Sales Follow-Up Email StrategyLessons from 8 Sales Professionals
Everyone sends emails that don’t get responses – it’s almost a rite of passage for doing business in the digital age. Unfortunately, most people give up after a single attempt to reach out. In fact, 70% of salespeople give up entirely if they don’t get a reply to their first email.
Mastering the art of follow-up emails is a power that shouldn’t be underestimated. It can connect you with influencers, start conversations with sales leads, grow your network, find you mentors, build your personal brand, and on and on.
It’s crucial that you don’t give up after one try, because it’s proven that tenacity in sales will get you results. In fact, 80% of prospects say no at least four times before saying yes. That means that those who follow up a minimum of five times are ending up with 80% of the sales.
It’s clear that following up consistently is essential, but there’s still a lingering question:
How do you do it properly?
Our Email Follow-up Masterclass has that answer, and a whole lot more.
We know cold email is a tough game, and following up is hard. The advice out there is inconsistent, confusing, and outdated. To gather the best advice on the subject, we talked to 8 modern-day sales professionals who are absolute pros at following up to achieve their goals.
Over the next eight lessons, we’ll show you how to fine-tune your follow-up email processes by tapping the vast knowledge of these sales and email professionals. The follow-up tactics and strategies you’ll learn here will level up your email outreach and help you hit your goals for the week, month, year – and throughout the rest of your career.
Here’s a sneak peek...
Setting Up Your Follow-Up ProcessDamian Thompson – LeadFuze
Damian Thompson is the co-founder and Chief Customer Officer of LeadFuze, and he’s a first-rate sales professional who’s been selling software solutions since the mid-90s. Damian’s a big fan of business development, so he’s no stranger to follow-ups.
Here’s what he had to say:
Have a Process
Some people have the whole “follow up until you die” kind of mentality. I disagree – there’s definitely a time to turn it off. But in terms of 99% of the sales reps I know, they actually don’t follow up enough. They quit very early, which is a mistake.
“You can’t follow up too much in the earlier part of an engagement.”
“Follow up until it hurts” is the way to do it. You’ll know when you reach that point, too. You’ll tell yourself, “This is the last time I should follow up” – and you should follow that intuition.
Like all things in sales, the more you can turn it into a process, the more success you’ll have. Don’t just wing it and follow up randomly. Have a process, whether that’s a 2-touchpoint or a 10-touchpoint system. Have tools, like a CRM, do the thinking for you. You should have a process, have it mapped out, and actually follow it.
The Omni-channel Approach
The new sales follow-up playbook at LeadFuze is all about being omni-channel and adding more touchpoints. Here is a sample breakdown of the first four days:
Day 1: Reach Out with Personalized Video Ideally, we want to qualify them within an hour of signing up, and within the first 24 hours they’ll be sent a short personalized Loom video.
Day 2: Add Them on Social Typically LinkedIn is the go-to platform, but other social media platforms aren’t off the table. Social can be huge once that relationship has been established so you can stay top-of-mind for that lead.
Day 3: Send A Personal Email Do a little research about them and their company, and craft a compelling value-driven cold outreach email.
Day 4: Pick Up The Phone and Call Them A phone call is typically the goal with cold email outreach, and it should be part of your omni-channel touch process.
Ditch Expectations and Passive-aggressiveness
Many sales reps use a passive-aggressive tone that has entitlement or expectations attached to it. That shows a misunderstanding of the prospect’s role.
“When you’re writing a response to someone or engaging them on the phone, it’s your responsibility to get them excited. It’s not their responsibility to do what you want them to do.”
Avoid phrases like these if you want to avoid sounding passive-aggressive:
“I’m following up because you haven’t responded to me yet.”
“Hey, I see you haven’t done this yet.”
“Just checking in.”
“I know you’re busy and I don’t want to waste your time.”
These phrases have zero purpose, come off as wasteful, and are inconsiderate of the prospect’s time. Don’t write a paragraph about how you’re not going to waste their time. Instead, get straight to the point.
Craft a Personalized Follow-up Email
With everyone using email marketing these days, it’s hard to rise above the noise and grab attention. The key to overcoming this hurdle is personalization. Spending ample time learning about a prospect allows you to craft a special email that resonates with that person and helps you stand out above the crowd. You’ve got to find commonality or a shared experience that resonates with the prospect.
