Fix Your Follow-Up Email Sequence or Be Ignored

It’s templated. It’s boring. It’s just like everyone else’s. It’s pushing for a meeting. It’s your follow-up email sequence. And it’s not earning much response. But why is it so difficult to converse with prospects who have already shown interest to engage?

It’s templated. It’s boring. It’s just like everyone else’s. It’s pushing for a meeting. It’s your follow-up email sequence. And it’s not earning much response.

Inside/digital sales development reps (SDRs and BDRs) are taking marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and converting them to conversations; then, passing prospects to sales reps for close.

But why is it so difficult to converse with prospects who have already shown interest to engage?

Because many SDRs are given one goal: Get the prospect on the phone. Qualify them. Fair enough. Problems arise when reps are not given an effective, repeatable way to earn time with prospects.

‘Faking’ as a Strategy

If your follow-up email sequence isn’t helping to book enough appointments with MQLs there’s a reason. Most likely:

  1. Reps are mindless drones, cranking out templated meeting requests.
  2. Customers see your meeting requests as unqualified (too big an ask, too early).
  3. Messages are self-centered, redundant and templated marketing speak.

Yes, persistence is 70% to 80% of the battle. But we live in an age where everything is templated and fake sincerity is easy to spot. As is faked, mail-merged personalization.

Templates don’t stand out. They scream “fake” and “insincere!”

Your Follow-Up Email Subject Line

The following is an actual sample from my inbox with names removed. This entire sequence screams “I’m insincere” and “I’m too lazy to hit your LinkedIn profile for a minute or two … to discover a way to make my approach relevant.

Along with a harsh critique (of what you may already be doing), I’ll offer a more effective alternative for reps to apply.

If your follow-up subject line looks like the majority of follow-up subjects from sales people you are done! And most do.

Subject line: [CRM vendor name] and Communications Edge [my company’s name]

Many inside sales teams are still using this dated subject line template. It’s like yelling, “sales rep looking to pitch you!” to a client.

Instant delete key.

I’m not sure who recommends this subject line format, but don’t use it. Let’s get to the meat …

You Have 8 Seconds (or Less)

If your follow-up email looks like most flowing in to targets’ inboxes — you’re sunk.

“Hello Jeff… my name is Jake, reaching out directly from [vendor name]”

What exactly does Jake mean by directly? As opposed to communicating with me indirectly?

Why is Jake telling me who he is and what he’s doing? I saw who he was before opening the message. He is obviously reaching out. That’s how his email arrived. He sent it. Duh!

As sellers we have plus/minus eight seconds to earn attention and curiosity of prospects. Jake just wasted two.

“… I’m curious to see if you have any concerns with your current systems for managing relationships and projects.”

Jake’s curiosity about my concerns isn’t relevant to me! In fact, he’s one of many such reps looking to set a call with me — based on their needs to fit me for a product/service.

Jake is blending in with other, needy sellers who clutter my inbox with “Can we speak so I can suit you up for my thing?” messages.

That’s another three seconds blown … for a total of five precious seconds down the tube.

Every. Word. Counts. Be deliberate with word choice. Be careful with every word you write in follow-up messages.

Your Follow-Up Email’s Ask

In his first message, Jake asks,

“Do you have 15 minutes this week or next for a quick chat to understand how we have helped similar companies in your position? Best, Jake.”

Jake is like many other sellers hitting my inbox daily. He wants my time — so I can understand how he’s helped people in my position.

My position. How does Jake know anything about my position? Most likely he doesn’t. And why would I want to invest time helping sales reps understand my position?

Jake should know my position before emailing. Make sure you/your sellers take a moment to understand (research the prospect) and state what is understood.

This authenticates you and makes your message relevant to your client’s selfish interests. Instantly.

Otherwise prospects will conclude: This rep doesn’t know me, hasn’t researched anything about me … claims he knows my current situation … and wants 15 minutes of my time for show-and-tell. Forget it!

So how big is your ask? Regardless of who you’re calling on, time is money. The most precious item customers can offer you is their time.

