Back in the 1978, a salesman named Gary Thuerk decided to email 400 people on Arpanet, with the intent of inviting them to a launch of his company, DCE’s new product launch. Here it is:
And with that, the first sales email was sent. In fact, the first sales email ever sent was technically also the first SPAM email ever sent, since it was a mass email sent to 400 people who didn’t opt into mass communication.
I’ve written about how what makes the perfect pitch email, but I want to talk more about the way we think about prospecting. Today I’m going to go through some of the lessons I’ve learned, and how me and my entire prospecting team average a double digit reply rate when prospecting. These are just some of the lessons.
Photographic proof of my 50% reply rate during a rainy day in April 2017. These numbers our from my LeadIQ’s SalesLoft account.
Lesson #1: Be yourself when you prospect.
Back when I first graduated from UNH and started working at Dyn, I was terrible at prospecting. I was reaching out to one of the hardest groups of people to prospect; Network Engineers.
These are people who choose to hide from people, living in datacenters, server rooms, and network operations centers…and the last thing they wanted to do was talk to a sales person. Most of them are extreme introverts, and naturally skeptical of strangers reaching out to them.
We had recently launched an enterprise DNS network, and I was trying to figure out how to get these people to check out our product.
Dyn had a healthy ecosystem of customers paying $15/year for DNS services, but the new enterprise packaging started at $200/month, a pretty significant jump.
In my first month, I really struggled to bring in qualified sales opportunities. Between cold calling, and emailing, it looked like things weren’t going to work out at Dyn. I loved working there, loved my managers, and I believed in the company’s mission. I also interned there during my senior year, making marketing content, and was so thrilled they hired me.
I spent my first month sending what the existing sales guys were sending…it actually looked something like this:
About a month into the job, Kyle York, then the Director of Sales at Dyn, now the Chief Strategy Officer at Dyn/Oracle, sat me down for a talk.
I remember thinking I was going to get fired. But Kyle, being the great manager that he was said something that really opened up my eyes.
“Ryan, I hired you to be Ryan. I need you to be Ryan with prospects. Be yourself. I didn’t hire you to be the other sales reps. I hired you to be Ryan.”
I realized the biggest advantage I had prospecting was my personality. Sure I could work hard, and I knew the technology, but for a guy who wanted to be a marketing guy after graduating, this was my chance to get creative.
This one meeting changed everything for me.
I started thinking about how I could execute marketing tactics, one account at a time. I started talking like I would if I ran into these people at a party. And it paid great dividends.
Prospect like your friend was going to see everything you do, and you’ll be blown away with the increase in replies. You’ll see my personality in other examples.
Lesson #2: Make your outreach mostly about your prospect.
Earlier I showed you the emails I was sending out when I first joined Dyn. The problem with the email, besides the length, tone, lack of personality, content, and design actually stems from one huge flaw: it’s a selfish email. When I send that email, this is actually what a prospect sees:
Good prospecting should be about your prospect, and solving the problems they have. Not about your product, your services and your features.
I mean look at it like this. If you list off all your features, and try to inform the prospect your product can do 100 different things, all it does is use up all your bullets for the actual formal sales call. Hook them in with one value prop,and keep info about your company down to one sentence.
The You/ME ratio should be 90/10. Make 90% of your email about your prospect, and 10% about your company, and what you want them to do with this email, and you’ll see reply rates increase.
This email may look like an ordinary sales email, but it’s way too selfish.
After Kyle’s talk with me, I went back to old accounts I prospected, and started trying to infuse some personality in the emails I wrote. Here’s an example of an email I wrote to Dave Morin, CEO of Path:
I attached this image:
This email isn’t perfect, but it does have a healthier YOU/ME ratio. If you put yourself in the shoes of your prospect, you’ll see this is what Dave saw in his inbox:
Of course, Dave, after ignoring my terrible sales emails for a month, finally wrote me back, and even referenced my joke in his email signature:
The moral of the story this story is simple: Make your emails about your prospects, and you’ll see an increase in reply rates.
Lesson #3: Talk like a human being.
This is an email I got a few weeks ago from a sales rep prospecting LeadIQ:
There are several things wrong with this email, but at the core the biggest flaw is actually how robotic it sounds. I thought I’d check the company’s Linkedin page to see how they communicate talking with customers, and it looks like their marketing team doesn’t have a clue either:
The fact is, if you want to get a response from a human you are prospecting, you need to sound like a human being when you cold call and email.
The average person changes jobs every 18 months.
This tells me that the average person doesn’t always care about their company as much as they do themselves. When you write prospecting emails, focus on their individual problems over the company problems first. Think of their feelings, goals, and problems.
Try and find a way to connect with them on an individual level, as oppose to bring up things about their company. Think of your prospecting as B2H, not B2B. Only fallback on talking about their company if they are a founder or if you can’t find individual info about the person.
