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What's Wrong With Your Email: A Second Look at Proven Attention Grabbers

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Pitfalls to avoid when soliciting new business via email
  • A real-life example of an ineffective email message

On any given day, between 20 and 50 pieces of unsolicited email sail past my spam blocker and into my inbox. When I worked in business development, I purged them indiscriminately. As I got involved with marketing, I skimmed through them occasionally for ideas and inspired copy.

Once I became a writer, I often edited the messages in my head—until the day a direct mailer arrived that set off all the "newbie" alarms and I had to intervene at once.

The following is my response to the emailer. Below that is the original email, with identifiable details withheld to ensure privacy.

* * *

Dear X.


I left Quartesian last year to become a full-time writer of digital marketing content, including direct email like the one I was lucky enough to receive from you.

Before that, I had spent four years in your shoes, trying to do both marketing and sales on a shoestring for a small ambitious B2B service provider. So, I hope you take this letter in the spirit in which it is written: one professional reaching out to another to share insight and offer support.

Getting Attention

Let me start with the subject line. When I get an email from a name I don't recognize at a company I've never heard of with the subject line "Conference Call with Quartesian LLC," I know right away that it's spam. If my assistant doesn't delete it for me, I will do so on my next break between meetings when I get a minute to glance at my BlackBerry.

A better choice would have been something like "WSJ says 40% of B2B providers will include mobile apps into their marketing budgets"—but only if it's true. That way, the email promises to tell me something new or important, and I will be more likely to put it into a "read later" pile—or forward it to a colleague.

Making the First Impression

Let's just say I opened your message in spite of the telltale subject line. I will delete it after I read the first sentence. Why? "I would like to get on your calendar" is the BD equivalent of "What's your number?" Try using it as a pick-up line, and see what happens.

In a live conversation you would first introduce yourself and try to arouse my interest and build some trust. Emails are no different. Of course, stating your purpose up front is important. In your case, though, everyone knows that the purpose of "personalized" junk mail is to get a meeting.

A better use of the 30 seconds I will spend deciding whether to read the rest of your email is to show me what you know about my business that I don't. For example: "Would you like to stay 'top of mind' with your best prospects while making their day a little better? That's just what Mxx's clients in the insurance, restaurant, airline, and many other industries are doing—with the help of our customized turnkey mobile app solutions."

Captivating Your Audience

Does spam really work? Survey says yes, but only when it correctly addresses the needs of a specific buyer segment. But even if I laugh off your first sentence and keep reading, I will delete your message after I read the first paragraph.

Why? Because my clients are businesses. Though they are a hit with consumer brands, mobile apps are still a novelty in the B2B world.

By glossing over that important distinction, you make it clear that you don't understand my business and will waste my time. A better approach would have been to create a separate version of the letter for the B2B segment (even better if you can make it industry specific)—showing the value of your solution to my business, or at least citing relevant market data.

Using Common Sense

Are white supremacist groups your core market? Or did you really expect to score points with corporate America by saying, "Our developers are best-of-breed, based in Nuremberg, Germany. We don't outsource to India or other third-world countries—and never will"?

I am sure you know that most "respected" companies in your target group do outsource to the "third world," as does my old employer, Quartesian. Besides, how do you know that I myself am not from there?

Making a Compelling Time-Bound Offer

$5,000 for a purebred German piece of code sounds outrageous. Even if you can afford to do it that cheaply, first year online MBA courses say you are not obligated to sell at cost.

The throw-away pricing reeks of desperation and casts a doubt over the existence of "the most respected" clients you alluded to earlier. Now I don't think you have any clients at all.

You tell me that the price goes up next week. I don't believe that either. I think Mxx is made up of amateurs who have no idea how to price, market, or sell a product. And at this point, I am not even sure that you have a product to sell.

Since Mxx already includes "a detailed list of competitive or similar apps on the market" with every job, why not use it as an introductory offer instead? There is a natural urgency to staying abreast of the competition. And what better way to showcase your expertise and the value of your product?

