After crashing out of the Atlanta and Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and 1996, respectively, and placing seventh in the 1998 World Rowing Championships, the Great Britain Men's Rowing Eight won gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The victory was their first gold in nearly a century.
I can't say for sure, but I suspect their win was all thanks to a few changes in their approach to competing. Interestingly enough, some of those changes can be applied to your cold emails.
You may not think you can learn sales techniques from gold-medal-winning athletes who push oars back and forth until they almost kill themselves, but you'd be wrong.
Both professions are primarily results driven, neither are for the faint hearted, and there's even a best-selling book about rowing that's really about how to sell better.
Here are four lessons you can learn about sales emails from Olympic rowers:
1. It's not all about you
Imagine a rower whose best position is at the back of the boat but who always wants to row at the front and be the leader. Or perhaps this rower wants to train on their own rather than with the team. In other words, they value their individual time over the team's time.
A rower who wants everything on their own terms ends up dragging the whole team down. That one person's narcissism could ruin everyone's chance for Olympic gold.
It's the same with sales emails. Your prospects don't want every last detail about your company or some clever-but-rambling story. They want to hear what your company can do for them.
Imagine opening an email from a stranger because it has an intriguing subject line, but then reading paragraphs of intricate detail on a product instead of a brief message that gets to the point. Would you reply or hit delete?
Whether it's rowing or sales emails, it's not about you.
2. Measure only the right metrics
When it comes to rowing, there are all sorts of metrics that seem useful on their own: strokes per minute, individual times, lung capacity of the individual rowers, and so on.
But these metrics are actually distractions when it comes to the race for the gold medal. Really, there's only one metric that matters: how long it takes the team to reach the finish line.
Sales emails have many metrics you could measure, like email response rate. But just looking at response rate on its own is misleading. Those responses might really be out-of-office auto responders or even negative messages asking you to remove the recipient from your list.
It's the same with measuring open rate. Sales prospects that open your emails but don't reply won't get you any closer to a call or in-person meeting, so your time is better spent on different metrics.
The real one worth measuring is positive email response rate, when the buyer replies and asks for more information or tells you when they're free for a quick call. These emails are the ones that will lead to quality conversations that close better deals.
3. Ask, "Will it make the boat go faster?"
The Great Britain Men's Rowing Eight spent years placing poorly in major tournaments, whether it was at the Olympics or the World Championships. Most of the time they didn't even make it to the finals, but then they won gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. How did this happen?
Well, for starters, they chose to skip the Opening Ceremony. Their philosophy was, Will it make the boat go faster?
Since attending the Opening Ceremony would not make their boat go faster, they opted out. Their time, they decided, would be better spent resting to prepare for the race. They may have wanted to go and soak in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but for the sake of the race, they stayed in.
It was a hard choice that paid off.
When it comes to sales emails, ask yourself, Will this email get a response that leads to a valuable sales conversation? Is this email absolutely necessary for the prospect or am I sending it because I really like a new feature and want to work it into an email?
Just because you're attached to a particular value prop or piece of content doesn't mean your client will be. And if they aren't, it's your job to make the tough choice and shelve that angle in favor of a more relevant one.
4. Strategize a way to deal with the pain
Olympic rowers might suffer through more pain than any other athletes. For example, 100-meter sprinters run at 100% capacity for about 10 seconds, and this exhausts them.
Olympic rowers, meanwhile, row at about 98% of their capacity for an entire 2,000-meter race. That seems humanly impossible, doesn't it?
It almost is. That's why elite rowing teams and clubs have their own psychologists who put an an emphasis on training willpower. Leander, one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, has produced world-famous medallists like Sir Steve Redgrave. One of their psychologists sums willpower up as, "Can I hurt myself more than you can hurt you?" If rowers don't practice willpower as a way to deal with the pain, they won't even get close to gold.
It's the same with sales. Sending four sales emails and getting no response sucks, and you will feel some pain. But multiple studies suggest you should send eight messages when cold-emailing a sales prospect, since 33% of responses are between emails five and eight.
Imagine if you gave up after just four emails? It would be the equivalent of the Olympic rowers not even finishing the race.
From now on, when reviewing your sales emails, read every sentence and ask yourself the following: Will this make the prospect want to buy? If it's a no, be as ruthless as the Olympic rowers who didn't even go to the Opening Ceremony.