Despite constant reports of its death, in my opinion, email is still the best way to connect with anyone – prospects, reporters, mentors, etc.. This is both good and bad. Digital communication has made the physical act of communicating easy. It is easy to hit send on an email. It has, however, not made reaching your intended audience any easier.
In fact, because of the ease, it has made it harder because there are so many more people doing it. I once had lunch with a national tech reporter who had 1,200 unread emails in his inbox… from that morning. That is what you’re up against when you want to get national coverage or to reach an enterprise prospect. That is great for you though because it means if you put in a little effort and get creative you can stand out!
But why email? Why not the phone? Cold calls are inefficient. How often do you pick up an unknown phone number? And if you accidentally do and they’re trying to sell you something how quickly do you hang up the phone? The other thing about emails is it doesn’t put the recipient on the spot. A phone call does that. When you pick up, the game is on. When people feel like they’re on the spot, they tend to get defensive. A defensive response is to embrace the status quo, which means to do nothing. Your job is to provide a reason why this person must act and act now
So a phone call can be a valuable follow up, after having properly exhausted the written options. But never follow up with a call 15 minutes after sending your email and say, “I just wanted to check if you got my email.” It is not 1975. They got your email. It just wasn’t compelling enough for them to respond.
Here’s how you make it more compelling.
- No cold email should be longer than five sentences. People are busy and don’t have time to read your novel. If you can’t make it interesting in five sentences, it isn’t interesting. Your job isn’t to close the deal immediately. It is to spark the dialogue.
- Act as if every email is going to be published. This will prevent you from being lazy. It’s what I like about Twitter. If you want to cold tweet someone, everyone can read what you write. This will motivate you to make sure you’re proud to have your name on it. If you’re just cutting and pasting a blast and that leaked out it could damage your reputation. Don’t let that happen. Additionally, if you’re emailing a reporter, you should assume that everything you write in an email could be published. So be careful what you write. There is really no such thing as “Off the record”.
- Stop spending so much time on the body of the email and instead invest in the subject line. That is your headline. That is what is going to get your email clicked on or deleted. So put some effort into this. Love them or hate them, no one knows headline click bait like BuzzFeed. Last I heard they write every headline 25 times before choosing one. That forces them to look at it from all angles, which helps them find the most memorable one. Most of us read and re-read the body of an email and then just slap on the first subject line that pops into our minds. In a lot of ways, it should be the other way around.
- A/B test. How do you know what works if you don’t compare different options? This is why it is good to always A/B test different headlines and even different pitches. Only then do you begin to transform the process from an art to a science. Only then do you begin to gather data that can help inform your actions in the future. This is how you get better.
- Inject some personality into your email. We all like to be entertained. I am often solicited for things. I usually ignore these emails. The only time I immediately respond is when someone writes something like,
“You have obviously not responded because a) your vacuum cleaning needs are met b) you were blown away by my offer and need to hear more c) you have been attacked by a polar bear and I should be contacting the authorities at this very moment!”
That gets me every time. It works because it is funny. Suddenly this isn’t just an email. It is an email from a human being. That is a subtle yet crucial difference.
- Leverage your research. The email is an important time to establish that you have properly researched who you are emailing and are providing them value. Remember, a reporter or prospect is going to write about you or your company or buy from you or your company because he/she believes you are a credible thought leader. The intro email is a way to show that. If you provide valuable information in the email, they will be more likely to invest time in you. Just don’t be creepy. It is good to do research but don’t write things like, “I love that red shirt you wore on Valentine’s Day in 2012.” That is just weird.
Remember, you can still do all of these things right and it just doesn’t work out because of timing. That can be incredibly frustrating but the effort is still valuable. It builds that foundation and your next email will be much warmer than your first.