Yes, you read the title right -- I guarantee that these templates will get responses from prospects. No, this isn't an infomercial. And you're right that they won't work every time. But, compared to the overly salesy prospecting email templates most salespeople are sending, I am confident that these will work better -- or your money back.
To be eligible, just pay me one easy payment of $99.99 before reading the rest of this article.
Any takers? No? Moving on ...
I'm not sure where sales prospecting went bad. I don't know what happened exactly. But I do have a theory. My theory is that someone applied some math to this whole prospecting sales funnel-y thing and realized that spam is actually a decent prospecting method. That’s worth repeating -- to be clear, the majority of sales development reps (SDR) and inside salespeople today seem to believe that spam is the most efficient prospecting method available to them. After all, why should SDRs spend time crafting 100 personalized emails when sending the same generic email to 1,000 people results in the same number of responses?
But, I don’t blame our SDRs or our salespeople. This sad state of affairs is fully the fault of sales leaders -- including myself. In our pursuit of short term productivity, we’ve become addicted to the efficiency that technology provides. Caught up in this technology obsession, we’ve neglected to teach junior sales professionals how to build relationships. Somewhere along the way, we became way too enamored with “Predictable Revenue.” All of the critical lessons we used to teach from our dog-eared copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People were pushed aside to make time for analysis and review of funnel conversion metrics.
Shame on us. While technology and metrics are extremely valuable sales tools, relationship skills are still what builds businesses.
Whether sales leaders feel guilty or not for their role in the devolvement of prospecting, we're on the cusp of a sea change that will force us to challenge our email prospecting methods. Prospects are ignoring emails, and clicking the spam button. They're voting angrily with their mouse. They're giving us the virtual dial tone or the virtual door in our face. But, we can’t hear or it or feel it through email, of course. It's like flipping the bird to the TV -- prospects can do it without fear or the guilt that comes from slamming a door in a salesperson's face.
And up until now, what have salespeople done in response? Send more email to more prospects, of course. When a message goes unanswered or gets flagged as spam, salespeople don't feel the rejection, so there’s nothing to prompt reflection. They simply copy and paste another email, and click “send.” It’s too easy to just send more emails to more prospects.
But this “send more email” approach will not be sustainable long-term. Just like spammers destroyed Myspace, Twitter blocked automated following, and caller ID crushed the effectiveness of cold calling, cold email spamming from salespeople isn't going to work forever either -- even if the messages are personalized by algorithms and predicted to perform. What will happen? Ten percent response rates will become 6%, 6% will become 1%, and 1% will become zero eventually. So no matter how efficiently salespeople can guess (or trade) email addresses, schedule spam, or use technology to fake personalization, it eventually won't matter. It’s a race to zero, no matter how you look at it.
It's time to get back to the basics. Back to how salespeople used to sell when the only way to communicate required a face-to-face meeting or a seven-day postal wait time. Now, I'm not suggesting we start using snail mail or knocking on doors again. But we do need to get back to building relationships.
Luckily, this isn’t that hard. Of course it does require more patience, curiosity, and a true interest in helping other people. But the extra effort is more than justified because -- even though most junior sales professionals won’t believe it -- it actually scales. Relationships create compounding results for salespeople in the form of inbound leads, incoming calls, referrals, and repeat business, just like content creates compounding results for marketers in the form of monthly search traffic, growing social followings, bigger opt-in email lists and, ultimately, significantly more efficient permission-based funnels.
To make it easier for salespeople to do this, I’ve taken some of those “how to win friends” lessons and baked them into email templates. While telephone and face-to-face meetings are the most effective ways to build relationships with people, both prospects and salespeople today seem to prefer email as the first touch. Therefore, email templates are the lingua franca of the modern SDR.
Without further ado, here are 28 approaches (along with customizable email templates) salespeople can use to build real relationships with prospects who are rapidly becoming immune to our current short-sighted email prospecting methods.
