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January 5, 2016 // 8:30 AM

The Simple Phrase That’s Poison to a Sales Follow-Up Email

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Worker reacts to bad email

After you’ve been a writer for a while, you start to catch your bad tendencies and learn how to correct them. For example, I used double negatives and weak verbs frequently when I was just starting out.

But after spending some time reviewing my work, I noticed the tendencies and was able to adjust. Now as soon as I type a double negative or a weak verb, I catch myself and correct it.

Like writers, sales reps often develop bad habits. But without paying attention to what they’re doing and examining their behavior, these habits can cause mistakes that end in deals falling apart, annoyed prospects, or missed quotas.

Just like a double negative can wreck an otherwise solid paragraph, all it takes is one cringeworthy phrase to kill a sales follow-up email. The phrase I’m thinking of is nothing short of poisonous to deals, and should be cut from the vocabulary of every sales rep.  

Can you spot it in the following email?

hello, it's me

Hey Mike,

Sorry to bother you again, but I just wanted to make sure you received my last few emails with a great offer for our firewood package this winter. I don’t want you to miss out on this opportunity. I know you’re busy, but I just wanted to touch base one last time.

All the best,

- Annoying Allen


Any guesses? Read it again if you have to.

Give up? It’s “sorry to bother you again.Let’s dissect this phrase.

"Sorry to bother you again” implies that the sales rep has recognized they’ve become annoying to their prospect (“bother”) and reminds the prospect they’ve reached out several times before (“again”) to no success. Even if the sales rep hasn’t annoyed the prospect yet, this is the phrase that might do it.

In addition, people use the word “sorry" after doing something they deem wrong. When we make a mistake that negatively impacts someone, the first phrase that often comes out of our mouths is "I’m sorry." This phrase means we’ve acknowledged wrongdoing and know we need to fix it. So when a sales rep uses “sorry” in the first sentence of an email, they’re essentially saying they’ve done something wrong -- and they need to apologize for it!

But the problem with "sorry to bother you" goes beyond the specific words. Why do sales reps send emails with this phrase to begin with? Reps send “sorry to bother you again” emails in hopes of starting a conversation after not hearing back. The message is a last-ditch effort to pique the potential buyer’s interest -- on the rep’s timeline.

If you find yourself using this phrase in an email, stop writing. The mere presence of the phrase signals a valueless email. Instead, regroup and focus on providing value to the prospect instead of “bothering” them again.

There are a multitude of ways to provide value in a sales follow-up email:

1) Send a customer review.

A customer review provides value because modern-day buyers trust their follow buyers to give honest feedback about a product they’ve used.

2) Include a case study.

Case studies allow prospects to discover how a business in a similar position to theirs solved its problems.

3) Link to a blog post.

A blog post is a way to build credibility with prospects and provide them new information about the product and company as they start to make a decision.

4) Reference a mutual connection.

Surfacing a mutual connection allows the prospect to ask their acquaintance about the sales rep and gather more information. It also signifies that if a friend works with this sales rep, the prospect might also enjoy working with the same sales rep.

5) Provide a suggestion.

A small strategy tip can help sales reps build credibility and showcase the value of their insight to buyers.

When a salesperson’s name appears in a prospect’s inbox, the reaction shouldn’t be, “No, not this rep again!” or “Who?” but “I wonder what they’re sending me -- I better check it out.”

Great emails can help build rapport and credibility. By looking for this deadly phrase before reps send their emails, salespeople can improve their odds of a response, and eventually, a relationship.

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