3 Steps to Master the Sales Follow Up Email
The sales follow up email can be one of your most powerful tools to close a deal. Still, most people don’t like sending them. This article covers some of the basics on sending sales follow up emails in personal communication to keep your customer engaged and close the deal.
The Sales Follow Up Email in 3 Steps:
- Keep it short – Try to keep it within a few sentences. It’s a follow up, you already shared the details in your previous contact point.
- Open Strong – Have a positive opening and try to refer to a recent event like relevant news or if nothing better the upcoming holidays.
- Remind Them Why – Without pitching what you sell, remind your customer why it is in their interest to talk with you.
When I started in sales 11 years ago at a B2B telesales desk, the importance of following up was one of the first things they taught me.
I realized following up should not be seen as email but more like a process. Over the years I’ve developed my own process to send an infinite number of follow up emails to the same person if you get no response.
My sales colleagues at the time typically only sent 1 or 2 follow ups. My system quickly made me the top performer in our team and consistently gave me the highest number of closed deals.
Years later when I was at a tech startup in the e-commerce space, I used this system to send sales follow up emails to the same person for 9 months straight before I received a first response.
When the response finally came it was positive (it even included a smiley!). This customer eventually signed a double-digit Million Dollar deal that transformed the company.
Step 1 – Keep It Short
In my experience this is by far the most important rule to effective sales follow up emails: keep it short. Two to three sentences should be enough. You’ve explained the details in your previous communication.
I learned this lesson when I joined a tech company in the online price comparison space. At the time I had about 4 or 5 years of sales experience and my predecessor at the company had worked sales and partnerships more than 20 years.
When I took over I received all the communication he had had with potential customers. I instantly noticed one thing: his emails were short, very short. He mostly sent 1 or 2 sentence emails where I would send 1 or 2 paragraphs.
So I started to experiment. I quickly found much higher answer rates for the shorter emails. In some way it felt like shorter follow up emails showed seniority and confidence and customers responded well to that.
In addition short emails work better because they take less time to read. We receive to many emails to read all of them in detail, and long emails make people feel like answering will be a lot of work.
Unfortunately on some emails, like for example your first attempt to get in touch, you will need to explain why you are getting in touch. This means you quickly end up with more than 2 or 3 sentences, and that’s ok.
In your follow up email however you don’t need to introduce yourself again. Keeping it short will make it easier for your customer to read and answer to your email.
It’s fair to mention that when I learned about short follow up emails almost 10 years ago, the email volume people received was low enough that you could just send a reminder. Nowadays, your customers receive so many sales emails that you’ll have to take it up a notch. Which brings us to rule number 2…
Step 2 – Open Strong
This sounds simple but is often overlooked. Too many times have I received emails that start with “Just checking in…” or “I wanted to follow up…”.
Many people stop reading then and there, so you’ve wasted the few words you had to get their attention. This kind of language is not customer-focused at all. It merely describes what you are doing. Do you think your customer cares about that?
Let’s look at this from the customer’s perspective…
Whoever your customer is, they are typically busy all week. They have people who work for them, people they report to, customers they serve, projects they are responsible for, and so on.
If you are selling something, it means you are trying to introduce a new product or service into that system. Of course you’ll have to fight for your place, that’s the job! And of course other things often get prioritized, because that’s actually their job.
Knowing this we can also stop assuming that not receiving an answer means the customer is not interested. Not answering to your email means only one thing: that they didn’t answer to your email yet.
Until a customer tells you that they are not interested, you cannot disqualify yourself. That’s like playing baseball and giving up the entire game because you hit a foul ball.
So what do you do? One way I handle this is by always assuming the best possible explanation why I did not receive an answer. Some project could have come up, closing of the month / quarter, budgeting cycles, etc.
This is actually an opportunity to show that you know the industry. When I was doing sales in e-commerce for example, I would sometimes start with something like “My last email probably got lost in the craziness around the holiday sale, so I wanted to pick up the conversation now that things calmed down a bit again.”
Basically you are giving people an excuse for not answering you You can even connect it with a question, like “How did you end up closing the quarter?” or “Did you go anywhere during the holidays?”.
