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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

You’re Not as Important as You Think You Are — 7 Ways to Get Prospects to Respond to Your Email


Today we have a guest post from Mike Donnelly. Mike is the founder of Seventh Sense, a SaaS platform designed to plug into your Hubspot account and existing email systems and quietly listen—listen for the times that individuals engage with you, capture their patterns and allow you to take action on that data. Mike is a data fanatic who’s always looking for new and creative ways to help sales and marketing professionals get better at their trade.


Two years ago, I was trying to get connected with a highly-sought-after prospect who I knew would be a great client. I sent several emails, trying to get him to respond and meet with me, but he kept ignoring my emails—or so I thought. I almost gave up, but he finally responded.

Even after this executive became a client, I realized I still had the same problem—he just wouldn’t respond to over half of my emails. We were meeting over lunch one day, and I finally asked him why he so frequently didn’t respond. He laughed and said, “Mike, I don’t even see any emails that come in after 11:00 in the morning.”

Today’s decision-makers are so busy that they don’t have time to read all the emails in their inboxes, much less reply to everything. But there are a few tried-and-true ways to get prospects to read and respond. During my 14 years in sales, I discovered seven practices that doubled my response rate.

  1. Create a compelling subject line. If your subject line doesn’t give the recipient a good reason to open your email, he or she won’t. You should keep the subject line short (most studies say under 15 words), but hint at the value you’re going to discuss inside. Social proof is powerful, so if you have a referral name you can use, include it. Or, mention the name of someone you’ve worked with in the same industry.

  2. Keep the contents short. Speaking of short, the entire email should be short, including the contents. If a prospects sees a wall of text upon opening your email, he or she won’t bother to read it. Edit your email down as much as possible while still communicating the value of what you’re proposing. And use visual elements like bullets and numbering to make reading easier.

  3. Focus on the prospect. In today’s world, it’s so easy to find information online that there really isn’t any excuse for not doing your research ahead of time. Learn about your prospect, and think through probable needs. Be specific in the pain points you’re asking about—your goal is to connect and engage, and you can’t do that if you’re being vague and generic.

  4. Add value. Give your prospects a good reason to respond—explain what’s in it for them. No one wants to meet with a salesperson because he or she is “in the area” and “will be available at such-and-such a time”. To get a reply, you have to clearly communicate how your recipient will benefit from meeting with you (or whatever you’re asking for). A study by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer found that people were more willing to comply with a request when people used the word “because.”

  5. Make it easy to respond. Give a clear and simple call-to-action. Too often, salespeople offer several different options for the recipient to take action at the end of an email. They’re trying to be accommodating, but too many options will just cause the prospect to have to stop and think for too long. Make it easy. Research from Carnegie Mellon found that people are more likely to respond to email requests that are easy to answer.

  6. Use social proof. Do you have a referral? Do you know people in common? Using the name of a colleague or shared connection will go a long way in getting a prospect to reply. A Yesware study showed that emails mentioning other stakeholders at the company increased response rates by as much as 74%. If you used the name of a client in the same industry in the subject line, go ahead and write a 1-2 sentence explanation of how you helped.

  7. Send at the individual’s best time. Just as with other habits, email habits are predictable. People tend to check email and respond at the same times each day, according to their routines. Some people read email first thing in the morning and take time to write back to the non-urgent emails of interest later in the day or at lunchtime. Some people sit down and do all their email activity at 10:00. Others handle their inboxes at 5:00. Everyone is different, but everyone has patterns. Try sending at different times to figure out the best time for each individual you’re trying to reach. If you have a particularly tough-to-reach prospect, ask a colleague who knows the person well if he or she can give you insight.

Although we as salespeople (and senders of email) spend a lot of time thinking about our prospects, the reality is that they’re not spending much time thinking about us. It’s our job to make sure we’re doing everything possible to communicate the value we can bring and make it easy for them to read our email and reply.

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Topics: email Sales prospecting