  1. Respect this.
  2. Don’t ask for time; don’t try to persuade; this looks needy.
  3. Instead, help your prospect feel “Hmmm … this might be worth my time.” (provoke curiosity)

Give prospects a reason to believe investing time is going to be worth it. Help them want to ask for your time.

This also helps prospects qualify out, naturally.

Personally, if I gave 15 minutes of my time to everyone who asked for it I’d fill half my day!

Instead, Jake should help me qualify meeting with him. If I can justify meeting with Jake, I’ll gladly do so. Demonstrating he understands something about my business would help me want to meet with Jake.

Follow-Up Email No. 2

The next day Jake returns with the second message in his follow-up sequence.

“Hey Jeff.”

Hey, Jeff? What are we fishing buddies? Old friends?

“Jake here, from _________ [CRM vendor].”

Again, Jake tells me who he is. Just in case my email client doesn’t display his name … and so he can, again, waste precious seconds.

“Do you have 5-10 minutes this week or next to hop on a call regarding opportunity and relationship management?”

Again, Jake persists. He wants a meeting to talk about “opportunity and relationship management.” Again, Jake makes no effort to help me qualify investing time with him.

He pushes for my time — so he can qualify me!

“We have been working hard to change the connotations around the CRM industry and as a result have the fastest customer acquisition rates out of any of our competitors.”

How selfish. How self-centered. This isn’t about you, Jake. This is about me.

How foolish. Sorry, but how can changing the way people view an industry result in faster customer acquisition rates? Noodle on that for a minute.

This is just one example of marketing nonsense that permeates today’s email follow-up sequences. Jake should be receiving guidance on how to communicate with potential clients.

I’ll spare you the remainder. Jake ticked off a few pains he perceives I have. Then, he asked for my time again.

Instead, Jake should resist guessing at my challenges. Everyone is doing this. Most reps are busy sending email messages demonstrating complete lack of research on my business. Jake should also stop promoting how great his company is. Jake should, instead, ask me a question that helps me decide if I can justify meeting with him. This helps Jake and me!

For example,

“Jeff, what would cause you to re-examine the way you’re currently managing sales leads?”

This is called a facilitative question — helping prospects reflect on the status quo situation without feeling you’re leading them toward a trap (a pitch). This use of questions, if done wrong, can be disastrous. But if executed well it’s an effective cold email and follow up technique.

Follow Up No. 3

“Hello, Jeff. Jake here, with _________ [CRM vendor] again.”

Ooof. Not again! Make sure your messages do not start with information your prospect/customer already has. Get to the point.

“If you do think you might want to evaluate something like _________ [CRM vendor] down the road, it’d be beneficial to hop on a quick call so we can get an idea of how we can help you when the time is right.”

First, that sentence is very difficult to read. There are extra and weak words all over the place. It reads “wimpy.”

More striking: Jake ignores how I’ve been using his CRM tool for a year now … and I’ve practically maxed out my free plan’s limits. Jake seems oblivious to the fact: I’m a prime target to upgrade.

Jake should be looking at my account usage — at minimum — and customizing his follow-up email message accordingly.

“Do have 15 minutes to spare for a quick introductory call either this week or next? Here is an article detailing our latest product release in the meantime!”

Setting aside the missing word (“you”) … wait a minute and premature meeting request. Does Jake want to book time with me or not? Apparently he realizes I will probably ignore him. He helps me ignore him by sending me to (ha!) his latest product release page on his website.

It’s like saying, “In the likely case you won’t reply … here read this about us!”

I’m laughing but it’s not funny. This is a respected CRM software business.

Take Time

What if Jake took a moment to research something easy to notice about me … showing me he was not a mindless, appointment-setting drone?

If your MQL follow-up email sequence is booking enough appointments most likely reps are behaving like mindless drones, cranking out templated meeting requests. Stop. Customers see these premature meeting requests as unqualified.

Examine your messages for self-centered, redundant and templated copy.

Good luck. What has your experience been?

