A Surprising Cold Email Best Practice

By the time a “best practice” is best, it’s mainstream … common. A cold email best practice is most often a “worst practice” in the realm of sales outreach. Starting conversations with decision-makers using LinkedIn InMail, or standard email, requires breaking away from the usual cold email best practices.

By the time a “best practice” is best, it’s mainstream … common. A cold email best practice is most often a “worst practice” in the realm of sales outreach. Starting conversations with decision-makers using LinkedIn InMail, or standard email, requires breaking away from the usual cold email best practices.

Sending cold email messages, and follow-ups, using sequences or campaigns is working less-and-less. Mostly because of a widely-accepted best practice: Adding value to cold email messages.

What?! I thought everyone knows — earning response means adding value to email messages when prospecting.

Today, I’ll challenge this cold email best practice. I’m basing the challenge less on opinion, more on experience.

Offering value — without having earned the chance to provide it — is failing most sellers. Beware.

The Case for Adding Value

“Here’s the problem with emails today, they lack value,” says Jim Keenan of A Sales Guy Inc.

“If you don’t think an email needs to offer value, then you are most likely one of the perpetrators of horrific emails. Emails have to offer value,” he says.

However, our clients, our sales team and I myself are living proof: Cold emails not offering value do earn response.

Likewise when prospecting, most sales reps believe email messages need to be seen as credible by prospects. Not always true either. Trying to add value, and be seen as credible, can sabotage success.

That said, Keenan makes a compelling argument for what many believe is the No. 1, golden cold email best practice.

Your email, he says, must offer value, “Because you’re asking for something.” A meeting.

“I’m regularly bombarded with horrific emails, almost always asking for 15 or 30 minutes of my time, these emails offer nothing of value to me and just end up cluttering my inbox. I delete them as fast as I can,” says Keenan.

“Why should someone open your email or give you 15 minutes of their time if there is no value in it for them? They shouldn’t and they won’t.”

But what if your cold email didn’t strive to prove value — at all? What if you also skipped asking for a meeting in cold sales outreach?

Increasingly, clients are opening emails based on curiosity about what’s inside the email — not anticipation of value they’ll receive. Likewise, compelling a customer to take your meeting without having established a need to is an outdated cold email best practice.

An Unusual, But Effective Best Practice

Want a meeting with your decision-maker? Stop requesting them. Instead, start provoking discussions, piquing curiosity.

Stop trying to give-give-give, add value and clearly present offers. Start trying to quickly provoke. Be un-clear.

“The offer is what you are offering or giving the reader. Yes! I said giving. If you’re not offering the reader anything, why should they open it, read it, respond or even agree to what you’re asking for?” asks Keenan.

Because they’re curious. They’ve been provoked. Not because you offered clear, compelling value. This is sales, not marketing.

My colleagues and students are earning more meetings by not asking for them; instead, provoking curiosity about an issue, idea or claim which may lead to (justify) customers’ desire to meet.

Yet Keenan makes the argument we hear so often.

“To get your buyers and prospects to open your emails you need to craft an email that compels the buyer to open it, (your first ask), read it, (your second ask), then respond (your third ask) and then agree to your request for a meeting or demo or whatever you’re ultimately asking for (your fourth ask).”

In a marketing context, yes. Sales is different.

When sales people try to earn meetings by providing value, and proving themselves credible, they often fail. My opinion? Sure. But this is also my experience.

Why Adding Value Fails

In a cold email context customers aren’t asking for your value. They’re not sitting around waiting for value to arrive from a stranger. You can offer value on the first touch… and then again, and again in a follow-up sequence.

But you’re just pushing value at people — hoping they’ll find your words valuable enough to respond. Clients aren’t triggered by sellers pushing “just enough” unsolicited value at them.

Consider also: That valuable tidbit in your email message is often information clients often already know. (don’t value!)

Instead, help prospects ask you for a discussion by piquing their interest in one. Not by offering value; rather, by being vague and not asking for a meeting. (like everyone else does)

“What’s the point of sending a cold email if you’re not going to ask for anything,” argues Keenan. “The key is to make sure the ask is clear; 15-minutes of time and introduction to the CEO agreeing to 30-minute demo, etc. These are clear asks. Asking to discuss their challenges, or asking if the prospect would be open to a call are not clear asks.”

Increasingly, our students do better by not asking for the meeting in a cold email; instead, attempting to pique interest in a discussion. (which may lead to a meeting)

This helps your message stand out from the pack. It’s unusual in how it breaks the typical cold email best practice (pushing value) pattern.

