I cringe every time a sales professional asks me that question. I’d be perfectly fine if their question was directed at the structure of the email that they compose but they are asking me for a “plug and play” email: No such email exists. I frequently ask the sales professional to send me an example of what they’ve been sending out and I get a version of the below email:
I am writing to schedule a meeting with you. My name is Tom Callinan and my firm works with several other law firms in Philadelphia like Smith Jones and Braddock, Dewey and Pope, just to name a couple. We partner with them to reduce the costs associated with the production and management of case related documents, decrease non-billable hours, and to optimize their legal staff so they can handle more cases by using internal business technology more effectively.
All case related documents can be scanned, stored, retrieved, and utilized by being archived correctly, which will allow McCarty and Dembo to spend less and handle more cases resulting in more revenue for your firm.
I wanted to schedule a meeting with you because I knew you would want to know how other law firms are accomplishing these goals. Would Tuesday at 10:00 AM work for you?
You may reply yes to this email or use my contact information below.
My first reaction is, “Are you kidding me?” Once the recipient of this email sees the length and that it isn’t from somebody they know, their mouse pointer is over the delete symbol. After the opening sentence I can give you a 99% assurance that your message is deleted. By the third sentence you’re down to 1 in 3,000 still reading, on a good day. Your email screams that you have no understanding of how people manage their email, despite the fact that you do it yourself. So you can add a complete lack of empathy to your numerous other mistakes in sending out a message like the above. It says loud and clear, “I am a sales person and you should see me.”
For the uninitiated, you can point to the fact that you did a little research and added a couple of other law firms to the content of the email. The problem here is that the reference points are so buried in a “sales-y” communication that they don’t matter: The recipient has “tuned out” the message. But spending some time on research is exactly what you need to do before you try to communicate with any prospect.
It amazes me how people separate prospecting from the rest of their life. What is the first thing you do when you want to develop some type of a relationship with another person? You start a conversation, correct? Have you ever met somebody in a social setting that from the word “go” dumped his or her life on you? Bet you couldn’t wait to find an exit from that conversation! Yet in sales it seems like many of us want to dump on prospects; it’s like the entire industry has gone to the same horrible training program.
What’s the first thing you look at when you receive an email in your inbox? The name of the person sending the email, correct? The next thing you look at is the subject and you have two different perspectives there: If you know the person sending the email you might look at the subject to determine the urgency of the message or simply to give you an idea of the content, whereas if you don’t know the person sending the email you are looking to determine if you even want/need to read it. Therefore, the first critical decision point in an email is the subject line. If your subject line screams “I’m a sales person” your communication will be deleted before the recipient’s eyes make it to the preview screen. If your subject line grabs the recipient’s attention they’ll move to the first sentence.
The first sentence now becomes the decision point for deletion or continuing to read your message. If you start with, “I am writing to schedule a meeting with you,” you’ve wasted your first sentence due to the fact that the recipient doesn’t know you so now they are laser focused on the next sentence to determine if you are friend or foe. I also cannot imagine what subject line you’d have that would “give you permission” to ask for an appointment with your very first sentence of dialog with this person. In your social life—other than if you were paying for an appointment with a professional—would your opening suggestion be “we have to get together” or would you first try to build a connection? You also don’t need to waste the first sentence on introducing yourself since they already know your name from your e-mail address.
Your first sentence should be a benefit statement, followed by a transition to an appointment, and then asking for the appointment: That’s it, three sentences, four at the very most. Be logical; be empathetic; think it through: Would you read more than three or four sentences from somebody you didn’t know who was trying to get on your calendar? Fat chance.
And please stop telling people you are going to reduce their expense, cut their price, or increase their revenue. In the previous email example do you really think McCarty and Dembo are turning cases down because they don’t have a solid content management system in place? When you’re watching TV, reading a newspaper, or driving down the highway and noticing the billboards did it ever strike you that almost everybody is telling you that they can save you money? Do you think this message has any effect on today’s buyer? Is that the most significant benefit you can come up with for somebody to do business with you? I’d ban my sales force from ever talking about reducing expenses and force them to think of some true benefits of doing business with my company. If they want to reference increased productivity I’d ensure they could first define what that means.
What might an email look like?
Subject: Smith Jones IT support
I was able free up 20 hours of IT support time for Bob Bingham at Smith Jones. In 40 minutes I can provide you an executive overview on how this was accomplished. What does your calendar look like over the next two weeks?
I used a specific reference with the person’s name I dealt with and that adds credibility to using the firm’s name: It allows a connection and makes the sentence more personal to the recipient. I then transitioned with a quick description of what I was asking for but with a level of ambiguity that almost begs for a follow-up question. I then show an understanding of how busy middle managers and executives manage their calendar by providing guidelines on a time without asking for specific times.
What am I trying to accomplish? The same goal I would have in my personal life: I am trying to start a conversation. Clearly I want an appointment, and even a sale, but I first need to start a conversation that gains me the appointment. So if the recipient replies, “I have multiple projects going on and don’t have any time to get together with you at this point,” I get pumped. I’ve started a conversation with the person! If I don’t get a reply I send another email a few days later with a completely different, yet personalized to the situation, subject and benefit statement.
I believe e-mail and text messages are the primary contact method today, and far above phone calls in effectiveness when trying to reach somebody you don’t know. I make that statement using my own experience as a middle manager, executive, business owner, and a person that has to develop business for my practice. Most of my days are and have been spent in meetings, on conference calls, or with somebody in my office. Unless I needed to speak to you—and everybody’s phone today has caller ID—or you caught me at an odd moment, your message is going into my voice mail. I spend all day trying to avoid sales people and you believe I am going to actually call you back? I only leave voice mail for people I know.
Take a few minutes to do some research before you ever send out that first email to a prospect. Personalize the email while communicating with the prospect the same way you would communicate in your personal life. Try to get the conversation going then move to the appointment. And stop sending out template emails that a decision maker gets multiple times a day from some lazy sales person who didn’t take the time to conduct some research or to structure an email that would be read. Then, reap the benefits of being different from all of your competitors.