A Better Meeting Follow-Up Email

You just had a good meeting with a client or potential new client. Now you’re challenged to move the conversation forward. It’s time to send the meeting follow-up email.

You just had a good meeting with a client or potential new client. Now you’re challenged to move the conversation forward. It’s time to send the meeting follow-up email.

The three biggest mistakes I see sellers making are:

  1. Failing to secure key details & commitments before the meeting ends
  2. Recounting what happened in the meeting
  3. Sending follow up emails that don’t hold customers accountable to the next step

Remember, business email is transactional. Not conversational.

Beware: Trying to converse within the message may be sabotaging you. Clients don’t have time for “thank you so much” type conversation, especially follow-up email messages. Your follow-up is, by nature, highly deletable because most are simply a recount of what happened during the meeting.

Clients have been trained to delete follow ups because they’re just not important!

Here’s a better way to keep clients committed to moving forward with you.

Get These 5 Details Before the Meeting Ends

As the meeting unfolds, in your head (or on a piece of paper) summarize these points:

Current situation: In simple terms, describe the client’s decision-making environment.

Business priorities: How this discussion fits into the strategic (not functional) picture.

Priorities when making this decision: Jot down what the client says they are.

Timeline and process: How much time the client needs to make decisions, what are they and who is involved.

Next steps: Any suggested next steps you or your client discuss during the meeting.

This is an excellent way to conclude your meeting. Ask your client to confirm your current understanding before the meeting ends. This takes all the work out of writing your pithy follow up email.

Get commitments before the meeting ends

It sound obvious. But are you doing it? Are you earning a commitment for the next meeting before the first one ends?

My hero and sales trainer, John Barrows, likes to point out how we tend to give … and give … and give … and give … until the very end when we finally get (the sale).

But here’s the problem: By giving clients everything they ask for we’re conditioning them to treat us poorly.

Barrows says, “Because we’ve given so much, clients feel like they can do whatever they want. So what we need to do is make sure we get something all the time in return for what we’re giving away.”

In the case of your first meeting or demo that something is the next scheduled meeting date.

Barrows says this has to do with human instinct, reciprocity. And he’s right.

When your prospect asks for something there’s a fleeting moment where they feel obligated to give you something in return.

“And if you ask for it right then-and-there it’s actually easy for them to give you,” says Barrows.

So when they ask you for something, toward the end of the meeting, there’s that moment right after you gave them something … where they’re open to giving something back.

For example, it might go like this:

Your client says, “Great. Love it. Thanks for that. Send me some information and we’ll get back to you soon.”

You reply, “Sure, I can do that. But first what information would you like … and second when can we schedule fifteen minutes to go over that information … and see if it makes sense to take the next steps?”

A Proven, Effective Template Example

Remember, email templates don’t work unless you customize them. Without personalization of your messages you’ll end up deleted. Bank on it.

Remember to avoid “thank you for taking the time to meet with me” type of chit-chat. They should be thanking you, right? Right. Keep it transactional, not conversational. Help them do their job — hit reply and confirm you are on track.

Get them to re-commit to moving forward!

The below meeting follow up template gives you specific advantages. It:

  1. holds clients accountable for what they are telling you without being rude
  2. gauges their interest
  3. maintains a sense of urgency
  4. helps you re-engage strongly if/when the prospect goes dark

Subject line: Please confirm?

John,

Please review the below — confirm I’m accurate on these?

Business Priorities:

  • Priority one
  • Priority two
  • Priority three

Statement of Work requirements: (your customer’s priorities when making this decision)

  • Requirement one
  • Requirement two
  • Requirement three

Time line: (things that must happen in order for the final decision to transact)

  • Milestone / project one
  • Milestone / project two
  • Milestone / project three

Next steps: (be sure to include commitments made, if any)

  • Step you mentioned during meeting
  • Step they mentioned during meeting

Please confirm the above is accurate—and guide me if not?

Thanks, John

[your signature]

The idea here is to earn a response that is, in effect, a confirmation and further commitment. If you ran a proper meeting the prospect gave you time on their calendar. Put this commitment in writing. You may need it later — if and when they “go dark” on you (don’t respond).

