AI: Why Marketers Need to Look Beyond the Buzzword

Tech trends such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain have become unavoidable on our news feeds. However, if we move away from the buzzwords, there are an increasing number of real-world examples of how AI is transforming marketing and living up to its game-changer promise.

Here in 2018, it is almost impossible to avoid tech trends such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain in our newsfeeds. Every headline promises that one of these latest buzzwords will either transform your business, industry or lead us to some sort of tech dystopia where the machines will rule the earth.

In a digital world where everything is exaggerated or sensationalized to get quick hits, it’s easy to see why so many of us are beginning to suffer from tech fatigue. Every new solution promises to be faster and smarter than the one before, but can these technologies really transform marketing? If we look closer, early indicators suggest they already are. But first, we need to clear up a few things.

What Is AI and How Did We Get Here?

Much of the confusion and tech fatigue is caused by artificial intelligence being used as an umbrella term for other technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning, which are a subset of AI.

There is also a great deal of misinformation online about machines thinking and making decisions as humans do, which is incredibly misleading and ultimately untrue. The reality is that machines learn from systems and processes that are programmed by humans, so our destiny is still very much in our own hands.

In marketing, our love affair with buzzwords began with big data where businesses captured as much information as they could, only to discover that they didn’t know what to do with it all. This evolved into predictive analytics, and eventually, we mixed it all together, and new solutions appeared run by those that refer to themselves as “AI” companies.

However, the reason marketers and industry experts are getting so excited about AI is that it’s paving the way for the industry to progress beyond data analysis and advance into data generation. Marketers no longer have to endure the time-consuming task of manually categorizing or describing various types of data-rich media such as voice and video.

For these reasons alone, AI and the subset of technologies it relies on are much more than buzzwords; they are game changers in every sense of the word. Enhanced analytics are already helping marketers to adopt a proactive rather than reactive mindset. How they analyze real-time data from a variety of platforms and devices enables them to target audiences with unique personalized experiences.

Looking to the future, these customer experiences will elevate their expectations to an unprecedented level and become the standard. Amazon’s one-click basket was only the beginning, and we can now order an Uber, secure a Tinder date, Netflix movie, and romantic soundtrack with a couple of swipes. It’s easy to see how those AI-driven experiences makers will quickly gain a competitive advantage.

Email Marketing

There is already a wealth of tools such as Bluecore and Custora that enable marketers to learn from their customers’ past behavior and anticipate what they will buy both now and in the future. But capturing the attention of consumers has never been more difficult.

Many of us awake in the morning and reach for our smartphone to see how many emails we can delete before starting our day. Email marketers across the globe are turning to AI to answer some of their most significant questions; for example, when they should send an email, how they should personalize it for the recipient, and how they can get consumers to not only open the message but respond to the campaign.

According to Constant Contact, the average open rate for retail emails is 12%, and the clickthrough rate is 8%. Unsurprisingly, AI can drastically improve email marketing results by interpreting consumer data and treating a consumer as the unique individual that each is, rather than just a demographic or job title.

Content Marketing

Consumers are creating more data points than ever before across a myriad of online devices. This raw data reveals behavior and engagement trends that enable marketers to deliver relevant content that resonates with their target audience.

Sophisticated technology provides straightforward answers to exactly where loyal customers and brand advocates are engaging the most. The answers to these questions make it much easier to deliver relevant content in the right place, on the right device, and at the right time.

AI tools such as Lucy, which is powered by IBM Watson, are already helping brands transform their content strategies. A combination of cognitive computing and natural- language processing gives marketers more effective analyses to form revolutionary content strategies. Forget buzzwords; these tools are already providing real business results and applications for 21st-century marketers.

The Rise of Voice Search

Although we have invested our time and resources into perfecting the SEO on our website, our digital habits are changing how we interact with brands. The smart speakers in our homes and the smartphone in our pockets are beginning to set us free from the screen to find a company and buy a product using our voice rather than our fingers.

