“Outbound email” means reaching out systematically to people who fit your target customer profile using email.
You can be more effective if you follow these tips and guidelines.
Note on the overall approach
- Outbound lead generation is based on sending a succinct email with a clear call to action to someone who matches your target profile.
- Outbound sales is a well-established approach among B2B technology companies – it is used by 75% of US tech companies according to a Gartner survey on sales technology usage.
- That means there is lots of data to show what works in terms of email structure, content, length etc.
- Outbound emails are more like the ‘direct response’ ads you see in newspapers and magazines than typical marketing or web marketing copy.
- The language you use is usually shorter and more direct.
- It should also look like an email you would send to a work colleague or friend – not like a marketing email you are sending to thousands of recipients.
Be careful about who you target
- As a rule of thumb, we tell clients that about 60% of the success of outbound sales campaigns is based on the accuracy of who you target, 10% on your subject line and 30% on your messaging.
- So think carefully about who you will target. Have a clear idea of your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Your ICP is a summary of who you have been successfully selling to e.g. “Plant Operations Managers at Food Manufacturing firms with 100 to 200 employees”.
- A good Ideal Customer Profile is one that, if we had 10 people matching that profile in a room, you’d expect to have serious sales interest from at least 5 of them.
The subject line
- People will never get to hear about how great your product or service is if they don’t read your email in the first place.
- The subject line is what people use to decide whether to open your email or not.
- Some general rules for subject lines include:
- Length – keep it to 10 words or less
- Not too specific – do not try to summarize the content of the email in the subject line as that is likely to cause a percentage of recipients to think they can ignore it.
- Clear about purpose – recipients should not be surprised that you are seeking to make contact with them, so it’s best to signal that in the subject line
- Don’t “bait and switch” – do not suggest one offer in the subject line and then either ignore it or contradict it in your actual email copy.
- A/B test different subject lines – send one subject line to half a list, and an alternative subject line to the other half, and see which gets opened more often.
Think about the person receiving the email
- “Bad first date syndrome” is when you talk too much about yourself, and not about the person you are with.
- Well, that’s true for sales emails too. They won’t work if you talk too much about yourself or your company or product.
- When we open an email most of us are thinking “WIIFM” – “what’s in it for me”. You need to answer that as quickly as you can.
- The StoryBrand framework recommends that you make your customers “the hero of your story.”
- The framework recommends that you ask yourself
- What does the hero want?
- Who or what is preventing the hero from getting what they want?
- What will the hero’s life look like if he or she gets (or does not get) what they want?
- Now try to create a first draft email focused on your potential customer (“the hero”) addressing these points.
Time is a factor – keep it quick
- Because these messages are email based, time is a key factor.
- Recipients decide to read or delete a message within 3 to 6 seconds.
- And when they decide to read the message, time is still a factor – most recipients are looking for a quick reason to delete or ignore your message.
- This means you need to communicate “What in it for me?” (WIIFM) very quickly – ideally by the 1stor 2nd paragraph.
Ideal email length
- Industry studies suggest that shorter is almost always better than longer when it comes to emails.
- Marketing email vendor Campaign Monitor suggests the ideal length is between 50 and 150 words. Constant Contact found that it was about 200 words.
- We are not that prescriptive – longer emails can work, if the additional text provides valuable information.
- But as a rule of thumb, we try to stay at around the 200 word length or less.
Structure, sentence length and sentence complexity
- For business communications, especially outbound emails, simple short sentences work better.
- Simple short paragraphs work better too.
- Sentences and paragraphs should communicate a key concept, not multiple concepts.
- A study by Boomerang found that emails written at a “third-grade reading level” had the highest response rate.
- They performed 36% better than those written at a college reading level.
- This isn’t because recipients are stupid, but because shorter sentences are easier to scan, understand and respond to, no matter how smart you are.
- We recommend an average sentence length of 15 to 18 words.
- Complexity is when you have complex phrases separated by commas, or complex terminology that is unexplained. Avoid complexity in your emails.
- You should keep sentence structure as simple as you can.
- One of the simplest ways is to break long, complicated sentences into shorter, simpler ones.
Use of ‘You’ and ‘Your’
- We recommend that you use the words ‘you’ and ‘yours’ in the first sentence and frequently throughout the email.
- This is because it creates greater engagement with the recipient.
- It also helps you avoid writing sentences that are too abstract or disconnected from the recipient’s needs.
Getting to the point
- Put the important stuff up front. Whatever people see or read first, they will assume that is your primary focus.
- Put the most important facts, information and observations at the start. Try to order this by what is likely to be important to the recipient.
- Readers should understand what you are trying to communicate to them and ask of them within 2 paragraphs. If they are confused, they will not respond.
- Emails should explain “What’s in it for me?” really quickly. Make it clear why should they respond, and how will they benefit.
- Your message should persuade the recipient;
- that they have a need that is worth addressing
- that is is worth addressing now and
- that you can address it.
- The first part is important – people may be aware something is a problem, but they may not think it’s a big enough problem to actually do something about it.
- You need to overcome that inertia.
- Use the Need-Outcome-Solution-Evidence (NOSE) structure to persuade them.
- NOSE means:
- briefly describing their need and why it’s a big deal,
- explaining the outcome if that need could resolved,
- describe what your solution looks like, and
- provide evidence you can deliver.
Call to action
- You need to make it clear what you want the recipient to do in response to your email – this should be crystal clear.
- If you want to have a phone call with them, say so, explaining how they will benefit.
- Make the call to action “low commitment” – something that is easy to say yes to.
- So instead of asking if they are free for a physical meeting or hour long phone call, ask instead if they are free for 5-minute web call.
- Do not have more than one call-to-action in any email.
- For example, don’t ask for a phone call and then also ask that they download a brochure.
- Every additional call to action dilutes the overall impact through confusion (“what do they want me to do?”) and reduces the response rate.
Active / Passive voice
- Passive voice is where you say, “a solution was delivered”. Active voice is where you say, “we delivered the solution”.
- For email, Active voice is always better.
The Tom Sant Checklist
As a final piece of advice, we have adapted a checklist from Dr Tom Sant’s “Persuasive Business Proposals” that we think is useful
- Have I accurately identified my audience?
- Do I understand what they need?
- Do I know what their likely decision criteria will be?
- Have I used the words ‘you’ and ‘yours’ at the start and frequently throughout the email?
- Have I kept my email short?
- Have I avoided cliches and jargon?
- Have I used active voice?
- Have I expressed myself clearly?
- Are my sentences short and simple?
- Have I eliminated jargon?
- Have I eliminated unnecessary detail?
- Do I have a clear call to action?
Written by Michael White
Michael White is co-founder and CEO of Motarme, the Sales Technology and Services vendor. You can find him on LinkedIn .