Obviously, this process isn’t scalable. However, you can use a system like Mailshake or LeadFuze to start the conversation. Then, once they start engaging, you can personalize those follow-ups.
After chatting via email with a prospective vendor last year, I arrived at the office to find a physical package had been sent by the sales rep. It included a handwritten message that referenced the conversation we were having. That ended up really sticking out among all the other vendors vying for my attention.
Focusing on Your Prospects’ UXDan Murphy - Culture Amp
Dan Murphy started out as a mechanical engineer building things no one wanted to buy.
Eventually, he was forced to figure out ways to sell his creations. That was his sink-or-swim introduction to sales, and he’s never looked back. Now he’s the Head of Global Sales Development for Culture Amp.
Here’s his take on follow-ups:
Amp Up the Activity
Too much or too little activity and frequency of interactions can make or break your sales campaign. On the one hand, too much frequency can quickly come off as annoying to prospects and creates a bad customer experience (UX). On the other hand, you lose any momentum you’ve gained if you wait too long between touches. It’s all about finding a balance.
Activity metrics are essential and consistency is crucial, but there needs to be a lot of thought given to the prospect’s overall experience. So many companies are discovering and maximizing UX on the product side, but they really need to do the same with sales and prospecting.
“I think the pendulum swung the wrong way where we’re doing a ton of activity that’s quite frankly annoying for prospects, and it’s not a great experience.”
Tailor the Sales Experience
The sales team at Culture Amp still has activity numbers to hit, but we ask them to put themselves in the prospect’s shoes by asking themselves:
“How are they feeling?”
“What sort of experience are they having?”
Then, they should tailor their approach to the answers. It’s helpful to break down the psychology of each touchpoint by asking, “Do I have a reason to follow-up?” The last thing you want to do is annoy prospects by constantly asking if they want a demo or if you can get 15 minutes of their time. Instead, focus on what value is in it for them. What are they gaining from each conversation?
Lead with Natural Sales Techniques
Natural sales are akin to a bartender tossing a coaster in front of you as you lean up against the bar and asking what you want to drink. Or later, when your glass is half full, asking if you’re ready for another one. That isn’t salesy. That is a natural interaction.
We create our own natural scenarios for follow-ups by shipping gifts or books to prospects (or by inviting them to exclusive webinars or events we’re hosting). Then we have a reason to naturally follow up by asking: “Did you get the book?”
“For a minute, I’m not a sales guy - I’ve given them something.”
12-14 touches in two weeks is high-frequency. With that many touches, you can’t keep asking if they want a demo. That’s not cool. But if you send a gift like a book, you could safely do 3-5 touches around that. You could also extend an invite to a dinner or webinar, which could be another 3-5 touches to make everything feel natural. It’s all about finding anchor experiences you can get several touchpoints out of without it being weird or annoying.
The book example isn’t something random or off-topic, either. It’s about employee engagement, which is what we do. So naturally, the books act as a segue into a conversation about what their company provides. This works because of the law of reciprocity. Since you gave them a gift, they’re more likely to give you five minutes of their time.
Lead with Value
It all boils down to providing value up front before you ask for anything from them. You have to stay persistent and show them you’re worth talking to. Spread your touchpoints across email, social, and calls. Research and personalization are still important, but they’re difficult to scale. You have to start the conversation first.
Asking for Your Prospects’ PermissionGaetano DiNardi – Sales Hacker
Gaetano DiNardi is the VP of Marketing at Sales Hacker and an absolute hustler. At Sales Hacker they teach the latest B2B sales strategies so teams can step up their sales game. As a sales industry professional, he’s seen it all in terms of emails.
Here’s his take on follow-ups and how to do them right:
Speak Their Language
I break follow-ups into two main categories:
The ‘notice me’ follow-up This follow-up is entirely cold. You’ve sent out an initial outreach, but they haven’t connected with you yet.
‘First meeting complete’ follow-up You’ve had your first meeting, and now you just want to continue that conversation so you don’t break the momentum.