1) Congratulate them.
Do your research. There is more information available about prospects today than at any other time in the history of selling. Visit your prospect's website, search Google, set up alerts, view LinkedIn to dig into their professional dossier, stop by Facebook to learn about their kids’ or grandkids’ favorite sports, look into trigger events, and append all this information to your contact records.
Be creative with this approach. Figure out ways you can congratulate your prospects. Flattery works.
2) Boost their mission.
Try this approach with CEOs. CEOs and business owners are usually the creators of their vision and the ones most involved with communicating it.
3) Provide immediate value.
Find a way to provide some value up front, even if it’s just your expertise.
Just be careful not to be too critical in your first email. Starting with a compliment softens the blow of any criticism.
Providing immediate value for free is something that software companies have mastered through freemium business models, creating some of the fastest growing businesses ever. Free feature-limited or usage-limited software offers value before any money changes hands.
If you’re a service provider, partner with a software company that has a freemium model. For example, if you’re an accountant, partner with Expensify to introduce free expense report tools. If you sell sales training services, recommend a product like HubSpot’s free email tracking tool. As long as you are the person introducing free value, prospects will appreciate it.
4) Offer help.
Remember, your goal in the initial email is to simply get a response. With this in mind, your offer of immediate help might not be related to your service. In fact, it might even be related to another service.
5) Compliment them.
You could give cash away to your prospects. That might get their attention. Or you can offer what this study says people appreciate just as much as cash -- a compliment.
6) Build rapport using common interests.
Warning: Don't be creepy. Salespeople of yesteryear could get away with walking into a buyer's office, noticing the photo of the prospect’s grandchildren, and remarking, “You have a beautiful family.” Today, the framed picture of decades past has become the digital photos on Facebook.
Salespeople should certainly incorporate Facebook into their research. But that doesn’t mean you should open with "How was your grandkids' soccer practice on Sunday?" That'll compel a prospect to issue a restraining order, not email you back. Instead, start with the safe stuff like common personal interests.
7) Talk to lower-level employees.
While there's lots of information online, nothing beats insight gleaned from someone who knows your buyer. This is especially critical if you sell to finance, IT, or other back-office professionals, since it’s difficult to inspect or observe how they do their jobs from an external vantage point.
The trick to this one is that you have to go into conversations with employees with the intention of gathering intelligence. Every company has customer-facing employees. Start with your prospect's salespeople. They will probably answer their phone and as peers they know and may empathize with your struggle. They might also have a vested interest in their company investing in your solution.
Another great source of information is past employees. I've interviewed hundreds of people with one foot out the door. Usually, they're careful not to bash their current company when interviewing for a new one, for fear of giving the impression that they are an excuse-maker. But after they leave, they are a lot more willing to speak freely about the issues at their last company.
8) Talk to your prospect's customers.
Your prospect’s customers and partners are another great source of intelligence. Look at your prospect's case study page if they have one, or check out reviews about them online.
Most likely, you'll find positive stuff. But, if you talk to a disgruntled or unsuccessful customer, use that information too.
9) Talk to your prospect's vendors.
Vendors are another resource to learn about a company. Trusted service providers are in a great position to refer you. Not only do they know how your prospect buys things -- they can make introductions.
Make sure you get permission to use names when referencing vendors. The last thing you want to do is get your referral partner fired. Ask, "Would you mind if I email [Prospect] and say that you suggested we talked?" Then, you're free to write, "[Vendor] asked me to email you to see if I could help." Or just call and start off with "I was talking to [Vendor], and … "
10) Talk to friends (and strangers).
While not always good advice (especially for children), talking to strangers is a smart idea too. Whether they're friends, acquaintances, or folks on the fringe, talking to people outside your universe can lead to great connections to prospects.
