If you Google ‘email prospecting tips’, this is the sum total of the advice you get from the first page of Google:

Be timely
Be personal
Test test test
Be persistent
Personalise it
Don’t be pushy
Break the rules
Give them value
Include your name
Don’t sound salesy
Ask them a question
Avoid using rich HTML
Be current and relevant
Keep it simple and short
Don’t talk about yourself
Research before emailing
Speak the prospect’s language
Ask for the thing that you want
Use a clear and purposeful subject line
Have only one question and call to action
Initiate a conversation based on something they just did
Tell the prospect why you’re contacting them and doing so right now

I don’t think it’s too presumptuous to say that anybody looking for real insight is going to be disappointed by this list. The advice is either blindingly obvious – include your name – or contradictory – don’t talk about yourself vs tell the prospect why you’re contacting them – or not falsifiable: were you seriously thinking of writing a rubbish subject line followed by a de-personalised, 3,000-word email on an irrelevant topic?

Although if you were, that would be okay too; see tip no. 8, break the rules.

Here are a couple of truths about email prospecting:

  1. There’s no silver bullet.
    Every headline claims the article contains one, but this is just highbrow clickbait. If there was a silver bullet, its keeper would be very wealthy, but there isn’t and there never will be and the reason why is obvious: we’re marketing to fickle, difficult, capricious humans, with their problems and opinions and mood swings. We’re not querying a database.
  2. The single most important rule is to ignore most of the rules.
    Not so you can declare yourself a marketing revolutionary, use the intern as a small horse and start charging round the office declaring the imposition of martial law through a loudhailer, but because if you only go by advice you’ve cobbled together from the internet then you’re just moving with the shoal. Your ‘alternative’ approach won’t be very alternative for long.

Here’s an example:

Marketo – Hey Salespeople – welcome to meme selling 101!

Steve Crepeau – Are Your Sales Reps Not Challenging or Disrupting?

tl;dr: Highly respected marketing organisation suggests a particular style of email and claims a 25% response rate. Hugely experienced enterprise sales expert and all his friends think the idea is variously ‘disturbing’, ‘cliché, unprofessional and rude’, and say that it makes them ‘sad’.

(Also note that Steve Crepeau’s article was written three months before Marketo published that advice.)

This isn’t a criticism of Marketo – I believe their 25% response rate. The problem is that so much of this advice is posited as the only advice you’ll need, rather than ‘this worked for us so it might work for you but, caveat emptor, it might be a complete flop.’

We all know that confident, over-promisey headlines equal clicks and clicks equal success (‘success’). The less obvious byproduct of that is that anybody in search of some decent advice finds opinions-in-need-of-a-caveat confidently being presented to them as facts.

This is a nightmare for (in this example) the salesperson in need of a quick solution. (As an aside, it also creates a world in which the only thing you can reliably use the internet for is solving arguments about the world’s tallest building or fattest dog, i.e. actual facts.)

So the point is this: you need to be original and creative within boundaries, and the vast majority of online advice is only telling you about those same boundaries: include your name, tell them what you want, keep your email short because people are busy.

People are busy! This is brand new information!

Be Original and Creative

Of course this is one of the hardest things to do in the world. But if you have someone in your organisation who claims they can write, use them. This is not a sales task; this is a content task. Your outbound emails, voicemails, phone calls – that’s all content, and it needs to be extremely useful to the recipient in order to cut through the deafening amount of noise.

So try this:

Write (or get this magical person you’ve found to write) the simplest but also most accurate and interesting version of your value proposition. Make that the middle paragraph of your email.

As an example, here’s a terrible version of ours:

We mine the internet for unstructured data and run that through a random forest algorithm to map that data back to the buyer who first put it online, thus turning it into a signal of intent or buying signal. You send us your historical interaction data so we can map the yesses and nos to the signals they were emitting at the time and use those signals to search for similar signals being emitted by similar companies online right now, and give you access to their contact details. Then we use machine learning to improve over time the accuracy of the prospects our model finds for you.

And here’s a better version (‘perfect’ version still tbc):

We’re helping businesses who target large numbers of other small and medium-size businesses reduce the time they spend contacting prospects who don’t convert. We do this by recording the digital footprints of every buyer in the economy and fusing them with your historical CRM data to identify the ones most likely to convert right now.

Both of these are 100% true, but one of them is a disaster and one of them is not.

Next, write an original opening sentence that it is some way personal to them, makes sense and isn’t weird. Don’t agonise over it too much – nobody is going to read it that closely. If your second paragraph catches their eye, they’re not going to discard your whole email because they didn’t feel compelled to print off your opening sentence and stick it on their fridge.

Then do the same for the final paragraph in which you obviously ask for whatever it is you want – presumably a phone call.

Hi Catherine,

Given your role as CMO at [bleh company], I’ll keep this short but useful.
This doesn’t matter that much. Just make sure it makes sense, has no typos and isn’t weird.

[Insert your amazing but simple value proposition]

There’s more to it than that but it’s much easier to explain over the phone. If what I’ve said sounds interesting, how about a brief call over the next couple of days?
Again this bit isn’t that important – just try to sound like a normal human.

All the best, me, the greatest emailer in the world.

Good luck everyone and may your response rates be merry.