Welcome to the world of conversational AI that is powered by an increasing list of digital assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Google, and Cortana. The shifts in user behavior prompted ComScore to predict that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.

Food for thought?

As users get more comfortable with interacting with branded content using their voice, businesses looking to regain their competitive advantage will need to rise to the challenge of creating new experiences for their customers on AI devices.

Get on the Bus, or Get Left Behind

As AI and its subset technologies continue to evolve at breakneck speed, marketers should be focusing on the art of the possible and meaningfully engaging with their customers.

There are already countless real-world examples of how legacy companies are leveraging AI with fantastic results. For instance, TGI Friday’s used AI marketing to increase its revenue by $150 million in only 12 months and tripled customer engagement without breaking a sweat.

Elsewhere, eBay has been using machine learning (ML) for more than a decade but has now added AI, and as a result, has boosted its sales volume by over than $1 billion per quarter. These are real-world examples of brands taking an early competitive advantage; how long can you choose to ignore the signs before getting left behind?

Our brief online history is already littered with hard-luck stories from household names such as Blockbuster video, Kodak, and Polaroid that failed to adapt to embrace digital disruption and changes in consumer behavior.

Maybe it’s time for marketers to take AI seriously after all.


3 Rules for Email Marketing ROI Excellence

Writing emails that encourage your subscribers to take the action you desire is about a lot more than clever copy. (Though that helps.) Here are some other aspects that can make the difference between acceptable open and click-through rates and breakthrough email marketing success.

Writing emails that encourage your subscribers to take the action you desire is about a lot more than clever copy. (Though that helps.) Here are some other aspects that can make the difference between acceptable open and click-through rates, and breakthrough email marketing ROI success.

1. Don’t Get Deleted

First and foremost, as a content marketer you have think about your subscribers and how the react to emails in their inbox. I may be an extreme example, but I have 500 emails land in my inbox every day — at a minimum.

Yes, there’s a good bit of spam in there, and at the other end of the spectrum, quite a few emails from clients, colleagues, and even family and friends. (Though not from anyone under the age of 30. They all text …)

Most marketing emails land in the middle — not spam, not critically important. That’s certainly true in my inbox, where the middle consists of emails I’ve signed up for that I may read one day and delete the next. So how can you make sure your emails are read more often than they’re deleted?

Start with a subject line that makes it clear what’s in it for the subscriber. Let them know what they’re about to read. Subject lines like, “Andigo Newsletter” (which, I’m embarrassed to admit we did ourselves last month) isn’t terribly effective unless you are a truly beloved presence in your subscribers’ inboxes. (Non-profits, celebrities, etc.) Otherwise, assume you aren’t quite as beloved as you’d like to be and make it clear what’s in it for them to read further.

Also be sure that your from name or send name is clear. If it’s not clear who the email is from, the email is more likely to be deleted. For example, we invoice via email and had a client we always had to chase down for payment. We finally realized that he didn’t recognize our bookkeeper’s name, so he deleted the emails from her. Once we changed the from name to “Andigo Accounting,” we solved the problem. (And this even though “Andigo Invoice” was already the subject line. Don’t assume your recipients are reading both the subject line and the from name. They may be reading just one or the other.)

Above all, you need to remain relevant. Don’t be offended when you lose subscribers. They may no longer be in the market for your services. Do be offended if you don’t see the open rates and CTRs at their expected levels. And do something about it. This is where A/B and other testing is incredibly important.

2. Don’t Get Blocked

Avoid spammy words in both your subject lines and your body copy. Think twice before including free offers and other known trigger words.

Most commercial email service providers have excellent deliverability records and strong relationships with ISPs. (Those relationships are why your mail service has strict rules about who you can and can’t send mail to.) If you have a commercial service provider you’re probably fine. But it can still make sense to talk to your IT team about ensure your DNS records include the appropriate SPF and DKIM entries for any source of outgoing email bearing your domain, including your website and your email service provider.

