We all get them: emails so careless or poorly written a fifth-grade student could produce a better message. What happened? And, more importantly, how did such a travesty go out to prospective customers?

Bad copywriting is usually to blame. Either the sender has never learned to avoid things like long-winded text and business jargon, or they're simply careless and don't take the time to check for typos and other offenses.  

At best these types of emails are unremarkable--you shrug at the flat copy and move on. At worst, they invoke anger or ridicule, particularly if you make a dumb mistake, like their versus there, or spell the would-be customer's company name wrong.

To feel confident you're actually sending a compelling message to your contacts, and to ensure that message is error free, get to know the basics of copywriting. Here are five essential skills you should be incorporating into your sales emails:

1. Write for lazy people.

Has a coworker or client ever asked a question you just answered explicitly in an email? The sad truth is that the majority of people don't read carefully (or slowly) enough to properly absorb the information. So when you're trying to get a stranger's attention with a sales email, you need to make your points as quickly and clearly as possible. 

The trick is to write with lazy readers in mind. Avoid walls of text and complicated or unusual words. Stick to one or two ideas, tops, in any given email. Trying to explain each and every benefit in the span of five lines will only confuse the reader. Nor do you want to dive into any technical specifics that are complicated--save those for the phone conversation. 

Remember: short, simple, and smart are the elements you want to dominate your emails.

2. Don't use jargon.

Especially in business-to-business settings, people tend to think jargon makes them sound smart or knowledgeable. It doesn't. The kinds of words some marketing department thought up to sound cool are usually overused and do a terrible job of describing a product, service, action, or even feeling. You're not actually "thinking outside the box" if those are the words you use to describe creativity. Why promise a "blue ocean opportunity" when you can just say, "Your competitors don't know about this yet"?

Look for these kinds of words and phrases when you proofread your emails, and take the time to replace them. Think about what you are actually trying to say. Sometimes the simplest, most literal phrasing is the most effective.

Cliches are jargon's lazy cousin. Unless there is absolutely no other way to say it, avoid these as well.

3. Use active statements.

This is one of the foundational blocks of good writing. Active voice has multiple benefits: it's easier to understand, it usually requires fewer words, and it makes a message stronger and more exciting. Compare "Over 10,000 customers have been helped from our service" to "We have helped over 10,000 customers".

In a sales email, passive voice makes you sound weak and unconvincing, which won't help you build trust with a potential customer. There's a time and place for passive voice in writing, but you'll pretty much never encounter it while doing sales emails, so it's best to follow the rule of avoiding it altogether.

4. Proofread everything.

Always, always, always make time to proofread. This includes not just spelling and grammar, but also checking company names (e.g., "SalesFolk" not "Salesfolk") and ensuring the copy is clean and free of things like typos or extra spaces.

This is one of the easiest steps in the entire cold email process, and it's often the one people forget to do. But carelessness is not the image you want to convey to your potential customers, so proofread to avoid lines like, "Let's chat grab a coffee" or "Micrasoft is one of their VIP customers". Pro tip: change the font of your email when proofreading to catch more mistakes.

5. Read the message out loud before sending.

It's often easier to hear a mistake rather than to read one, which is why reading out loud is such an effective self-editing tactic. Not only will you be able to catch errors of all varieties, you'll also be able to asses the tone of your email. For example, if you sound stiff and formal when you're reading it to yourself, it will come off that way to the potential customer to. Revise the text and read it out loud again.

I should add that this isn't just a practice tip for those who are new to the sales world and sales emails. I know people who are 20-plus years into their career who still take the time to read their messages out loud before sending. Like proofreading, this is one of the copywriting skills that never expires.

Published on: Jan 31, 2018
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