A quick story. My family and I moved to a new house in May. We've become good friends with neighbors down the street. The husband owns his own business that is way out of my wheelhouse: hydrokinetic energy production. Nonetheless, I asked him who his target VCs were. After a quick LinkedIn search, I noticed that a HubSpot partner I know knows the managing partner of one of my neighbor’s target VC firms.
A few emails later, the connection was made. While I have no experience with hydrokinetic energy production, that didn’t prevent me from making a valuable connection. Everyone you meet is like me: they know people who know people.
Make sure you make connections for your friends too. Givers gain.
11) Respond to content your prospects publish.
Pay attention to what your prospects are publishing online. They are sharing massive clues about their current initiatives that provide great openings for a dialogue.
Here's an email I wrote up for an SDR from RingCentral who asked for some advice:
12) Send your company's content.
For every title or persona that can influence your sale, have content on hand that addresses their specific challenges.
13) Send other people's content.
Don’t only send your content. Prospects will be less suspect of your intentions if you send other people’s or other companies' content that could be helpful for their situation.
14) Publish original content.
For the last few years, I've regularly asked my eight year old son, "How do you get better at things?" Without hesitation, he now says "practice." Not every salesperson is a natural writer, but I'd highly recommend they all start practicing.
Why should salespeople write? Prospects willingly talk to critical-thinking, problem-solving, effective salespeople if they have experience relevant to the prospect's world. So, write about your daily experiences helping prospects. Share your wisdom.
While publishing content to your company website is the smartest channel for your organization, it's only good for you if you're able to track which of your prospects reads your posts. If you don't have marketing automation software in place that tells you when your prospects are visiting your website, publish to LinkedIn Pulse instead. As long as your 1st and 2nd degree network consists of prospects, there is a chance they'll read what you post.
When they like, comment on, or share something you wrote, start a dialogue by using a variation on the template below:
The really great thing about content is that it keeps on talking with prospects even when you're sleeping, exercising, or eating. It works around the clock for you. Every other prospecting method is ephemeral (especially email). Imagine what salespeople could do if we combined the staying power of relationships with the lasting power of content.
15) Monitor who views your LinkedIn profile.
Even if you're not publishing much, monitor who visits your profile, and steal the following template from Rick Roberge:
If you're doing research before picking up the phone, you're probably looking at your prospects' LinkedIn profiles anyways. Click around and view a bunch of their employees' profiles. Connect with them and use any of the templates in this article to start a conversation. Lower-level and customer-facing employees are a bit more likely to accept your connection, respond to you, or just check out your profile in return. As soon as they do, use the line above.
16) Put their name in lights.
If you are publishing content, ask for feedback on your drafts. You can also ask prospects for quotes to add to your article.
17) Ask for advice.
Most people like to give advice. Asking for advice appeals to their ego. (See the "esteem stage" of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In the age of social media, many of us get stuck at the esteem stage on our path towards "self-actualization.")
Psychology 101 aside, asking for advice is a hard request for most of us to resist.
P.S. I have a patent in my name for a method of creep-feed grinding of titanium aerospace blades. (Just in case you want to appeal to my ego.)
18) Ask for a recommendation.
People also like to help other people, if it's not too difficult. Most gentleman still hold the door for ladies. (My grandfather -- a member of the Greatest Generation -- taught me this lesson when I was very young.) I still do it today for women (and men, in case you're about to ding me for not being progressive enough). It takes an extra second to hold the door. It's not that big a deal. But, it feels right.
The same logic applies when asking for recommendations. If you or your company are in the market for a service, make it a habit to ask your prospects for recommendations. It's another excuse to connect with people, and helping you will make them feel good.
Make your request easy to oblige. Also, don’t take this approach this unless you’re really looking for a recommendation. Be genuine.
19) Offer an introduction.
I recently posted a request for introductions on LinkedIn. Both Kim Cole and Carole Mahoney offered fantastic introductions in messages like the one below. Thanks, Kim and Carole.
There are now 59 comments on that thread. Clearly, asking for introductions is also an effective method of connecting.