3. Don’t Get Dismissed

If you’ve made it this far, don’t ruin your chances when you’re so close to the finish line. Be sure your emails are mobile friendly. Check your stats to see whether mobile is a big part of your audience and to see if there is a gap between mobile and desktop in engagement.

Make sure your content is scannable with plenty of white space and judicious use of images. Long stretches of text without any graphics to break things up is bad, but don’t overdo it on the graphics, as slow-to-load emails get deleted in a hurry.

Consider a mix of content for immediate consumption in the email environment and longer form content that drives folks back to your website. Ultimately, that’s where you’re going to convert them, but if your email is an all-or-nothing proposition, you’ll lose many folks who might convert later but aren’t ready to now. Give them content they can consume quickly and immediately so you keep them interested for they day they are ready.

Finally, if you’re going to personalize your email, make sure that means something other than including the subscriber’s name in the “Dear subscriber” line. Personalize by segmenting your list so that you send content that is relevant to the people receiving it. Unless your target audience is one giant segment, this is critical.

Why Gmail Is No Longer Cool

Gmail launched in 2004, and was immediately a hit largely because they offered more free storage than anyone. It was more than storage that kept Gmail the leader in email, it was powerful features that were easy to use overall. Gmail was one of the first major applications to use AJAX (if you really want to know what this is, Google it, but it’s not important) technology, which almost all applications use today.

Gmail launched in 2004, and was immediately a hit largely because they offered more free storage than anyone. It was more than storage that kept Gmail the leader in email, it was powerful features that were easy to use overall. Gmail was one of the first major applications to use AJAX (if you really want to know what this is, Google it, but it’s not important) technology, which almost all applications use today. They kept enhancing Gmail at a pace that made it nearly impossible for others to keep up.

Gmail now “suffers” from what most businesses (and technology) suffer from: It is now the establishment. Established firms (and technologies) have more customers (users) and years of legacy systems, which enable their business. A small startup comes along with new flashy technology and people say, “Why doesn’t Gmail (or any company/software) do that?” People are drawn to what is new and shiny, and suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), so they try the new software/business.

Gmail is still an incredible email client, and it is impressive to see how what they originally built still lives on in the current application. However, Outlook email has caught up with many of the features, and in some ways surpassed it. Microsoft has stopped acting like the establishment (in some ways) and more like a startup. There are real startups that are also competing for email clients and receiving accolades, as well as funding.

It’s harder to be the establishment and maintain the leading edge on all fronts. Google still dominates search by a long shot and shows no sign of becoming the establishment for search, but some day that too will happen.

This blog is not about encouraging you to leave Gmail and try Outlook or something else. The point of this blog is that most software and businesses become “the establishment.”

Don’t become stale. maintain your fresh perspective and startup-like flexibility and energy. Do something bold and build from there.

Why Embedded Video Does Not Work in Cold Email

There’s no shortage of reasons why embedded video should work in cold sales email. Sadly, they amount to lazy fantasies of inside- and field-sales reps who should know better. Cold email is work. Real work. Research. Creativity. Resisting. Not caving to urges to be cute or funny.

There’s no shortage of reasons why embedded video should work in cold sales email. Sadly, they amount to lazy fantasies of inside- and field-sales reps who should know better.

Cold email is work. Real work. Research. Creativity. Resisting. Not caving to urges … to be cute or funny. Most of all, it’s tough to not “go for it” in the first, second or even third email. I get that.

However, it’s far more effective to use text. Words. Text-based emails work best to start discussions. Because text-based cold email provokes questions … so you can answer customers, yourself in real time.

Customers don’t want what you’re pushing in embedded video. But they will gladly be provoked and consider asking for more details… if they are primed for it.

3 Reasons Why Embedded Video Content Doesn’t Work

Time, expectation and assumptions. Video almost never starts conversations (in cold email) because your target doesn’t have time to watch.

