The 10 Most Fascinating People in B2B Marketing in 2019

I’m back with my roundup of brilliant B2B marketers whom I’ve encountered this year. With a tip of the hat to those on my previous lists, it is my pleasure to introduce these fascinating colleagues to you. Our B2B marketing field has thrived in recent decades.

I’m back with my roundup of brilliant B2B marketers whom I’ve encountered this year. With a tip of the hat to those on my lists last year, and in 2017, 2016, and 2015, it is my pleasure to introduce these fascinating colleagues to you. Our B2B marketing field has thrived in recent decades, as new technologies and strategies emerged to help us reach target audiences and generate sales conversations.

But now, as we enter a new decade where challenges loom — data privacy, ad fraud, fake posts, ever-longer sales cycles — we need all of the talent we can get.

  1. Nancy Harhut is the Energizer Bunny of B2B copywriting. After a long career at Boston-area agencies, she has formed her own firm, and is creating bang-up campaigns for clients based on new insights from behavioral science. Catch her informative keynotes at B2B marketing conferences here and abroad.
  2. Valerie Bowling co-founded The Conference Forum to serve the pharmaceutical clinical-trials industry. With programs on such cutting-edge fields as immuno-oncology and “patients as partners,” she’s responsible not only for recruiting top-notch industry speakers, but also for driving attendance. As such, Bowling is an avid follower of B2B marketing methods, to fill the seats and keep attendees coming year after year.
  3. Sean Campbell is CEO of Cascade Insights, a Portland, Ore.-based tech market research firm. On the content side, Campbell hosts the “B2B Revealed” podcast, where I was a recent guest. It was the best interview I’ve ever had. He was prepared — actually read my book! He asked thoughtful, important questions, but also managed to steer the interview into a real conversation. Thanks, Sean, for a great experience.
  4. Elle Woulfe, VP of growth marketing at the product design platform InVision, is one of the most coherent thought leaders in the B2B realm. Find wisdom in her article about new ways to think about lead qualification and her three keys to sales and marketing alignment.
  5. I’ve known Chris Jeffers for years, but 2019 saw his major move. Jeffers founded NetFactor, the first service to automate B2B visitor IP address identification, in 2003. In 2017, he sold the company to Bombora, and decided to “retire.” All eyes are on his next step. I know he’ll come up with a winner.
  6. Vinay Mehendi is one of those rare data scientists who easily bridges to the business world. His company, amusingly named OceanFrogs, offers a wide range of B2B data services, like data enrichment and hygiene, persona development, technographic data, and lookalike modeling. But he has also developed some interesting B2B data innovations, like target account prioritization models, partner prospecting services, and a way to identify the “champion” in your target account buying group.
  7. I have to laugh when I run across a B2B sales executive with a stand-up comedy side gig. Check out Vincent Pietrafesa, Stirista’s intrepid VP of B2B products by day, who moonlights as Vincent James at comedy spots in the NY area. Who said B2B couldn’t be funny?
  8. I am a big fan of Jill Konrath, a sales expert who really gets B2B marketing. Having reconnected with her this year to get help crafting cold prospecting emails, I benefited from her superb Prospecting Tool Kit. She knows what she’s talking about, explains things clearly and tells the truth: “What percent of your prospects want to spend time with a salesperson? Zero.”
  9. When I worked at IBM in the 1990s, I noticed that our Canadian colleagues were way ahead in B2B marketing strategy and execution. So I am not surprised to see the same today in marketing services and technology. One example is Mike Couch, Toronto-based martech systems integrator whose agency helps firms like Bloomberg and ADP make their new purchases hum. When asked who should own the martech stack: marketing, sales or IT, Mike says the answer is “your customer.” Indeed.
  10. Bernice Grossman is one of the early lights in B2B data management, who saw long before most the essential value of complete, clean, and well-organized customer information to the success of B2B marketers everywhere. I was honored to partner with her on a series of research reports on B2B data-driven marketing over the years. After 37 years running DMRS Group, she holds the fascinating record.

Here’s to another great year in B2B marketing. Happy new decade to all!


A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

My 3 Complaints About B2B Marketing

There are things about B2B that just tick me off. Forgive the rant, but I have to get this off my chest.

