Over the past few years, I’ve helped over a hundred entrepreneurs and salespeople tune their prospecting emails to get more responses.

This post contains ten simple rules-of-thumb, illustrated by real-life sales messages sent me by subscribers to my free weekly newsletter.

1. Avoid complex metrics.

Most people can’t or wont do math calculations in their head. If you’ve got an important metric, convey it in the simplest way possible.

Wrong: XYZ Magazine reaches 50,000 kitchen counters every other month and last winters edition saw an average response rate of 1.46%.

Right: “Advertising in XYZ Magazine can get you an additional 750 walk-in customers by Christmas.”

2. Edit out the biz-blab.

I’ve made this point in the past but it bears repeating. Blocky paragraphs full of corporate-speak do not impress anybody and can even makes your message unintelligible.

Wrong: “The XYZ process uncovers breakthrough solutions because we leverage the expertise of those who know the most about your business--your people. Acme creates an environment where your people become engaged in an environment that is truly open and collaborative. Once trust is established, we challenge the mindsets and perspectives that often limit performance through a combination of logic and intuition. The result is the emergence of a real solution to a seemingly impossible problem. This breakthrough solution--often appearing in the form of a single, visionary question--energizes and aligns the stakeholders.”

Right: “We can help your people work together better.”

3. Focus on what’s meaningful to the customer.

Most customers aren’t all that interested in what you do or how you do it. All they want to know is what your product or service means to them and their business.

Wrong: “Our customers want to reduce the uncertainty associated with launching a new product or service. They hire us to provide the process steps, oversight, and techniques to successfully bring a new product or service to market. What’s unique about our approach is that we are leaders, driving the process steps and holding team members accountable to deliver on time and on budget; mentors, guiding their team through the process; and doers, working alongside their team to provide the additional resources required throughout the process. We have spent our careers in the new product trenches and unlike other consulting firms never recommend anything that we couldn’t execute on ourselves.”

Right: “We’re experienced consultants with a track record of helping companies bring new products and services to market.”

4. Edit (and re-edit) for clarity.

Convoluted sentences make it seem as if you haven’t thought things through. Edit your message so that it’s easy to understand. If you’re having problems with this, hire a copyeditor.

Wrong: “Our customers save money by protecting their sensitive IT information and systems in a confidential environment. In choosing our services, they find the unique Swiss-banks approach applied to exceptional ICT solutions.”

Right: “Our customers both save money and reduce risk by storing their sensitive data and applications in our secure environment, where it’s protected using the same methods that Swiss banks use to keep their depositors anonymous.”

5. Avoid seeming overly eager.

Exclamation points and multiple calls-to-action make you seem overly eager and desperate. Strive instead for a tone that’s professional yet not stilted.

Wrong: “I'm keen to have a conversation with you about our solution! For more information, please contact me and I can arrange an online demo. (I'll also try to call you)!”

Right: “Are you the right person to evaluate our solution?”

6. Replace percentages with plain language.

If you’re trying to get a point across, whenever possible translate quantitative benefits into easily understood words and phrases.

Wrong: “Immediate benefits include a 50% reduction in stockholdings and elimination of out of stocks and increased in-store staff productivity by 100%.”

Right: “Our system can reduce cut your inventory costs in half and make in-store staff twice as productive.

7. Never lie to the customer.

You may thing you’re being clever, but customers can tell if you’re lying. The message below is a perfect example because the salesperson is of course delighted to hear that XYZ screwed up.

Wrong: “When we met last week you expressed that you were not happy with your current water treatment company. I'm sorry to hear XYZ isn't providing you the service you deserve.”

Right: “When we met last week you expressed that you were not happy with your current water treatment company. My company can provide you a better service at a lower cost. ”

8. Ask for the smallest possible commitment.

Customers are generally too busy to give somebody they don’t know a big block of their time, especially if it means tying up multiple people. You’ll get a better response if you ask for the minimum step that will move the sale forward.

Wrong: “I would like to schedule an hour of your time to come in and perform a survey of your system and discuss our offerings with your executive team.”

Right: To design the right solution for you, I’ll need to conduct a preliminary system survey. Is this something you’d like to schedule now?

9. Get the point quickly.

Customers don’t want to read an analysis of their business and the state of their industry. They want to know why talking with you is worth their precious time, so get to that part as quickly as possible.

Wrong: “Much has been written in recent years about the increasing supply of hotel rooms and the resulting pressure on room rates. Hotels.com has published figures showing that room rates have dropped 17% during the past 3 years. Occupation ratio is thus becoming increasingly important to maintain the profit level; however, there are also other avenues to explore to protect the bottom line. Acme Management is an international network of more than 750 consultants, specialized in reducing non-strategic costs, such as cleaning, insurance, communication, office supplies, etc--in order to increase your profit.”

Right: “We can show you how to reduce costs without reducing the level of services that you provide and simultaneously improving those services, thereby making your hotels even more attractive to prospective guests.”

10. Don’t ever mix metaphors.

If you must use metaphors, use ones that make sense. For example, the original message below has a “fly on the wall” that’s having a “magical moment.” That’s not an image I want in my mind, thank you very much.

Wrong: “With one click of the mouse, everyone--from CEO to individual store manager – will see a snapshot in time of customers and employees together. We're that proverbial "fly on the wall" watching the magical moment when a customer walks through the door. It's easy to manage change because you know what's happening immediately. Employees improve their interactions with customers, or they move on. Our clients generally improve 10% – 50% in customer service standards.”

Right: “Our clients hire us to see their business through their own customer's eyes, resulting in a sharp increase in customer satisfaction.”