customers to Become Vulnerable?

Are you asking prospects to:

  • Answer questions leading to an outcome you want?
  • Be persuaded by third party research to form a conclusion you want?

If so you are asking customers to become vulnerable. Nobody likes feeling vulnerable. Hence, your email (or even website) copy may be under-performing or not performing at all.

Because your persuasive tone screams, “I’m trying to persuade you … answering (at all) will entrap you!”

Example: I recently received this response after requesting a demo from a software provider.

Thank you and Communications Edge for your interest in learning about our award winning [software tool]!

I am eager to hear from you and what you are looking to get out of your LMS package.

In order to give you a more detailed pricing quote, do you mind answering a few questions:

  • Are you training staff or external partners?
  • If external, will you be selling the courses?
  • How many learners are you expecting on a month to month, year to year basis?

Who says I want — or am qualified to request pricing?

Why would a seller communicate, “I’m going to ask these questions specifically to size-you-up for a quote” before discovering if a price quote is appropriate?

Wouldn’t it make better sense to ask me (a potential buyer), “What is your current LMS solution and/or why would you not build your own LMS?”

Of course it would.

But this solution provider’s rep didn’t ask me that. Because in his twisted world it wouldn’t serve him. After all, I just requested a demo.

I must be ready to buy! Or I’m darned close.

Wrong and wrong.

Those conclusions are both foolish and blindly abundant thinking.

Perhaps you may not think “Why would you not build your own tool?” is smart. But have you considered how this question is neutral? It pushes against making a quick sale.

Therein lies the power. Sound like David Sandler’s “negative reverse” technique? Indeed! It can be very effective.

Effective at qualifying a purchase for both buyer and seller? No. Effective at qualifying a discussion about a potential purchase … if and when the purchase is right for the buyer.

The Role of Questions

The role of questions in effective cold email messages is to serve. The client! In doing so you serve yourself: Clients “qualify-out” themselves. Customers will gladly tell you if they’re going to purchase, when and why … if you will kindly not rush it.

Too often we see questions being used to qualify buyers and/or entrap them. Both cause your email messages to fail or under-perform.

Another rep recently sent this question to me, paragraph No. 1, cold:

“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.”

Of course I’d like to, you dope. But then it gets worse … he tells me his intention is 100 percent about his need to place a solution. This isn’t about my need at all. Just to be clear!

First this rep tries luring me with a question that, if I answer, obviously makes me vulnerable to a sales pitch. But just in case I miss his intention he spells it out clearly for me!

The above reps want to sell LMS software to me … more than they care if this is, at all, a fit for me. Prefacing questions with “I’m asking you these questions to push a quote on you” literally screams “I’m going to jam this sale through as fast as I can … game, Jeff?”

In the first example, exploring the nature of my demo request could be saving him time. Time is money. (if you’re this reps’ boss this should trouble you!)

There are a myriad other problems with this message. For example, how does communicating, “I’m eager to show off” benefit me, a potential customer?

BANT Is Killing Us

Rather than a servant leadership mentality (and practice model) there is a pervasive “BANT mentality” (Budge, Authority, Needs and Timeline) dominating sales email messaging. Especially inside sellers.

It’s giving us a bad name, wasting resources and losing accounts.

All by promoting a communications technique which helps customers feel vulnerable to pitches that want to happen way, way too soon.

Help the prospect see your questions as neutral to your bias to sell. In other words, don’t help them feel your question is self-serving. Instead, aim your question at their decision-making process … to spark curiosity.

What is your experience with questions? How are you using them to serve customers and your lead qualification process?

3 Quick Ways to Bullet-Proof Your Cold Email Messages

No matter what target market my students are calling on when sending cold email messages, I see the same weak spots over-and-over. Unknowingly, sellers are often sabotaging themselves by “blasting” prospects. But starting a conversation with email can happen. I’ve seen it.

Patrick's email blogNo matter what target market my students are calling on when sending cold email messages, I see the same weak spots over-and-over. Unknowingly, sellers are often sabotaging themselves by “blasting” prospects:

  1. long, un-personalized “push” copy (rather than pull)
  2. persuasive marketing prose (rather than copy that embraces rejection)
  3. using words that sabotage (signal “I’m needy” or “I’m a waste of time”)

Let’s say you’re aiming to start a conversation with an executive decision-maker. You sell a product or service that takes time, involves “consultative selling,” probably requires a few yeses. Your biggest enemy is the status quo.

