If you’re like most executives you probably receive dozens of sales emails every week. The chances are that you don’t even open most of them, you skim those that you do open and you act on very few, if any.
The question most sales and marketing teams ask is “what kind of results are we getting?” But there’s an even more important question. If you get a 2% response (which is pretty good for a B2B email campaign) what impression are you leaving with the 98% of people that don’t respond? Are you positively influencing the people who read but don’t respond – or are you putting them off? After all, if you emailed them now they will still presumably be a potential customer next month.
If you’re like most sales and marketing people you probably love your product or service, you’re totally focused on its wonderful benefits and you can’t wait to share information about new features, new contracts, the awards you’ve won, which Gartner quadrant you’re in and your customer success stories.
Here’s the problem. Nobody cares.
Nobody cares because they’re all too busy focusing on their own products, services, customers, contracts and awards, their employees, their superiors, their wives and families and their personal issues. So how do you cut through all of that?
It isn’t easy to stand out amongst all the noise, it’s even harder to do it without coming across as just another annoying sales/marketing person. But it is possible. This article covers the principles of an effective B2B email – with a real life example at the end. And many of the principles apply to blogs and other written communications.
Know your audience
Who are you trying to reach? Who needs what you’re selling? If you blast out an email to 50,000 people aiming to get 2,500 of them to read it and 10% of those to take action, that’s 47,500 people you’ve potentially annoyed.
So you need to focus on people who have a genuine need for your product or service – which means companies with the right profile and people in those companies who have responsibility for the problems you can solve.
So ask yourself which companies are you going to target (size, industry, geography and so on) and which people in those companies (CEO, CFO, CMO, CIO, etc.) are you trying to reach?
Know what you’re trying to achieve
This may sound obvious, but based on the garbage I get most people don’t think about it. You should have at least one specific objective. And you need to tell the reader what it is. For example, my objectives for this article are:
- To help sales and marketing people in companies that sell B2B to write more effective emails
- To build credibility as a sales expert by giving you something useful and valuable
- To get you to call or email me if you need my help to sell more
Get them to open the email
If your subject line doesn’t attract them they won’t open the email. The subject line of an email is the equivalent of a headline in an advertisement or a newspaper – it generates interest and tells people what the content is about.
People use all kinds of subject lines; ones designed to generate curiosity, ones that use your first name, clever ones, cute ones – and IMHO they’re counterproductive for two reasons. One, because people are used to them and they don’t work and two, because if they feel they’ve been tricked into opening an email they will be negatively disposed towards you.
A good subject line should help the reader decide if the email is interesting and relevant to them. The best approach is also the simplest – be honest and tell people what it’s about and what you can do for them. If they are interested in the result they’ll open it. If they aren’t, they won’t.
For example the headline for this article is “How to write a B2B email that works”. If you’ve chosen to read this far there’s a pretty good chance that you’re interested in the topic. If you aren’t interested you won’t be reading this sentence.
Make it about them
If you know which companies and which people you’ve targeted you should know something about them – what their issues are, what they care about. So talk about them, not yourself, because that’s who they’re interested in – themselves.
They may eventually be interested in you – but only once they’ve decided that you can help them with something they care about.
Write like a human being
Technology is great. You can write a single email and, almost at the touch of a button, send it to 100,000 or more people.
But each one of those people reads it as an individual, not as a group. All communication is absorbed by one person at a time and interpreted from the perspective of the reader. Good communication should be person to person – so write as if you’re talking to a single individual and write as an individual. And use proper English, not business or corporate speak.
Use short, easy to understand words. Don’t use obscure words or unintelligible jargon. The objective isn’t to show how smart you are, it’s to communicate your idea in language the reader will understand and respond to. So speak in their language, not yours.
As short as possible, as long as necessary
I used to be a big fan of long copy advertising. Sadly in these days of 140 characters people have less and less time and shorter attention spans. So keep your emails as short as possible. But not too short.
I believe all written communications should be as short as possible, but as long as necessary to meet your objective (although I still tend to err on the long side).
Get to the point
- What’s in it for them – describe a problem you can help them with
- Enough about yourself to build credibility, but no more
- What to do – specifically
A well structured email should describe a problem (or opportunity) they are likely to have. The objective is to get them nodding, to think “yes, that’s a problem”.
Then it should tell them that you can help them and give them a taste (but just a taste) of how. You need to develop some credibility, but keep it short, no-one likes people who boast or puff themselves up
Then tell them exactly what you want them to do.
Example – analysis
In this real life example my goals are as follows;
Audience: CEOs, CMOs, Sales Directors and Sales Managers at companies that sell B2B, primarily but not entirely based in Australia.
Objective: To generate exploratory sales meetings with high level executives who are interested in selling more..
Subject line: Designed to attract people who a) are focused on increasing sales in 2015 and b) believe the current environment is tough.
Content: The first and second paragraph describe the problem. Anyone who sells B2B should be able to relate to and hopefully agree with at least some of the issues described.
The third paragraph builds credibility by naming some of my customers and the list describes things that they hopefully care about (remembering this is aimed at high level sales, marketing executives and CEOs)
The penultimate paragraph tells them what I want – to speak to them about how I can help them. The final paragraph tells them specifically what to expect – a call from me at a specific time and date. Of course, if I write that I have to follow up as promised so this is more relevant for a single email than a mass email, but then I never use them anyway.
The email is written in plain English and it looks at everything from the perspective of the reader. It is almost all about them first and only discusses results, not my product or service. Here it is;
Subject line: How to sell more (B2B) in the current tough environment
If you sell B2B you’re probably doing it tough – and 2015 is likely to be even tougher, especially in the current economic environment. Confidence is down, competition is fiercer, companies are cutting back and margins are being squeezed.
Prospects are increasingly busy. It’s getting harder to make appointments and find new customers while existing customers are looking for ways to make savings. Meanwhile you’re probably being asked to sell more with fewer resources.
That’s what my customers, companies like Oracle, Hothouse, Toyota and the Australian Turf Club tell me and why they ask me to help them:
- Schedule more sales meetings with more executives at a higher level.
- Improve Lead to Sales close ratios
- Sell more to existing customers
- Sell on value, not price
- Shorten sales cycles
- Spend less time chasing deals that will never close
- Sell at higher margins
- Fill their sales pipeline with high quality qualified sales opportunities
I’ve done a fair bit of research on your company and I have a couple of ideas that could potentially help you significantly increase your sales. I’d like to talk to you to discuss these and see if they make sense to you.
I’ll call you at <time> <date> to see when is a good time for us to discuss this.
Final round up
I hope you’ve found this article useful and interesting. If you’re interested in selling more effectively, if you want help writing emails for your company or yourself or if you have any questions please contact me at email@example.com.
And if you found this article useful or entertaining please check out my other posts in this blog and on https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/21548783 and/or share with your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook contacts.
Steve Hall is a sales consultant with 25 years experience in B2B sales. He has sold more than $100 million in his career and has owned three small B2C businesses with his wife Susan. He is a member of Sales Masterminds Australasia and regular contributor to BRW and LinkedIn Pulse.
To significantly increase your B2B sales with no risk contact Steve via LinkedIn