The three most counter-productive sales emails I’ve ever seen

Here’s what happens when old-school sales behaviour tries to pretend it’s funky, creative – and your friend

October 20, 2017

The three most counter-productive sales emails I’ve ever seen

I receive my fair amount of sales emails that are dull, boring, completely standardised and entirely lacking in imagination. It goes without saying that these don’t work. They’re mildly annoying, instantly ignored and destined straight for the junk folder. They fail quietly.

However, there’s also a select group of sales emails that are ineffective and counter-productive on a whole other level. The authors of these emails have invested more time and effort in frustrating and annoying me that much more. The tragedy is that they’ve made a real effort to stand out and be different, but they’ve overlooked the one thing they could have done that might have persuaded me to pay attention and actually reply to them.

It’s great for sales teams to seek to be creative in how they earn attention and engagement, but hat creativity has to be married to an interest in their audience, or it quickly becomes counter-productive. You end up with ridiculous notes about alligators or overfamiliar, matey stuff about office parties I’ve never heard of that’s bewildering, unprofessional and highly unlikely to persuade anybody to want to do business with these people. It’s all about how clever, charismatic and charming the person writing the email thinks they are; never about how their solutions might actually help you. It’s like going back in time to the sales tactics of the 1980s – but in email form.

It would have taken just a fraction of the time it took to write these emails to read my LinkedIn profile, find out what I actually do, and incorporate something in the email that would show they had an idea about my business that’s worth listening to. That would be professional, purposeful and worthy of at least reading if not politely responding to. In other words, the polar opposite of these three, hugely counter-productive sales emails:

Counter-productive Sales Email Number 1

Why is it so counter-productive?

Beneath all of that pseudo-quirky, eaten by alligators claptrap, it’s offensively lazy. At the end of the day, this sales rep is asking me to take the trouble to type out an explanation of my business and its challenges… writing their sales pitch for them. They seem to think that, once exposed to their oh-so-offbeat charms I’ll immediately clear my diary to explain to them exactly why I need whatever it is they are selling. The impression it gives is unprofessional, smug and self-satisfied. Not, in other words, the vibe that persuades you to type out a response.

Counter-productive Sales Email Number 2

Why is it so counter-productive?

It’s offensively over-familiar at the same time as being borderline incomprehensible, which is some achievement even for a terrible sales email. It seems as though some alien form of AI has downloaded all of the terms human beings are believed to throw into conversation with their ‘mates’, jumbled them up, stuffed them into an email and attached a vague reference to a ‘custom demo’ at the end. Once again, there’s a complete lack of interest in me as a customer – only this time it’s matched by a complete lack of any meaningful information or clarity in terms of a call to action. This comes from the old-school sales philosophy that if you act as if someone is already your buddy they’ll soon start treating you that way. It doesn’t work in person – and it’s even less likely to work as an email.

Counter-productive Sales Email Number 3… with the response it deserved

Why is it so counter-productive?

This email wasn’t sent to me (thank goodness). It turned up in the inbox of my friend Ann Handley. Now, the most obvious thing about Ann, which you can’t help but be aware of if you’ve taken even a microsecond to find out about her before emailing, is that she’s a writer. An excellent writer. She’s even written a book, Everybody Writes, which is all about empowering people to write for themselves and unlock their own potential as marketers and influencers. All in all, the person on earth perhaps least likely to be interested in “a tremendous opportunity to save some serious time when it comes to writing high-quality blog posts with our service.”

I could go on about how unprofessional, inappropriate and actually slightly stalker-ish the ‘are you dead, kidnapped or in prison’ stuff is, or that implicit threat to keep ‘reconnecting’ that shows this email’s true nature as a typed cold call. To me its sheer inappropriateness to the person it’s been sent to trumps everything.

Ann got the experience of counter-productive sales emails off her chest by actually replying to this one. I don’t think it’s the reply the author was hoping for – but I can’t think of a better way to sum up the effect this approach actually has:

Things don’t have to be this way. It’s perfectly possible for sales team members to invest their time in emails and Sponsored InMails that are well-judged, well-timed and welcome to those receiving them. The solution doesn't lie in supposedly zany copywriting that dresses up unreconstructed old-school, all-about-me sales behaviour. It can be found in a combination of effective sales and marketing alignment, and a social selling approach.