Email might be hurting your sales results. Here’s how to fix it.

Posted on September 18th, 2022 to Uncategorized

Back when I started my sales career at a weekly newspaper in 2002, I didn’t have a computer at my desk. Rather, four salespeople shared two computers to email with our advertising clients, which included hundreds of Vermont businesses. It seems impossible to fathom now, but back then we conducted almost every sales transaction in person or over the phone — and by all accounts, we were very successful.

Eventually, we all got computers, and revenue increased due to the sheer volume we were able to handle when signing a contract didn’t mean driving 80 miles roundtrip. (What I wouldn’t have given for Zoom back then!)

Though much was gained with the addition of email, I often wonder what may have been lost. More volume is great, but sometimes an increased bottom line belies decreases in other important sales metrics like average deal sizes, length of time between proposal and contract, and lifetime value of a client — all things that greatly impact the effectiveness of founder-led sales.

It seems science may back my suspicion that more email could be a net-negative for sales:

Face-to-face requests are 34% more effective than email, according to a 2017 Harvard Business Review study.

Perhaps more interesting, going into the study, all participants thought emailing would yield comparable results to in-person conversations. 

The study focused on participants who were asking people to donate to a worthy cause. When considering why people felt confident that their emails would be just as effective as in-person asks, the researcher basically said that while we know we’re trustworthy and legitimate, the people receiving our emails are suspicious of our motives. I would add, with the decreased accountability of email on both sides, we get far less discussion and critical evaluation of our offers, thus leading to exponentially more ghosting and unresolved communications than we would ever get in person or over the phone.

I see this all the time when I start working with new clients. I observe them making big asks via email, rather than in conversation, even though their instincts tell them to be more direct in conversation. They make asks for the sale, for referrals, for case studies, for speaking engagements and more via email, mostly because they either:

  1. Don’t know how to shift a conversation from email to phone, in-person or Zoom, because they’ve never been trained 
  2. Shy away from making asks during conversations because it feels intimidating, overwhelming or otherwise unsavory to do so — rather, they spend their conversations building rapport while the time runs out, then follow up with an email listing all the business items they didn’t get to

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard from founders that making a direct ask feels too “sales-y.” 

And, frankly, during “boom” times, who cares, right?! If your pipeline is poppin’ and you’re on track to increase revenue year over year, you don’t really need to be 34% more effective in your asks, right? 

But what about “bust” times, like 2022, when organic leads are down for many service providers? Or when you’re just starting out? Or when you hire team members who are counting on you for their salaries? Or when you’re dreaming of more, but your sales metrics aren’t cutting it?

34% more effective starts to sound really good, doesn’t it? 

If you’re starting to realize that you leave too many of your big conversations to email, there’s a few things you can do to ensure you’re shifting to making more effective asks:

  • The purpose of every prospecting email is to get a meeting. When prospecting, your #1 goal is to get the lead to accept an invitation to a conversation with you — this means not sending your capabilities deck, full-blown ideas or drawn-out asks via email. Rather, keep it short and sweet, sharing enough of a value proposition to entice them to learn more by speaking with you.
  • Set an agenda. When you arrive for the meeting, whether via phone or Zoom, set an agenda that holds you and the lead accountable for getting to the business items on the list — rapport is important, but you must leave time to do actual business!
  • Conversations are even more important during the proposal process. Too many of my clients come to me sending proposals too soon. They have an initial conversation with a lead, sometimes only lasting 30 minutes, that results in the lead asking for a proposal. Contrary to popular belief, this is not good news! Most of the time, one conversation isn’t nearly enough to send a plausible, probable proposal — rather, it’s enough to get stuck in an email follow-up loop while the lead ghosts you. Have as many conversations as it takes so that the proposals you send are a confirmation of everything that’s been discussed with the client. 

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Bring them all to the next Sales Roundtable, a free monthly event for founders who want to hit their goals and keep on growing.

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