When customers see “aah, a business-oriented video” the expectation is “this will take too long getting to the point.” Kind of like a webinar. You can be 10 minutes late, not have missed anything on arrival… and you’ve invested those 10 minutes productively!

From a customers’ point of view, video is also expected to persuade, based on what you think their pain is. Video is, essentially, a monologue.

Perhaps most convincing, video content often produces no useful action (response) in the client… even if viewed.

Why the love affair with video? One of my students broke away from my guidance for video. He sells for a global B2B publisher selling exclusively to lawyers who, “receive more emails in a day than any professional I’ve encountered,” said my student.

His reasoning was, “Lawyers, if they get 10 emails by text, and one by video, which one stands out?”

Standing out is important. This quality often makes a cold email successful, at the core. But how you appear unique decides response (and conversation) rate. Video does not seem to be working beyond the promise of vendors who sell it.

No Time Left For You

With rare exception, a “first touch” cold email (with integrated video) is a non-starter. Instead, short, pithy provocations are the way forward. Campaign data shows: You have 8 seconds or less to earn attention of a VP, director, owner or C-level decision maker.

Your provocation must generate a short, pithy reply. I use the word provocation purposefully. Targets are on their mobile devices, clearing email. Deleting the deluge of unsolicited messages from reps like you… 90% of whom:

  • ask for meetings too soon,
  • try to convince prospects (of needing a solution) using quoted research,
  • boast about Gartner ratings and client lists,
  • ask questions designed to elicit qualification-driven responses.

60 seconds? 90 seconds? 3 minutes for a video clip? You must be kidding.

You have less than 20 seconds for targets to read, consider and respond to a provocation. Anything more is unrealistic.

Your Ugly End Game

Customers know your end game before you even get started with video-embedded email messages. Video content is often structured to convince and qualify clients. They assume this the moment they see it. It is also one-directional. A broadcast, not a conversation.

In my (and my students’ experience), it’s not what they’re looking for. It’s what they love to delete.

You may think video is a new, unique way to separate from the other wolves. But it’s not. We’ve all seen business video shorts… and know what to expect. We know why they’re being shoved at us.

Embedded video clips usually play on a presumed need, pain or goal… in an attempt to garner a response that makes the buyer vulnerable to a pitch. At best, they’re designed to qualify the viewer. Convenient for sellers, not for viewers.

Video tends to reveal your true end game: to speak at, not with, clients.

Video amplifies your willingness to look like another spammy push-marketers. Not to mention being too lazy to get cozy with them. Instead, you expect video to do the heavy lifting (qualification) for you.

My former student defended his decision to abandon text-based emails for video this way:

“Through video you can show your enthusiasm,” he said. “You show that the email is hyper personalized and not templated, and if done correctly, you can start to build trust from first contact.”

“If done correctly” is perhaps the most over-rated, over-used, disingenuous phrase I read online lately. Aside from this observation, it’s true… you can, as a seller, personalize and avoid a templated message using video.

However, if it’s not effective (for the reasons I’m discussing here) how can you justify using it?

Outcomes Produced

The best outcome of a cold email is to spark curiosity in your words. Never to convince or persuade a client. Qualification (of you) is also too big an ask, too soon.

In this age, human beings are hard-wired to run from (delete) anything that smells promotional. Videos are promotional.

Most cold emails using video aim to convince and persuade. Instead, earn the right to speak with prospects… so they may convince themselves of their need.

This is a worthwhile outcome. This is a realistic outcome. Relying on a video within an email to help prospects qualify you or your solution? Unrealistic in most B2B selling cases.

Cold email must be provocative. Provocation takes research, creative application of words (mental triggers) and diligence on follow-up. There are no short-cuts.

Most importantly, video is asynchronous. Text-based email is, too. Both embedded video and text do not encourage synchronous conversation. Email, in general, not encourage customers to engage rapid-fire, freely, quickly.

