As regular readers of this column already know, I recently had a heart attack, open heart surgery, and then another heart attack, all in the space of about two weeks. The scariest part of the experience was the second heart attack, which was due to the failure of one of the bypasses, an event that happens about 2% of time. (Lucky me, eh?)

So you can probably imagine that I'm a little paranoid when it comes to chest pain. Well, last night I had persistent sharp pains in my chest and, when I took my blood pressure, it was elevated, so I called 911. They immediately sent over an ambulance, which rushed me to the emergency room.

Long story short, all the tests were negative. What I was experiencing was "incisional pain" which happens when your nerves start growing back, because they have to sever them when they open your chest for surgery. And the "incisional pain" had freaked me out so much that my blood pressure went up.

(Incidentally, the pain happened while I was writing yesterday's post about the need for a trade union in Silicon Valley; I finished the post and published it while I was in the emergency room.)

Anyway, while I was in ambulance, I started thinking about the legacy that I would leave as a writer. 

When I had the actual heart attacks, I came to grips with what dying would mean to my family and made some decisions about the priorities in my life. However, it occurred to me this time that I owe an obligation to you, the readers who've been following this column since 2007.

I thought: what if I died without sharing the single most-important sales and marketing technique that I've devised during my several decades in the business world? Yes, I've hinted around at the edges of it in a few posts but that's not the same thing. I'm talking about the "secret sauce" that I've only shared with a few private clients.

The reason I'm bringing it up now--and why it came to mind while I was in the ambulance--is that at this point I'm not sure I'll be taking on any new consulting clients. While I might make an exception for a client whose business is doing something that truly interests me, at this point I'm rolling down my consulting practice.

I've avoided writing about this technique because I can easily find companies that will pay me tens of thousands of dollars to to coach them on this technique: an almost infallible way to set up meetings with C-level executives. Not the C-levels in the little firms. The ones in the big firms.

That's something really valuable because the kind of deals that get cut at the C-level run from $50,000 to $5 million, and more. And those deals don't take place if you can't get a meeting, right?

Again, I'll be exiting the consulting business in a few months (at the latest), so I want to share this technique as a way of thanking you readers for your loyalty over the years and also because I'd like to leave something of a legacy as a business writer. 

Obviously, a column will never be the same--not even close--as the coaching I do when people put me on retainer, but it's more than enough to help you set up enough meetings to keep your B2B firm up and running for a long time to come.

Sound good? 

Before I get started, though...

Some Quick Background

Some of you already know about my history but for those who don't, I need to explain how I learned I'm about to share with you, so that you realize why it's unique and why I've held it back for so long.

About 20 years ago, I decided to quit my super-cushy marketing job and write a book based on interviews with world's top high tech CEOs. That was back when, unlike the lip-service of today, high-tech companies were truly trying to make the world a better place.

I sold the book idea to (and got a tasty advance from) Random House without knowing whether I could in fact get those CEOs on the phone. Everyone (friends, family, colleagues) thought I was nuts. Actually, I was loopy-high on Tony Robbins at the time.

So, now I had to figure out how to land interviews with the likes of Michael Dell and Bill Gates. Which I did. That book--Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite--did VERY well. In fact, when I posted the gist of that book on, it got a million page-views in three weeks.

While I had intended to use that book to launch a public speaking career (and indeed was represented by the Washington Speaker's Bureau for a couple of years), the book led to a new career as a reporter for magazines covering the dot-com revolution.

During my stint as a contributing editor for Red Herring as well as a featured reporter for a dozen other magazines, I gain the reputation for being the guy who could land an interview with just about anybody.

Example: I once got a quote from Microsoft's then-CEO Steve Ballmer on a controversial issue concerning Microsoft's corporate strategy when the entire company was on a 100% press lockdown prior to a major release of Windows.

More interesting example: when I was investigating penny-stock fraud, I got several perps on the line, as well as the FBI agents that were investigating them. Not easy, since neither group was big on talking to the press.

I was also writing a lot at the time on corporate strategy, which required chit-chats with various executives, some of which (like Ballmer) didn't want to talk the press (i.e. like when their Chairman just got indicted.) 

After a while, I figured out that if you wanted to get on the phone with C-level execs, you needed to "get into their heads" and figure out why they'd want to talk with me.

