Sean is a principal at FitzMartin, and our leading mind and voice on sales and marketing strategy. Sean is particularly adept at applying the science of behavior change to the art of sales and marketing.
Sean Doyle: Lee McKnight is an SVP of sales with a great background in health care and services industry. The man understands how to sell.
And I think today you’re going to enjoy on Aligned the podcast that serves the executives of emerging middle-market companies. People who are looking to find levers to pull, to grow faster, to grow more effectively, to make more money. Today, in Lee’s call with us, we were able to explore terrible sales emails. That sounds crazy, but he and I each have a folder in our inbox where we collect the worst of the sales emails we ever get.
So we pulled together a few of them. Today, if you listen, you’re going to meet the Narcissist, Mr. Over Eager, the Lazy Guy, the Faker and more. The goal for us today was to share with you some of the worst, to make sure that you’re not doing that. But also, we have a thoughtful look into what does work. Why? How does sales use email effectively? So that said, let’s talk to Lee.
Lee, let me give you an introduction that your father will be proud of and that your mother will believe. Lee is the Vice President of Sales at RSW US. They specifically work with professional services firms and they help their clients do outreach to their specific target markets.
Lee is the Director of Sales there, but his focus or RSW’s focus is broader than just dialing for dollars. They’re working all the way across omnichannel: social media, blog contents, webinars. They do use email. And not that long ago, I heard a podcast that Lee did about email, sales emails, and I thought it was intriguing. And you should go follow up. Lee, where is your podcast? Where would people find that?
Lee McKnight: Yeah, we actually do, it’s a video series. It’s both, but the video series is more up to date. That’s our YouTube channel at RSWus.com.
Sean Doyle: So go there, check out the email podcast that he did, or excuse me, video series that he did. Lee is a smart guy. He’s not only a sales guy, but he’s a JD. Right. That means you’re a smart, smart lawyer type. Right?
Lee McKnight: I guess. I did it, yes and survived.
Sean Doyle: So from there went into healthcare marketing in Nashville and now is in Cincinnati. And just generally a good guy. And if you look at the wall behind him, if you could see right through there, and see the wall, you’d see he loves music. So, he and I both are hacks on the guitar. But he does it in front of people. I do it all by myself, so—
Lee McKnight: Well, thank you.
Sean Doyle: So, we thought about this, and Lee you and I had this conversation to talk about terrible sales emails. Oh, man. I come across them all the time. In fact, I’ve got a folder. If you could look at my computer, and on the folder, it’s “terrible sales emails”. Hence the clever name of this podcast episode.
Lee McKnight: Yes, I’ve got my own as well. I like to keep almost every one I get. And some of them are good, mind you, but most of them are not.
Sean Doyle: My math, in my life, I get about 280, 290 emails a day. So, if I take a day off, on the occasional day, I get those 280 emails or so. I had them this morning. Then I also get probably five or six calls a day. And I don’t know. I just would like your opinion, at first. What do you think the odds are better?
Lee McKnight: Gosh, it’s a good question. I’m kind of surprised, actually, that you get that many calls a day. I feel like so many folks are afraid to pick up the phone. But I think for us. It’s so critical that you use all these platforms in concert with each other. I really think you have to not only have those two but include social where it makes sense. And even use things, old-school things like direct mail, which is not what we’re here to talk about. But to your point, why you ask the question, I definitely think that people who aren’t using the phone are doing themselves a disservice. But email is still critical. It’s just gotten even harder to breakthrough.
Sean Doyle: So what do you think a good call-to-contact ratio would be with the telephone? And what’s a good ratio if you do an email? And I’m going to ask you to throw out these specific numbers without any advance notice, so good luck.
Lee McKnight: So I’ll take our own experience, right? I mean, and as our firm reaching out to marketers, predominantly, not all marketers, but what we usually see, as far as breaking through, is anywhere from seven-to-twelve touches. And I know that’s a bit of a wide spectrum, but I think within those seven, I’m going to say that’s over the course of three-to-four weeks.
And I’m going to say alternate those touches to where you have, minimally (and I’m saying going in cold) now when you come in and you hit that warm-to-hot basket, it’s a little different, right? But just overall, generally, I’m going to say two-to-three calls, two-to-three emails, at most. And then you’re going to vary with something like a LinkedIn invite, if someone’s a little bit warmer, where you’re not just a straight cold sell on LinkedIn, which is all other podcast really about the used car lot that’s become.