But with practice pithy provocations can produce quick exchanges that pique curiosity in buyers… resulting in requests for more deep conversations.

I’m curious… what has your experience been with video? I’m open to your experience being educational for me!

2 Emails You’re Sending That Rarely Work

Never say never? I try to not speak in absolutes and remain positive. But there are two flavors of cold emails you’re probably sending that do more harm than good.

Never say never? I try to not speak in absolutes and remain positive. But there are two flavors of cold emails you’re probably sending that do more harm than good. These are the cold:

  • “help me find the right person” request;
  • “show me how to sell to you” request.

Not sending these emails? I’ll be surprised if you haven’t sent one in past … or still consider them as valid options.

Beware. They are marks of amateurs.

Asking for a chance to learn about customers’ current pain points or challenges is common … and increasingly fails. Clients are deluged with these requests every day.

It’s not the client’s job to sort a way to sell your thing. Likewise, requesting a meeting in a cold email is too big an ask, too early.

Don’t Know? Find Out!

Let’s say you don’t know the right person to talk with — at your target organization. Fair enough.

Or in cases where you do know the contact, the pain or goal may be unclear. I respect that. But ya gotta find out. No excuses.

Please don’t do this:

Hi {name},

I’m trying to figure out who is in charge of [leading general statement] there at {company}.

Would you mind pointing me towards the right person please, and the best way I might get in touch with them?

Consider tools like LinkedIn, Google and countless others. Your ability to find the right decision-maker(s) is unprecedented. Not to mention innovators like and old-fashioned (yet, perfectly good) sources like InfoUSA and their like.

“Who’s the best person to get in touch about this?”

You must be kidding. This is NOT going to work for you.

Don’t get pegged as lazy, or worse!

‘Do My Work and Pity Me’

If you’re sending emails hoping someone will do the work for you … that’s pitiful. Especially if you’re starting at the top of an organization, looking to get handed-down. Your cold email signals: “help me do my work.” And that’s pitiful.

You might argue, “Jeff, people like to help people.” They do. I help people when I can. But consider this:

Would you call the CEO or top executive on the phone — looking to get handed down? I’d hope not but maybe you would! In a digital age, cold calling top executives (to discover who to talk to) is not effective. Instead, research the target online.

You may also argue, “Jeff, I do well discovering who decisionmakers are using the phone … by tapping into administrative assistants.”

I’m cool with that. In fact, we might be forced to. Decision-makers are starting to hide or disguise their authority on LinkedIn.

Also, gathering intelligence this way is worthwhile.

However, blasting “can you help direct me?” emails, trying to discover decision-maker names is mostly ineffective. It’s the sign of an unskilled sales person. Avoid it. Don’t encourage clients to pity you.

Let’s say you use email to discover who targets are at mid-management level. This is also a losing proposition. Any idea how many requests for help these people receive each day? More than you might imagine.

Think about your hectic day. If you received three to four messages per day asking for help from sales reps, wouldn’t it get annoying? And it might even get you in trouble. Forwarding people who you don’t know (selling products your colleagues may not need) could cost you embarrassment.

There is often a negative incentive for contacts to help guide you.

Go Direct, Go Informed or Go Home

Let’s say you were face-to-face with a new prospect at a networking event. They’ve identified themselves as the decision-maker. You wouldn’t ask a potential client, “Can I get some time with you … so you can help me understand a way to sell to you?”

A Popular, Yet Failing Cold Email Technique

It’s shocking. Sales teams across the globe are telling prospects, “You should invest in what I sell — because this research says so” and expecting to start conversations. But using research as a means to break the ice in cold email is a non-starter. Unfortunately, most sales teams are using this failing technique.

It’s shocking. Sales teams across the globe are telling prospects, “You should invest in what I sell — because this research says so” and expecting to start conversations. But using research as a means to break the ice in cold email is a non-starter. Unfortunately, most sales teams are using this failing technique. Often because they’re under pressure to send non-personalized, cold emails to large numbers of contacts … in hopes of starting a conversation.