I’m always running around saying how much I enjoy B2B marketing, because it’s complex, and high ticket, and the results can be really satisfying. That’s all true. But sometimes I find it annoying, too. There are things about B2B that just tick me off. Forgive the rant, but I have to get this off my chest.

Businesses Play Their Cards Close to the Vest

Have you ever tried to get a client to give you a testimonial? Well, then, you know what I mean. I’ve had customers say, “No way, you’re my secret weapon. I don’t want my competitors to know how good this is.”

What’s particularly annoying is that testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in B2B marketing. They reduce buyer risk. They offer social proof. And in theory business people want to help each other, so you’d think testimonials should be easy to get. But they’re not. Because buyers want to keep their good things to themselves.

Businesses Think Email Is Their Best Prospecting Tool

When it isn’t. I just got off the phone with a data scientist in Bangalore who was complaining how he digs up high value prospective accounts, and his clients blast them with email, get no results and then blame him. Poor guy.

I’ve said before that I think email makes us stupid. It’s too cheap. So we get lazy. In a complex environment like B2B, you have to recognize how buyers buy. They research online. They talk to their peers. They attend conferences. They develop short lists. We need to reach them where they are, which is not talking to strangers from their inboxes.

B2B Marketers Still Duck Their Data Responsibilities

This irks the hell out of me. I am not the geekiest marketer around, but I find the power of data in B2B an endless source of fascination, and results. Where else are there so many buyers and influencers who need to be part of the decision-making process? Where else are people’s titles and job roles changing constantly?

So when marketers shy away from taking ownership of their company’s data strategy, and feeling personally connected to the need for data hygiene, I get mad. I’ve ranted about this quite recently, so I should probably shut up. But I can’t help myself. It bears repeating.

Okay, that’s the end of today’s rant. Maybe it’s time for me to go back to consumer marketing? Naw… I’m still B2B’s biggest fan.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

A Popular Sales Email Best Practice to Avoid

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

I’m talking about blatant lying. Faking sincere interest in a prospect as a means to tricking them into a self-centered pitch and/or meeting request.

“What’s the biggest challenge you have as a vendor or service provider?” asks sales trainer, Scott Channell, in a recent blog post.

His answer: Your prospects don’t trust you.

“They have been on the receiving end of too many exaggerations and lies,” says Channell, who then asks, “How much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?”

Think this isn’t happening in your organization or daily practice? It may be.

What It Looks Like

“Hey, Jeff. Love what you’re doing at Communications Edge …”

Reality: The seller knows nothing about what my business is doing lately.

“Hi Jeff, I am very interested in what you are doing and wanted to invite you to combine forces to help your business have more exposure …”

Reality: In most cases, the sales rep is not interested in what I’m doing. Because they have no idea what I’m doing. The rep is interested in creating the illusion of interest … all aimed at earning my gullible response.

“Hi Jeff, I came across your website this weekend and was really impressed by your expertise. I was wondering if you had ever thought about teaching online? I think you could teach a great marketing class …”

Reality: The rep is not impressed. Because they’ve not examined my expertise. I’ve been teaching online for years. That fact is obvious if you invest 10 to 15 seconds in noticing. This seller could not be impressed by my expertise without noticing that fact.

Why do I mark such messages as spam, so quickly? Why are your potential customers doing the same?

Because I’ve made myself vulnerable once too many times. So have your customers.

We’re being trained by sellers to distrust sellers.

Saying whatever is needed to trick prospects into speaking is, currently, fair game. It’s a sales email “best practice.” Insincerity is, right now, a mainstream component of sales prospecting culture. So what’s the big deal?

Do Your Emails Reek of Insincerity?

Making ourselves vulnerable cuts both ways. It’s the open, kind thing to do when receiving an email appearing to be genuine. Offering consideration to anyone who asks for it, especially the sincere, is smart. Humans are programmed to naturally think positively — maintain an “abundance mentality.”

But trick me three or more times and shame on me! Hence, we all learn to distrust sellers who exploit our willingness to be vulnerable. Because it takes too much effort to sort the truly sincere from the (fake) “sincere.”

In the end, sales (and your brand) earns a bad reputation.

