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?

Does the ‘Appropriate Person’ Cold Email Template Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Appropriate Person Cold Email in a Nutshell

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

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

Subject: Appropriate Person?

Email body:

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

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

Sincerely,
A. Lazy Guy
Senior Executive Salesperson

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

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

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

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

Does the Appropriate Person Cold Email Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Defense of Appropriate Person Cold Email Technique

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

But only when you:

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

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

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

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

Instead Use Research and Provocation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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