I like to reference the book The 5 Love Languages as it applies to marketing. In romantic relationships, there are five basic ways people like to be loved. Prospects are no different. They have ways they want to be ‘loved’ – ways they want to do business. Put them first, not yourself first. And ask them how they want to be pursued.
With my follow ups, after I’ve had a meeting with someone, I just ask them straight up, “‘How would you like me to follow up with you, and when?’”
By asking them, it shows that you aren’t assuming they want to be called or emailed. Essentially, you’re asking for permission.
I hate “quick question” as a subject line. I actually filter it in my Gmail so that any email with that subject line goes to spam. (Side note: at Mailshake, we know that in 2016, this was actually the best email opener; it’s still used, but is steadily trending downward because it’s used so much).
One tactic that is killing it right now is sending out calendar invites instead of cold emails. Just pick a date and time and put in the calendar notes what the meeting is about.
It’s that simple.
Know When to Switch Gears
If someone doesn’t respond after a couple of attempts on one channel, switch gears and find them on another channel. Start with social, or, if you have their number, call them. It’s rare not to find someone on at least one social media platform. LinkedIn and Twitter are great for B2B connections.
Deploy Guerrilla Sales Tactics
Cold phone calls aren’t dead, but they work a little better if your brand is established. If I say, “Hey, this is Gaetano from Sales Hacker,” they’ll almost always give me the time of day because of the name recognition.
A lot of startups are focusing 100% on sales and ignoring marketing because of the clear ROI. Surprisingly, it’s working. That guerrilla sales tactic is crushing it with ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue). I know of several companies getting to a couple million ARR with zero marketing.
Hit Them with a Recap
You got the meeting. That’s all well and good, but then what? Make sure at the end of the meeting that you have the next thing lined up. Know exactly what the next step is, when you will follow up, and how you will follow up.
“Don’t leave yourself in a position where you’re going to have to follow up mysteriously. Make sure at the end of that first convo that the next thing is already in the books, defined, solidified. Don’t leave it to chance.”
Then, at the very end, hit them with a recap. Say something like “I’m going to follow up on Monday. Between now and then you’ll get a few emails. It’s mostly just helpful content I think you’d find useful, and a proposal will be one of them.”
Adding Value in Every InteractionJake Dunlap – Skaled
Jake Dunlap is the CEO of Skaled. Skaled is a sales consulting firm that consults early-growth companies that have reached their first 1-2 million in sales, but are still trying to find their feet with their sales processes and strategies so they can scale faster. They also work with larger established companies that want to tweak certain parts of their funnels or reshape their full funnel.
Here’s Jake’s view on follow-ups:
Tailor Your Follow-ups
The level of the person in the organization and the size of the company really dictate how persistent you should be and how clever you need to be. If you have a transactional sale that’s only $5,000 a year, then you can’t afford to customize your follow-up too much, otherwise it doesn’t provide a valuable return.
As deal sizes get larger, you can then invest more time and resources to touchpoints. Some huge deals may have as many as 15-35 touchpoints.
The average follow-ups in the industry are annoying. “Touching base” or “Catching up” style emails might get a high reply rate, but it’s almost always the prospect saying, “Yeah, sorry I should have followed up. I’m not interested.”
Plus, there’s no value. That’s lazy salesmanship.
“You’re not thinking about what’s in it for them. What’s one new thing I can add? People aren’t focused on adding enough value in every interaction.”
The Multi-channel Approach
Email is still king because it’s the tool we check most often, but ask a decision-maker at any company, “How many emails do you get in a day?” and they probably can’t count that high. But ask them, “How many phone calls do you get in a day?” and they might get two.
These days you have to be multi-channel. The data shows that campaigns with phone call follow-ups mixed in convert at higher rates. It’s crucial to follow up and reach out via social as well. When people aren’t on email, they’re browsing LinkedIn or scrolling through Instagram. Make sure you’re in front of them there also.
“To me, social isn’t a ‘Should I do it?’ You have to. If your audience lives on LinkedIn or Twitter or Instagram, you have to be engaging them there.”
Follow-up Cheat Codes
Again, it’s all deal-size dependent. For large, mid-market, and upper-enterprise, everything is personalized. Everything Skaled does at that level is personalized because studies show even a little personalization can get you big results.