“Buyers have seen it all,” says Channell.

“As soon as they sense a whiff of insincerity, or that their time is being wasted, you are done. And for those that do agree to speak, the no-show rates (to meetings) are high and the closing rates are low.”

“Your closing rate is going to be lower when you start the relationship faking genuine concern and interest or rely on gimmicks. That sales relationship is built on sand.”

Lies? Misrepresentation? Surely this could not be true in your situation.

But if your inside sales team practices activity based selling (ABS) you may have reason to pause.

Most inside sales teams are becoming defacto marketers — ramping up activity “touch points” to scale outreach. More meetings or demos demand more emails, voicemails … more outreach.

This is leading to a dangerous need: Looking sincere, authentic and relevant to large numbers of people using mass email.

But is your sincerity being seen for what it actually is? (insincere)

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

The ABS culture, mentality and practice is all about the numbers. ABS helps managers know how many proposals it takes to get one deal… and how many meetings are required for a proposal… and, thus, how many calls and emails must be sent for one meeting.

With ABS, success is reduced to squeezing more activities out of inside sales reps. But there’s a hidden problem emerging: Communications techniques reps are resorting to when communicating “at scale.”

Lying. Insincerity.

Indeed, how much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?

To be fair cold emailing prospects isn’t about earning trust. It’s about earning a response. I get that. But how effective is it to earn replies using an insincere advance?

What kind of conversations can you expect? In my experience you may earn conversations with unsuspecting prospects. But once you engage in honest discussion (revealing your trickery) they quickly back out of the “conversation.”

Have you ever traded emails (or LinkedIn messages) with someone and suddenly realized, “hey… wait a minute, this isn’t about me after all… this ‘conversation’ is purely about them! They tricked me into listening to a sales pitch!”

Let’s set aside the issue of sabotaging one’s ability to close deals. How many times does it take for prospects to learn the pattern—becoming skeptical about all all inbound emails they receive?

A Sales Email Best Practice That Isn’t

“I talked to a team last week who was sending automated emails on their first touch and getting a 1.5% reply rate,” says Ryan O’Hara, VP or Marketing at LeadIQ.

“I asked the sales manager, ‘Hey … why are you guys doing something that only works 1.5% of the time?’ … they told me… ‘We need to hit our activity goal.’”

“We ran our numbers across the entire sales team and the results showed that we have to do 150 activities a day to hit our stretch goal for the year. We need each sales rep to get one or two good responses a day … to hit their quota of 10 opps per month.”

Not surprisingly, O’Hara reports the sales team had a 4.8% unsubscribe rate. The client was pushing more people out of their funnel than putting in.

Examine your sales communications technique today for any faux sincerity and misrepresentation. Seek and destroy!

How to Respond to Cold Email Rejection

“Thanks, but we already have a vendor.” Or “Thanks, but we already have a solution.” It’s tough to read such replies to cold emails. Nice to get replies, not so pleasant to get negative ones. But should you stop when receiving such push-back?

“Thanks, but we already have a vendor.” Or “Thanks, but we already have a solution.” It’s tough to read such cold email rejection. Nice to get replies, not so pleasant to get negative ones. But should you stop when receiving such pushback?

One of my students, Mark doesn’t.

Mark runs a successful business helping professional association leaders grow revenues and memberships. These professionals are volunteer Board members who feel passionately about their work and give back to their industry by donating time. He literally takes over daily, mundane operations of small associations so leaders can focus on leading their associations. He allows them to outsource the boring and tedious parts of running a professional trade association.

Like most small business owners Mark prospects new customers. Unlike most of us, he does it effectively. Really effectively.

Going in Cold

Mark prospects using LinkedIn as a research tool … locating his targets and qualifying them. Sometimes he starts with LinkedIn, providing he’s connected with the prospect. Other times he goes in cold with email.

His subject line in this example was simple and effective: Succession plan?

Mark’s approach is deadly simple and effective. He wisely focuses on topics customers usually don’t consider enough … or at all. In this case, “what will happen when the Board President retires?” The question often results in prospects reflecting on it … realizing there is (currently) no succession plan. This often provokes replies and starts discussions for Mark.

