Writing A ‘Must Reply’ Email
Hello! This is the second of five lessons on mastering the fundamentals of outreach marketing: how to email anyone and get a response.
Why do people respond to your emails?
Is it because you’re showing them your experience and your knowledge?
Or is it because you’re communicating that you understand the problems they’re experiencing, the issues their facing, and the dreams that they have?
What I’ve seen running dozens of outreach campaigns to thousands of people backs this hypothesis up: people respond to your emails when you build a relationship and rapport with them and communicate your understanding of their business, their problems, and their goals.
This empathetic, ‘you’ centered approach to writing an outreach email will always out-perform an email that talks about you, your experience, or your business (a ‘me’ centered approach.
For your outreach to be successful, you need to think about the recipient and how to make their job of reading and responding to your email as easy a possible.
People are egotistical. We love it when people talk about us. So by focusing on talking about the person we’re emailing, their business, their struggles, and their goals, we make it easy for people to want to read our emails — and to respond.
In today’s lesson? We’re going to look at the three fundamental principles we looked at last time that form the backbone of writing emails that get responses, tear down an example outreach email I received, and then expand on the fundamental principles to include everything you need to write a ‘must reply’ email.
The Three Fundamental Principles
From yesterday’s email, we covered three fundamental principles for writing emails that get replied to:
- Personalization — Including details about the person or company you’re emailing to make your email stand out
- “You” Focused Language — You need to make the language in your email focus on the recipient, their problems, their business, and their goals. Avoid falling into the trap of talking about yourself but thinking you’re talking about or to the recipient.
- Clear Call to Action — Your emails must have a clear next step for the recipient to take. If you don’t have a clear call to action, then people won’t know what step to take after receiving your email and, well, then they fall victim to inertia, your email slowly drifts to the bottom of their inbox, and then… nothing.
Let’s take a look at these principles in action. You’re going to see a sample outreach email I received and, together, you’ll learn how it does — or does not — perform on the three above principles.
Sample Outreach Email
The background for this email is this: I received a cold email pitch from a company selling Search Engine Optimization services. Let’s take a look at the email and see how it scores on each of the three criteria:
- “You” Focused Language
- Clear Call to Action
Here’s the sample email:
(Can’t see the example email? Click ‘Enable Images’ in your email client)
Reading through this email, it doesn’t look that bad:
- Personalization — It includes the name of the person their emailing and the name of the company / organization the person works for. Additionally, it highlights what could be an expensive problem that the company or person may be experiencing: a problem with their search engine optimization.
- You Focused Language — This email seems like it’s talking about the recipient, but it’s actually talking about the sender. More about this below.
- Call to Action — The call to action is pretty weak. “Are you interested in increasing your traffic?” What action, exactly, should you, as the recipient, take? Reply? Well, what will happen once you reply? Are you scheduling a call? Requesting information? Something else?
Overall, I’d give this email a C-. Let’s take another look at the email, specifically the ‘you’ vs ‘me’ focused language.
I’ve gone through and highlighted each sentence based on who the sentence is talking about:
- Sentences about the sender are highlighted in RED
- Sentences about the recipient are highlighted in GREEN
- Sentences that are neither are highlighted in YELLOW
(Can’t see the example email? Click ‘Enable Images’ in your email client)
Whoa! That’s a lot of red. Let’s look at the email sentence and sentence and see why these are actually ‘me’ focused sentences:
[Name], I’d like to help [Company Name]’s website get more traffic
This falls into the trap of talking of the sender talking about themselves (“I’d like to help…”) rather than talking about the recipient or the recipient’s business. It touches on the outcome (“…get more traffic”), but is focused on the sender rather than the recipient.
I noticed that your website isn’t ranking well for the top keywords in your area.
While focused on the recipient’s website and the problem that the recipient is experiencing, the sentence is “I” focused rather than “You” focused. An alternative writing could have been “Are you aware that your site isn’t ranking well for the top industry keywords in your region?”
I help organizations create SEO strategies that increase website traffic.
The sender falls into the trap of talking about their discipline or skill — creating SEO strategies — rather than talking about the recipient’s business. (You could imagine an alternate version that says “With a customized SEO strategy, you’d be able to increase your website’s traffic”).
After working with me, [client name] doubled their website traffic. (You can learn more about that here: [link]).
Same dollar, different day. The sender is attempting to cite social proof in terms that relate to the outcome they’re hoping to help the recipient achieve, but because of how the sender worded it, the passage comes off as a brag about themselves, rather than an achievable outcome for the client.
Feel free to say no, but… are you interested in increasing your website traffic?
Finally! A sentence that’s focused on the recipient, directly asking them a question.
Unfortunately, the question is an incredibly poor call to action for two reasons.
First, because it doesn’t tell the recipient what to do. If they are interested in increasing their website traffic, what step should they take? Should they call? Reply? Visit a page? Something else? If they had specified a concrete, direct next step to take, this call to action would have been more powerful.
Second, because it asks a dumb question. Who would realistically say “No” to increasing their website traffic?
So by asking this question, they aren’t really asking a question, they’re just making a statement that the recipient can make an agreeable sound about.
Imagine, instead a call to action like:
“Feel free to say no, but… are you interested in a customized plan, tailored to your business, showing you the exact steps to take to increase your traffic? If you are, just hit reply and say “Tell me more!” and I’ll reply back with some more information for you to review.”
By asking a direct question that the recipient could answer yes or no to and giving a specific next step for the recipient to take, we improve the call to action.
Now the recipient is able to answer a direct question about a need in their business (a tailored plan for increasing traffic) and is given a specific next step (reply) and instructions on what will happen once they reply.
After reviewing this email, you can see how easy it is to slip into the trap of using predominantly ‘me’ focused language when we think we’re talking about the recipient.
You must be ever watchful for this and make sure you’re talking about the recipient, the recipient’s business, and how the recipient will benefit from the information you’re sharing, not just talking about yourself.
Let’s say we were to rewrite this email. What could it look like? Remember, we want to focus on these three elements:
- Personalization — Making sure the email has relevant details about the recipient and the recipient’s business
- You Focused Language — Making sure that the email talks to the recipient about their business, not about ourselves.
- Call to Action — Making sure that the email has both a specific, direct next step for the recipient to take to move forward and instructions on what will happen once the recipient responds.
With this rewrite, we’ve accomplished three things by focusing on the three essential principles of writing a good outreach email:
- Personalization — We’ve added additional elements of personalization to the email, but elements that are easily identified as part of an outbound outreach campaign and that would easily scale as we grew the campaign.
- You Focused Language — We’ve rewritten the email to be specifically framed in relation to the recipient: the problem they’re experiencing and the benefits you could deliver them.
- Call to Action — We’ve reworded the call to action to have a specific next step for the recipient to take along with instructions on what will happen next.
Now, those three principles are essential. But there are actually two more that are important as you go about writing your emails:
- Subject Line — Your email subject line has to encourage the recipient to click and open. If you’re experiencing people not opening your emails, then you’ll want to look at your subject line. The job that a subject line has is to get your email opened. If your emails aren’t getting opened, then the subject line isn’t doing it’s job.
- Length — Your emails must be short and to the point. Long outreach emails get read, put down, and then forgotten about. Until you’ve established rapport and started a conversation with the person you’re emailing, you want to focus on having short, concise emails with a clear call to action. If you’re looking for a strict rule, aim for 250-400 words maximum.