“The data actually says you don’t have to go crazy. You just have to be ‘this much’ personalized.”
The cheat codes for personalization that we’ve seen work are:
Relevant micro industry Think ‘hedge fund,’ not ‘finance.’ Get relevant with their industry.
Location People don’t use location enough in their cadences. For example, try “I’m working with other industrial manufacturing organizations in airplane supply in the Pacific Northwest, and we know they face this specific problem because it’s different than what people face in the South.”
Relevant competitors of similar sizes Make sure you have a relevant sub industry of similar size. Don’t say you work with Pepsi or Facebook, because the only people that care about those are Coke and Google. People want to see themselves in the mirror.
The Unwritten Rules for a Proper Follow-up
Everyone knows shorter is better, of course. But how short? Ask yourself: “Is it mobile-friendly? Because an email shouldn’t be more than 3-4 scrolls on a mobile. There’s a time and a place for longer emails, but every single email shouldn’t be a novel. Mix it up.
Use video because it cuts through the noise Make sure it is appropriate to the person. If you’re talking to the VP of a large company, don’t hold up a whiteboard with their name on it while you sit in your living room. A better way would be to stand outside their company on Madison Avenue in New York.
Shine through by showing you’re human. A colleague uses the “Double Tap Method.” They will send emails late afternoon or early evening, then the next morning send another email and say, “I forgot to send this other thing.” It will be something really short with a link or an attachment. That “mistake” makes it seem like the sender is real person, and it skyrockets their reply rates.
Using the Right CadenceMatt Heinz – Heinz Marketing
As the founder and President of Heinz Marketing - with clients that include Amazon and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - Matt Heinz is a man who clearly knows the ins and outs of the sales and marketing game.
At Mailshake, we’re strong believers in the importance of the follow-up. Turns out, so is Matt. I recently sat down with him to find out his take and approach.
Here’s what he had to say:
A follow-up for the sake of a follow-up is worthless. A second or third email that says “Hey, I’m just following up” or “Hey, did you see that email?” or “Hey, just putting this at the top of your inbox” provides no value to a prospect.
“You have to provide value to the recipient every single time.”
Every touchpoint needs to up the ante. Give them something of interest in your follow-up like an additional resource or link, and you’re much more likely to get their attention and drive their response.
Make it value-added and about the prospect. This requires that you know your target, their business, and their industry, but you need to know that anyway if you’re hoping to land them as a new customer or client.
Email is fast, easy, and convenient. It should be the foundation of your outreach because it’s powerful and cost-effective. But it shouldn’t be your only foot soldier.
“If you diversify the channels you use, you’re much more likely to get someone’s response.”
Instead of sending five emails, try sending two emails, two voicemails, and a social media connection. A multi-channel and consistent message approach is better to generate awareness, interest, and response.
Use the Right Cadence
Not everyone wants the same thing from you. Find the right cadence based on what they’ve requested from you, if anything.
“Follow-up does not mean email after email after email. It means diversifying the channels you use in an appropriate cadence.”
If, for example, someone has requested a callback or demo, you can be more aggressive in connecting with them. You’re trying to fulfill their request.
If you’re prospecting with cold calls and email, they’ve requested nothing from you. Sending a note or leaving a message every day will be irritating and too aggressive.
If someone downloads a resource, it doesn’t automatically mean they want to be contacted. You’ve got to prove your value beyond the resource they already have from you.
Let the context of the relationship drive your follow-up strategy. Cadence matters.
Know When to Fold Them
There’s a point of diminishing returns: 3-4 messages over 2-3 weeks without a response? Cut your losses. Stop wasting both your and their time.
Personalize in a Personal Way
The importance of personalization can’t be overstated. But don’t always “personalize” using just their business, brand, industry, or job title.
Personalize in some way outside of the business request. Humanize yourself and them. Build rapport. A copywriter once touched base looking for work, and her follow-up included a P.S. line that read “I’m coming to Seattle in August, and I love pizza. What’s your favourite pizza joint?”
How can you not respond to that?!
Build Your System
At Heinz, the follow-up workflow includes about 11 touches over 14 business days via multiple channels. There are around 15 different cadences, including contacted us, watched a webinar, accessed a particular white paper, or signed up for the newsletter.