Mark makes sure his email messages:

  • Are read in 15 seconds or less
  • Prove (in sentence one) he’s researched his target
  • Provoke response using a non-biased, facilitative question

He quickly points out facts that prove he understands his target’s situation. For example, “Hi, Steve. Noticing how Sally Jones has more than 37 years of diligent service in her career.”

Next, he asks how his prospect will move forward when Sally approaches retirement. He follows by asking if the prospect has a strategy in place. And, if not “What would cause you to consider discussing one?”

Not “would you consider having one?” A yes/no question is not ideal here as it is biased to what Mark wants: A discussion. Instead, “what would cause you to consider discussing one?” is a more neutral, un-biased question. This helps prospects focus on their own decision-making process, not feel vulnerable to answering your question with a “yes” or “no.” It also encourages them to provide you with valuable information in the reply.

When the Cold Email Rejection Comes

Mark’s first touch (cold) email didn’t generate a response. But his follow-up did. His target, Colin, replied: “We already have a plan in place.”

Mark immediately wrote his trusted email coach (that’s me) with, “How the heck do I respond to this??? My gut tells me to write ‘Care to elaborate?’ But, I probably need to write a little more to lighten this guy’s likely knee jerk reaction of saying ‘no.'”

As a habit, Mark rarely gives up. Like many of my students he pays close attention to word choice in responses that come back negative.

For example, a prospect may push back with “this will probably be too disruptive for us to consider.” Use of the word probably often signals a soft spot. There is a perception of too much disruption … it is relatively uncertain for the prospect. Remove the word probably and the sentence takes on a more final or definite tone. “This will be too disruptive for consideration.”

In many cases every word counts. Words contain clues.

How to Respond

Accept the cold email rejection. Embrace it. After all, rejection frees you to pursue chasing more yeses.

Most of all, study the rejection; word for word, consider it for a moment. Within rejections most of my students find gold. But only if you take the emotion out. Remove your disappointment and expectation.

In Mark’s case:

  • The prospect is not saying no to a discussion, he’s saying he has “a plan in place.”
  • Mark got him! The prospect did reply initially. If he wasn’t open to hearing from Mark again would he have replied? (at all)
  • The cold email and follow-up worked: It was provocative enough for Colin to quickly understand — and reply to. It was easy for him to do so.
  • The prospect should expect Mark might reply given his response.

Thus, Mark should reply, but carefully and casually. Without sounding needy or disappointed. This part is key. Mark’s reply should remain neutral and embrace Colin’s cold email rejection.

Mark replied: “Thanks Colin. Sorry if asking was pushy. May I ask what your plan is? If you choose to not share, it’s ok. I ask to understand, not push you.”

Affirming your prospect’s right to choose is a psychological trigger.

This tactic indirectly says to your target: “I am not threatening your right to say no. I’m at peace with your power over me.”

It’s the one really easy persuasion technique everyone should know: Affirming your prospect’s right to choose. Supported by 42 studies on 22,000 people it’s practical, can be applied in almost any situation and works consistently.

Remember: The more you need the meeting, discussion or sale the more your prospect feels it … and the more you will be rejected. Simply because your words telegraph “I’m wanting it very badly.”

How do you respond to cold email rejection? Do you politely accept that rejection yet probe a little deeper … as a habit? Selectively?

The Effective Follow-Up Technique in a ‘Social’ World

Getting through to C-level decision-makers demands effective follow-up techniques, and today’s best performing sellers have them. Reps who follow up — and do it well — hit quota. Those who exceed it? Yup. They have a superior follow-up technique when prospecting.

Today's best performing sellers have the most effective follow-up technique. Getting through to C-level decision-makers demands an effective follow-up technique, and today’s best performing sellers have them. Reps who follow up — and do it well — hit quota. Those who exceed it? Yup. They have a superior follow-up technique when prospecting.

Ten years ago it took roughly four attempts to reach a prospective customer. Today it takes eight. We’ve read the research. The jury is out.

To hit targets you must:

  • follow up often (seven to 10 times)
  • communicate effectively to clients
  • use email, voice mail, LinkedIn … all available tools

Otherwise you’re wasting time.

What Motivates Your Follow-Up Technique?

