Sales Emails That Suck: 2020 Edition

Even with the best intentions, some emails miss their mark. Use this article to write better cold emails and avoid the common pitfalls in email marketing.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

You can approach writing cold emails from two angles:

1) How to write the best cold email.

2) How not to write any cold email, ever.

If you’re a regular here,  you’ve read plenty of our articles on exactly what makes for quality emails. Writing to buyer personas, addressing pain points, and keeping things concise are just a few of the tactics you can use to craft effective sales emails.

Learn How to Triple Your Sales Meetings with Outbound Email

Rather than share more on content that converts, I’d like to  discuss content that doesn’t

In this blog, I’ll review seven examples of blunders, missteps, and delightfully atrocious emails. Use this article to write better cold emails, avoid the common pitfalls in email marketing, and drive more traffic than an LA freeway.

1. Be of Service, Not Selfish

Everyone who reads your emails asks the same question:

 “What’s in it for me?”

The best cold emails make the answer obvious. Meanwhile, they put the reader in the spotlight.

By contrast, the following email flops by focusing on their business instead of its audience.

email #2

This email never offers up a single tangible benefit. Rather than talk about what you do, talk about what you can do for your customers. By addressing the reader’s needs directly, your emails become much more relevant and engaging. 

Consider that the average person receives a staggering 121 emails per day. To cut through all the noise, your emails need to stand out. Like a peacock. At very least, try to present your offer with some flair. 

In short, successful cold emails revolve around the recipient.

2. Offer Specific Value

Specificity makes emails relevant. After all, your audience has unique problems that demand precise solutions. Unsurprisingly, vague emails perform poorly.

In the email below, I challenge you to discern what this company does besides “be a good fit.”

email #1This email fails because it doesn’t offer a clear solution. Every sales email must include a value proposition, or a unique statement of benefits. This is because the value proposition is what motivates action. The more tantalizingly specific your big promise, the more enticing it is to the prospect.

Also be specific in discussing your audience’s needs. When you cite the particulars of someone’s experience, you demonstrate a deep understanding. This expertise positions you as a trustworthy authority and opens the door to action.

Remember that using generic hyperlinks can land your emails in the spam folder. If you absolutely must include a link, use link shortener tools to dodge spam filters and boost your deliverability rates. One study found that using branded short-links improved click-through rates (CTR) by up to 39%.

Being specific is the best way to demonstrate your value and expertise to readers.

3. Make the Right Impression

Cold emails are an opportunity to make a great first impression. 

Just like in person, a positive email interaction begins with calling someone by name and presenting yourself professionally. Doing so means leveraging user data to personalize your emails to each recipient. 

To the point, you should never populate your email greeting with “Sir/Madam” like this next example.

email #3


The generic greeting consigns this email immediately to the spam folder. The second glaring issue is overall quality. Between formatting irregularities and different fonts, this missive missed it’s mark. Make sure your autofields, spelling, and punctuation are correct before you hit send. Emails that look unprofessional don’t get results.

If you’re not sure where to start, new tools like REGIE simplify the process of creating data-driven cold email campaigns. Using AI, these platforms help you find and integrate the most relevant data into your emails. This streamlines content creation while helping to maximize the ROI of every email you send.

Unlock success in email marketing by using data insights to deliver consistently excellent, personalized content.

4. Say My Name

Accuracy is vital to cold emailing. According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened – but only if the personal details are correct. 

When people see their name and credentials in an email, they feel recognized. This produces a cascade of positive emotion that warms the person to whatever you’re about to say. Chase these waterfalls.

Conversely, mislabelling your recipient with the wrong name or title is a non-starter. To illustrate, imagine receiving the email below that insists on calling you “Howard.”

email #4

Fact is, nobody wants to partner with a business who can’t execute the simple task of sending a personalized email. Since email conversion rates hover around 1% on average, it’s important to get the details right.

Avoid gaffes like this by regularly cleaning your email list.

According to Hubspot, the average email list decays at a rate of 22.5% per year. This means that almost one in four of your email contacts are inaccurate by year’s end. Identifying and removing non-responders gives you more accurate open rates and better returns on your campaigns. 

Strive to be accurate with the name, company, and titles of your email recipients. 

5. Read The Room

Be conscious of your audience’s sensibilities.

Great email copy can shock, awe, and stoke curiosity in readers – but it never offends. Your sales emails must thread the needle between addressing people’s needs and exploiting their circumstances.

The email below suggests that your prospects are like sitting ducks during lockdown, then invites you to seize upon this advantage.

email #5-1

Though not directly offensive, some might consider this email to be opportunistic. It’s best to steer clear of any negative associations for the sake of your brand and your email list. When in doubt, ask yourself if the tone and content of your emails reflects your core values.

Don’t be the ‘cold’ in cold email. 

6. Offer Help Without Throwing Shade

People want solutions, but not at the expense of feeling like a failure. Take care. Too much tough love can bruise egos and alienate your audience.

This next email states that we the recipient are “missing out on massive business opportunities.” Basically, this implies that we’re too dense or distracted to find the way forward ourselves.

email #6

There’s a fine line between dancing around your audience’s pain points and stomping on them outright. (This email crosses that line). Be careful how you frame your motivations for outreach. A ham-handed approach can leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.

Similarly, only send emails that are relevant to all recipients. For example, the above email incorrectly assumes that we’re aware of a handful of their clients. Social proof like this is effective when readers get the reference, but it’s confusing and counterproductive otherwise. 

To ensure your outreach is meaningful to everyone, you may need to segment your email list and tweak your content accordingly. Fortunately, using a segmented email list can boost engagement by up to 760%.

Sales emails should be constructive and actionable for everyone.

7. Respect People’s Time

People prefer short emails because they’re busy.

According to email platform Litmus, the average time that a recipient spends reading an email is 13.4 seconds. Meanwhile, most people say they skim emails. 

This next email is far too long, no matter how you read it.

email #7

This wall of text will surely repel every recipient on your list.

Be concise and direct in your emails. Trim unnecessary or redundant words and ideas to better make your point. Rather than overwhelm readers, write only as much as is needed to get them to take the next step. This helps increase both email engagement and conversion rates.

Lastly, make converting easy. The above email asks you to “send me a 30-minute time slot” to talk. Why complicate things? Instead, point readers to a single clear call to action, ie – “How’s Tuesday at 2pm?.” The frictionless path always sees more traffic. 

Respect the time and attention of your audience by sending short, actionable emails.

Writing Quality Cold Emails Is A Practice

Writing effective sales emails takes time and practice (unless you’re working with a trusted lead gen advisor). Most of us learn by trial and error.

Like a swamp in a fairytale, though – some things are best avoided if possible. Use this article to help you sidestep some of the common pitfalls in cold email writing.

Are you second guessing some of your recent sales emails?
Check out our eBook to learn how to triple your sales emails with email campaigns.



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About The Author

About Sapper Consulting

Sapper's sales prospecting team becomes a natural extension of your existing sales efforts, helping you find new leads that are a great fit for your business.

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