SALES

How to Sell Via Email

Your initial goal is to open a dialog-- not to sell yourself, your firm, or your products.
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Based upon the sample "sales emails" that people have been sending me, there seems to be a general misunderstand the basic concept of selling via email, which is that the initial goal is only to open a dialog.

How to Do It Wrong

The other day, a reader asked me how write a Subject line that would not get caught by a SPAM filter.  He'd been sending out emails to "thousands" of prospects and hadn't gotten a single response, so he assumed the emails were getting filtered out.

Rather than answering his question, I took a look at his "sales email."  It consisted of several paragraphs of densely-worded gobbledegook, followed by a request for an hour-long meeting and a "contact me to set up a time" request.

It was immediately obvious to me that the problem wasn't SPAM filters, but instead the barrage of verbiage contained in the email.

I asked how he'd ended up with such a monstrosity.  Turns out that the "sales email" had been crafted by a sales training firm (yikes!) and was intended to--get this--"answer the customer's objections before they brought them up."

Now, let's list out all the tasks that this "sales email" was supposed to accomplish:

  1. Convince the prospect to commit to a minute of mental effort to decipher what the heck the email was all about.
  2. Educate the prospect about the product and its features and functions, while simultaneously answering any objections to buying.
  3. Convince the prospect to allocate an hour of his or her valuable time to meet with a salesperson.
  4. Convince the prospect to either find out more about the product (by clicking on the website) or take a specific action to set up the meeting.

No wonder he was getting no response!  That's just asking way too much.

How to Do It Right

The sales approach described above is not unusual; I've been send dozens of sample "sales emails" that are equally baroque and demanding.

For reasons I don't quite understand, people expect a "sales email" to do their selling for them, even to the point of closing the deal and getting the customer to take action.

I suspect that this confusion is a hold-over from the old direct marketing days. After all, if you're sending junk mail, you've got one shot (the "piece") which must interest the customer enough to contact you.

But email doesn't work that way.  The strength of email is that messages can flow back and forth without both people being present at the same time.  Email not a way to send junk mail electronically; it's a way to start and have a conversation.

Your initial email doesn't have to convince the prospect to take any action other than just hit REPLY and thereby indicate an interest in learning a bit more. You can (and should) wait until subsequent emails to explain details or request a meeting.

Since your goal is to open a dialog (rather than sell something), your initial sales email should simply contain a teaser (not content free, but certainly not a word parade) with a suggestion that the prospect REPLY to learn more.

If you get a reply, you know that the prospect is at least minimally interested in what you're offering.  More importantly, you're now in a dialog where you can explain more, add value, and gradually move the sale to the next level.

Here Are Examples:

Wrong:

Dear [Prospect name]:
Acme is a management consulting firm who helps organizations find added cash flow through specialized methods of reducing common overhead costs. We generally work with executives who:

  • Recognize that they may have limited time and resources to manage overhead costs as well as they would like;
  • Suspect that there are more dollars being left on the table, but don't know where or how much; and
  • Have made reasonable efforts at reducing costs, and want help in recovering more cash flow without taking existing resources away from what they're already doing.

Our history is that we are able to squeeze out an additional 20% in expense reduction without jeopardizing existing relationships, and without making clients use specific vendors.

I realize you may not have time to discuss this now, but I'd be happy to share some thoughts when you can find an hour to set aside.  If it sounds like it may have some value to you, do you think it makes sense to pursue a conversation?

I was planning on calling you, [name], in a week or so but I'm not sure of the best time to catch you.  Let me know when would be good, or maybe we can set it up via email.  Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.  I look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,
Jane Doe
[contact info]

Right:

[Prospect name]:
My company, Acme, has a track record helping executives reduce overhead cost and increase cash flow.  We've recently worked with [company likely to be known to prospect] and were able to reduce their expenses 20%.

If this interests you, I can send you a case study or a more detailed description of what we do for our clients.
Jane Doe
[contact info]

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IMAGE: Cara Bendon / Flickr.com
Last updated: Jul 30, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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