Sean Doyle: It kind of has. I love all the delightful offers I get to partner. “Partner” is my favorite word. I don’t want to be your partner. I just . . . Anyway, another subject. Another conversation. How to use LinkedIn well. So, the listeners of this podcast are typically executives of emerging middle-market companies. And they may be a CEO, maybe a CFO, maybe an SVP of sales or a CMO. So, what I’m hearing you say, as far as practical application, right out the gate is just email alone is not a plan. That’s just lazy. And that’s the way I see it, too. So, if you don’t have any alignment between what your sales force is doing and what your marketing team is doing, then there’s your first step. You’ve got to have an integrated omnichannel — I’m old enough, we called integrated marketing communications. Omnichannel is today’s cool way of saying it.
Lee McKnight: So that would be the first thing you’d want to look at. I mean, email alone is going to have a diminishing return. We always tell people we want to see 20% to 25% open rates. If you’ve got a targeted, well-defined, valuable email.
But if it’s not valuable, if it’s this pure raunchy email junk that goes out to sell, than 10% rates become 6% rates become 1% rates, and it’s just going to go away to nothing. So, the first rule of email is it has to be integrated. It can’t just be this independent shot. It can’t be a lazy way to get leads.
Sean Doyle: I agree. Which really leads the conversation to say, and maybe this is the oldest news, but the sales world is changed, right? It used to be the salesperson was in charge of the prospect. Now the prospect is in charge of the buying process.
We use something that we call Cognitive Marketing, and it’s a behavioral-science way to break down the steps that everybody takes when they change behaviors. Selling something is helping a person change behavior. I’m buying from A to buy from B. Well, that’s a change in behavior. And there’s lots of small steps that happen. There are big public steps. There are private steps. That also is a subject for another conversation. But what I want to say is that in these steps, email has a role early-stage. So, you can have people who are unaware that something exists. You can have unawareness that somebody, a business, a service, a product, exists. You could also have, and this is more likely, I believe, a use for email: “I’m aware that a company exists, but I’m unaware of how they matter to me as a buyer.”.
Lee McKnight: Absolutely.
Sean Doyle: I think using email to create awareness that something exists is a horrible use of email. The GDPR and the CCPA, the Privacy Act, all that, these lists that we get; who do we send emails to? How can we send? I got an email this morning, a terrible sales email promising me a list of vetted opt-in executives who want email. Would you? First of all, do you believe that? No.
Lee McKnight: I mean, I do get probably one of those every single day.
Sean Doyle: So how does this legislative approach to email impact the efficacy of e-mail as a sales tool?
Lee McKnight: We have a couple of folks here in the office that know more than I ever will, but it’s interesting because you know where that started, which was in Europe, and without getting too deep in the history of my company, our company, it was actually started in the U.K. in 1992. And so, I say all that because our president, Mark Snyder, was actually a client first. We’ve kept in touch with Adam Whitaker over there and had called him and had a pretty good conversation just out of the gate to say, what does this look like? This was a good three, four or five months ago. How should we start preparing for this? It will be interesting to see how that could fundamentally change, in fact it already has changed to an extent, I’m not sure these companies are really paying enough attention to it. And so, they’re just spamming out all this email, I’m curious to see what their rates are looking like. And I think it’s affecting them without them even knowing it. And I don’t know how these companies do what they say they’re doing.
Sean Doyle: I’d agree with that, too. And I think, you know, any regulation or government in the United States has produced more regulation than law, particularly recently. It’s easier, doesn’t require, you know, all the politics and signatures. But the problem is there are no teeth to that regulation. So, we do make an effort; we use tech tools that require opt-in. We work with y’all, in full disclosure, and you all promised us and declare in your contracts that we’re using names and letters, that we are permitted to send out. I always find, as a salesperson, the challenge in using an email to follow up with somebody I met. So, if I meet a prospect at a meeting, a lunch, a business, I don’t ask for permission. Right? I can still just send them an email because we’ve talked, we’ve had a dialog. There’s a basis for that e-mail. I think the problems are these big massive dumps of a million names. Most importantly perhaps, not that following rules is not important, it’s just not effective. So, while we’re having a little fun with what’s not effective. I’ve chosen a few, and I think you’ve chosen a few of your favorite worst emails. I want to share a few of mine. If you see yourself in these examples, if you’re listening to this podcast, then I really want you to go back and look at your company’s sales emails. And if they sound like this — stop. And then I promise at the end of the dialog, we’re going to share a few things of how to do this well.