Targeted (one-to-many) email prospecting is not the best strategy to start conversations with B2B decision-makers. Tailored (one-to-one) earns better response rates. Yet targeted campaign-style messages are used by most BDR/SDR and digital demand generation teams.

2 Quick Examples

One of my students emailed me: “I think I have a good hook from a research perspective to get a prospects attention that also aligns with the service I offer.”

His idea is a common one: Write an email containing research as a means to compel his prospect to open a discussion with him.

For example, an opening email like this:

“Andy, IDC reports more that 90% of retailers are focused on improving their digital customer experience. Are you among them?”

Here’s another example from a different student:

“Hi John,

A customer service benchmark report released revealed 80% of businesses believe they provide excellent customer service, however only 8% of customers agree.

Expectations of customers are at an all-time high. Customers are busy, multi-tasking, on-the-go and are more sophisticated than ever before. Loyalty is built with positive interactions over time, therefore it is a continuous process to earn a customer’s loyalty.

It is expected by 2020 that the customer experience leader will be the key brand differentiator over product and price … “

Why Research Fails to Engage Customers

Pushing research at clients via email is ineffective because decision-makers are:

  • bombarded with long, mail-merged email “written at them” rather than quickly provoking them;
  • not swayed by research being used in a persuasive context;
  • often not aware of a problem to be solved (the pain has not yet surfaced);
  • already aware of the facts presented in the research;
  • not interested in being persuaded by a rep’s cold email message!

Telling prospects, “You should consider X solution because Y research says so” is a non-starter. Pushing information at customers works far less than provoking them.

“People generally opt in to receive marketing newsletters, but no one chooses to get cold emails. This simple fact is one of the most important differences between the two,” says cold email expert, Heather Morgan.

Morgan reminds us also how cold emails arrive without context. This is often the first time prospects have heard from you. Further, “you haven’t yet earned their trust or attention yet,” she says.

Context is key. Why talk at when you can talk with? Why push when you can pull, attract the conversation to you?

What You’re Really Saying to Prospects

Sending research to customers (without being invited to) says to customers, “I’m biased to convince you … but know you won’t believe me … so here is someone else to persuade you.”

The technique is weak. It attempts to persuade and convince.

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?

Why Your Sales Email Sequence Isn’t Working

The best way to illustrate why your sales email sequence isn’t working is with an example from my inbox.

EmailThe best way to illustrate why your sales email sequence isn’t working is with an example from my inbox. Does this look familiar to you? I’ve disguised the name of the company to protect the innocent.

Email Sequence Touch No. 1

Subject: Quick question

Hi Jeff,

I’d like to introduce ABC, software that helps businesses discover growth opportunities while avoiding risks. ABC helps coaches and their clients discern the “story behind the numbers” that every business’ finances reveal.

Our coaching partners use ABC to offer additional value to businesses like THIS COMPANY and THATCOMPANY, pinpointing where problems might lurk, or where profitable opportunities might appear … based on data, not intuition.

I’d love to answer your questions, but if you’d prefer to learn on your own, here’s a link to ABC to learn more, or you can book an personal online tour.

Talk soon!

This “first touch” sales email doesn’t work because the:

  • subject line is a lie — the contents don’t contain a quick question!
  • first sentence wants to introduce me to a product (thanks for alerting me so I can delete it!)
  • problem this sender solves is way too generic (growth and reduce risks)
  • sender spends the entire time talking about themselves, not me
  • pushes information about the sender at me and encourages a website visit, rather than asking me a question!

Persistence is vital to success. Thus, a sequence of email messages and voicemail scripts is necessary. This is — and always will be — part of effective sales practices.

Need to set meetings? These days, it’s taking an average of seven touches in a sales cadence to yield an invitation for discussion. My clients report (on average) email No. 4 is where they generate the most response.

