Last week, Heather Morgan, CEO of SalesFolk, joined us in the Bowery Capital studio to share her framework for improving sales email response rates in “5 Steps To Sales Emails That Convert.” Heather founded SalesFolk three years ago and has since helped a who’s who of SaaS startups optimize their sales messaging and drive up response rates, including Lyft, KissMetrics, Bluenose and Box.
Compelling, high-converting sales copy isn’t just about catchy subject lines. The path to increased response rates—Heather has seen companies achieve 50%+ lift in some cases—begins with thorough audience research, careful multi-touch campaign structuring, and only reaches top potential through continuous testing and optimization. As a follow-up to our session with Heather, I’ll outline below 7 ways that any startup can get started on maximizing response rates today.
1) Prioritize thoughtfulness over tools: Sales teams today are lucky to have so many options when it comes to sales tools to help with things like outreach, target research, and funnel analytics. These allow sales teams to extend their capabilities and run a data-driven sales operation. But no set of tools is a replacement for necessary customer research, even when it comes to something as tactical as increasing response rates. Volume is important to a certain extent, and sales outreach automation tools help increase SDR / rep efficiency. Plenty of startups that use these tools, however, still suffer from sub-5% response rates because they fail to speak to their audience in terms that engage and interest them.
2) Parse all available data sources to understand your target: Social media is an underrated source of information when it comes to building buyer personas and Ideal Customer Profiles. Begin with (at the bare minimum) a dozen “ideal” customer contacts for this specific campaign. ICPs can vary at bit for each campaign. For example, some may target the user bottoms-up while others may target the budget-holder top-down. Parse each of these contacts’ social profiles. Start with LinkedIn, which everyone should have: look not only at their current and past roles, but also their certifications, publications if any, professional groups, and endorsements. Endorsements in particular, per Heather, can be a goldmine: Because the profile owner controls them, they often show what the target feels is his / her proficiency and “area of expertise.” Also check out Twitter profiles: see what themes, keywords, and pain points prospective clients are talking about. Twitter can also give you a sense for what kind of language (casual vs. professional, technical vs. layman, etc.) your audience gravitates toward. For example, Heather recounted how stumbling upon a meme popular among system admins gave her the ammunition to craft a campaign that resonated stunningly, leading to massive lift in response rates.
3) Watch response rates over open rates: Open rates can be misleading. For example an email with an exceedingly weird subject line can catch one’s eye, but if nothing resonates within the email recipient, your response rates may be just as bad as before. Especially in B2B sales messaging, the best metric to measure the effectiveness of an email sequence is the resulting response rate; remember, the goal here is a conversation. In particular, the number of appointments set up and resulting qualified opportunities are your guiding measures of success. Prioritizing response rates means prioritizing thoughtful emails, which will naturally yield more sales.
4) Make the prospect the hero: Even if you have one core ICP, various different personalities exist within that audience, and your sales email copy needs to correlate to the right set. For instance, a CFO may be more receptive to cost reduction value props, while a developer might be more attuned technical benefits, even though both are stakeholders in vendor selection. Many email or ad copy “gurus” tout emotional content, often suggesting you leverage fear or FOMO. But negative messaging can have the opposite effect by tainting your brand. An effective alternative is empowering language. Make the prospect see the potential to be her company’s saving grace with the help of your product. Outlining pain points the company faces is not enough; show prospects how they (personally) can solve them today. Response rates tend to skyrocket, per Heather, when you write copy from the receiver’s perspective rather than getting stuck in your own headspace of a “my product is better, so you should buy it” mentality.
5) Think about what’s already in their inboxes: Overly “salesy” or impersonal content isn’t just heading straight to archive or spam; it reflects poorly on your business in a world where everyone receives too much email. Keep in mind the volume and style of sales mail you receive in your own inbox. What do you hate? What’s the last cold sales email you opened? Envision what your contact’s inbox might look like given their company and position. Use that mental image to differentiate your messaging. Heather recommends avoiding ubiquitous jargon, and sometimes even suggests against mentioning your own company’s name off the bat. Other smaller elements common to sales emails may also set off alarms that will land your email in the trash: over-formality, fancy signatures, and long blocks of product-description text are a few possible examples. You might even ask a few customers what emails they dislike the most. As always, research contacts beforehand is the key to driving up response rates.
6) Be persistent with multi-touch campaigns: According to Heather, upwards of a third of responses come as a result of emails 5 through 8 in a campaign’s sequence. That’s why she advocates for a hyper-focused, eight-touch framework. Response rates for most campaigns don’t adhere to a bell curve distribution: response rates tend to group after email #1 and emails #6-7. Even a 5-touch campaign won’t cut it for any startup, so ensure you create enough content to supply an 8-touch process to avoid letting interested but busy prospects fall through the cracks. A key to this is ensuring each email addresses a key value proposition.
7) Focus on one unique value add in each email: After the initial outreach email, subsequent emails shouldn’t just be “I’m following up.” This approach will lose you any prospect who was marginally interested (enough not to unsubscribe or block) but for whom the initial value outlined didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. By having each email focus on one unique value proposition you haven’t mentioned before, you’re not only increasing the odds of speaking to a timely concern, but also offering new and interesting info to your recipient. This info doesn’t always have to be super-tactical or even related to your specific product. It may just be something interesting relevant to your audience, and not repetitive. The highest-spending US TV advertiser (GEICO) barely mentions its own product, opting instead for constantly changing funny content (and I bet you, reader, have liked at least one of their commercials). Don’t neglect including ending calls-to-action, however. What employees at a company absolutely hate or love doing, professionally or otherwise? Be honest with yourself about what they would actually want to see. Imagine what you’d say to your prospect if you met them at a bar. Do they already know what a product like yours would do (e.g. in a competitive space)? Maybe something personal is a better angle. As is true in most startup considerations, put your customer first; better response rates will follow.
Listen to the full episode with Heather here and subscribe on iTunes to get a new Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast every week. Also, for those interested in learning more about SalesFolk’s offerings, check out the Cold Email Mastery Course.