Ah, email. It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship, isn’t it?

It has a brief history, yet in many ways, it feels like an antiquated tool. The pre-cursor to email began as messaging exchange on a single computer at MIT in 1965. Think of it like leaving a Post-it Note on the computer for the next person who uses it.

The Department of Defense picked up the idea and used a form of email messaging internally, but it didn’t hit mainstream use until later. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson added the @ to the address identifying which computer the message would get routed to. This allowed messages to be sent between computers outside of a single organization.

In the 80s – early 90s, email began infiltrating organizations and even homes at an increasing rate. Remember these names: Prodigy, CompuServe, AOL? Yeah, I’m sure most of us can pick up the story here for how email entered into our lives – maybe it was with Yahoo, Hotmail, or Earthlink. It was common to have shared family accounts and check them occasionally.

By the turn of the millennium, it became an expectation that everyone would have an email address, much like we did phone numbers. Email grew exponentially.

Personal, business, commercial use – everyone relied on email to share messages and exchange information quickly and easily.

There are other ways

Since then, other forms of communication have been created and proven very useful – think texting, Slack, Zoom, comments and direct messages on social platforms. There are so many ways to communicate with people now!

But email continues to plug along as a staple.

Inboxes overflow with emails from everyone in our lives, and because of the volume, we need to take a strategic approach to how we’re using it. Are we contributing to the overflow, or are we allowing our messages to stand out?

Internal communications

While early email was an internal communication tool within a single organization, internal communications now can be largely replaced with other messaging tools (Slack, Teams, project/account management systems). It takes a change in processes, expectations, and behavior patterns to make this transition, but it can be done. And I have to say it’s a very welcome relief not to have internal team communications in my inbox.

Client communications

When communicating with clients, email still reigns supreme, and we need to carefully monitor email for these important communications. But we do have other options. We may get more familiar with clients and use text or even connect them with our internal messaging, use shared documents and folders, or invite them into our project management systems.

Prospect communications

For prospects, we need to think very carefully about our approach.

Because inboxes are so full and email is used for essential communications that legitimately need attention, it’s easy to look past anything from an unknown source and generously use the DELETE key for those messages that are unfamiliar or deemed non-critical.

You may not like the idea that someone would delete an email you send them but think about your behavior. How many emails do you delete without even opening? Heck, even the email systems themselves make it easy for us to delete in bulk with Junk and Other folders.

Prospect comms are not created equal

There are two types of emails to consider when talking about emailing prospects.

  • 1-1 emails – Emails you send directly from your Outlook or Gmail account. The intent is to connect with a single person (or multiple people within the same company) over a specific topic. These are prospecting emails usually sent from a salesperson.
  • 1-many emails – Emails your company sends to many people at once, typically through an email system such as HubSpot, MailChimp, or Constant Contact. The topics tend to be more generic and applicable to many people. These are marketing emails typically sent from the company.

Prospecting is hard. No argument there. And email has grown as a preferred method for reaching out to prospective buyers. It’s easy to write an email and bang it out to a bunch of people, feeling safe behind the computer.

And the inevitable rejection is easier to stomach since email is fairly anonymous and it doesn’t require much time, so there isn’t much commitment.

However, here’s the reality of what’s happening with cold emails – if the recipient doesn’t know your name, they’re probably deleting it. And if it’s a 1-many marketing email, it’s likely getting caught in filters and directed to the “unimportant” folder. Only 23.9% of sales emails are even getting opened.

While it may feel like you’re making progress by sending out a lot of cold emails, it’s just a way to hide behind activity to feel busy or productive. But cold emails with no context are too easy to delete, making the “prospecting” efforts almost worthless.

Avoid the DELETE key

To make your emails count and ensure they get opened, you need to make them NOT cold emails. Make them warm emails by getting your name in front of the prospective client in multiple ways first. When you do send an email, your name will be familiar, and the chance of the prospect opening the email is much greater.

Buyers do want to talk to salespeople, and they want to use email to do it, but they just want to do it at the right time. 19% of buyers report wanting to connect with a salesperson during the early awareness stage of their buyer’s journey, 60% during the later consideration stage, and 20% prefer to wait until the final decision stage. Notice none of this is in the “cold outreach stage?” 🤷‍♀️

Extra steps to vet prospects and target the right ones takes work – way more than buying a list and bulk sending a cold email. But what form of prospecting doesn’t take hard work? You likely don’t need a high volume of clients, so put in the right effort to get the right clients.

Turn cold to warm

Warm up your prospect first. Anyone can send three cold emails in a row through an automated system and then give up, declaring the effort unsuccessful and the list worthless. But it’s the work you do before and in between the emails that make the difference. Here’s an example sequence you could follow to warm up name familiarity:

  • Research prospect online and capture notes in your CRM.
  • Look them up on LinkedIn and 1) connect with them, 2) follow their company, and 3) see who and what you have in common.
  • If you have connections in common, ask for an introduction.
  • If you find groups or events they participate in, meet them at an event.
  • Call them and plan to leave a voicemail introducing yourself.
  • Go to their website and download content they make available via a form.
  • Interact with them and their company on LinkedIn.
  • Invite them to follow your blog or LinkedIn company page to access your free resources and insights.
  • After you’ve had some interaction, then consider sending an email and be honest and personalized with your message.

Think strategically about your prospects. Don’t make them part of a bulk email bomb you lob over a wall with the hope the generic emails will miraculously make people want to respond and be your client. Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Personalized, relevant communications are becoming more and more common, so generic one-message-fits-all emails are making less and less sense.

It’s taking more outreach to connect with buyers and a higher-quality approach. People need to know you, like you, and trust you before engaging and doing business with you, and cold emails are not teeing that up for success.

Respect the inbox

Email has its place in our communications. We just need to use it wisely.

  • Recognize the overflow people experience and be respectful of what you’re sending and to whom.
  • Moving some communications out of email altogether frees up the inbox for the critical communications that must remain in email.
  • Be strategic about your prospecting communications, so you don’t get yourself relegated as unimportant before you even get to meet the person!

Photo by Tierney.