In other words, I built an entire career--making far, far more than I ever made as a marketing drone--on understanding how to get C-level execs on the phone. Weirdly, I didn't even think there was anything unusual about this; it was just something I knew how to do.

Refining the Technique

After I started writing a daily column/blog, I occasionally posted pieces of what I'd learned through hard experiences (but never the core). As a result, readers started pestering me for more, which is why I started doing consulting a couple of years ago. Up until that point, I was making all my revenue through my writing.

Since then, I've had a couple of dozen clients, most of whom needed my expertise in email marketing rather than this much more customized method.  Now, I'm a big proponent of email marketing when you want to reach a lot of potential customers, especially owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses. And I've written a fair amount about email marketing in the past, explaining how to increase your open rate and your response rate, as well as how to craft a short email that gets your point across in as few words as possible.

However, I've had several clients who need to reach the C-level executives in a small number of specific companies. For this situation, email marketing alone--even well-crafted email marketing--just won't cut it. 

Email marketing is a numbers game; the bigger your list, the more opens and responses you'll get (depending on how well you craft).  When you're targeting a small list of companies even a solid response rate (say 10% of your cold emails) will only get you three prospects. 

More important, if that small list consists of big companies (aka "enterprises"), the likelihood that a C-level executive will respond to a generalized cold email (i.e. what you'd send to a large list) is exceedingly small.

A different technique is required. That technique is based upon the same principles as well-crafted cold emails for email marketing but with this essential addition: each email must be specifically crafted and customized for each C-level exec you want to reach.

The Basic Principles (Necessary But Not Sufficient)

Before going any further, let's review the structure of a well-crafted cold email (i.e. a cold email that's highly likely to be opened and responded to.)  Your email to the big company C-level executive will need this structure to produce a response from that executive:

  1. An intriguing but brief Subject line.
  2. A minimal salutation (e.g. "John," rather than "Dear Mr. Doe")
  3. A relevant teaser (the first 15 words of the email) that combines with the Subject line to provide a reason for the recipient to open the email.
  4. A single sentence (which starts with the 15 words mentioned above) that answers the recipient's first question, which is "what's in it for me?" (The "me" refers to the C-level exec, of course.)
  5. A market differentiator, which answers the recipient's second question, which is "why buy it from you?" or more specifically "why should I bother to reply to you specifically?"
  6. A call-to-action question. This question should answerable with either a "yes" or a "no."  A yes/no question creates the lowest bar possible to getting a response to your cold email, thereby starting an email conversation that you can segue into a telephone appointment.
  7. A minimal signature. This means your name, title, and company name and (maybe) your phone number. But not bunch of of links and contact points which might distract from the call-to-action, which is the yes/no question in #6 above. Also, none of that no "sincerely yours" BS.
  8. NOTHING ELSE. No sales pitch. No pointers to "more information." No dopey statements like "please don't hesitate to call." In short, no selling, no selling, NO SELLING.

Why am I making such a big point about this final point?

Because almost every marketing email I've ever read sticks that distracting, useless crap into the email, apparently under the mistaken impression that the recipients of cold emails are dying to learn more about the seller's product or service. No so.

Why Most Cold Emails Fail

Look, the fact that you've sent a cold email is already an imposition on the recipient's time and attention. Pointing them at "information" or giving them homework ("check out our website") either

  1. Distracts them from responding to your email, which is the only action that will immediately get you into a conversation with the prospect.
  2. Forces an action item down their throats as a pre-condition to getting back to you, which is just plain stupid because it probably means they'll either delete your email or forget about it.

To be blunt, nobody cares about your damn information. They might in the future... if you can get into enough of conversation that they'll ask for it. But selling to a prospect before they've given you permission to sell is at once the most common and the most idiotic of all sales mistakes.

Getting back to the structure, I could go (and have gone in previous posts) into vast detail why the structure defined above works while the nonsense that other "email experts" charge big money to teach don't work. Suffice it to say I have clients who get such high open rates that so-called email experts question whether they're real... until they see the MailChimp reports.

But this column is not about email marketing; I've already posted a lot about that. I'm revisiting it now because if you want to start a conversation, and land a telephone meeting, with a big-company C-level exec, a well-crafted structure is necessary but not sufficient.

Anyway, this post is running a long, so it will be continued in my next post "Get C-Level Executives on the Phone Using These 6 Easy Steps." I will be posting it soon, so stay tuned.