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?

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?

Update Your LinkedIn Sales Navigator Best Practices

LinkedIn Sales Navigator can be a great tool. But you may be sabotaging the chance to start conversations with prospects. Misconceptions about Sales Navigator best practices are causing many to sabotage their diligent efforts — resulting in fewer conversations started with prospects.

LinkedIn Sales NavigatorLinkedIn Sales Navigator can be a great tool. But you may be sabotaging the chance to start conversations with prospects. And it’s not your fault.

Misconceptions about best practices are causing many sellers to sabotage their diligent efforts — resulting in fewer conversations started with prospects. A “best practice” depends on many factors. Mainly this one:

By time it’s considered “best” it is no longer best. Because everyone is doing it results are weaker!

How are sellers using LinkedIn Sales Navigator to set more and better meetings? Here are a few emerging best practices you need to know about.

Building a Target List

The most effective sellers use Sales Navigator as:

  • their only research tool to target & identify companies & target contacts … to develop a list from scratch
  • a primary tool — adding profile data from various other sources (e.g., purchased lists with email and direct-dial phone information)
  • a secondary research tool — using purchased data or proprietary “house” lists as primary… supplementing with LinkedIn profile data (to qualify leads)

Beware: The days of using LinkedIn for sales prospecting, at no cost, are gone. You no longer have choice. Since acquiring LinkedIn, Microsoft has clamped-down on free users … hard. I’m not a fanboy, so here’s why purchasing LinkedIn Sales Navigator is required:

  • Search filters. You need them. Sure you’ll get a few using the free version of LinkedIn. But you’ll be hard-pressed to make LinkedIn’s database search filters spit back quality leads for you. For example, need to search for companies based on their size? Yup. You’ll need to invest.
  • Access. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is required if you need unfettered access to LinkedIn’s database of prospects. Truth is, if you want to search for prospects and view profiles, for more than a few hours, you must pay to play.

LinkedIn restricts free users ability to search for and view profiles. It’s called a “commercial search limit” and believe me you’ll hit it … quickly. You’ll be stopped and asked to invest.

In pre-Microsoft years it took a while to get cut-off from searching companies and viewing contacts’ profiles. Today, LinkedIn demands you slap down a charge card in short time.

Want to search the database? Want to view profiles of your targets? Do so using the free LinkedIn. But believe me … take your credit card out of your wallet. Set it on your desk. You’ll be reaching for it.

Investing in Sales Navigator is no longer a decision-point for sellers using LinkedIn. It’s mandatory. Sorry! Of course, there are other very good data sources to consider investing in too.

The Truth About InMail

Decision makers are less-and-less receptive to receiving messages on LinkedIn.

Still, most sellers use InMail and connection requests as a primary communications tool. However, this is no longer a best practice, not recommended in most B2B sales environments. InMail is best applied as part of a multi-pronged approach. (email, phone/voicemail, InMail, direct mail, etc.)

Thus, InMail is not a big value-add, nor why sellers invest in LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Nor is it a secret weapon to get more and better conversations started with prospects. InMail can be used productively but it has serious disadvantages to consider.

Overall, Linkedin is weakening as a communications platform — all while the company builds an image as the premier “social” sales tool.

This weakening isn’t my opinion — it’s the accumulated experience of our customers. People like you.

My sales team (and our clients’ teams) report decision-makers becoming less-and-less responsive. In all B2B industry sectors? No. In most? Yes.

Increasingly.

Some blame the “Facebook-ization” of LinkedIn.

Bottom line: Decision-makers are increasingly less receptive to receiving messages on LinkedIn. Quick analysis of LinkedIn’s public discussions about user base stats and you’ll see it too.

Access to the LinkedIn database (and use of targeting filters) is the primary reason to invest.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Your CRM

Most organizations (large or small) use their CRM to track “Navigator sourced leads.” This helps you understand how many deals flow from contacts leaning (fully or partially) on data found on LinkedIn and Company profiles.

