Sales for Startups: The Cold Email



I cannot tell you how many emails I get from sales people that read like mini-novels. I dread opening these things because I know that as soon as I do, I am going to be bowled over in a deluge of clichés, sales speak, and insincere friendliness. I will be implored to share my time, link-baited to exhaustion, and regaled with the wonders of forging a mutually beneficial “partnership”. As an added bonus, by opening the email, a signal will be sent indicating that I “read” said email, inviting yet more future intrusions into my inbox.

The cold sales email is about the worst aspect of the sales experience. No one wants to send these and no one wants to read them. Yet we as salespeople stubbornly persist in this soulless practice, evoking the ire and hatred of recipients everywhere. So why do we continue to slavishly grind out one thankless email after another thankless email?

The thing is that just enough people respond that it keeps the email machine alive. The typical response rates for cold B2B sales emails range anywhere from 3% to 9%, giving just enough hope to wanton sales emailers to continue to pump and load those lifeless boilerplate marketing messages across the Internet to unsuspecting inboxes. And those single-digit results are no deterrent, they simply encourage the mechanization of the email process so that sales teams can send out hundreds upon thousands of emails per week. They are all playing the law of large numbers in order to fill the pipeline with qualified leads.

Here’s the thing though, why exactly do we play this Pyrrhic battle of the inbox? Does it make sense to settle for such low response rates while leaving a whole lot of pissed off people in our wake? What if you could send way less emails, but get insignificantly better response rates and not make everyone hate you in the process?

Well, this is sounding a bit like a TV infomercial. However, I truly believe there is a better way to use email effectively as a potent sales tool. A large part of my recent epiphany was the result of attending a sales workshop by Jeff Hoffman (who is an excellent coach) on prospecting. It also happened to come at a time as I was questioning many of the tips, methods, and best practices I had learned over the years about cold emails. Turns out what I was learning and doing during that time was a ton of bad habits, and this week was a huge awakening to that fact.

I will not divulge the details of Mr. Hoffman’s methods (besides it is much better in person). What I can share however are some of the general concepts that hopefully will help you rethink your own email practices.

  1. Your emails are too long – This is easy to fix. Instead of going on for paragraph after paragraph, think about fitting the entire content of your email on a smartphone screen. Why? Because that is what most people are now reading email on and they will not have the patience to scroll down for more info.
  2. Your emails are the wrong shape – How much time are you spending talking about yourself? Do you launch right into talking about you? Do you make your “ask” clear and concise? And why do I mention shape? Think of a right triangle. Now invert it so that the right angle is on the upper left, and that is the shape you want. The first section is about your recipient and is the longest. Then the second is about you and is shorter. The last section is the ask and should be the shortest. That is the right shape.
  3. Your emails are link heavy – Your emails may never even be getting to your recipient. Why not? Because spam filters are getting smarter and smarter, looking for emails with excessive links from domains they do not know. Lose the links including those in your email signature. If a recipient is truly interested, they will reach out.
  4. Your email needs an “in” – The first thing someone sees on an incoming email is the sender and the subject line. Make it count by mentioning something that is relevant to the recipient. Search around the Internet to find something that might have been said or presented by that person. That is more likely to get someone’s attention when it is about them as opposed to you.
  5. Your emails need your real address – Anything other than your corporate domain name and your real email address is patently unacceptable. That includes the use of email marketing tools. Just don’t do it, spam blockers are wise to those methods will banish your email to the spam hole, never to return.
  6. Your emails must go to the right address – It is okay to guess an email every so often. If you get it wrong and get bounced, no worries. Do it too often in too short of a span and expect to get spam blocked or even worse, getting your company’s domain blocked. Make sure you are dealing with the right email address at the onset.
  7. Your emails should aim high – Reaching out to executives is not something to avoid. As long as you adhere to the previous six tips, you should be okay. The bonus is that when you get a response, a referral from a senior person is a significant stamp of credibility and should get you the meeting with the actual decision maker you were targeting.

These concepts are not going to get you in the door all the time. Let’s face it, you may still end up irritating plenty of people. However, if you get 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 response rates, that is a huge improvement over the norm and tells me that cold selling can still work. Let me know how it is going to for you or if you have any tips you would like to share.

This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.

Image credit: CC by glasseyes view

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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