Eliminate Asks

Adding value doesn’t work anymore … logically and in our collective experiences. Instead, what if you could earn better response to cold email messages by not asking for a meeting?

What if your message contained no “asks.” What if your email’s goal was purely to provoke curiosity — rather than earn a meeting?

Make your cold email “smartphone short.” Do homework on the prospect. Research them. Make it obvious this is not another templated piece of spam. Avoid persuading. Avoid posturing for credibility. Care a little less.

Increasingly, clients are opening emails based on curiosity about what’s inside the email — not anticipation of value they’ll receive. Likewise, prospects are replying to cold messages based on curiosity, not value received in the message, nor anticipating value in a meeting.

What is your experience?

The 2 Biggest Problems With Your Sales Communication

There are two of huge problems with sales communication techniques — they make you look weak, and like every other seller out there.

If you’ve ever written or spoken the words, “I just wanted to …” stop. If you’ve ever sent emails to clients pushing on pain points, stop that, too (because that’s exactly what your competition is doing).

These are two of the biggest problems with sales communication techniques — they make you look weak, and like every other seller out there.

Here’s how to understand if your mentality and pain-point-pushing are, in fact, causing you to start fewer conversations than you deserve. If so, we’ll get you on track with stronger written and voice-based digital messages.

Stop ‘Wanting To’

Subconsciously you may be on the defensive. We all are. In life and with our work. Defensiveness and uncertainty are part of the human experience. But it can destroy your ability to communicate effectively.

Case in point, “I just wanted to …”

Author and sales trainer, Jeb Blount, recently said, “You’re saying it on the phone, you’re saying it in emails and InMails, you’re saying it in person … ‘I just wanted to check-in’ … ‘I just wanted to set an appointment’ … ‘I just wanted to grab a few minutes of your time’ … ‘I just wanted to stop by’ … I just wanted to reach out.”

“Just wanted to” is poor grammar. I’ve taken heat from my students on this for a long time. But I feel empowered by Jeb to stand firm. Stop it.

Yes, we should strive to write as we speak. But when we speak weakly, we are average. And average in sales isn’t effective. Especially in digital communications — like voicemail and email.

“‘Just wanted to’ is yesterday … it is passive and weak. It makes you sound insecure,” says Blount.

Perhaps because you are insecure.

The cure? Well, be confident. But also shift to active tense. Take an active stance. Be confident. Don’t sound average!

“Say, ‘I want to.’ Say ‘I am.’ Be active. Be confident,” says Blount. “Because confidence transfers to your prospect. Stop saying, ‘I just wanted to.’ Just stop it.”

Are You Needy?

We all need. To need is human. But needing a reply, a conversation or a closed sale can set you up for communications failure. Just like when we date to find that perfect life partner: The more you communicate, subtly, you really need that second date, the less often you get it.

The more persuasive your tone (during the first date) the less you attract. Because persuading inherently puts you on the defense. It assumes you must convince. Instead, what if you confidently provoked your prospect to convince him/herself? Slowly.

Bottom line: A more confident mental attitude drives more productive behavior. Because confidence attracts, in personal and professional life. Word choice is everything.

“When I stop being needy, I can focus on my reader’s needs — like being respectfully short, factual, interesting … and ending with an implied choice,” says copywriter David Morrison.

“I think of this instruction as a prescription, and I think effective cold email is also a prescription for the reader: declarative, unambiguous, single action,” says Morrison.

Indeed, a cold call or email should be strong in tone. However, to be effective it should not be forceful. Instead, the message’s tone must be openly at peace with rejection.

“Doctor’s don’t beg. They tell you what to do and leave it up to you to follow instructions — and if you want to fix your pain/problem, you decide to take action. No one can persuade you or motivate you to do something. That desire comes from inside.”

Is what you sell prescriptive? Then David’s metaphor works.

Why ‘Pain Points’ Are Such a Pain

Marketers and sellers instinctively push on pain points. If a customer has a pain, tell them you can relieve it. But everyone is pushing information that touches on pains. If you want to blend in with the scenery, pushing on pains is an excellent way to get ignored/deleted.

Also, you cannot start near-term conversations with clients who don’t (yet) realize they have pain. Yet, sellers continue to turn to marketing prose for language that pushes on pains.

Are You Making a $250K LinkedIn Sales Navigator Mistake?

