Email is arguably the most important sales prospecting tool to come along since the invention of the business card. Yet even as email has become essential to the way sales organizations function, many sales representatives remain in the dark about how to harness this powerful tool’s full potential to open a dialogue with potential customers.
A Way to Connect with Customers
According to Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies, one problem is that too many salespeople still think email prospecting consists of sending the same exact one-size-fits-all email message, unsolicited, to dozens of prospects. That’s spam, and it’s more likely to get your name cursed throughout your prospects’ offices than to generate any interest.
But even when salespeople do the right thing and send individualized "cold" prospecting emails, they still often make the mistake of talking exclusively about themselves and their companies’ products -- topics of little interest to recipients. As a result, these messages wind up getting deleted, unread, along with all the other junk clogging up customers’ inboxes.
Instead, cold emails should focus exclusively on prospects and their business issues.
“Your email’s first sentence should demonstrate that you know something about that company, that you’ve been researching their Web site or you were referred by someone who works there,” Konrath says. “It’s not about your company, your product or you. It’s about making a quick connection that piques the person’s interest and keeps you from being deleted.”
Personalize or Perish
San Francisco-based sales expert Andrew Paulsen agrees, noting that personalization is the most effective way to let a recipient know that your message is not just another piece of spam.
“The research you need to do to personalize your email will only take minutes,” says Paulsen, who is currently working on a book about using email as a business tool. “You can read through the company’s Web site, conduct a Google search or go to an information resource like Hoovers.com. Let recipients know that you understand their business and you’ve sought them out specifically. They will be impressed that you’ve done your homework before making contact.”
A Little Help, Please?
According to Ari Galper, the self-titled “Cold-Calling Guru,” another effective way to quickly grab your prospect’s attention is by asking for assistance.
“You might open your email by saying, ‘I’m not sure if you can help me but thought you could possibly point me in the right direction,’” Galper says. “By starting off from a position of humility and asking for help, you give the reader the chance to either say that you’ve reached the right person or refer you to someone else.”
Then you should ask who at the target company typically handles the specific type of business issues your clients typically face. Galper says an example might be, "Would you happen to know who in your organization is responsible for diagnosing and solving productivity issues related to your technology infrastructure – specifically, underperforming servers, outdated software upgrades or out-of-date computer hardware?”
By keeping the focus on real problems the recipient may be facing, you reinforce the message that you’re interested in his needs and not just out to make a sale.
Of course, the text of your message won’t matter much if the recipient doesn’t even bother to open the email. That’s why the subject line is so important, says Konrath.
“If your subject line says ‘Free’ or ‘Sale’ or ‘Special Offer,’ it’s obviously a sales pitch,” she says. “Instead, if you have a referral, your subject line should read, ‘Mary Jones said I should contact you.’ Or if you’re emailing because you read that the company opened a new location, the subject line might be ‘Ideas regarding new Oakdale facility.’”
Whatever approach you choose, prospecting emails should always be short, ideally consisting of no more than four sentences and fewer than 100 words.
For salespeople used to expounding at great length on their products’ countless amazing features, sending brief messages with no mention of your company’s offerings may counter all your selling instincts. But that’s good, since your goal with email prospecting is not to sell anything. Not yet, anyway.
Paulsen says that your goal with a cold email is to generate a response -- any response -- that initiates a dialogue. And even if you don’t get a response, you’ll be better positioned for a good conversation when you do manage to catch the prospect on the phone.
“Usually people will be more courteous and give you some of their time based upon your previous efforts to reach them,” Paulsen says. “So if you have made attempts to communicate via email or voice mail in the past, you can start out your call by stating that you have made an effort to reach them before, and that should help the call get off to a better start.”