My students do better with this kind of technique. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot improve on it. What can you add or subtract from the above template — to make it stronger in your specific selling context?

Are there other key meeting takeaways that are not included here — or can be added to strengthen it?

Let me know in comments!

Sales Follow-up Emails: The Most Effective Formula

Earning a reply to your initial email is simple. Spark the prospect’s curiosity. But what comes next? How do you follow-up effectively once invited to do so? What do you write and how — so potential buyers will reply again?

Earning a reply to your initial email is simple. Spark the prospect’s curiosity. But what comes next? How do you follow-up effectively once invited to do so? What do you write and how — so potential buyers will reply again?

Spark their curiosity. Again. However, it’s also time to hyper-target your prospect’s pain, fear or goal.

It really is that simple.

Here is a real life example. I’m sharing so you can copy the technique in your setting.

Here’s the gist of what works: When replying to the prospect’s invitation, help the buyer want to tell you about “the conversation already going on” in their head.

This helps you build a conversation about what is most important to them — not what you’re selling.

A Successful “First Touch” Email Example
One of my readers took advice (from this blog) and turned it into a response. I love when that happens.

Connor emailed me saying, “Your technique for getting permission to have a longer conversation is working great. What I would like to know is what angle I should take once permission is given… or the curiosity has sparked a response.”

Here is the exact first touch approach Connor used to earn the first response.

Subject Line: Is this a fit for you, ___ [first name]?

Savings accounts, bonds, and CD’s are currently earning less then 1% while the cost of living rises at 1.7%. There are other places to allocate your resources that offer a competitive rate while retaining a low risk mindset for your savings and also provide tax advantages.

In the interest of time would a short email conversation makes sense? Let me know what you decide, _____ [first name]?

Thanks for considering,
Connor

The prospect responded with, “Yes that is something I would be interested in discussing. What type of investment options do you offer?”

Connor is a financial adviser who offers different investment options. He says, “The products don’t sell themselves. The (sales) process we use conveys the value of our products.”

Thus, it’s critical for him to get into the flow of a buyer-focused conversation.

He asked me, “Do you have a proven approach to moving this situation forward and getting the appointment or should I explain what the product I was referring to in my response?”

Indeed, I do.

Pinpoint the Pain or Goal
In Connor’s case, the prospect responded by asking about investment options. That’s what Connor sells. He used a “near-term buying first-touch” approach. And the buyer is curios about his solution to the problem. Success!

However, this can be a dangerous situation.

The best way forward in the second touch is over-focusing on the prospect. Here’s what I mean.

In Connor’s case, the buyer is opening the door to talk about his solution, the product. However, it’s best to resist this temptation.

Instead, to earn another reply, I ask one brief but purposeful question. Two max. This qualifies your lead. It also helps you know how, exactly, to respond and move the discussion forward.

For example, Connor should reply,

“I will be glad to talk options, ___ [first name]. But I need to know more about you, please, to help. Are you invested in CD’s, bonds (low rate options) now? Are you doing everything possible to protect yourself from outliving your retirement savings?”

They’ll Tell You How to Reply
New customers will tell you what will trigger them to buy. Sometimes in the second email you receive from them. Choose your words carefully. Help them to open up and tell you.

The goal of your second email message is not to pitch your wares. Instead, it is to:

  1. Earn another reply, (keep it very short!)
  2. Trigger an “avalanche” response, (allow your buyer to become emotional)
  3. Pinpoint the buyer’s exact pain or objective. (so you can address it)

By identifying what matters most to the buyer you’ll know exactly how to reply in a way that builds credibility and curiosity in your solution. Remember: An emotional reply from a prospect validates how important a given issue may be to them. Additional curiosity (more questions) indicates the lead is a good one.

Bottom line: Your second email message will yield a response that qualifies the lead. The reply it generates will tell you exactly what to talk about in the next email message. The buyer will tell you — again!

A Stream of Curiosity
Always answer questions the prospect asks — but do so in ways that create more questions in their minds. Hold a little back. This helps create more curiosity.