At the core of the best follow-up technique lies a philosophy: You either serve or push. What is your motivation? Is your strategy driven by a desire to solve customers’ problems?

Or are you driven by pressure to place a solution?

Do you believe your product is desperately needed? Or are you just pulling a paycheck?

Nothing wrong with expecting a paycheck. But have you considered how needing sales negatively influences how you communicate with customers … about their problem?

If you manage a team, have you considered how reps tasked to set lots of meetings may reinforce or diminish communications skills?

What Separates Persistence From Pestering When Following Up With Prospects?

When following up with targets, what’s the difference between persistence and pestering? How often should we follow up, with which tool (email, voice mail, etc.) and what cadence? These are all common questions. But what if they don’t serve our goal?

As sales trainer Josh Braun says about cold outreach, “What you need is an approach that doesn’t feel forced, unnatural or uncomfortable. An approach that doesn’t assume what you have is what someone else wants.”

Worrying about pestering clients vanishes the moment you shift from placing solutions to solving problems. You allow yourself to empathize with prospects.

This drives how you communicate with them. From word choice to conversational cadence.

Spark Your Prospect’s Curiosity

Forget about intruding or how many times to follow up and when. Forget about BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) frameworks. Update your mindset and tactics: Provoke curiosity.

Help customers become curious. Focus on the words you’re using when following up.

Use words to help buyers develop their own, personal reason to speak with you. Even if they’re not (yet) sure it’s worthwhile. (because they aren’t … this is cold prospecting after all!)

Instead, provoke customers in a way that doesn’t make them vulnerable to a pitch.

Quick example: Sellers tend to believe offering the right data, in the right way, to the right buyer will cause customers to engage in discussion … from cold. We tend to believe we have the important data (that clients need).

“Now let me tell you about it and explain to you why you need it.” That’s our mentality.

This is why email follow-up sequences often include research: Proof customers need to consider change.

Flashing research doesn’t start discussions. Ok, it works with customers who are willing-and-able to buy now. (Ninety-five percent of your market won’t bite!)

Sharing research doesn’t engage because customers are not open to being persuaded.

Yes, cold email follow-ups can work. But only if messages include words that:

  • prove your email is not sent randomly (is researched, targeted);
  • are biased to the customers’ decision-making process, not a sales process;
  • provoke immediate reactions based on curiosity; and
  • avoid making customers vulnerable.

This is why communications arising from a “BANT mentality” are less effective. BANT’s nature is inherently biased to sales process.

Buying process drives buying! Shift the focus from qualification to provocation.

Customers run from words that scream, “I’m out to qualify you!” Or “I’m out to influence your thinking with this research (so you’ll engage in a buying discussion).”

Clients have become conditioned to recognize these failing techniques.

Persuasion and Vulnerability

Trying to establish credibility can sabotage. Persuasion is the devil. The moment your messaging sounds persuasive customers flee. Especially if you sell complex solutions.

Are your cold emailing and follow-up techniques making customers feel vulnerable?

Consider two universal truths offered by Tom Snyder of Funnel Clarity:

  • Prospects value more what they ask for than what’s freely offered.
  • Customers value more what they conclude for themselves than what they’re told.

Your follow-up must honor these truths. It’s become fundamental human behavior… to tune-out information being pushed at us. No matter how useful it is!

As sellers we must help customers persuade themselves to become curious in speaking with us.

Not based on our ability to sell; instead, on our ability to solve problems.

Helping buyers understand if (and when) they want to buy on their own terms — is non-negotiable.

As a starting point ask yourself: How will my follow-up email sequence help buyers feel an urge to ask for a discussion? What will provoke curiosity?

Also, please consider: Where do your communications come from? How do you choose words in voice mails and emails?

Do they come from a need to serve? Or are they biased to placing a solution?

Good luck!


How Pushing Credibility Works Against Cold Email Success

Nothing screams “I’m trying to persuade” you louder than trying too hard to establish credibility. Ever go on a date where your date tried to posture? You detected it instantly. Meeting a customer for the first time is the same. Signaling “I want you to respect me!” is the kiss of death in business.

Nothing screams “I’m trying to persuade” you louder than trying too hard to establish credibility.

Ever go on a date where your date tried to posture? You detected it instantly. Remember back in time: They were attracted to you, but you weren’t sure.