The system is in place, and everyone uses it. It’s consistent, and everything is coordinated and tracked in Salesforce. That’s our process. Build yours.
Eliminating Desperation From Your Follow-upsNate Wright - Inbox Attack
Nate Wright is an email marketing guru who has trained business leaders on fundamental email writing skills full-time for nine years. His company, Inbox Attack, is like a fitness boot camp for email copywriting, teaching clients how to craft compelling, effective emails for starting conversations, how to create pitches, and how to close deals.
Before starting Inbox Attack, Nate worked as a headhunter. While in that field, he learned and mastered the email craft of getting people’s attention, connecting successful individuals, and closing deals.
Here’s Nate’s advice:
Ditch the desperation if you want to get any engagement on your follow-up emails.
“You need to reread, and reread, and reread your follow-up emails to remove desperation. Desperation will never get you anywhere.”
Remove phrases like:
“If it’s not too much trouble”
“I apologize in advance for bothering you”
If the prospect ignored your email in the first place, then desperation isn’t going to win you any points with them. Plus, if you truly believe your product is that good, then don’t forget, you’re doing them a favor. Give them the chance to solve a problem or level something up their life.
Make It About Them
Read through your emails and remove as many “I” statements as possible.
“Focus on how you can make their life a little bit better.”
It’s crucial to add value in every single engagement, even if it’s as simple as teaching them something or making them laugh. Too many salespeople focus on themselves, their credentials, and selling their product’s features. Instead, you should be benefit-driven and focus on what value you or your product can bring to the prospective client.
I still use the phone, but I’m not a fan of text messages and instant messaging of any kind. That being said, when enough clients kept asking me to text or WhatsApp them, I decided I had to change my ways.
“If they tell you how best to communicate with them, then that’s the first step in them telling you how to sell to them.”
Email is still the go-to form of communication, but it doesn’t have to be the final form. Phone calls, texting, and social messaging apps are incredibly viable channels and often undervalued these days, which makes them ripe for standing out.
Show You’re Human
As a cold email expert, I’m always fascinated by masterful attempts to sell me or get my attention.
“I collect the best cold emails like kids collect baseball cards.”
The best automated follow-up email that I ever received said, “Hey Nate, I’m so sorry. I forgot to give my cell phone number in that last email” – which worked because it held back a little value that the sender could highlight on the follow-up. It also had the added bonus of showing that the sender is human and makes easily-forgivable mistakes.
Make Them Look Good
Instead of sending another desperate follow-up attempt like, “Hey, did you get my last email?” try thinking outside the box and providing even more value. The other best follow-up email I received was someone on the second attempt offering to introduce me to someone in my industry:
“Do you know so-and-so? I’d be willing to do a warm intro.”
Helping people achieve their goals by introducing them to key players can be a game - changing approach to getting engagement with follow-up emails.
Choosing the Right Communication ChannelsRex Biberston - The Sales Developers
Rex Biberston is the Head of Operations for The Sales Developers, where his goal is to help companies double or triple revenue without doubling or tripling headcount. He’s big on sales acceleration technology, and was an early employee at InsideSales.com.
Here’s what Rex had to say about following up:
Choose the Right Channel
“We believe in following up with the most valuable opportunities first, then working backward to fill the other buckets.”
If we’ve already had a great conversation, or the prospect is a verified sales opportunity, then the follow-up strategy centers around choosing the right channel of communication
Where did the initial engagement happen?
What platform are they most interested in engaging on?
If I connect with someone over LinkedIn and email, then that’s how I’ll follow up with them, since I know that’s where they spend most of their time.
Pick Up The Phone
If I send a cold email and get no response, then I’ll pick up the phone.
Reaching somebody live over the phone is ideal because it creates a better opportunity for a conversation. Typically, the goal in any email outreach is to schedule that call anyway, so why not throw that into the touchpoint mix?
If you’re going to interrupt somebody’s day, you have to make sure you leave the conversation with something, even if it’s as simple as:
Why aren’t we having this conversation?
Why isn’t this worth your time?
When would be a good time to follow-up?
Multi-channel Is King
Since email is so widely used, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out in that inbox. That’s why I believe a multi-channel approach is crucial to starting conversations.