However, most sales email sequences don’t work because they:

  • are push-oriented (rather than pull, curiosity-focused)
  • contain an unsubscribe link (always a tip-off that this is NOT personalized)
  • are trying to “add value” rather than provoke a reaction
  • are not being complimented with calls and direct mail

Email Sequence Touch No. 2

Back to my example of typical sales email sequences — and why they fail sellers.

Hi Jeff,

It’s likely that your clients rely on you to advise them. ABC is a tool that helps business coaches with clients like THISCOMPANY to:

  • Increase revenue by modeling cash flow alongside longer term sales projections
  • Manage capital and avoid shortfalls by tracking invoices and bills
  • Track the break-even point by quickly building a powerful, repeating budget
  • Rapidly compile and compare “what if” scenarios to make solid operational decisions

I’d love to walk you through the benefits of ABC for your clients (or for yourself!) in a quick online tour you can schedule at your convenience.
– Phil

This email doesn’t work because the sender:

  • shows me, immediately, “this message is unpersonalized”
  • continues to talk about himself
  • guesses about me rather than proves he’s researched my business
  • keeps “loving” the opportunity to sell me (Phil is desperate)

If you want to fail, this is the way forward. Push. Most of what is causing failure in this case is this element of push, rather than pull. The other element missing is personalization.

Not that fake personalization (“I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you’re my target customer”). Actual knowledge. For example, Phil should stop guessing that my clients rely on me to advise them and take the 5 seconds to say, “Jeff, your clients rely on advice from you to use email more effectively when prospecting. I noticed you work with ABC Client. I also help financial services customers.”

Make this email real to me. Stop cutting and pasting templates. Start talking to me. Use a template but customize it! Take a few seconds to research me, Phil. Prove to me you’re not a machine.

Clean Up After Yourselves, Marketers

You know what can really suck? When a piece of marketing is spot on … until it isn’t. Let’s look at a couple email examples and see what went awry.

You know what can really suck? When a piece of marketing is spot on … until it isn’t.

Let’s take a look at this email from American Red Cross … I’m a blood donor, and I regularly receive emails from the nonprofit, alerting me about blood drives and more. And hey, when the subject line is “MELISSA, This is Your Week’s Best Email,” it’s got to be good, right?
Red Cross email
All right, this email is definitely on brand for me … photo of a puppy hugging a kitten? Check. Photo of a baby seal with a super cute smile on its face? Check. Let’s read on.

Red Cross emailOhmigod that puppy is so happy look at that … wait a second.

Red Cross Email CloseupIn the final paragraph, the email reads: As an AB donor, MELISSA, your help is especially important.

Oh really? I’m an A+ donor.

I’ve been donating blood off and on for the past 18 years. I’m registered as an A+ donor. So where did they get AB?

Look, it’s not the end of the world, but the incorrect personalized data stopped me dead in my tracks. And no, I didn’t schedule a donation in May.

And in April, a reader forwarded me the following email he received from Inc.:

inc-emailThe reader (who asked me to not share his name) let me know that, while Cornell University might hit the Inc. 5000 requirements, he does not work for Cornell. He’s also not an officer of trustee of the university. He is an alum (Go Big Red!) and an active volunteer, and sure, maybe his email address is

But so are the email addresses of a lot of Cornell students.

The lesson to be learned from these emails? Clean your lists, marketers. According to Experian Data Quality, dirty data costs marketers approximately 12 percent of their revenue. It makes you look bad, can cost you a sale or at least get people talking about you in ways you didn’t want them to do.


What’s Your Online Sales Communications Technique?

Want to make yourself un-fireable to your employer, put more money in the bank and make yourself attractive to future employers? Develop a communications method to start conversations exploiting all tools: email, phone/voicemail, LinkedIn and direct mail.