Then, suddenly, you were. This person was not a match.

Because they started caring too much. They were trying too hard.

Meeting a customer for the first time is the same. Signaling “I want you to respect me” is the kiss of death in business.

The moment you start caring too much you risk being seen as desperate by prospects.

It’s the same with your cold emails or LinkedIn InMails.

Don’t Believe Me?

Reach into your email. Do it now. Seriously. Look for that latest spam email you received from someone who wrote in a way that screams, “I know you won’t believe me … so here is research from a credible source … to convince you to talk to me about buying my thing.”

It shouldn’t take you long to fish one out. Or maybe I’ve just described your email technique.

Truth is, most field and inside sales teams are actively told to establish credibility when cold emailing. Without being seen as credible, your email will be deleted by prospects.

Simply. Not. True.

Without being provocative your email will get deleted. Credibility has little to do with cold email success.

Tough love: Most marketing, demand generation and sales enablement professionals who’ve never sung for their supper will probably never understand this.

If your support team is under incentive to produce new client accounts they will know: Trying to establish credibility–too early — sabotages the chance to get conversations started.

Don’t fall into the trap. Don’t write to be seen as credible from cold.

Anatomy of a Failing Cold Email

Here is an example from a student I’m working with this week. I’m not using his name or company to protect the innocent.

Hello, [client],

My name is [name] and I’m with [company name]. Hopefully you have heard of [company name], but in case you haven’t, for over 50 years [company name] has helped organizations in the engineering, surveying, construction, mining, architecture, manufacturing, utilities, forestry, and government sectors to measure, analyze, design, and build more efficiently and profitably.

[Company name] national team of professionals combine software, hardware and services to provide tailored solutions to improve your workflow, from field to finish.

The email goes on to use phrases like, “I would love to get to know your company and projects better as perhaps there are X and Y products we can provide you.”

There are a lot of other cold email offenses I can flag as problematic. But do you see how using words like “I’d love to” and “Hopefully you’ve heard of us” sound a wee bit too much like the seller cares too much?

Notice how the message starts off. Do you see how talking exclusively about how established the company is can be a huge turn-off?

Be Different: Provoke

This same student, with a bit of coaching, was able to produce a totally different, effective cold email approach. Here’s the lead-in…


Would you be open to an unorthodox but effective way to reduce your inside print costs? (and potentially turn them into a revenue stream?)

He went on to describe how he did exactly what is described for an architectural firm located within the same city as his prospect.

What the seller described above is provocative because it’s short, sweet and focused on the potential client’s open-ness to hearing about a different way to achieve a goal he/she probably has.

There is no need to attempt to establish credibility in the first stage of a conversation. Because there is no decision being made here — other than replying to an email message.

Leverage Neutral Credibility

Trying to appear credible causes readers to run the other way, hit delete. It feels too persuasive. These days we are all bombarded with messages trying to persuade us. Those that do manage to persuade us are neutral. They don’t try to instantly persuade.

Consider the above re-write. Notice how the seller does not try to persuade. He doesn’t try to look credible. Instead, he hits on a subject the client likely cares about … in a way they cannot resist acting on.

That is credible. Especially when all the other emails hitting his clients’ inboxes look like his first message — desperate! The fact that my student’s message is not posturing and trying to persuade is, in effect, credible enough to earn a reply… in comparison to the competition.

The idea is to provoke a conversation, then earn consideration for a serious discussion (and perhaps a future purchase).

Bottom line: Credibility is over-sold as a means to get conversations started. When we try to establish credibility the first thing we reach for is “our story” or third party research.

Because we feel it’s necessary to convince clients we’re worth talking to.


Instead, provoke reactions in ways that do have credible elements (tied to customers’ goals) but do not posture (look desperate).

Need more examples? Have some to offer yourself? Let me know in comments or shoot me an email!

Effective Sales Emails Don’t Use These Techniques in 2018

Trying to start conversations with potential clients using cold email or LinkedIn Inmail? Most sellers are. But are you sabotaging yourself by sending prospects the following?

