7 Secret Rules for Powerful Sales Emails

How to get a better response rate and better sales opportunities from your email-based selling and marketing.
2015/01/img_2060.jpgBy George James

Now that the combination of voice mail and call screening has made cold calling next to impossible, most companies are relying more heavily on email marketing (a.k.a. “selling by email”) to get new customers.

If you’re using email marketing (or even just writing emails to people you don’t already know), you’ll want to sign up for an hourlong free webinar that I’m giving on January 29 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

The last time I gave this webinar, attendees rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars, a score that the CMO of ExecuNet (the company hosting the webinar) characterized as “amazing.” I’ve added new material based on live testing I’ve done with companies who’ve had me hone their messages.

Meanwhile, here are seven of my best pointers for email marketing and selling. I call them secret rules because (based on reader messages that I critique in my free newsletter) very few companies know about them.

1. Less is always more.

Contrary to popular belief, providing unrequested information or pointers to such information is not adding value. Quite the contrary, unrequested information is an imposition on the recipient’s time and mental energy.

As I’ve explained in previous posts, marketing emails should be one to three sentences, with no fluff, biz-blab, jargon, or “for more information, see…” pointers. Remember: we live in a world of information overload; don’t make it worse for your potential customers.

2. Keep the subject short and meaningful.

Statistically, emails are most likely to be opened if the subject consists of one or two words. At three words, average open rates drop sharply and then incrementally as you add each additional word. To achieve the best open rates, a subject should be meaningful to the recipient.


Subject: Business opportunities in quality advertising resale perks.

Subject: Have you registered for the annual Grand Pooh-Bah networking convention?


Subject: Tampa Entrepreneurs (if both you and customer are located there.)

Subject: IBM’s Strategy (if IBM is the recipient’s chief competitor.)

Subject: John Colleague (if that’s the name of somebody who referred you to the recipient and would be known to the recipient.)

3. Front-load the first sentence.

In many cases, all that the recipient sees in addition to the subject is the first part of the first sentence in the body of the email. Don’t waste that valuable space with fake concern or platitudes. Instead, have a first sentence that means something to the recipient.


“I hope you are well and enjoying the good weather.”

“In today’s busy working world everyone is looking to increase profits.”


“Joe Colleague suggested I contact you about…” (if you don’t use the referral source in the subject line)

“Since you’ve just merged with ZYX corp, you’re probably wondering…” (if your product is something that’s particularly useful after a merger has taken place.)

“Our analysis of IBM strategy for 2015 says that their product line…”

4. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Since it’s pretty easy to grab personal names and company names out of name/address files, email marketers often pepper them throughout the text of the email.

This is supposed to make it seem as if your email is personal, but the actual effect is the exact opposite. It flags the email as delete-bait SPAM.

Only use a recipient’s name in the salutation at the beginning of the email and don’t use the company name at all. Because, guess what? Recipients already know who they work for.


“I’m sure that you, Joe, want the best value for your money at XYZ Corp. and, Joe, that’s important to me, too.”


“Joe, I may have some special insight into the problem…”

5. Persistence pays off.

Rather than a single email, send a series of subsequent emails, each spaced a few days after the previous email. Append the original email to the subsequent emails like so:

Subject: Re: Tampa Entrepreneurs
“Joe, did you get a chance to think about this?”
Subject: Tampa Entrepreneurs
“Joe, I’ve got new demographics about Tampa startups…”

You’ll be surprised how many recipients will respond to follow-ons. Often the response rate is much higher than the response rate to the original email.

6. Only one call-to-action.

Giving a recipient more than one call-to-action reduces rather than increases your response rate.

First, it comes off like you’re desperate. Second, by giving the recipient choices, you’re forcing the recipient to think about how to respond rather than simply responding.


“Please call me at 555-1212 to set up an appointment or you can email me at salesguy@salesguymailplace.com. Check out our website http://www.salesguymailplaice.com and read our white paper…”

7. Make it easy to respond.

Most marketing emails have calls-to-action that are WAY too ambitious. Most of the time the marketing email requests a call back or a meeting, either in person or on the telephone.

Here’s the thing: unless your email was written by Obi-Wan Kenobi, using his Jedi mind tricks, you’re probably not going to convince the recipient to put aside a half-hour to hear your sales pitch.

Rather than asking for a time commitment, for the easiest response possible: a simple reply to your email that creates the beginning of an email conversation.


“If this intrigues you, I can explain further.”

“Are you the right person to talk with about this? If not, who is?”

Then, after you’re in a back-and-forth conversation, bring up the idea of a meeting to discuss the opportunity further.

About George

Geoffrey James is a contributing editor at Inc.com, where he writes the award-winning Sales Source blog. A former system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside Fortune 500 companies, he’s authored numerous books and articles and has spoken at events hosted by Dell, Gartner, and Wired. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. To get your sales message critiqued for free, subscribe to his free weekly Sales Source newsletter.


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