Beyond this simplistic level of tracking most organizations do not track a hard ROI on Sales Navigator; instead treating it as a cost of doing business. (a line item expense)

Buying Navigator is like buying any other kind of list to call from. (except this is on a subscription basis) However, many organizations do wish to understand how many leads are being pulled from LinkedIn’s database — and how many of those leads actually close.

This helps one understand quality of leads from LinkedIn overall … assuming a level of sales rep proficiency, of course.

The most effective sellers also do not use Sales Navigator as a CRM itself beyond temporary storage of leads. Most sellers choose to move contact and company profile data sourced within LinkedIn into their CRM or sales automation tool of choice — then pursue the lead.

Other Worthwhile Research Tools

Research is truly LinkedIn’s most valuable deliverable to you. That said, data on LinkedIn is supplied by users. Thus, it’s accuracy is only as good as the user provides.

Navigator’s “Business Insights” feature is a popular way to monitor useful news & info about target contacts & companies. Thus, this best practice remains. While Google Alerts and other services offers similar monitoring LinkedIn’s Business Insights feature brings this into a centralized stream within Navigator.

“Headcount growth by function” and “Total job openings by department” are two very useful Sales Navigator data sets. These allows sellers to see where within an organization current investment (budget growth) activity is taking place—and is planned to take place in immediate term—from a personnel perspective.

Research is LinkedIn’s strongest value to sellers.

What do you see changing lately? What best practices do you experience as being ineffective these days? And which are emerging as a better practice?

 

3 Reasons to Not Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator

LinkedIn Sales Navigator is where the social selling action is. But is truly needed? Do you need it? Over time, LinkedIn has changed the rules and features of the offering to sellers.

LinkedIn LogosLinkedIn Sales Navigator is where the social selling action is. But is truly needed? Do you need it? Over time, LinkedIn has changed the rules and features of the offering to sellers.

Bottom line: There are many ways to prospect new business. But for some large and small organizations, LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a go-to source for new business leads — I use it and my students do too.

But is it a fit for you? Today I’m presenting three reasons it may not be.

What This Article is About

Sales Navigator has lots of great features. But this article aims to present reasons why you may not want to use it. The title may sound provocative. But my criticism will be constructive.

Sales Navigator will be the right choice for a lot of people — maybe even you. If so, please let me know why in comments.

Many sellers I meet have dropped (not renewed) their accounts. Mostly because they don’t realize tangible value from the investment. Often with good reason. Others use Navigator on an “as needed” basis. Others decided their target market is simply not available on LinkedIn.

Then again, you may feel forced to use Sales Navigator. Due to LinkedIn’s new restrictions on how many “commercial searches” (of its database) you are allowed, this is often the case.

There are a lot of reasons to invest in Sales Navigator. But there are also a few good reasons to consider not investing.

1. You’re not good at starting conversations with words

Email is seen as the means to communicate with prospects on LinkedIn. However, the most productive sellers are using it in combination with cold calling (voicemailing). But the only way to recover a LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator investment is to possess a means to start conversations with buyers.

Reliably. Consistently. At scale, yet personal.

Don’t have confidence in getting responded to from cold? Don’t invest. If you don’t have the tactical ability to use written and spoken (voicemail) words in ways that provoke conversations, don’t invest. Not yet.

Instead, commitment to becoming effective. How effective? You should be receiving a minimum:

  • 40 percent email open rate
  • 30 percent response rate

If you are not starting conversations with prospects (minimum three out of every 10 cold InMail/call attempts), Sales Navigator may not be a smart investment.

What happens when you do have strength here? It can get exciting. Remember: InMail is not unlimited. You can only buy a maximum of 30 InMail credits (needed to send them) per month.

That is unless you get credits returned to your account — LinkedIn gives your credit back each time a message is responded to, even if it’s a “no.”

Thus, the primary way to recover a LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator investment is to possess a means to start new conversations with buyers — at scale.