So I put little names on mine. It helps me remember them. Speaking of Mr. Over Eager, I think that is my first terrible e-mail model. So, Mr. Over Eager, I’m going to use his real emails, names not changed because I’m not going to protect the guilty. Just first names, though. So, Dominic here sent me an e-mail and said “Time to chat” in the subject line. And then followed up saying, “I sent you an email last week about our potential partnership” and then blah blah blah . . . “beneficial for us to partner up on” (great English.) So, wait a second, I don’t know you. You’ve acknowledged this, Dominic, but you’re telling me you want to partner with me?
I think the funniest thing with Mr. Over Eager is to put these emails in the context of “if we were on a date.” So, if we’re on a date and I’m at the first few minutes of the meal and I say, you know (I married a woman named Susan) — if I said Susan, I’m kind of interested in seeing if you want to partner up. Do you think I would have had a second date? No. But if you know, if you’ll just think about these emails in terms of these dates. I mean, don’t start with partnership.
If you look at the cognitive model of change (CogMar), you’re first creating awareness. Then you’re exploring these ideas of potential benefits and then you want to go through a phase that allows you to explore what would a partnership look like. But at that point, I’m in charge as the buyer of that whole process, of that journey. So terrible. Mr. Over Eager here, starting with a proposal of marriage. Slow down Dominic, just pump the brakes.
Lee McKnight: Yeah. I mean that “I want to partner with you”, and you mention it in the beginning, has become so pervasive. And again, I love the word you used. It’s lazy. It’s just another of the tricks in your book. And not only is it audacious, for lack of better word, but it’s just almost condescending in that sense, to your point. It’s like, how could you possibly think this is going to be something that’s going to work?
Sean Doyle: A partnership is going to reveal itself in time. You’re going to get me interested by solving a problem I have. You should know my business well enough. If you’re going to sell to me, send me an email that points out a specific problem I have. You should know that. It’s your obligation if you’re the selling party to know what the buying party’s problems are.
I’m in a partnership with y’all because, over 12 months of work together, we know how each other works. And actually, it’s both ways. You’re evaluating me. I’m evaluating you. Do I hold my up my part of the deal? Do you uphold your part of the deal? So, pump the brakes. Pump the brakes on that. Do you have one you want to share?
Lee McKnight: I will. So, I’m calling this the Tone-Deaf Salesperson. So, the reason I say a Tone-Deaf Salesperson is, and this is old sales axiom, but it’s “know your audience.” And similar to what you’ve already started in on. I’ll just go through a little bit of email.
I love this one. This is about five or six months ago. So it started out, and I’m going to read little bits and pieces, but it started out informally, not necessarily a bad thing, he says, “Hey, Lee, even though big things are cool, smaller projects and campaigns with our partners are the unspoken heroes that don’t get as much back-patting. I wanted to share two recent animated explainer videos with you that could spark some ideas (here’s my favorite part) on how we might snap into your upcoming client execution.”
Sean Doyle: What does that mean?
Lee McKnight: I don’t know what that means, so there’s that. And then also, and this is where I’m going to get a little pedantic, but there’s a point. And then, he’s got one typo, OK? I’m certainly not going to sit here and say I’ve never made a typo in an email (I have) but then goes into the next piece of it, which is now a third here. He says, “To give context, we can pull these explainers together in the range of $10,000 to $20,000, roughly, (and he misspelled it without the L so it’s actually roughie) depending on the nitty-gritty deets.”
Sean Doyle: So you’re a millennial, right?
Lee McKnight: Well and yeah, I’ll get to that, because now it’s like really you’re just being a jerk. But, OK, so we now have two typos and he’s said two things that I’m like, OK. And so then it’s not the end of the email, but we already have SNAP and we’ve got DEETS and we’ve got typos. And now the last bit, he says, “No matter what the next big or small thing will be, it’s typically gonna be with our partners.”
So the counterpoint to me saying this is, “Lee, you’re just old.” And that’s fair. I’m not. But nor am I a millennial. Yes, I understand the fact that our business communications have gotten looser and less formal. Fine. But, know your audience here. You have no idea who you’re reaching out to, apparently, and to say throughout some of these things, and on top of that, to have three typos — it’s just not a good look. You come off as kind of smarmy, kind of grating, trying too hard and going a little bit overboard. And if nothing else, for goodness sake, proofread. It’s not tough and little things happen, of course. I think to me, that that’s the thing. Just know your audience. You don’t understand that you’re emailing to, yes, millennials, but also Xs like me and whoever else.