Mobile emailTrying to start conversations with potential clients using cold sales emails or LinkedIn Inmail? Most sellers are. But are you sabotaging yourself by sending prospects:

  • a template you found while Googling?
  • a subject line starting with RE:?
  • messages with words like hope, love & “looking forward to” in them?
  • follow-ups using words like “bubble up” or “fall through the cracks”?
  • phony complements, automated or artificial intelligence-driven messages?
  • messages starting with questions biased to answers you’re looking for?
  • PDF attachments or videos?

Any of these look familiar? Most of these tactics are failing sellers… or will fail you soon. Simply because they’re not creative.

They lack originality. These tactics scream lazy, un-researched, marketing-style spam.

“Don’t turn your sales reps into mini marketers, please. Sales is context. Sales has to put context around the content,” says sales trainer John Barrows.

“If you’re not you’re no different than marketing … your template email is crap.”

Use phrases like, “Would you like to know more or do you have any questions for us?” at end of your messages.

Tricky or Burnt-out Subject Lines

Cute, tricky or over-used subject lines are the leading cause of sales email failure. Your subject line will fail to provoke curiosity (get opened) if you:

  • try to dupe your reader into opening like: “RE: Did you see this?”
  • use more than five words
  • specify what is inside your email
  • use an obvious subject line that pops into your head

Some of my students do have success tricking clients into opening. I discourage it. Dishonesty is never worthwhile — even if it works near-term.

For example, one student selling trade show services to marketers uses “the artwork” in his cold email subject line… to dupe customers into thinking his message is project-related. It gets him opened. But for how long and at what long-term cost to his (and his company’s) reputation?

Sellers with the strongest email open rates are using 2-3 words maximum. This exploits the nature of a cold email subject line: It should be provocative and vague.

Beware of words that telegraph what you want to talk about with your prospect. Don’t let on to the message inside the email. If you do it will most likely be deleted or put-off until later (a.k.a. never).

Never, ever, ever use an email subject line that just popped into your head. Any idea how many other people like you are doing this? The result is dozens of inbound emails coming at your prospects—most being spammy and looking precisely the same.

Subject lines get burnt-out fast. So fast!

Using weak subject lines trains customers to delete your message.

All the Wrong Words

Are you writing introductions like this?

“Hi Jeff,

Out of respect for your time, I thought an email might be less disruptive than an unannounced phone call. I was hoping to offer you qualified leads for your sales team to close.”

Or this?

“Hi, Jeff,

I’m a co-founder at XYZ Company. We’re a startup developing a new technology to debug large scale production environments …”

Or this?

“I wanted to find out if you have any design needs at ____ [insert target company]. We can increase sales, engagement, conversions and more through our design strategies. Interested? Email me back. I’d love to chat.”

As a sales coach I see these lazy, failing email messages by the dozens each week.

Here’s the problem: Templates you’ve found on Google. Guess what … everyone has Google. Billions of people. Most sellers are too lazy to get creative. Hence, they use email templates others (falsely) claim work.

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?”

Social Selling May Be Wasting Time

Helping buyers buy is where the action is. The goal of the modern B2B seller is to get into conversations earlier — help buyers get ready to buy, consult with clients, become a trusted source of knowledge, support the decision-making process with expert guidance. So why is facilitating buying conversations not a part of your “social selling” program?

content marketingThe goal of the modern B2B seller is to get into conversations earlier — help buyers get ready to buy, consult with clients, become a trusted source of knowledge, support the decision-making process with expert guidance. So why is facilitating buying conversations not a part of your “social selling” program?

Why is starting qualified discussions with customers superseded by sharing valuable content, creating a personal brand and sharing insights on LinkedIn?

Does ‘Social Selling’ Exist?

I put quotes around “social selling” because it does not exist. When honestly examined, there is nothing new involved … outside of the online context. Listening, engaging, sharing insights: None of these concepts are new to sales.

In fact, they are characteristics of “old school” sales excellence.

Social selling is a term invented to sell (oddly) marketing concepts. The thrust of social selling is encouraging sellers (hunters) to behave like marketers (farmers).

Post, share, comment, repeat. If that sounds a lot like marketing it is!

Is farming effective at generating new client conversations? Is pushing content, liking, sharing, commenting effective at keeping sellers emotionally confident, mentally tough?