Ending on a Personal Note

So, after you've spammed my mailbox, obnoxiously requested to "get on my calendar," ignored my real needs, insulted my company, and made a ridiculous offer followed up by an equally ridiculous sales push, you are ready to show me the fun and caring side of yourself with "I hope you are able to spend some quality time with your friends and family this past Easter weekend. I'll be in London for the royal wedding, but available all next week."

I too hope you spend some quality time this weekend. Then come back to work and write a sales letter that has a fighting chance.

While you are at it, think of other ways to spread the word about Mxx. Wouldn't it be nice if those most interested in your product were able to find and contact you themselves—through strategically placed content?

If you need help wording your message or telling your story, you can get on my calendar anytime. The price will be the same next week. And I promise I won't outsource your writing project to India.

Wishing you success,

Olga Taylor

* * *

April 28, 2011

Subject: Conference call with Quartesian LLC

Dear Olga:

I would like to get on your calendar to speak with you about mobile app development. We develop apps on the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Symbian, Android, and Windows Portable Media platforms. Our speciality is developing apps that are multi-platform for the same cost others charge for a single device. We offer a turn-key solution. Simply tell us your goals, give us a list of the apps you like the most, those you like the least, describe the basic functionality you require, and we will take it from there.

Our process is truly unique. We write the technical specification documents for you. We provide a detailed list of competitive or similar apps on the market today. We design the interface for the app, provide a working prototype, detailed wireframes and documention PRIOR to writing the first line of code. Our creative team ensures the look and feel of your app matches your brand. We can create apps for less than half the cost of other developers because we leverage existing code for basic functionality. Our developers are best-of-breed, based in Nuremberg Germany. We don't outsource to India or other third world countries—and never will.

Our development efforts are used by many of the most respected banks, insurance companies, airlines, casinos, cruiseliners, restaurants, retailers, rental car companies, law firms, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, telephone and utility companies. Our introductory program is limited to one per company and this provides all of the aforementioned functions for only $5,000 until May 1st. ($10k thereafter)

I've asked my executive assistant S. H. to call your office to arrange a time for us to speak. I'll provide a web-ex style presentation that will focus on how we can best meet your mobile needs. I only need to know a) desired devices, b) overview of functionality, c) your favorite app with similar functionality d) name of project, e) min and max budget and f) timeline for delivery of product. I hope you are able to spend some quality time with your friends and family this past Easter weekend. I'll be in London for the royal wedding, but available all next week.

Sincerely,

X. Y.
Executive Vice President Business Development, Mxx, Inc.


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Olga Taylor is a freelance writer and a former vice-president of marketing and business development for Quartesian LLC. Reach her via ul23augusta@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • by SpencerBroome Fri Sep 23, 2011 via web

    This is good stuff.

  • by Social Sam Fri Sep 23, 2011 via web

    That poor BDM - the email is pretty bad but it follows all the conventional recommendations out there. It gets to the point of the message right away, establishes credibility, makes the writer seem like their products are in high demand and appeals to your sense of ego by being written by the VP with a dedicated personal assistant. Once upon a time I too worked in both sales and marketing and this was a daily struggle of mine.

    Hopefully company Mxx will learn from your advice!

  • by Jennifer Kelly Fri Sep 23, 2011 via web

    Great reply Olga.

  • by George P Fri Sep 23, 2011 via web

    Have to disagree, Jennifer; not a great reply at all! Olga promises:

    "I hope you take this letter in the spirit in which it is written: one professional reaching out to another to share insight and offer support."

    Her comments then drip with sarcasm and superiority. Sure that email was bad but if Olga was really interested in "reaching out to offer support" there are far less condescending ways of doing it. Maybe Olga needs a "professional to reach out to her and share insight".


  • by Olga Taylor Fri Jan 13, 2012 via web

    Good catch, George! A part of me definitely felt this guy's pain, while another part wanted to have fun at his expense. Hope the article is useful to the readers, even if it exposes my character flaws.

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