Sadly, most of your emails don’t live longer than a few minutes. Hitting the send button consigns most of them to instant oblivion. Many of the rest are identified as spam by the other person’s server and immediately destroyed.
Others, lucky enough to sneak past the spam protectors, are buried in a junk file never to arise again.
All of which represents a massive waste of time and effort if you’re trying to drum up business.
What do you do?
First, recognise that writing emails or any other form of marketing communication is a highly skilled job. Ideally, you should appoint an experienced agency that specializes in direct marketing. Ask them for samples of their work and, most importantly, for the results of their campaigns. Check their references and, if they’re all equally competent, choose the one where you can develop the best personal relationships.
What if you have to do your own emails?
If budget or time precludes you from hiring experts, here are some tips that will make sure your business emails will live longer than most:
- It all starts with a database. If you’re aiming at independent professionals like architects, doctors, accountants and so on, first check their professional associations. Most of them publish membership lists which should be reasonably up to date. You may have to pay for access.
- For other prospects, if you don’t have your own database consult the leading list brokers in your market. (In the USA, check the Top Ten Reviews Best List Brokers Survey. In the UK, Databrokers offer an impartial list advice and brokering service. Similar firms are found in most other countries.)
- Make sure the list you’ve bought has been de-duplicated by the supplier or buy a simple software package that will do it for you. The list must also have been recently cleaned – all incomplete or incorrect addresses removed.
- Next is your timing. If you’re approaching accountants, for example, end of the month is probably not a good time. An especially bad time is during tax filing periods when they’ll be consumed with work for their clients. Make sure your prospects are not likely to be on vacation, attending trade shows or stuck in snow drifts!
When composing your email, your first challenge is to find a compelling subject line. Experience shows these are the four most effective appeals across most markets in descending order of impact: self-interest of the recipient, newsworthiness, scarcity (urgency) and curiosity. Ideally, your line should not exceed 65 characters in length. Here’s an example: ‘Available now. New income opportunity for chartered accountants.’
- This subject appeals to self-interest, is newsworthy and conveys a sense of urgency and it’s just one character more than the ideal.
- Remember that anti-spam measures will usually identify words linked to an obvious commercial proposition. So avoid free, 15% off, discount(s), special offer and similar words and phrases in the subject line.
Now for the sales pitch
Researchers have spent millions of dollars testing different email approaches and how recipients respond to them. Here are some of the most important rules:
- Forget how you learned to write at school, university or business school. Your aim is to create a sense of closeness between you and your prospect. Your tone should be warm and professional – as though you already have a good relationship.
- Don’t begin your email with Dear Sir or Madam. It’s not only old fashioned, it’s also cold, distant and too formal. If you don’t know their gender, play it safe with Greetings or Good day P. B Hammill…
- Write in the second person using active voice. Example: Our experts will open up a new world of low risk, high return investments for you.
- Write in simple, clear language. Vary the length of your sentences, just as we’ve done in this article. Long words and long sentences slow down the reader and increase the risk of them losing interest.
- Remember the unbreakable rule of business communication: the customer’s time is always at least twice as valuable as yours. So get to your point without too much waffle or preamble. Don’t bury important benefits in the final paragraphs.
- Having drafted your email, read it through carefully. Remove needless repetition and any words – especially adverbs – that don’t add meaning. Cut out the jargon, geek speak and anything else that puts distance between you and your reader.
- Now, count the words. Maximum response is generated by mails in the 50-125 word range. Of course, it depends on your offer. If you’re selling a $100,000 Jaguar for $500, you probably don’t need more than a dozen words. For everything else, stick to the numbers.
Once you’ve sent your emails, what then?
Hopefully, your email programme fits into your overall marketing plan. So you’ll have a strategy for following up, sending samples, arranging presentations and so on. If not, you’ll have to spend some time working one out.
And that’s a subject for another time.
If you can’t run a real time comparison of different cold-calling emails, you can at least arrange what’s sometimes called a *dipstick test. Here’s how it works.
- Create three different prospecting emails you want to compare. Make sure they’re significantly different: use a new subject line each time and vary the word count in your main body. The offer, if there is one, should be the same.
- Arrange for a group of trusted colleagues – 8-10 is enough – including some senior to you, to help.
- Tell them you’re sending three emails over the course of the next five days, ideally Monday, Wednesday and Friday at start of business.
- Before you send the first mail, give them each a simple scorecard and ask them to give marks out of then for each email based on:
- Appeal of subject line
- Ease of reading
- Level of persuasion
- Clarity of the message
- How likely they would be respond if they were a potential customer
- Overall impression
- Convenience of time and day received
Provide a space for them to record any advice or comments.
The results are of course only a guide. But if your panel of colleagues have taken the exercise seriously, you should have some useful feedback.
* A dipstick test in market research is a quick and easy way to gather small amounts of information, usually to help in structuring a bigger study.