How to Write Sales Emails That Work

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Imagine yourself in a prospect’s office. You’re giving your pitch, trying to intrigue the prospect into learning more about you and your company. You’ve tried to build some rapport, presented compelling information, and turned it over to the prospect to respond. The only problem? The prospect isn’t even in their office. You’ve been pitching to an empty room.

While a bit absurd to imagine, this is precisely what happens when sending sales emails. You may not be standing in an empty room by yourself, but the result is just the same. According to a recent HubSpot report, on average only 37% of sales emails get opened. While some industries fare slightly better (arts & entertainment at 44%), many industries fare even worse, with marketing & advertising sales emails being opened just 25% of the time. The report was based on data from over 25,000,000 sales emails that were sent to individuals, not to a list, segmented into 28 industries.

This data may be disappointing at surface level, but don’t let it lead to the conclusion that selling through email isn’t a viable option. In fact, it can be one of the most efficient and effective ways to begin the sales process if you do it right. Fortunately, there’s data for that as well. So how do you write sales emails that work? Let’s start at the top – the subject line.

Subject Line

The subject line is your prospect’s first impression of you and whatever you’re trying to sell. Needless to say, it’s a critical piece of the puzzle when writing effective sales emails.

  • Keep it short. ContactMonkey analyzed over 30,000,000 emails sent, and the ones that performed best had subject lines of 3 or fewer words. Do you need to keep it that short? Not necessarily. But you should keep it as short as you can while still getting across your message.
  • Personalize it. You can use the prospect’s name, their company’s name, or reference a recent piece of news about their company. Your goal is to make them understand they’re receiving a personalized email, not a mass marketing email.
  • Reply to your own email. Selling through email is not a one-and-done endeavor (more on that later). When sending follow up emails to your initial email, you should reply to your own email instead of starting anew with a different subject line. The reason? It adds “RE:” to the subject line, and the prospect then knows your email is referencing previous dialogue. Per the same ContactMonkey data above, the top 5 performing emails all had “RE:” in the subject line. That’s not to say you should just add “RE:” to your initial email. Sales is about trust after all, and adding that just to get an open is a good way to burn that trust.

Early in my career I managed a sales team of around 20 people, and I would encourage the team to use the same subject line – “Hey [Name] – Connection?” – because it worked well for pretty much everyone. That’s not to say it will work for you, but it was successful for our team and is a great example of a short, personal, and intriguing subject. Try different subject lines and stick with what gets you the best open rate.

Content

According to a recent report from MovableInk, 66% of all email in the U.S. is now opened and read on mobile devices. For this reason, you need to keep your content short and to the point. You can use a structure I like to call Intro, Pitch, Propose.

  • Intro. Start your email with who you are and why you’re reaching out. This should be a single sentence. When your prospect sees your email on their mobile device, they will see your subject line and the first line or two of your email before opening it, and that’s likely going to determine whether they open to learn more or swipe right to archive it, never giving you the time of day. Don’t waste this space with something irrelevant to them.
  • Pitch. This should be a compelling line or two on why it’s worth their time to connect with you. Flattery has always been and always will be one of the best icebreakers in any relationship, and sales is no different. Reference some recent news about their company, a recent study that’s relevant to their industry, or anything that will let them know you’ve done your homework.
  • Propose. Leaving your email open-ended is the quickest way to getting it archived. This is unintentionally telling the prospect that they have to put in the work to move the conversation forward. Instead, propose a specific follow up action to your email. This could be a phone call, an in-person meeting, or a demo. Whatever it is in your case, propose specific times (preferably just 2) that work for you, so all the prospect has to do is decide between those times or tell you neither of them work.

You should also make sure you’re never using copy that will attract the attention of a spam filter. This is the surest way to have your email never get read. Thankfully, Sales-i has compiled a handy list of 118 phrases to avoid so you don’t end up in the spam folder. I also recommend using a service like SendGrid to give your emails the best chance of reaching the inbox.

When to Send

This is perhaps the most often debated topic of sales emails. Like many things in sales, it’s best to simply do what works best for you. Data is a signal, not the entirety of the answer. But let’s look at what those signals do say, according to Experian.

  • Day. Emails sent on Saturdays and Sundays have the highest open rates of all days of the week. Of emails sent during the workweek, Tuesdays have the highest open rate.
  • Time. Emails sent between 8pm and midnight have the highest open rate. Of emails sent during regular work hours (8am to 5pm for purposes of this post), those sent after 4pm have the highest open rate, followed by emails sent between 12pm and 4pm.
  • Follow up. According to HubSpot, emails that are sent in “sequences” (a series of follow ups), have an 11% increase in open rate. This goes back to the same logic above of replying to your own email to let the prospect know you’re referencing existing dialogue. The vast majority of emails are opened within the first 2 days of sending, which means you should schedule your follow ups 2-3 days apart to stay top of mind with the prospect.

All of the above points to a common theme – people are busy. This should shape your email sales strategy first and foremost. You want to keep things short and to the point to keep their attention. You want to send in off-hours and on non-traditional days to catch people when they’re less busy. You want the email to be actionable, and you want to make it easy to reply. You want to follow up diligently. In building multiple startup sales teams over the past several years, I’ve found our highest open rates often aren’t until the 6th or 7th email.

And perhaps the most important thing to do? Experiment.

Have fun with it. Selling through email is part science and part art. What works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. Test your subject lines. Test your content. Test your follow ups. If you pay enough attention to the data, you can begin to see patterns of what works best for you. Keep what works and improve what doesn’t.

A final piece of advice – email is a great opener for a sales conversation, but it shouldn’t be the entire sales process. A single phone call can accomplish the same dialogue of multiple back and forth emails that may take weeks to get through. Use email to open the conversation, but move to the phone as soon as the prospect opens the door for that. You will save yourself and the prospect a lot of time by doing so, and then you can begin to build a true rapport.  

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