You could say us humans are a self-involved lot. If we don’t see any benefits for ourselves in a situation, we aren’t likely to take action. Especially if that situation is a new and unfamiliar one – why would we waste precious time or put ourselves in a risky situation? If a stranger in the street asked you if you wanted to buy their product, would you jump at the chance, or slowly back away and pretend you had to take a phone call?

It comes back to our fight or flight instincts and in a modern world of constant emails, your prospects don’t have time to listen to a lengthy spiel about your product, which they know – or care – nothing about. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.Girl looks up with thought bubbles around her head

To get your prospect past your email’s subject line, you need to shut up about yourself and make it all about them. Here’s how to be more savvy about how you present yourself in those precious first-touch emails with prospects.

Step 1: Add personalisation

‘Personalisation’ is the buzz word in content marketing, but how much personalisation is needed to encourage a response in prospecting emails? Adding some degree of personalisation in your initial outreach email can make the world of distance in hooking your recipient.

The amount you personalise directly increases the chance of open and reply rates from respondents, so make it a feature of your prospecting process. As Salesloft recently found in their research:

‘Sellers that are personalizing their sales email communications – even a little bit – are significantly outperforming those who use little to no personalization in their emails… By personalizing 20 percent of email content, open rates increased over 40 percent on average and reply rates increased 112 percent. This is compared to emails with no personalization at all.’

With these kinds of statistics, surely it’s worth trialling even a small amount of personalisation in outreach emails at your own business? So what do we mean by a ‘20 percent personalised email’? Here are a few suggestions of small things you can do to make up that 20%:

  • Find common ground – perhaps you attended the same college, previously worked for the same company, or have a past colleague in common. This is easy to find out through LinkedIn and acts as a great ‘way in’ with new prospects.
  • Show you understand their challenges – if you’ve identified their most significant pain point, don’t start explaining how you can fix it with your product, share a similar experience you, or one of your customers, had previously. Empathise with them, and perhaps offer a link to a blog post or case study you’ve created regarding this issue.
  • Speak to them directly with a video. Video in emails increases reply rates by 26% and if these videos are personalised, even better. If you want more information on how to create a short, personalised prospecting video, we’ve written a blog about it.

Remember: A personalised email can still be templated. Repeatable processes help create ease and consistency for your business, plus they enable you to keep track of the stage you are at with each prospect. From the prospect’s perspective, they always receive a personalised email as you’ll be inserting video, company details, anecdotes and a name to suit them.

Step 2: Open with a custom event

After digging around in LinkedIn to find any potential links between you and your prospect, it’s time to Google their name and find out something key that’s recently gone on in the prospect's life. Caveat: this is not an opportunity to be a creep. This nugget of information needs to be handled professionally at all times, sticking to recently written blog content, videos of a conference they lately spoke at, or a book they’ve published.

It doesn’t mean asking if they had a nice holiday in Mexico last month or enjoyed the farmer’s market with their family at the weekend – just because this sort of information might be available online, doesn’t mean you should refer to it! If they haven’t volunteered personal information to you one-on-one, these kinds of details just seem over familiar and, frankly, stalker-like.

But everyone loves a little ego massage at the start of an email – how great would you feel if someone sent you an email telling you how much they’d enjoyed reading something you wrote, or watching a video you created? You’d be thrilled! So find an event specific to them, and mention it at the top of the email. More than that, get really specific about it:

  • Be frank about what you enjoyed or learned from their content
  • Tell them one fact you didn’t know beforehand that stuck with you
  • Ask them for further clarity on a particular point they spoke about
  • Volunteer your own interpretation of a section of their content
  • Explain how you’ve already used one of their tips in your own work life.

Remember: Showing an interest in your prospect's business, career and successes is a great way to build rapport and show genuine interest in them. Be a listener (to events in their life), not a talker (about yourself) as much as possible in your prospecting email strategy

Step 3: Connect their expertise with your own

The first thing you’re likely to think when you receive a new email is: who are you and why should I listen? Opening communications from friends, colleagues and those you’ve actively sought out are easy to grab our attention, but those who are cold emailing us instantly fill us with suspicion, doubt or disinterest. These emails need to work extra hard.

One of the best ways to do this is through making connections between their expertise and your own. You might not work in the same sector, job role or size of company, but there will be similarities between you and your contact – find them, and draw upon them. As humans, we are attracted to links and order; it helps us make sense of one another and the world around us.

If you can connect with prospects on a professional level, showing you understand some of their challenges and goals, they’ll trust you far more than if you open emails with a pitch about your product. Try some of these:

  • Highlight one of the skills they need for their role and explain how you also try to develop this skill
  • Explain one of the challenges you face at your business and ask if it’s something they also struggle with
  • Draw attention to the similarities between your business and theirs, such as the size of the workforce, buyer persona needs, market/industry challenges.

Remember: The more your recipients see themselves in you and your business, the greater a bond of trust can be built, and the further into your email content they will venture, gradually becoming leads and then customers.

Step 4: Identify their problems

Discovering your audience’s pain points is a key part of your buyer-persona development. The more you can find out about their challenges – try our guide to discovering your audience’s watering holes online – the more you can illustrate that you understand their problems and want to help them.

Again, it’s important to remember at this stage that you mustn’t go in all-guns-blazing about solving their problems with your product. Identifying their problems and encouraging a response is the job of email number one; solving those issues is the job of an email further into the sales process. You might do this by:

  • Identifying something on their website that doesn’t quite work e.g. the user experience isn’t smooth, and recommend how they could fix this. This acts as instant value added and shows you're willing to give, before you take.
  • Mention one of the issues a similar client of yours faced and how they went about finding a solution
  • Ask them if they’d like you to feature as a guest writer on their blog, creating a post on a range of topics (offer some suggestions in the post)
  • Tell them you’ve got a few free suggestions about helping them optimise their online store/ homepage/ blog/ social media account etc and would love a short call to go over some ideas.

Remember: Whatever you do, remember that people are especially sensitive about their problems, especially if strangers want to bring them up. How would you feel if someone approached you in a shop and told you they’ve noticed a spot on your face? Whereas, if you talk more generally – ‘people in X line of business, tend to face Y challenges – does this sound like you?’ – is a lot less intrusive.

Step 5: Provide a specific timeframe to chat

It’s now easy to drop your calendar into an email, offering a prospect to arrange a time with you to follow up, should they like what they’ve heard in your initial email. But there is the idea that this is still making the contact work too hard, when they’re still not ‘through the door’ of your business yet. For an established customer, offering your calendar at the bottom of an email is perfectly good practice; for a newcomer, this could be the point where they switch off.

Instead, make the idea of getting in touch sound as easy and error-proof as possible. Here are some suggestions:

  • Offer a specific day and time to them – ‘How does Thursday at 3pm work for you?’
  • Make the text larger or bolder than the rest of the email to make it stand out
  • Be decisive but show you’re willing to work around them – ‘let me know a time convenient to you and I’ll call you.’
  • If you still want to use a calendar invitation, don’t just leave it wide open for them to navigate, highlight 2-3 times that are currently free and ask which of them suits the recipient best.

Remember: Always explicitly reveal that you will be the one doing all the work; the recipient only wants to be thinking about the benefits a call with you could bring, not about coordinating the time or chasing you around.

By applying some of these tweaks to your cold emails, flipping the focus from you to them, you're far more likely to engage prospects. This is a slow-burn process, so don't even mention your product in this first outreach email. If you do this part right, you'll soon be discussed your brand, product or service and its features with your contact -- so don't run before you can walk: exercise a little patience and you'll soon have more leads, and customers.