This article was originally published on Built In on September 21, 2021.
If there’s one lesson Gino Donati learned from emailing CEOs and VPs as a young sales development representative (SDR), it’s that it’s OK to be a jerk.
That’s not to say he condones being rude or mean. Instead, he’s referencing the way those leaders would send sparsely worded, direct responses to his emails. They were the kind of messages that only say “No thank you” or “Let’s do 9 a.m.” and lack even a simple “I hope you’re well.”
“As a 22 or 23 year old interacting with them for the first time, I thought they were mean. My feelings were hurt by their emails,” Donati said. “Now I send the same email.”
It turned out that what he thought was a common social necessity was just wasted space. It’s OK for cold emails to be direct and to the point, said Donati, who is now the founder of the on-demand SDR firm Seed2C and leader of an SDR slack group, SDReady.
You only have seven seconds to capture someone’s attention and convince them to respond. Why waste that on asking a question that no one is going to answer?
Pleasantries are just one of several forms of fluff that creep their way into a cold outreach. Others include introducing yourself and telling a buyer “I’d love to learn more about your company.” While those filler phrases may seem harmless, they often end up detracting from the value of your message, Donati said.
An effective email is an efficient one. Identifying fluff and eliminating it can often be the difference between booking a meeting and getting ignored.
“If someone can’t figure out exactly what your email is trying to do and it overlaps with their job description and the things they deal with in seven to 10 seconds, you’re most likely going to lose them.”
What Qualifies as Email Fluff?
Writing cold sales emails isn’t easy.
Within five or six sentences, a sales rep has to personalize the message to the buyer, build credibility by providing value and motivate them to respond. Then they have to do it all over again, sometimes up to 100 times a day.
When you add in the fact that the average SDR is an entry-level employee fresh out of college trying to sell to VPs and CEOs, it’s no wonder sales emails end up full of filler language, Donati said. Fluff is often a result of a rep feeling intimidated and trying to reach a difficult target.
Still, it’s fixable as long as the rep knows where to look.
As a former customer success representative at Outreach, Jacob Turner has helped thousands of sales reps cut through the filler language and craft better emails. He defines fluff as anything that doesn’t add value to the conversation. If you’re talking about yourself, your company or telling the person what they already know, that’s fluff. Same with asking questions that don’t advance the conversation.
An effective cold email should answer two questions for the buyer: Why them and why now? If the message doesn’t show that you’ve done your research, understand their problems and convey how you can help them, it’s not going to get a reply.
One of the biggest lessons Turner learned earlier in his career as an account executive sending batches of cold emails that went ignored was to stop talking about his company’s features and focus on the transformation the buyer could see.
“Instead of telling them how to build a clock, I just told them the time essentially,” said Turner, who is now a solutions consulting manager for Sapper Consulting.
Examples of Fluff
Here are some common filler phrases both Turner and Donati have come across in their career that can end up doing more harm than good for your email outreach.
‘MY NAME IS [INSERT NAME] AND I WORK FOR [COMPANY NAME]’
One of the most common mistakes Turner saw sales reps make while working at Outreach was introducing themselves at the start of the email. Cold emails should provide value first and foremost to the buyer or you’ll lose their interest, Turner said. An introduction makes it about you and takes up space. The fix is simple — delete the introduction. If the customer wants to know who you are, they can look at your signature or email address, he said.
‘JUST’ AND ‘ONLY’
The more confident you sound in your cold email, the more the buyer will trust you as a resource to solve their problems. Words like “just” and “only” in sentences like “I just wanted to reach out…” or “I only need…” erode that confidence, Turner said. It’s an understandable mistake, especially for entry-level reps uncomfortable pitching to CEOs and VPs. Still, they’re words that do more harm than good.
ALWAYS ASKING FOR A MEETING
While the main objective of any cold email is to arrange a meeting, it’s still a big ask of the buyer. Time is the most valuable thing a buyer can give you. If all your emails request a meeting without providing enough information to earn it, the entire message becomes white noise to the buyer.
Instead, replace your call for a meeting with resources. Ask the buyer to check out a relevant white paper or to fill out a questionnaire that helps them better understand their business or a problem they’re facing. Those actions also give you valuable insight that you can then use to add more information to your emails and work your way up to the meeting, Turner said.
‘I’D LOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR COMPANY’
While the intention behind telling the buyer you’d like to learn more about their company might be to sound eager, it often comes off like you didn’t do your research, Turner said. It’s a filler phrase that could end up harming the effectiveness of your message. Instead, pepper the email with research indicating that you understand the problems they’re trying to solve and have solved those issues for similar companies. Then ask if they have time to see if your solution is the right fit for them, Turner said.
LENGTHY SUBJECT LINES
Another common mistake Turner sees reps make is trying to cram too much information into the subject line. Busy subject lines clutter your message and will cause your email to be ignored.
The fix? Donati suggests thinking of your subject line as the Google search term for your message. Include a couple keywords that get the point across and then let your email do the rest of the work.
Incorporating things like dollar signs and ampersands, as well as phrases like “Call now!,” is a quick way for your email to end up ignored in a spam folder. There’s also no reason your email should include any spam words, Turner said. There are countless resources online with a list of words to avoid, including this comprehensive list on HubSpot.
‘I’M LOOKING TO REACH OUT TO YOU BECAUSE…’
If you’re looking to slim down your emails, an easy fix is to look for any sentences that start with you stating your intention and delete them. Phrases like “I’m reaching out to you because…,” or on LinkedIn, “I’m adding you because…” add nothing to the conversation, Donati said. Instead, just get straight to the point.
‘HOW ARE YOU?’ OR ‘I HOPE YOU ARE WELL’
Pleasantries are fluff at their simplest. While it might seem like a necessary part of any social exchange, it can end up being detrimental to your email’s effectiveness, Donati said. No one answers them and they take up space better served with getting straight to the point of your email.
TOO MANY OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
A cold email should include only one open-ended question. Any more than that and you’re asking too much of the buyer, Donati said. Each question you ask adds more work to the buyer’s plate, and eventually, they’ll just ignore you. And yes, “How are you?” counts as a question, Donati said. So, figure out the one question you want to ask and delete the rest.
How to Get Rid of Fluff
Even if you know what fluff looks like, it can still be hard to see it in your own writing. That’s why Donati always coaches his reps to read their emails out loud to other people and get their feedback.
Ask the person: Does it make sense? Is the value clear? And are there any words that don’t add any value to the email? Another set of ears can help you identify any bad habits that have snuck into your copy and faded into the background.
It’s also important to make sure you don’t cut corners on your research, Donati said. Taking the time to figure out a person’s role and how to resonate with them will make your message more specific. It helps you avoid cliches like “I saw it was your birthday” or “I see you went to [insert college]” that buyers see right through as fake attempts at personalization.
Turner also recommends working with a group of other reps on developing the best messages possible. Even better if the sales operations leader can coordinate a meeting with other internal teams like marketing, customer success managers and the sales reps to build a message that resonates with buyers.
“Working on cold emails together is the solution to the problem,” Turner said. “Not only are you building confidence because you have more minds working on the same email, you’re also able to feed off each other and iterate on those emails.”
He also suggests finding a sales leader you respect, whether it’s on LinkedIn or in your own company, and mimic what they do until you find what works for you.
Ultimately, taking a few minutes to review your copy can end up having a drastic impact on your outreach success, Donati said.
“People will be blown away when they start editing, editing, editing and realize, ‘Holy crap, I just cut my email down 40 percent and it’s the same email,’” Donati said.