Starting a conversation with email can happen. I’ve seen it.

But increasingly chief executives and top VPs are suffering from inbox saturation, in general. Mostly from SDR/BDRs (sales and business development reps) whose approaches are obnoxious.

Moreover, it’s not effective at starting conversations.

Shorten, Personalize and Pull

Long, non-personalized messages that push meetings using “blasts” that “push on pains” are not good conversation-starters. Yet we see them all the time.

The goal of your cold email is to provoke a reaction — that leads to a short conversation, qualifying a longer one … or not. No is a great answer too.

The goal is not to get referred. It’s not to set a date for a demo or meeting. These are what I mean by pushy.

Before pressing send make sure your email:

  • contains a first paragraph proving you researched the prospect
  • takes 10 seconds or less to read
  • does not ask for a meeting
  • contains a provocation, likely to trigger a reply asking for clarification

Calling on C-suite executives comfortable with the status quo? Generating a conversation with these people takes more than a “blast.” It takes a personalized message that is short (and provocative) enough to attract the prospect.

Don’t push, pull. Attract.

Don’t Need the Sale

Want the sale. Don’t need it. Show your prospect you don’t need it. Shift the tone of your cold email by shifting your mindset. This avoids writing in ways that communicate “I’m desperate for your business.”

Some of my best students avoid these words like the plague:

  • Please
  • Love
  • Looking forward to
  • Hope

Each one of these adds up. Every word counts. The more weak words used the more you help readers feel you need the sale.

The more weak you sound the less attractive you become.

Think about it this way: If a prospect truly believed your solution could double their productivity or increase revenue by 30% would they delete your message?

No. They would immediately hit pause (on what they’re doing) and make time.

Don’t Signal “I’m Wasting Your Time”

When a prospect deletes you they actually mean “This isn’t worth a moment of my time.”

Why? Because you convinced them it wasn’t… often by using weak words.

Time is another element where your words demonstrate lack of respect. Often unknowingly. Do you ever use these phrases?

  • As you probably realize …
  • Again …
  • Obviously …

These are all words that communicate, “I’m about to waste your time” to your reader. I’m about to tell you something you already know. Or I’m about to repeat myself. Or I’m about to tell you something obvious.

People don’t have time for you when you signal “I’m good at wasting it.” Your words are powerful. Keep this in mind.

Stop Persuading

As a sales person, your goal isn’t to convince the prospect to talk with you. That speaking would be smart. The goal is for the prospect to convince themselves that talking is smart … if, in fact, it is.

Stop trying to persuade. Everyone hates strangers who try to persuade them, especially in an email.

Are your cold emails and voicemail messages helping buyers feel an urge to ask for help? Are your follow-ups helping them reach conclusions on their own? That’s different, powerful.

Or are you trying to persuade the prospect you are credible?

I know experts say, “you’ve got to write something convincing them to reply …” and “you’ve got to appear credible to earn the response.”

No you don’t.

You have to be provocative, not credible. Credibility comes later — when a customer is considering doing business with you. You don’t need to have credibility to initiate a short conversation about a longer one.

You need to be provocative.

The problem with using words that posture is… well… you’re posturing. You’re trying to appear credible to someone you don’t know. And that never works in email, nor in general, when you talk about yourself.

When we try to appear credible we actually “signal” to strangers:

  • I have my own agenda
  • I am out to convince/persuade you
  • I know you won’t believe me, so I’ll bring in 3rd parties to prove it (your research report, your Gartner praise, etc.)

Instead, challenge the prospect to challenge you!

Make your claim. Boldly. Let them react to it. Let them label it nonsense or ask you to prove it.

Now you’ve provoked a discussion.

I have many students who do well with CEOs and CIOs using the phrase, “unorthodox but effective” when describing a strategy or tactic … relating to what they sell. This dares the prospect to hit reply and ask, “ok, you’re on. What’s so unorthodox about what you’re asking me to consider?”

What has your experience been?