Anatomy of a Great Email


A difficult reality

Cold e-mailing of potential clients can be an incredibly difficult and time-consuming task. Perhaps you’re a business owner struggling to attract new clients and increase sales. Getting in front of people in the age of digital bombardment in which dozens of spam my e-mails are received on a daily basis is an incredibly challenging undertaking. Sales, however, are the lifeblood of every organization. Without them, your business is, well, not a business. So, how can we take the pain out of writing sales e-mails and capture the attention of great new prospects?

Through years of testing and tweaking sales e-mails (and having sent probably 10,000 of them), I’ve developed an easy-to-follow e-mail anatomy that has increasingly helped me book more meetings and close more deals. I now see response rates between 10% and 25% depending on the project, whereas the industry average is less than 1%!

Before we dive into the anatomy of an effective sales e-mail, let’s first look at what makes a bad sales email.


An example of a bad e-mail

Here’s an example of an ineffective sales email I recently received from an organization seeking a charitable donation for an upcoming fundraiser:


When scanning the inbox, the average person decides in less than 2.7 seconds whether or not to open an e-mail. So, the subject line MUS be engaging. What does “Fundraiser Event” even mean? What does this person want from me?

I can’t stress enough the importance of an engaging subject line.


Surviving the mobile inbox

Nowadays, how do the vast majority of people check their e-mail? Typically not from a laptop but, rather, via their mobile phone. Before you send an e-mail to a client, you have to consider the hardware device on which they’ll be receiving it. Think of a mobile phone as a deleting device, not a reading device. Most people use their phones to quickly scan their e-mails and delete the ones they deem unimportant. They usually follow up on the important ones later, sometimes at a computer. So, it’s crucial that our subject line is highly engaging so that our e-mail can survive the mobile inbox.

Here are some examples of proven subject lines that have worked well for me:

  • Can you help? – direct call-to-action.
  • New idea for you – gets the person interested and curious.
  • Appropriate person? – helps me find the right person to talk to.
  • 20 minutes? – gets their attention and prompts a meeting request.
  • [Name of mutual connection] recommended I get in touch – breaks down the stranger-danger barrier.
  • May 26? – use an upcoming date to prompt a meeting request.
  • Wrong person? – used if they’ve been ignoring my e-mails, and I want them to identify who I should be talking to.
  • Permission to close your file? – last resort e-mail if they have been ignoring me.


I’m busy, get to the point

Looking back at our previous example, assuming the prospect opens the e-mail, what’s the first thing they see? A superficial, “Hope this e-mail finds you well.” This does nothing for people and doesn’t help solidify interest or build a personal relationship. People are busy and don’t have time to waste on insincere babble, so cut the niceties and get straight to the point.

The first few lines of your e-mail shouldn't be a self-gloating session. People aren’t interested in what you do or how great you are. They want to know what you can do for the and why they should car. Right from the onset, you need to explicitly define the reason why you’re e-mailing them.

Here’s an example of an intro that has worked well for me when contacting a prospective client for the first time. This e-mail is in the context of trying to sell an advertising product:



The 12 most crucial words in an e-mail

Another key aspect most people overlook when writing a sales e-mail is what the first few lines will actually look like on a mobile device. Remember, the phone is a deleting device first and a reading device second. People use it to quickly scan and delete e-mails they feel are unimportant. So, the first few lines from the body of the e-mail that is shown as a preview in the mobile inbox must be engaging.

Depending on the device and size of the phone, typically the first 10 to 12 words of an e-mail are included in the inbox preview. Therefore, don’t waste this valuable real estate with insincere babble, like, “hope you’re doing well.” Make sure those critical first 12 words capture their attention.

Here’s an example of an e-mail I recently sent out while trying to sell tickets for a charity event. This email resulted in a 64% open rate among recipients!


Notice how the headline includes a clear and engaging call to action. The first 12 words in the body also include a call-to-action: “what are you doing Thursday, July 6th?” It’s personal, yet direct.


The one-word finish

Now that the who, what, where and why are answered, let’s look at the when.

Never leave a sales e-mail open-ended. You need to include a specific call to action that people can respond to with either a “YES” or “N” answer. Remember, people are busy and don’t have time to write a long, drawn-out reply. You need to word your e-mails in a way that requires the least amount of effort possible in order to respond. If it requires any additional effort over and above a simple “yes” or “no” response, your e-mail will likely get deleted.

How many times have you read an e-mail but left it in your inbox or marked it as “unread” to deal with later? Most people do this because they don’t want to put in the effort to respond until it’s absolutely necessary. When it comes to your sales e-mail, they don’t have to respond, so they’ll most likely end up taking the path of least resistance and delete it after getting tired of seeing it sit in their inbox for a few days. This is a hugely important aspect of getting higher response rates and booking more meetings.


Be clear and direct

Let’s revisit our previous example with this “Yes” or “No” mentality in mind:



Beat the filter

In the above example, notice how I didn’t use a fancy e-mail signature with graphics and links. Lots of spam filters and firewalls will block e-mails that include images so I don’t recommend including one. Seeing as they already have your e-mail, simply include your name and perhaps a call-back number, if appropriate.

Key takeaway: people are incredibly busy. They are bombarded on a daily basis with dozens of spammy e-mails from all over the internet. If you want to have any chance of breaking through the noise and capturing a moment of their attention, you have to be direct and to the point. Tell them how THEY can benefit, and don’t ramble on about why YOU’RE so great. Test your e-mail template first by sending it to your mobile phone. Check the format and make sure your first 12 words are highly engaging. Keep e-mails short and to the point and, if requesting a meeting, end with an explicit date and time to meet, requiring a simple “yes” or “no” response.

Robyn Hounjet