Is Social Selling Weakening Your Hunters?

Social selling isn’t truly representative of anything new … and de-values vitally important practices. Specifically, prospecting. Hunting.

Worse, I’m seeing social selling increasing frustration of otherwise challenged sellers. I’m seeing it have negative impact on motivation and focus. Social selling programs also reward relatively ineffective behavior patterns. LinkedIn itself rewards activity and encourages gamification of it Social Selling Index.

This can be poisonous to rep productivity.

How Social Selling May Be Wasting Your Reps’ Time

Driving interest on social requires different skills as compared to driving interaction, says Mark McInnes of Sydney-based Sales ITV. Most of what reps engage in these days on social wastes time.

Creating a client interested in you, your products or service is difficult compared to creating interaction with them. McInnes lays out a compelling argument against traditional social selling training:

  1. It’s much easier to drive interaction.
  2. Interaction is rewarded with dopamine blasts from your brain, fueling a desire for more of the same activity. Lots of likes or views make you feel good. (Just like the lights of a slot machine do)
  3. The quality of your sellers’ network needs to reflect the desires of your business objectives; most sellers’ network simply doesn’t.

“What exactly are you going to do with these 142 Likes, 53 Comments and no doubt 3000+ views? Nothing. Because they are absolutely worthless,” says McInnes, who boldly proclaims this is interaction, not interest.

Here’s the danger: Sellers see these view counts, “as positive reinforcement of their ‘social selling’ activity. As they inevitably look to drive more views through content, they stray away from the main message, more towards focusing on the level of interactions,” says McInnes.

Thus, “with each post, they strive for more views, more likes, all in an attempt to validate (justify) the time they’ve wasted on social. No wonder so many of senior managers seem to be ‘allergic’ to social selling programs.”

Tune in next week as I share the one tactic social selling training programs don’t teach, to provide further food for thought about social selling.

For Prospecting Success, Leave Your Data Order Until Later

But when they place an order for prospecting data — whether it’s email, telephone or postal addresses — marketers often end up with data that isn’t exactly what they had in mind. What happens then? They have to order again, wasting time and money. Or worse: They may use the data in a campaign and wind up with suboptimal results.

Web Contact Us Icons Cubes prospecting contactMarketers looking to acquire new customers or generate sales leads typically rely on outside data providers for contact data to give them access to new markets. But when they place an order for prospecting data — whether it’s email, telephone or postal addresses — marketers often end up with data that isn’t exactly what they had in mind. What happens then? They have to order again, wasting time and money. Or worse: They may use the data in a campaign and wind up with suboptimal results.

With a bit of planning and strategy, these problems can be avoided. The secret? Get your prospecting campaign ducks in a row before ordering the data. Think through where you are going and why. Key strategies to consider include:

  • State your campaign objectives, with specific goals and time frames. For example: Generate 45 qualified leads, at $350 per lead, in the quarter.
  • Identify the target audience. A great way to refine your target audience is by profiling your current best customers. Your data vendor may offer profiling as a free service.
  • Select a compelling offer that will motivate the target to respond. Offers are most powerful when they are unique, tangible, perceived as valuable by the prospect and related to the key benefit of your product or service.
  • Determine the key campaign messages. Craft campaign messages based on the key benefits that are valued by your target audience.
  • Plan how you will handle campaign responses and follow up. Plan a series of follow-up messages to deepen the customer relationship, and to stimulate retention, repurchase and referral.
  • Prepare a pro forma estimate of campaign results and ROI. If your pro forma estimate does not show a satisfactory result, then tweak other elements to improve the campaign: Select a narrower, more targeted audience. Find a more compelling offer. Identify more powerful customer benefit statements.

This pre-planning process may seem counterintuitive. You know that the target audience is the single most powerful driver of campaign success, so you’d think that specifying the audience should come first. And that’s true. But experience shows that working through the other elements — the offer, the messaging, the projected results analysis — often results in refinements to your thinking about the audience itself. So don’t actually place the order until you’re comfortable with all the other elements of your campaign.

This article is excerpted from the white paper “How to Place an Order for Prospecting Lists and Data That Ensures You’ll Get Exactly What You Need”. Get your own copy here. A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.