When was the last time you responded to a cold email? You probably can't remember -- for good reason. Most people simple delete outreach emails from reps they haven't met or mark them as spam. Even if some prospects do read the email, few bother to respond.

However, a well-crafted prospecting email is a powerful weapon in any salesperson's arsenal. I used seven principles to take a prospecting email from bad to great, and raised my response rate from 1% to 14% in the process.

In this blog post, I'll analyze the real emails I sent to prospects before and after my revisions, then explain the rules I used to upgrade my sales emails.

Email 1: The Before

How did this email perform?

  • Sent: 100
  • Opens: 11
  • Response Received: 1

Where this email went wrong

I won't sugarcoat it -- these results were pathetic. A number of mistakes are made in this terrible prospecting email. Here are the most glaring errors:

  • Structure: The email does not have an orderly flow, and jumps from one point to another.
  • Subject Line: It's vague and lacks context. There is no incentive for the prospect to open or read the email.
  • Opening Sentence: The message opens by introducing what my company does. Why would I want to read an email from a stranger taking about what his company does? People might have been willing to let this in 2005 when the average volume of email received was a fraction of what it is now, but few people would bother to read this today. Most people who opened this email probably didn't read beyond the first line.
  • Inappropriately Placed Call-to-Action: The very first paragraph includes the line: "Look forward to hearing from you and connecting soon." This line has no business in the middle of an email.
  • Salesperson-Centric Content: Lots of features are mentioned without specifying any benefits relevant to the recipient's company. The email says nothing about why that particular recipient should be interested in what I have to offer.
  • Close: The end of the email is absolutely criminal. It includes no call-to-action whatsoever and is just a random closure.
  • Length: Few prospects will bother to read an email this long.
  • Attachment: Finally, the email contains an attachment, which triggers many companies' spam filters.

My miserable response rates prompted me to start learning about how to write better prospecting emails. Over a period of seven months, I overhauled my email prospecting strategy and started seeing response rates of 14%, a 1400% increase. While your response rate will depend on the nature of your product and your industry, such a marked transformation is quite possible if the right approach is followed.

Find out your industry's email open rate benchmark and start being better than  average. Now.

Email 2: The After

Here’s another real email from the most recent prospecting campaign I ran.

How did this email perform?

  • Sent: 100
  • Open: 56
  • Response Received: 14

What did this email get right?

  • Structure: This email follows a logical flow, something completely absent in the first email.
  • Subject Line: The subject line is effective because it refers to something my target audience is highly interested in.
  • Opening Sentence: The email begins by talking about the recipient. I changed the first paragraph in each email, personalizing it to assure prospects that I'm not just a random stranger shooting in the dark, but someone who has taken the trouble to get to know a bit about them. Try to build a connection to break the ice and make prospects want to read the emails further.
  • Buyer-Specific Content: The email highlights a very specific problem that's very important to my target audience and is consistent with the subject line. The body of the email informs my prospects what's in it for them and encourages them to read more. I emphasize how I can provide value by citing a specific use case relevant to their industry in simple, human language.
  • Close: I use a definitive two-part call-to-action: I ask for a small commitment (a 10-minute call) and provide a preferred time.
  • Length: This email is far shorter than the earlier one, which increases the likelihood that people will read it all the way through.

7 Winning Principles of Sales Prospecting Emails

Based on my experience, here are seven key elements you need to keep in mind to dramatically improve your prospecting email response rates.

1. Personalize

Mass emails no longer work -- period. If you want results, you must customize your emails with information demonstrating you know the recipient. Not only will the reader find it easier to relate to your email, but it will show you've done your homework and have spent time trying to understand the prospect's company.

2. Research

It's essential to research the industry and your personas before crafting your email so that you can provide value and appeal to their priorities from your first interaction. This is the foundation of writing personalized emails.

3. Visualize the Email's Structure

Before writing your email, draw a rough picture of the structure of your email. This structure form the basic template you use to create more personalized emails. Be clear about what the different sections of the email are, and what you are trying to convey in each section.

This exercise will give you immense clarity and give you a powerful foundation to personalize each email.

4. Use a Unique Subject Line

The objective of the subject line is to get people to open your email. One of the most common mistakes that salespeople make is to use the same subject line for every email. You should create 4-5 different subject lines depending on your personas and use them based on who you are sending emails to.

5. Get Straight to the Point

Prospects have short attention spans, so emails have to get to the point and be as brief as possible. If your email does not interest them in the first one or two seconds, you can forget about them reading past your first two lines, let alone getting a response. Focus on crafting an email that takes less than 30 seconds to read and quickly expresses how your company can uniquely solve a problem.

6. Include a Call-to-Action

I cannot emphasize the importance of a call-to-action enough. Including a clear ask has single-handedly gotten me so many responses leading to closed business that I always wonder why I didn't do it sooner. In my case, I asked for a reply confirming the meeting or call.

It’s a simple yet powerful tactic to get more responses. Of course, the underlying assumption is that your product solves an important problem of theirs, so make sure you don't go straight for a request without building value.

7. Focus on Benefits

One of the fundamental principles of selling is to talk about benefits and not features. Yet, most salespeople still talk about features far too early. There are two common reasons why we do this.

First, feature-descriptive emails are easier to write when you bulk email people. We don’t invest time to think about what the target customer wants and what is the exact problem they are trying to solve. However, if you want a respectable response rate, you will have to invest enough time to write emails with personalized benefits.

Second, we often fail to distinguish between a presentation and collateral. The purpose of a first-touch prospecting email is to make the reader interested to know more. It's not supposed to be a substitute for a website or a presentation (which won't even be effective until later in the sales process when you can customize it to your buyer's specific needs). Features come into the picture at a later stage in the buyer’s journey, but a prospecting email is the first touchpoint, where features are irrelevant.

Therefore, make sure you focus exclusively on benefits in your cold emails.

Writing powerful cold emails isn’t rocket science. If you are not getting a satisfactory response rate to your cold emails, start applying the above principles to your next set of emails. The more you experiment, the better your emails will become.

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Originally published Jun 27, 2018 11:36:00 PM, updated June 28 2018

Topics:

Email Prospecting