The clients we work with sell to all kinds of companies with all sorts of leaders, so for some companies it might make sense to have a more active social media presence. In turn, since we’re targeting them, it makes sense for us to have one also.
“We are very multi-channel, so we believe in testing everything.”
With a multi-channel approach, you have to be agile and consistent. If our initial call goes to voicemail, then we send an email right behind it. Over the next couple of days, we’ll keep calling, and then we’ll send a follow-up email.
More engaged buyers get a higher priority for follow-ups. That means more time spent customizing touchpoints.
“A lot of the time, we’ll throw in a Vidyard GoVideo to show we took time out of our day and we are human beings trying to reach you.”
Personalizing the customer experience is crucial because of the prevalence of automated emails and scripted cold outreach. You have to set yourself apart somehow.
Put In The Work
The biggest failure point for salespeople following up is that they flat out don’t do it. So many companies just have activity quotas for their salespeople: “We need you to make 100 calls a day.”
Those calls are worthless if there’s no direction. I’d rather you make ten calls to follow up with people you’ve already spoken with, than call a hundred people you’ve never talked to.
“All strategies aside, if you aren’t actually following up, then you’re missing out on big opportunities.”
All the work you do getting people into your funnel and getting them engaged is wasted if you aren’t following up – especially if they’re close to the conversion point.
Building Relationships to Build TrustSteve Woods - Nudge
Steve Woods is the CTO of Nudge.ai, which is a B2B sales platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help salespeople become better at their craft. Nudge teaches them how to build relationships, establish trust, and manage long-cycle deals that require consistent touches and follow-ups.
Don’t Waste the Momentum
Nudge’s bread and butter is the long-cycle deal. Even if a prospective buyer fits all the criteria and is a good match for a company’s services, they may not be ready to purchase just yet. It may be months, quarters, or even years before they are truly ready to purchase.
“Over that period of time, the challenge of following up is to find a way to stay top of mind, stay relevant, and help them move down that buying journey bit by bit.”
Sometimes that’s a simple follow up or touchpoint to stay top of mind. Other times, it may be necessary to introduce new concepts to a prospect. Showing them an alternate perspective or providing a different lens through which they can look at their problems might be all it takes to push them over the edge to purchase.
Broaden Your Approach
A lot of challenges come down to the idea that if you’re going to talk to somebody, it has to be pitching the product you’re selling. However, the best salespeople focus on developing deeper relationships first.
“If you see an opportunity to cheer them on, engage on another level, or help them achieve something, then you can create an immensely more open dialogue.”
Don’t hesitate to talk about sports, current events, recent awards, beer, politics, or any other common ground you share with prospects. Those relationship-building extras can help lower their guard, and they’ll be more open with you than they’d ever be if you only focused on yourself and your products.
Engage on the Right Channels
The multi-channel approach is very effective. That could be Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or any other platform prospects might be active on. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you’ve got to understand how they view it.
If they only ever talk about sports and family on Facebook, then that might not be the best channel to engage them on. However, if LinkedIn and Twitter seem to be all or mostly business, then have at it.
Trust Is Everything
Selling something by reaching out to vast volumes of people is a pitch; it’s not relationship building. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Make your automated pitch rock-solid, send it out, convert or not, and move on. This type of selling requires minimal trust.
But if you want to build trust with prospects, you need to specialize in building relationships. If you want to help prospects think about their business and their problems a little bit differently and take another step in the buying journey, you’ve got to build trust with them.
“You use trust to open the door to shifting a point of view.”
When trust is established, then you’ll be seen as an advisor instead of a salesperson. You’ll be a colleague instead of a stranger. Long-cycle, complex, and high-dollar deals are built on this foundation of trust and relationship nurturing.
Deliver The Specificity
Buyers have immense control over information these days, and can easily Google you, your company, and your product to find out most of what they need to know. Any facts and figures you include in outreach as a salesperson are of limited value.
“The valuable things are when you can send something so nuanced and specific that they wouldn't have discovered it on their own.”
Finding opportunities to send information like that requires going deep into the buyer’s psyche. It requires data, research, nurturing, and a real commitment to the buyer’s success.