Sales teams are spending big bucks this year on LinkedIn Sales Navigator, primarily to access LinkedIn’s database and InMail — allowing full access to prospects’ inboxes. From $30,000 to $250,000, most sales teams are “all in.”

LinkedIn LogosSales teams are spending big bucks this year on LinkedIn Sales Navigator, primarily to access LinkedIn’s database and InMail — allowing full access to prospects’ inboxes. From $30,000 to $250,000, most sales teams are “all in.”

But marketing teams are making a big mistake when training sellers on social selling. They’re failing to focus sales teams on an effective communications technique to spark conversations with buyers. Even worse, sellers are going in cold — with their cold email approaches.

Most sellers are sending InMail messages on a test-and-learn basis. Big mistake considering one cannot test InMail open rates (at all).

Graceful Interruptions
Prospecting is all about interruptions. Cold calling is part art, part science. And it ain’t easy. But when a seller masters the ability to earn discussions, look out! They churn through prospecting lists — booking appointments like mad.

When a seller figures out how to interrupt customers gracefully, everything changes.

Today’s top reps are effectively interrupting prospects gracefully. Effectively. Using the phone, LinkedIn, email … whatever it takes.

As Hank Barnes of Gartner Research puts it, the best sellers

  • are relevant to the buyer’s situation
  • quickly help the prospect tell if they should care (they’re to the point)
  • offer a clear next step that honors the buyer’s time-frame

Good cold calling and cold emailing techniques leverage graceful interruptions. Problem is, most marketing teams undervalue (or just don’t plain understand) this part of sales.

The Problem With LinkedIn Sales Navigator
“The simple truth is most people and companies on Linkedin use it to sell to other companies and members,” says Simon Marley, CEO of Growth Logik. “But ironically they don’t want to be sold to.”

Marley conducts surveys of CEOs and studies how C-level contacts are using LinkedIn. He’s been documenting a growing problem for sellers using Sales Navigator.

LinkedIn’s InMail is a new piece of the prospecting puzzle. Small, middle and large businesses are spending serious money testing the waters. Yet for most sellers (and teams) it’s been problematic.

Honestly, it’s been a bust, because little investment is being made to help sellers master earning the right to speak with buyers via digital.

Is Your Team Spamming?
Most likely, they are. Specifically, most sellers are sending email (InMail) with nearly zero confidence in their ability to earn response.

Are you or your reps being reduced to figure it out on their own — for $10-plus per InMail!?

I see one practice more than anything else: Spamming on LinkedIn using InMail. Yes, LinkedIn does everything in its power to prevent such use. Yet I see it repeatedly. Why?

Reps aren’t receiving training or communications guidance. Sadly, they’re getting LinkedIn guidance from marketing teams — without the crucial communications guidance.

It’s crazy. Sales reps are given cold calling training. Why not cold emailing training?

Cold Email Prospecting: Getting Busy Buyers to Reply

Transactional Messaging - Much More than Just a Confirmation EmailThe Web is littered with horrible advice on cold email prospecting tips and strategy. Templates? Even worse. So here’s what I’ve learned works.

No theory, just what I’ve learned along side my most creative, diligent customers. Here is a practical way to diagnose and fix your cold email templates. Fast.

Avoid the Most Common Mistakes
It’s obvious. So obvious. But are you doing it?

Is your email different?

Is it provocative? Does it spark curiosity in a way that is hyper-focused on the buyer?

You’ll fail every time — unless your first touch email is:

  • under 10 sentences
  • focused exclusively on the buyer (not referencing yourself, nor current clients, nor benefits)
  • not asking for a meeting
  • without Web links or PDF attachments

Is your first message structured — written — to earn permission for a discussion?

The 3 Reasons Prospects Don’t Reply
Most cold email templates fail to break-the-ice and earn replies because they:

  • Have subject lines that telegraph what’s inside (never get opened).
  • Contain messages focusing on the seller (often pretending to be personalized).
  • Ask for a meeting and share a Web link or PDF (distracting them from replying).

In 95 percent of cases I see, buyers aren’t responding because the goal of the email sender is focused on earning a meeting. If you’re selling a complex B-to-B product or service, practicing challenger selling, or if closing takes months beware: Do not ask for the meeting in your first touch.

Everything (bad) flows from this flawed objective.

Instead, think in terms of provoking a short discussion … that might (if needed) lead to a meeting.

Then, conduct the conversation (via email) in a way that creates an urge in good prospects… to ask you for the appointment. Poor prospects will fall away. They will self qualify/disqualify themselves.

All because of how you structured words … how well you copywrite.