Sean Doyle: Let me ask you this, do you think that that kind of casual language, let’s say “deets” was intentional, because I’ve got a millennial in my office, he’d say “deets” totally. Is that OK to be casual? You know, I’m at the end of the boomers, and I would have been taught “no, you don’t know this person.”
Lee McKnight: I guess that is what’s interesting. I was curious to get your take on it. I think that’s ultra-casual for lack of a better word. And it did bug me. And I think there is a way to be casual in tone that is more authentic. I know when you and I were talking about this earlier — just the fakeness.
And, you know, when we talk with our salespeople here, it’s don’t talk at people. Talk to them. You risk insincerity. We’re not sending in love letters to each other here. But, you know, there’s a way to be authentic and actually speak to that person, where you’re not turning on this fake, smarmy, whatever it is. So, there’s a fine line, I guess.
Sean Doyle: So this is my next favorite guy: The Lazy guy. Or maybe I should call this guy the, “What? You want me to do your job?”.
Come on, man. So, my best friend here, Parker, reached out and said, “I’m writing from (fill in the blank) to ask about your benefits at FitzMartin, but I wanted to make sure you’re the right person. Would you confirm that that’s the case? It’s been a little while since I reached out. So, I wanted to see if you’re the right person at your company, FitzMartin. If not, would you direct me to the right person?”
Parker, brother? If you really want to sell to my company, you could find out if I’m the right person in maybe 10 seconds or less on my website. Ten seconds or less. On the website. That’s not a big barrier.
I think a lot of times, maybe, the sales guy is getting blamed for being lazy. I also think the marketer is lazy. If marketing is sending emails to people who they don’t know whether they could be a prospect — then that’s just a shoot & spray and kind of see what happens idea. That’s lazy marketing as well as lazy sales.
OK. One more and then I’m tossing it back to you. The Faker. Because this guy just ticks me off even more so, John, my newest, best friend. (I get a lot of new best friends.) I got a very concise, short email. But it’s a lie. So, it starts with re: Update?
So the implied “We’ve been talking” and now it’s up to me . . . Or the other one we get is what the “follow up to my previous . . . ”.
You know, they’re really smart, they won’t say follow to my previous email. It’ll be to our prior conversation or something. It’s a lie. We didn’t have a conversation. So, that’s right there on the subject line. But then it’s “Just checking in. How are your growth initiatives going?”.
Well, I don’t know you. You’re lying to me by this implied . . . just because you’ve sent an email before does not mean we have a relationship. So, don’t lie to me. I’m smart enough to know if I’ve talked to most people before. I miss a few, right? It drives me crazy.
Lee McKnight: That happens a ton. I get e-mails like that a lot and it is just such a terrible sales technique. And I always wonder . . . I guess they’re banking on this person so busy. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they’re like, oh, maybe I did talk to her, which is never going to happen. But I always wondered, like, what if someone did come back and you were able to get on a call with them now. Now you have to double down, don’t you? And the whole week we talked last year—
Sean Doyle: And then there is the “I wanted to follow up with you and see if you received my previous message.” Now, if I did, if I wanted to talk to you. I would have called you. And I know enough about marketing and the world knows enough about marketing, you’ve got a tracking pixel in your e-mail. You know if I’ve opened it or not. So, some marketing schmuck like me (oh, no, that’s terrible) has set up a workflow and these things are just happening.
I think if you’re going to run your business with integrity, run your sales with integrity. You’ve really got to know what your agency and marketing firm are doing because they may be setting up these workflows and they’re probably, the best of them, are probably even doing a/b testing. So, one of the answers to why do people do this? Probably there’s a percentage bump by doing these lies. I just think you’ve got to choose to work with integrity or not.
Lee McKnight: So I had two others, one real example and then one just to point out because . . . well, I’ll do that first. And I called it my “Tolstoy.” And this is really weird because what’s happening recently, so you get these e-mails that are really long. Right. Which is just sacrilege in the sales e-mail world. But it’s usually like a conference or something like that, where right out of the gate, usually it’s a conference in. But in the past two weeks, literally, I’ve gotten five or six emails from actual salespeople — one was 13 paragraphs long.
It was so amazing that I forwarded it to all of our salespeople, not that they would ever do something like that, but this is a “you guys have to see this to believe it.”.
So Tolstoy, because there’s all these e-mails are “War and Peace.”.
Sean Doyle: All right. Let’s go. Two more.