20) Seek referrals.
Everyone with a quota should be part of a networking group. If you sell to SMBs, join a BNI group. If you sell to bigger companies, join a group (or start one) of professionals who sell to your target market.
Asking people for referrals is a smart first interaction. Try reaching out to other sales professionals like this.
21) Reference a common connection.
Once you’ve developed trusting relationships with other professionals, ask them if it’s okay to drop their name when connecting with their contacts. You might even ask them for a list of people that they recommend you reach out to.
22) Respond to social media posts.
Salespeople should use social media monitoring to watch what their prospects are saying online. Identifying opportunities for engagement with your right-fit prospects is easy with the right technology.
23) Run a custom analysis.
Depending on what you sell, it might be difficult for you to evaluate your prospect's situation. But, if you can evaluate it, do so and send them the results.
Chances are you don't sell marketing services. If you do, steal this approach. If you don't, try to find something you can analyze that your ideal buyer will care about.
24) Provide an insight.
According to Mike Schultz, author of Insight Selling, “Educating buyers not only shares the seller's expertise, but also demonstrates the seller's willingness to collaborate with the buyer.”
25) Ask them what they want to learn from peers.
Marketers use surveys as ways to gather proprietary data. It seems like I see a new one every week. They’re clearly getting respondents.
Salespeople should borrow this playbook. Engaging prospects in the design of the survey will ensure the results are interesting for the ideal buyer profile. This is also a perfect excuse to reach out, which can initiate a dialogue.
26) Invite them to participate in market research.
Once a sales and/or marketing team creates a survey, salespeople can ask prospects to take it.
The great part about surveys is that you can ask tough questions about challenges and goals. It's hard to do that on a phone call right away.
Don’t forget to sync your survey software with your CRM and marketing automation software so you can see the responses and use them to customize your future sales and marketing touches to each contact’s context.
27) Get their opinion.
Ask your prospects what they think about something. Many people can’t resist sharing their opinion.
28) Ask them if they want access to market research.
Once you’ve completed market research, use it in your prospecting. Start by asking if they are interested in reviewing it.
11 Guidelines to Create Response-Worthy Sales Email Templates
These templates use a relatively simple set of guidelines. As you implement the approaches shared above, use these guidelines to customize your templates:
- Start messages with something about the prospect.
- Use "you" whenever possible. Use “I” and “We” sparingly.
- Put the value proposition away. Share it only when it aligns with the prospect’s needs.
- Don’t try to book a phone call in your initial email. Only “in-market” prospects will respond to that call to action.
- Ask open-ended questions or none at all. Many prospects have become desensitized to calls to action, but they are often pleasantly surprised by genuine attempts at personal connection and offers of help.
- The goal is to get a response -- not to advance the sale or sort the interested from the uninterested. You can think about these aims once you get a response.
- If including a request, make it a very simple one to oblige that has a high chance of appealing to the buyer’s self-interest.
- Keep it short. Three to seven sentences max.
- End with a question if it makes sense, but don’t force an off-topic one. For example, if you compliment someone, they’ll be likely to respond with a “thank you.” If you embrace the goal of simply getting a response, mission accomplished.
- Before you send an email in the first place, consider picking up the phone instead. All of these approaches will work on the phone too. If you do send an email, use an email open alert system and call the prospect when they’re reading your email. This will maximize your connect rate.
- More cowbell.
I am not delusional enough to believe that salespeople will all of a sudden stop sending horribly self-centered, blast-you-with-my-value-prop, ask-me-to-marry-you-on-the-first-date prospecting emails. But in sharing these alternative approaches, I hope to get us that much closer to the end of this dangerous and ultimately ineffective practice.
If your response rates are dwindling, think twice before you mass blast another 1,000 emails. Maybe use that time to start one relationship based on trust, courtesy, and a genuine interest in seeing that person succeed instead. I guarantee it will pay off in the long run.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.