2. You/your team is already spamming with it

Most sellers I meet are, in essence, spamming customers with standard email, InMail and other forms of LinkedIn messages. At best, mass-emailing reps pushing everything from marketing content to pre-mature meetings earn a 2 percent response rate.

Are you/your people cutting and pasting marketing prose into InMails and hitting send? Asking for meetings — from cold — using InMail?

You are probably spamming prospects. Time to own up.

“I have received dozens of InMails over the last few years and not a single one as merited more than ‘ignore’ or ‘no thanks not interested’, says Mark Johnston, president at Telementrix. “A lot of education is still required in this area.”

Johnston describes how most InMail messages have not performed any research on the approach. He is clearly not in the market for what is being pushed his way.

“Here’s what I get from social selling: a LinkedIn invitation, acceptance of invitation, and receipt of an email that clearly shows they know nothing about my company, me or my needs. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not accepting very many LinkedIn invitations as they seem to be an invitation to spam me,” says Michael Jones of Centurylink Business.

Are you or your team already using standard email (or LinkedIn InMail) to push spammy messages at customers? Have you already formed the losing habit? Again, most folks who I meet have. I’m not judging, just warning.

3. You place priority on Social Selling Index numbers

To encourage use of its platform and adoption of social selling, LinkedIn offers its Social Selling Index (SSI). This is a scoring system designed to reward what LinkedIn considers to be productive sales behavior using its platform.

But is it encouraging productivity or rewarding noise?

I get criticized as raining on everyone’s parade, but the bottom line is LinkedIn’s SSI is not as helpful as it may be harmful to sellers or those who manage them. I have years of experience coaching sellers. This remains my experience. I’m not alone.

The SSI encourages (rewards, with a number) quantitative use of LinkedIn. This actively discourages qualitative use.

Here’s the rub: Sellers most precious resource is time. Most social selling efforts are, thus, seen as defensive. In other words, sellers feel they are forced: “you must spend time on LinkedIn to reap rewards from it.”

The result is usually ugly: Buyers are being smothered by content being pushed by sellers. What buyers are not getting is context.

Sellers are often not good at, and rewarded for, offering guidance to customers via LinkedIn — in context.

2 Fatal Mistakes You’re Probably Making on LinkedIn

By the math, LinkedIn can be worth investing in at any level. But make sure to ask yourself the right questions to ensure LinkedIn pays you back. Using LinkedIn connection requests and/or InMails as your first point of contact is a losing strategy. While you may have some success, it will remain limited compared to the potential.

Locked cloudLinkedIn Sales Navigator is now all but required if you are prospecting new customers by:

  • Searching LinkedIn’s contact database
  • Contacting potential buyers using InMail

Whether you’re spending $500, $50,000 or even $500,000 on LinkedIn Sales Navigator, you’re forced to ask yourself: Will Navigator be worth it?

How can you be sure? By the math, it can be worth investing, at any level. Make sure to ask yourself the right questions — to ensure LinkedIn pays you back.

However, using LinkedIn connection requests and/or InMails as your first point of contact is a losing strategy. While you may have some success, it will remain limited compared to the potential.

If you are getting responses you’re likely not advancing toward discussions or setting meetings. Worse, many of my students have invested time in LinkedIn’s training — and still aren’t getting anywhere!

Why Most Sellers Fail to Start Conversations

Contacting prospects inside LinkedIn can happen in two ways:

  • Connecting to prospects and messaging freely
  • InMail-ing potential buyers

Easy right? Well, yes-and-no.

Easy to send a personalized request and/or InMail message. Not easy to earn a response, let alone a qualified conversation. Especially using connection requests, even when personalized.

These are two ways sellers sabotage themselves. Beware — when trying to meet new customers, avoid making first contact using connection requests or InMail.

This may have you thinking, “Molander, where are you going here?! What other way is there to establish rapport on LinkedIn?!”

Answer: Not on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn: It’s Not “All That”

Despite the hype, LinkedIn and social selling isn’t “all that.” LinkedIn is nothing more than a database of prospecting leads.