Structure the way you reply. Be deliberate about it.

Don’t be coy. This isn’t about trickery or dangling a carrot in a way that will annoy the prospect. Be direct and specific. Yet hold back on the details. This will help your prospect feel an urge to ask you about them.

Good luck!

The Art of the Follow-Up

When prospecting using email or LinkedIn InMail, when should I send a follow-up email—to make sure the prospect saw my email? How long should I wait to rattle the prospect’s cage? Is there a better day of the week to follow-up? What’s the optimal formula? What do I say in the follow-up that will get their attention and response?

When prospecting using email or LinkedIn InMail, when should I send a follow-up email—to make sure the prospect saw my email? How long should I wait to rattle the prospect’s cage? Is there a better day of the week to follow-up?

What’s the optimal formula? What do I say in the follow-up that will get their attention and response?

Only you know the best way to answer these questions. I’d love to tell you the secret formula or best practice. But the only way to answer these questions is to write, try, measure, re-write and try again. Get in the sandbox and create.

That said, I will give you a “starter message template” to begin your experiment. The best we can do is try to control the chaos to the best of our ability. That kind of control takes two things: Staying flexible and having a systematic approach. Because systems tend to be reliable, predictable.

It’s a Lot Like Fishing
Everyone likes fishing when they’re kids. But when I grew up I realized something exciting: Once you’ve learned how to fish for, say, small mouth bass on a river, you can go to just about any river and catch that specific kind of fish.

Because of the system anyone can learn. The approach.

But here’s the thing: Like your uncle always said, “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching!” The fish, once in a while, are totally unpredictable. Fish are like people. They sometimes behave in ways we can’t explain at the moment. And here’s why: Because the weather changes. Water temperatures may fluctuate wildly. Their environment freaks out on the fish.

Catching them won’t be easy, but it’s never impossible—if you remain flexible enough in your approach.

Keep Your Follow-Up System Flexible
It’s the same with your prospects. Experimentation with follow-up timing and wording is vital to your success.

Like with fishing, outside factors suddenly come into play with prospects. Their boss suddenly quit. They’ve been given 24 hours to get on a plane and fill in for a sick colleague at a five-day trade-show. Their child was involved in a traffic accident and is seriously injured. Their partner wants a divorce.

Prospects “disappear into the black hole” right? You know, when everything seems to be going fine with your lead and poof! Suddenly, no response. All of these factors require a flexible system … a system that allows for customers to occasionally disappear and not derail you.

You need an approach that uses creative thinking-and rewards you for getting those fish biting again.

Embrace the Idea of Experimentation
There is no one best approach. There is no best practice that will be sure to work for you. You need to discover what is best in your situation with your customers.

You need to discover what sequencing of messages works best; what subject line works best; how to time the different touches you’ll make with the phone, email and LinkedIn.

Because different kinds of buyers have different kinds of habits that drive their day-to-day behaviors.

Use This as a Starter Template
Keep it simple. Remember, always use the “brief, blunt, basic” approach to your email messages. All of them. If this approach doesn’t sound like you adjust it so it does. Don’t get too wordy just make it sound like you. Use this as a template:

SUBJECT: Are we in touch?

Hi Jeff,

Sorry to trouble you. Did you receive the below message? If I do not hear back from you by _____ [insert day of week about 4-6 days after your initial message], I will not be in touch again.

All the best,
Steve Jones

Feel free to copy this technique. Yes, it works, but it’s the structure of the email that works—not so much the message itself. That’s the system. Words keep it flexible.

Why Does It Work?
The subject line is inquisitive. It is clearly seeking a response about being in touch. Most recipients do want to get back to senders. But only those senders who ask for a quick decision to be made in their first email.

Next, the first line dramatically acknowledges the fact that it is interrupting the reader’s day. By recognizing the reader’s right to ignore or delete, you are creating distinction for yourself. You’re standing out. It’s like a refreshing slap across the face.

Finally, this wording creates a sense of urgency. It sets a deadline.

Let me know how this flexible approach works for you? Good luck.