4 Tips for Using Email for Acquisition and PromotionEmail templates. Call and voicemail scripts. These are components of your sales communications technique — not your philosophy. Your tactical approach to starting conversations from cold. What’s the No. 1 trait possessed by today’s best producers? Communications technique.

Want to make yourself un-fireable to your employer, put more money in the bank and make yourself attractive to future employers? Develop a communications method to start conversations exploiting all tools: email, phone/voicemail, LinkedIn and direct mail.

Got Technique?

Diligence is key. Persistence. It often wins conversations — and closes business. But without an effective, repeatable communications technique, you’re dead in the water.

Not able to interrupt — start conversations from cold with customers? Not good at keeping existing conversations alive — or re-starting them? You’re done.

True, many of today’s top producers hate prospecting. Some loathe it. But they have a reliable method to use over-and-over … to provoke email and voicemail replies.

They may not love prospecting, but they don’t fear it. They don’t rely on pumping out emails containing regurgitated marketing prose either. Instead, today’s best performers are figuring ways to help prospects feel an urge to ask for more. They have a way to spark curiosity from go.

One Size DOES Fit All

One of my students, Glen Scotzin, sells telecommunications services to small business owners. Another, Mark Lentell, VP of services at Accucode, sells multi-million dollar IT deals. But they each use similar techniques to get more replies from prospects using LinkedIn, email and voicemail.

Are there scripts the same? Not exactly. Are their sales cycles different? Dramatically. Price point is also very, very different. But their communications tactic is simple: Provocation.

Glen and Mark both use a repeatable method that is unlike 95 percent of what flows into their customers inboxes and voicemails every day.

And it works. Mostly because Glen and Mark both:

  • Believe what they’re selling has merit. This drives words choice.
  • Research and understand intimate details about their targets.
  • Are distinctly different. They look/sound unlike others trying to gain favor of targets.
  • Apply trigger-words and often use a “less is more” provocation technique.

“I have fundamentally changed the way I look at (and practice) prospecting,” says Mr. Lentell “because I now how a deep understanding of the psychology of selling.”

The Psychology of Prospecting

Customers ignoring you? There’s a reason — a really, really good one. The way customers behave is driven by what they experience. If they experience emails like this all day long, they have been trained to delete them:

Hi Janet.

We have connected on LinkedIn but not met.

Would you like to catch up for a coffee so I can hear more about what you do?


The above message is:

  • Typical — 95 percent of people are sending Janet that after connecting on LinkedIn.
  • Shorter than average (most are equally benign but verbose).
  • Delete-able for a half-dozen reasons.

You’re a busy person. How busy are your targets? If three, four or even six people per week asked for your time — so they could get to know you — would you have the time to spare? If yes, for how many of them — each week?

The ask (for a meeting) is too big. Way too big. It is also without a compelling reason.One that is in the selfish interest of Ankur.

Your Customer Sees Through You

Think about your inbox. Whether sellers say or imply it, the request isn’t to get to you as a friend. This is about getting to know you — to sell something to you.

Sharon Drew Morgen is a buying psychology expert. She says there’s too much focus on building relationships when trying to sell. Instead, relationships are outcomes of effective conversation-starting tactics. Focus on a better tactic instead.

“As a carryover from Dale Carnegie, relationship building has been used as a ploy to manipulate a sale,” says Morgen. “If buyers like us, the thinking goes, they’ll buy. But everyone knows your pretending. Your relationship will not facilitate a sale.”

Here’s the rub:

  1. Buyers cannot buy unless they have managed their internal change management challenges.
  2. Buyers know you’re motivated by an agenda to sell something.

But this can be overcome — not by becoming a completely un-biased person. Instead, Morgen promotes a better method. A more honest one: asking un-biased questions.

Picture yourself asking questions that don’t relate to your agenda. Instead, the questions are hyper-focused on the potential buyer’s “decision-making tree.”

Morgen rightly calls such questions “facilitative.” These flavor of questions are the key to facilitating conversation that puts the buyer in charge.