So instead of “following up”, I tried to understand my customer’s situation, show my knowledge of the industry, and ask a question that shows personal interest.
It keeps the conversation human and makes people want to answer you, instead of sending an annoying reminder that you are waiting for an answer.
Open with Relevant News
Dependent on your style you might not even want to refer to your last email. Especially if you are still early in the conversation, you might still need to earn your place for the conversation.
Another approach therefore is to start your follow up email by referring to a relevant piece of news or content. A good example where I applied this when selling to companies in the anti virus software industry.
For more than half a year I was having conversations with the top 5 players in the industry, but the last few weeks things had gone silent. I was not getting a response from anyone.
Then the silence was broken by the news that 2 of the players would be merging. Fantastic! That same afternoon I used this news to reactivate all the conversations.
The merging companies I explained how our technology could support the merger. The other players I pushed on their need to become more competitive now that this merger was happening. We ended up closing 3 out of the 5 players.
Share Customer Cases
Another example of relevant news is when you just started to work with a company from your contact’s industry. That’s social proof – something you’d want to bring to their attention. If there was a press release, video, or another form of content to share, you might even want to start an entirely new thread for this.
You can also do this with content, when you e.g. publish a new ebook or released a blog post that relates to something you discussed or read about your customer. Don’t just push content though, make sure it’s relevant.
The main value of sharing news or content is that it shows interest and that you took the effort to personalize the email, which is more than what most sales reps do nowadays. Opening with relevant news sets you apart from the hundreds, if not thousands, of automated follow ups that your customer will typically receive.
Because this involves manual research, you’d typically only apply this to high potential targets. The bigger the company, the easier it will be to find something relevant. For your top 10 targets you can even automate this using something like Google News.
Step 3 – Remind Them Why
Now that you have created some goodwill, it’s time to remind them why they should care about talking with you. Make sure you think of your customer and show that in the language you use in your follow up email.
If the conversation is still starting, you’ll need to communicate the benefit of your product or solution in just a few words and ideally add some social proof to that.
Here’s a few examples what that could look like in an email:
- Would love to show you how we’ve helped over 2,000 companies increase their productivity by XX% on average.
- I’d like to walk you through how we’ve helped [relevant company X] grow their client base by XXX.
For this part you can often reuse the same sentence in different sales follow up emails.
If you’ve already mentioned a similar company in your previous sentence, you can do something as simple as “Would you like to see how we can do the same for you?” or any other way.
If the conversation is a bit more progressed already, you would refer to something you discussed in a past conversation. Dependent on what was discussed, some examples could be:
- I’ve done some research based on our last talk and have some interesting findings to share.
- I went through our existing client base and found a few companies who were facing the same issue.
(More examples can be found in our email templates)
Finding a Time
Finally, your goal is to get back into the conversation, so you’ll want to find a time to talk. There are a number of strategies for this and in my experience it really depends on your target audience what works.
Traditionally, you would be recommended to give specific suggestion and include at least two options. In my opinion that worked a few years back but has become less effective.
The trend is to put the customer in control instead of pushing your own schedule. Here are two easy strategies to do this:
The simplest is to just ask “When would be a good time to talk?”. It’ll still require some scheduling but the experience for the customer is more convenient and if used well it shows more confidence instead of being pushy.
Alternatively, you can include a scheduling link. This is convenient for both sides but it depends on your customer if they are used to this and how they will perceive it.
Test, Test, Test
The bigger the deal you are working on, the more often you will have to send a follow up. Remember the double digit deal Million dollar deal I mentioned? I must have sent at least 10 follow up emails before the conversation ever started. But it was worth it!
Most of the sales is closed after following up a number of times, so you’ll want to become good at this. In the end there is no real right or wrong on any of these steps as long as you keep trying. Every time you try, you learn and improve.
These 3 steps cost very little time and are highly effective, but you’ll need to play around with it to see what resonates most with your customers. If you want more input, have a look at our tips on how to write a sales follow up email.
Most importantly you have to figure out what feels most natural to you. It needs to fit the way you communicate else it won’t work.
And then just watch the responses come into your inbox…