Got a phone? Use it. Today’s most successful sellers are.

Got another database? Supplement it with data from LinkedIn.

Got a trade show list? Use LinkedIn to gather intel on prospects — make an informed approach.

Sellers with the highest social selling index often aren’t making any scratch on LinkedIn.

Sellers making the most money using LinkedIn work it using multiple tools — not just LinkedIn.

Why InMail Alone Rarely Works

It makes sense to start within the walls of LinkedIn when using LinkedIn to prospect, but in general, you will get more conversations started by making first contact outside of LinkedIn. Use InMail as a last resort — or later in your messaging cadence.

Use standard email and phone/voicemail first. Supplement your cadence with InMail.

So why invest in Sales Navigator at all? Because you’re forced to. No investment in Navigator? No access to LinkedIn’s database. Period.

Beware. These are just a few reasons why you should not start with InMail as a “first touch” when prospecting. InMails:

  1. Give you no ability to determine subject line strength (open rate)
  2. Are limited to maximum 30/month
  3. Are expensive!
  4. Don’t facilitate following-up well enough
  5. Rarely perform better than standard email

If you are sending emails to prospects without knowing your open rate … STOP. You’re wasting time crafting and then re-crafting messages that aren’t being seen. If you want to judge effectiveness of your message you must, first, inspect open rate — the effectiveness of subject lines.

Don’t be fooled into believing your perfectly good message is the problem — when it’s actually your email not being opened (because of a weak subject line).

Today’s world requires you to be tenacious and persistent. Don’t expect to send 10 individual InMails per week and get four to six responses! Unless you’ve got a dynamite communications technique, it’s not going happen.

Don’t rely on InMail. I’m shocked at how many people I meet are. The most effective sellers I know follow-up with every tool they have — not just LinkedIn.

In 2007 it took an average of 3.68 cold call attempts to reach a prospect. Today it takes eight attempts. Time to get to work!

Never Forget LinkedIn’s Core Market: Recruiters

LinkedIn makes money in two ways:

  1. Selling access to its database (to sellers and recruiters)
  2. Selling media (page views)

LinkedIn wasn’t built for sales, nor sales prospecting. It is an online resume database that just happens to have executive decision-makers within it. It is also a social network.

LinkedIn was birthed to serve recruiters — not sellers.

One day LinkedIn realized, “hey … sellers are in here trying to find buyers.” Didn’t take long for the company to coin “social selling” and claim their leadership position as the place to shag down buyers.

Think of it this way. Like buyers we’re chasing, employed professionals don’t want to be bothered by recruiters. Thus, InMail (with its limitations) is a good match. Similarly, InMail is a good match for sellers.

But recruiters don’t rely on InMail — and top performing sellers don’t rely on it either.

Remember … using LinkedIn connection requests and/or InMails as your first point of contact isn’t working for most sellers. While you may have some success it will remain limited compared to the potential.

Sellers making the most money using LinkedIn work it using multiple tools — not just LinkedIn.

What has your experience been? Is it different?

5 Phrases That Poison Sales Prospecting Emails

Salespeople who want to strengthen their sales prospecting email technique often seek advice. That’s a good thing. Whether you’re using LinkedIn InMail or standard email when prospecting new business, I know what you’re after: response from potential buyers.

The Truths and Myths of Email DeliverabilitySalespeople who want to strengthen their LinkedIn InMail or sales prospecting email technique often seek advice from colleagues, managers and experts. That’s a good thing. Self-improvement is a noble pursuit.

But not all advice is good. In fact, some of it is downright awful. It actually hurts reps who implement these “helpful” tips.

Whether you’re using LinkedIn InMail or standard email when prospecting new business, I know what you’re after: response from potential buyers.

Over the last year I’m seeing one prevailing cold emailing trend — separating successful sellers from those who struggle to set meetings. Being lazy. I mean really lazy. Taking no risks and sounding like 99 percent of inbound emails.

