Emailing the Sales Force or…Navigating the Perfect Storm

Whenever I work on initiatives with a sales team, I hear … “They never read their emails”…  “Getting them to follow instructions is like pulling teeth”.   Sound familiar?  Salespeople are busy. Many don’t sit in front of email all day.  This is generally how you want your salespeople behaving… in front of customers driving business.  That said it’s the perfect storm for communications.

With this challenge confronting me day after day, I’ve learned a few things about…

  • Improving Your Open Rate
  • Reducing Your Abandonment Rate
  • Encouraging Follow Through

Improving Your Open Rate – Make it Compelling!

  • Use the right sender.  Salespeople open emails in this order:  customers, people who can help with deals, direct line managers, and the sales VP.  Others rarely get read, if at all. If you don’t fall into one of these categories, consider whether a sales manager or VP can send the email.  If you must send it, ask sales managers to reinforce it.
  • Set the right title.  Disrupt their scrolling, and get their attention.  If you require immediate action, try: “ACTION REQUIRED BY…”  If there are benefits or negative consequences, state that in the title.  Long titles often get truncated – be concise, and put key words first.  Use all-caps when necessary but sparingly.
  • Carefully consider the first 5-10 words.  The first words of an email are often visible in the email list and are the first words that get read after the title.  These must be as compelling as a pitch that salespeople make to their customers (what’s in it for them?) or they will not read further.
  • Determine the right timing.  If your email needs to be front and center, Monday mornings when salespeople are jumpstarting the week with their customers, may not be the best time.  Are Fridays office days?  Try sending late Thursday so you are top of the inbox Friday morning.

Reducing Your Abandonment Rate – Make It Quick…Time is Money!

  • Fit the screen.  Test on a smart phone.  If the email does not fit on one screen, shorten it or at least summarize what you need by when.  Save explanations, justifications, etc. for the bottom of the email.  If using HTML, ensure it is optimized for mobile viewing.  Attach files or link to websites if absolutely necessary – the more time required, the higher the abandonment rate.
  • Logically organize into no more than seven bullet points.  Busy salespeople do not read paragraphs.  A concise, prioritized, bulleted list with bolded headers grabs attention and directs focus.
  • Write USA Today style.  Salespeople want to sell.  Administration and technology are enablers – salespeople minimize efforts here so they can focus on selling.  Don’t make them analyze what you meant to say.  Keep instructions simple, specific, and clear. Highlight core questions – who, what, when, where, why, and how.  Clearly number steps if they need to follow a process.

Encouraging Follow-Through – Get It Done!

  • Plan your timing.  One email may not be sufficient.  Allow time for 1-2 follow up communications.  Track progress, if possible, and adjust your messaging if necessary.
  • Consider alternative or supplementary communication vehicles.  Always question if email is the right vehicle.  If information is complex or requires laser focus, live communication is optimal.  In other cases, email may be appropriate if supplemented, for example, with an announcement on a team call or a bulletin on your sales force tool or intranet.
  • Work with the sales management team.  Be specific about what you need, and follow their guidance for how to best work with their team.

Communicating with sales can be frustrating, but remember they may also be frustrated with balancing internal requests and customer needs.  A few tweaks to your style may not only improve your response rate but it may reduce sales force frustration so that everyone can focus on what matters most: driving your business forward!

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