Network Engineers bought Dyn’s DNS services because they hated getting paged in the middle of the night that the website was down. Companies care about money, but engineers cared about peace of mind.
VP of Sales and Directors of Sales Development buy LeadIQ because it makes their reps happy not having to do a ton of things to get a prospect’s info into Salesforce. People buy products and services because of their feelings, not because of their features.
For example, one of our BD guys, Jim Morris, was trying to prospect into a SalesLoft customer, and he noticed that the prospect wrote a blog post about Patent Trolls. It should be noted that Patent Trolls had nothing to do with the prospect’s company they worked for.
If you don’t know what Patent Trolls are, they go get patents of technology startups have invented, then sue the companies out of existing. This was Jim’s email:
Rather than spout off a bunch of things about the prospects company, and their generic PR Wire posts, Jim related with the prospect on a personal level. He got the reply, and even qualified them into an opportunity for us.
If you focus on connecting with a prospect on a human level, as opposed to a company, you’ll increase your chances for double digit reply rates.
Lesson #4: Start a relationship before you sell
One of the worst things I see from bad prospecting emails is looking to just book a call to buy a product or service. In the history of sales, I bet you someone being closed on one cold email has never happened. So why do we keep pitching our products on the first email?
The best prospectors focus on starting a relationship first vs. taking up someone’s time.
You can read about a few ways to connect with someone here.
I get called out for this on the internet all time, but I sincerely believe that a good relationship is more valuable than a paying customer, especially for prospecting.
Good relationships don’t bullshit you. Good relationships don’t leave you when something breaks in your product, or when services take too long. Good relationships never get marked as “Closed Cold” in an opportunity. People hate saying “no” to people they like.
And most importantly, good relationships can lead to referrals. Our BDR team at LeadIQ gets referrals all the time from people who haven’t closed yet because they respect and love their relationships with us.
Just write a cold email like you’re going to be swapping more than one email with the person.
Sounds simple enough, considering that the goal, but tons of you out there still send bad outreach like we’re never going to talk again.
I remember I once called a CTO from a midsize media company, and before the call I saw he blogged about iBeacons. Let’s call him JC to hide his name. iBeacons at the time were a new technology that allowed people to push things via bluetooth onto devices. We talked about iBeacons for about 10 minutes, then I just told JC what Dyn was doing. He ended up demoing with me and a rep for a few weeks, and decided it didn’t fit with his budget.
For the next few months however, every time I saw a cool article about iBeacons, I’d send it over to JC…and ask him questions about it.
I figured at some point he’d come back wanting our product when he got new budgets. Then something even better happened.
A few months later, I got back to my desk from lunch, and my phone was ringing. I picked it up, and right on my lap, the CTO of Viacom was calling my desk phone. I wasn’t even prospecting him. I was just a 22 year old kid living in my mom’s basement, just trying to figure things out.
It turns out that CTO was good friends with JC, and also was into iBeacons. The Viacom CTO told me that JC talked me up and said I was a really good guy that sincerely cares about my prospects, and they were on the hunt for a new DNS provider.
And that’s how we got a meeting with one of the largest media companies in the entire world.
Focusing on the relationship first will not only bring in more referrals, but also bring get your more replies and opportunities. People want to work with people they like, so focus on being friends first.
Lesson #5: Make your prospecting outreach entertaining
The last lesson I’m going to talk about today briefly is making your prospecting outreach entertaining. The future of sales is really going to focus on making a prospect enjoy being prospected. The easier way to do this is to make content that is legitimately entertaining to look at when you prospect.
This is an example of a prospect I emailed, trying to get them to take a meeting with branded.me about becoming one of our influencers.
Amber is really cool, but when I emailed her, I wanted to entertain her with me email.
I ended up using this video to make her laugh reading my email:
And sure enough, Amber responded:
Making your prospecting outreach more entertaining will increase your reply rates.
Why we all need to prospect better
As a buyer, I get hundreds of sales emails a day. I’m someone with some buying power at LeadIQ, however most attempts at prospecting me are poorly done.
There’s actually a bigger issue with sales reps doing bad outreach. Every bad sales emails someone sends is training your prospects to not look at prospecting emails. It’s making it harder for other reps to prospect those prospects.
If you do B2B software sales, enterprise sales, hell even if you do B2C sales, every sales rep is competing with you.
Most reps see these technology landscapes and get exciting to prospect these accounts. One thing to remember however, is each of these companies has at least 5-1000 reps also selling to your prospects.
Following these 5 lessons and it should help you increase your reply rates ten fold.
About the author:
Ryan O’Hara is VP of Growth and Marketing at LeadIQ. Ryan has been an early employee at several startups helping them with marketing and prospecting tactics. Most notably, he was the first prospector at Dyn, who was recently acquired by Oracle for more than $600 million dollars . He’s had prospecting campaigns features on The Next Web, Mashable, CNN Money, and Fortune.