Stop Sounding Like Everyone Else

Want exceptional results? Invest time in exceptional practices. Most of all, get the heck out of the box. Stop blending in with the deluge of terrible, easy-to-spot (and delete) cold email messages coming at your prospects daily.

Here are five popular email phrases that may be sabotaging your effort. These appear regularly in email messages prospects love to delete.

How many of these are you — or your team — using?

1. I Hope You Don’t Mind …

As in, “I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you through LinkedIn.” Or “I hope you don’t mind my asking.” Yes, even “I hope today finds you well.” These phrases are completely unnecessary in most cases. They clutter your message and waste precious time.

Believe it or not, prospects care less about your being polite. They certainly don’t care about what you hope for! They want you out of their inbox. Because their experience cannot be reasoned with.

Most of their inbox is noise. Garbage. Un-researched, copy-and-pasted spammy messages from desperate sellers.

They want the noise (you’re caught up in) out of their inboxes. Thus, you’re forced to stand out from everyone.

You’re forced to risk them minding. Get over it — and get started with a provocation rather than asking for a full-blown conversation.

2. Would You Be the Correct Person?

Or “Would you mind pointing me in the right direction?”

We often don’t know who the decision-maker(s) and/or influncers are. Got it. But in this digital age, doing homework is simple. Easy. Nearly effortless as compared to decades past.

Point blank: Asking a prospect to do your homework is becoming increasingly dangerous. You risk looking lazy. You also blend in with the noise inside your recipient’s inbox.

Any idea how many “referral asks” your contact is receiving each week? Too many! They don’t need another seller asking for guidance about who (inside their company) you can start a discussion with.

That’s not their job — it’s yours. Get to it.

That said, Dan Frost, a business development professional at Simplicity Corporation, says asking for a referral works in some cases.

“… if it’s framed properly … but you’d better off mentioning who you think is the next best option after doing some research, says Frost.

Isaac Liebes, a seller at Green Light Energy Conservation LLC, says asking for a referral does work when you provide incentive. He suggests:

  • approaching someone who actually has the ability to point you in the right direction
  • presenting information that motivates the recipient to reply — even if the recipient is the wrong contact.

The key, Liebes says, is presenting a benefit to the organization. In other words, if information within your message is strong enough it provides incentive to the recipient to put you in touch with the best contact.

3. As You Probably Know …

Prefacing what you’re about to say wastes precious time. Just say it. Research tells us you have less than 15 seconds to provoke a reply in a cold email. Phrases like “I’m in touch today because …” wastes time and encourages deletion.

Tell your prospect why you’re in touch. No need to preface. Speak boldly, quickly and get to-the-point without delay. This helps the reader feel an urge to reply. Mostly since the message stands out from others in their inbox.

4-5. I Would Love To or I Look Forward To

Or “I would enjoy.” What you love, would enjoy or look forward to isn’t valuable to the other side. You may think they sound polite, but these phrases make you sound desperate. Beware: Don’t sound like you care too much.

They know you would love 15 minutes of their time. They know you look forward to their response. They know you would enjoy giving them a demo or free trial. No need to tell them about your love, hope or eagerness.

They know!

A Common Sales Email Tactic That Works Less and Less

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

4 Tips for Using Email for Acquisition and PromotionQuestions: They can be the kiss of death.

True — I coach sellers who are using questions in cold email messages, and some are successful. But questions cut both ways. They can help or hinder you.

In most cases questions yield low response rates — and for a very good reason.

Maybe you are using questions to break the ice. Well, you may be inadvertently encouraging buyers to delete based on the same principle.

Here’s why questions rarely work — and what to do instead.

Starting With a Question Rarely Works

Are your cold prospecting InMails/emails starting with a question? Have you tried using “Quick Question” as a subject line, and then asked your question?

Even if you are starting with questions and having success, be advised: Potential buyers increasingly delete cold emails that start with questions, because they signal “terrible pitch ahead.”

Be careful — asking questions can sabotage you. Especially when the message within the template also:

  1. Takes longer than 30 seconds to read.
  2. Includes Web links or attachments.
  3. Presents a solution, rather than provoking the buyer to hit reply and talk about their problem.
  4. Asks a question that screams “lazy sales person asking me a dumb question.”

These are just a few characteristics working against you. The root cause of your cold email being deleted may be that silly question you are asking — the one you are asking to appear relevant. Trouble is, it’s a dead give-away.

It’s lazy. It’s like 95 percent of your competitors’ emails pouring into your buyers’ inbox: highly delete-able.

The Two Types of Questions

There are two flavors of questions appearing in email messages. Those that help the buyer think:

Delete this email! Rapido! Rapido!

or:

Hmmm…

It’s the “hmmm” we’re after.

There’s a lot of talk about making sure to “add value” in your email messages right? Well, questions can add value, though they’re tricky. The best way to use questions in a cold email is to encourage the reader to introspect and evaluate their own situation at this moment in time.

Your Social Selling Strategy Is Broken

At the heart of most social selling strategies are poisonous ideas. Concepts that “experts” claim are best practices — that actually decrease chances of earning buyers’ business. Ideas like: Never cold call. Cold calling is interrupting you customer. It’s wrong, you shouldn’t do it.

How to Avoid Broken Links, Broken Layouts, and Unhappy Subscribers (2015 Direct Marketing Day Virtual Conference Session)At the heart of most social selling strategies are poisonous ideas. Concepts that “experts” claim are best practices — that actually decrease chances of earning buyers’ business.

Ideas like: Never cold call. Cold calling is interrupting you customer. It’s wrong, you shouldn’t do it.

“Saying this is wrong and it’s hurting people,” says sales trainer Anthony Innarino.

“More and more self-styled gurus popping up and pontificating to the sales profession that one form or another of prospecting is dead,” says author and sales trainer Jeb Blount.

“They pander to the salespeople who are scared of, uncomfortable with, or simply don’t want to do the hard work of sales.”

When it comes to selling on social media Blount and Innarino have a provocative perspective.

“Selling is about conversations and commitments. But conversations without commitments isn’t selling. It’s just conversations,” says Innarino.

In essence, it’s marketing. Broadcasting.

Marketing is often about soft outcomes. Sales is about hard outcomes: Commitments.

“I defy any quota carrying sales rep and go to their sales manager and say, ‘listen I really want to focus on social selling … so I want to spend most of my day creating content and sharing it.’ You’ll soon find yourself in a new role. Probably not in that company, probably not in sales,” says Innarino.

Is Your Team Hunting or Farming?

The lines between marketing and sales are blurring. This is precisely the problem. Today’s digital sales forces are been reduced to farmers, rather than being armed as better hunters.

It’s becoming more about usage of LinkedIn, less about qualitative outcomes. Sales conversations!

“The big push on ‘social’ selling has turned a lot of SDR teams into ‘send a LinkedIn invite then try to sell them 5 minutes after they accept,” says Mike Andersen, VP of Inside Sales at Mimosa Networks.

Sales people are not, and should not, be marketers (farmers). Yes, they should be listening using social media like LinkedIn and Twitter. But they should be using social to hunt more — farm less.

Are your sellers exploiting LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find potential customers and qualify them as buyers faster? Great. But don’t let them get bogged down with commenting on posts, posting updates, sharing articles and press releases (creating noise).

My research and experience leads me to conclude: There are loose correlations between being visible on social media and closing sales. Farming is important. It’s just less important than prospecting.

Today’s most effective sellers are using LinkedIn to locate, research and provoke problem-solving discussions with potential buyers. Hunt.

Are Your Hunters Being Forced to Farm?

Do your sellers feel they’re being forced to perform pointless activities on social media — that do not help find, nurture or close business faster?

Is there tension between sellers, management and marketing? Disagreement over what direction to take, why and how? You’re not alone. This is the hunter-farmer conflict.

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?

Is It Time to Re-think Your InMail Approach?

Are you sabotaging yourself when using LinkedIn InMail to prospect new business? Or is your team spinning wheels, generating less than the minimum 40 percent response rate? It might be time to re-think your InMail communications approach.

Are you sabotaging yourself when using LinkedIn InMail to prospect new business? Or is your team spinning wheels, generating less than the minimum 40 percent response rate? It might be time to re-think your InMail communications approach.

Here are three deadly trends I see emerging with sellers and what to do instead.

Are you/your sellers:

  1. Believing InMail is more “powerful” (able to produce appointments) than cold calling or standard email?
  2. Investing in LinkedIn training, but overlooking communications methodology?
  3. Using InMail to request meetings with status quo buyers, but failing to earn them?

Many sellers are getting frustrated out-of-the-gate. Because InMail places so much pressure on getting response. Performance. Sellers often get turned-off to prospecting in general! Or they become more turned-off by it.

It’s best to develop a successful communications approach using standard email — then bring that success to the realm of InMail.

A Better Way to Use InMail When Prospecting
Any written message’s strength is founded in the writer’s ability to provoke a response that invites a conversation. The better you are at provoking replies — that lead to conversations — the more InMail provides advantage.

That’s a communications thing; not a LinkedIn thing.

I’ll be brutally honest. Many sellers are failing to develop new business leads with InMail. Not because LinkedIn Navigator or Premium is a bad investment. It can be a good one. The trouble starts with false beliefs.

Beware if you think InMail is

  • powerful
  • better than standard email
  • able to replace cold calling efforts

Remember, LinkedIn does not make any substantiated claims about better response. InMail is also not trackable. Unlike standard email, you cannot track any open or click activity! (This is huge)

Attract Buyers With Your Message
We’re only human. We are all looking for a short cut to what we want. Something that will do all the work for us or — in some way — produce better results with less effort. Right? But for most of us InMail is not earning better response from potential buyers.

And I know why.

Email can make prospecting more scale-able, faster and feel more effortless. But only if you master a communications methodology that can be applied systematically, at scale.

Email can speed-up your prospecting. It is creating more appointments, faster, for those who understand one odd but powerful concept. And this idea takes practice and diligence.

The idea is attraction.

Attracting potential buyers to ask you for the meeting allows leads to self-identify and qualify themselves.

This is vital to practice when courting prospects who won’t budge off of the status quo. Being able to get invited to an educational conversation (eg., Challenger Selling) with a new client demands this approach.

This way a discussion with you is seen by the buyer as less of a risk. Talking with you becomes attractive.

Thus, getting invited to discuss a challenge, fear or goal your prospect has is the beginning of an email-powered process. It’s a sign they’re attracted to you based on the message you just sent them.

And that’s a cool feeling.

Make InMail Messages Part of a Process
The best way to use InMail to your advantage is to shift how you’re looking at it, what you expect from it and how it “fits in” to your prospecting process.

Do you have a defined prospecting process?

In most cases, InMail should be supplemental. It should not be your first choice for making initial contact with buyers. Instead, use InMail as part of a systematic prospecting methodology.

You should also be using the phone, standard email and (sometimes) direct mail. InMail snaps-into your multi-faceted process.

Invest in Your Communications Technique First
Before you invest in “LinkedIn training” make sure to invest in perfecting your own/your team’s personalized communications technique. Make sure it:

  • is practical, repeatable and based in traditional copywriting skills;
  • helps you take “first steps” to turn the methodology into a process you enjoy;
  • provokes response and appointments, in less time.

One of the most common reasons social selling or LinkedIn training fails is lack of focus on how to get response. Effective messaging is vital to your success.

Invest in the right training. Be sure you get more than lessons on managing LinkedIn’s privacy settings and controls!

Best of all, if you stick with the above criteria you’ll be able to measure the performance of your training investment.

This is how the best of the best use InMail … as part of a system that doesn’t rely on email alone.

Good luck. Let me know what you think in comments.