Lee McKnight: Mine’s quick. So, this is one I’m calling him the Big Baller. And the fact that, you know, we all get these generic, cute, ineffective e-mails from salespeople. I got one that just kind of irritated me, which I guess is a theme for me on these. And it was like that Seinfeld episode, you know, where they’re all speaking in the third person. I’m dating myself like. You know, Jimmy’s down. And George was upset — “George is getting upset!” That’s me right now. But what he says is: “Lee, I’m in back to back meetings all day. But I wanted to take the time to send over a quick intro.”
Lee McKnight: So that may seem harmless, but it irks me to no end that the sense of self-importance this guy has or was trying to project. He’s saying: “I’m really busy, Lee. But I’m going to give you just a just a brief intro here, buddy.”.
You know, don’t bother.
Sean Doyle: What do you call him? What was his name? The Big Baller. All right. So, I’ve got a very similar one is my rap and I call him the Narcissist. So, everybody has that English teacher in their life or I hope everybody does, who sat you down and just — Miss Palmer changed my life. There, I’ll be positive. She changed my life by just sitting and looking at me and holding a paper and saying, you can do better. So, she taught lots of techniques and things to write.
But I thought my friend “Ralph,” in my terrible sales email folder, should make the star student, star pupil here. Oh, wait. He’d be the opposite of a star pupil. So, I’m just going to read how these sentences start. And I think you’ll catch on pretty fast.
Hi, Sean. I hope this e-mail finds you well. I did a little research . . . I admire one of the recommendations you’ve made . . . this caught my attention . . . having said that, I think you’ll be interested . . . if you have a few minutes this week, then I’d like to . . . .
So, he even took the time to go on LinkedIn and find a referral. You know, those gloriously self-aggrandizing things we all put on LinkedIn. So, he took one, really found one, from a guy that I worked with: “Sean has had a significant, lasting impact on my management practices, blah, blah, blah.
So, he took the time to go there, cut and paste and dropped it in. So, give him some credit. That does indicate some of that research that you and I were talking about. But I think it’s so funny that it’s buried, that Ralph buried this inside of something that was all about Ralph. I mean, how many “I’s” didn’t we all learn in English to not say “I.” Don’t start every sentence with I. I think that would be a bad idea to do that. That was a little joke there. Get it?
Lee McKnight: But what I loved, and maybe you’re going here, was the e-mail before they sent you. Where he said, (I mean, I’m going to steal your thunder, but yeah) where he says, “I was thinking about FitzMartin and realized the last email I sent a few days ago was focused too much on our company and not enough on you. Trying again in the hopes of learning more about your strategies.”.
I was like, okay, now we’ve got something, maybe. You know, he’s probably being disingenuous, but he’s trying. And then he sent that next e-mail several days later where, again to your point, he makes it all about him again. It’s like you kind of teed yourself up, you were getting somewhere and then, OMG, what with that quote that means nothing. I mean, he was just trying to, you know, stroke your ego or whatever.
Sean Doyle: Which does work, by the way. I thought a lot of him.
So maybe this was a fun way to yank chains and I hope we can all recognize, well I hope we can’t, but if we do recognize ourselves in any of these examples, man, let’s go back. Talk to marketing. Talk to sales. Use this as a training example. I’d encourage everybody to put up a folder in their mail client and just start gathering these terrible emails. And then send them to your marketing team. Send them to your agencies. Send them to your sales team and say, here’s some things not to do. Make it a working session. Maybe it’s a lunch and learn. Maybe you could draft some of these workflows and some of these individual introduction emails.
And, you know, again, at FitzMartin, we’d say Cognitive Marketing. What does somebody who is unaware of how your brand matters to them, what do they need to know? What does somebody who is aware of your brand and maybe they’ve been to your website, what do they need to know? What does somebody who’s begun a dialog with the sales team and what they need to hear when they’re unaware is very different than if they’re right at the end of the deal. Maybe there’s an advocacy situation inside your prospect’s office and they need something to forward — maybe that’s the long email that we need to do.
Understand who you are. Understand and research the stew out of your prospects so you can talk about them. I think that’s my one takeaway. Don’t talk about yourself. If you talk about yourself, you’re done. Talk about them. If you’re selling to me, understand my needs.
My business consultant has an uncanny ability to say, for example, he’d say agencies that spend more than 45 percent of their adjusted gross income on employees and internal salaries have a problem and they should learn more.
Well, what do you think I did when I got that? I went and looked at how much of my AGI I was spending. And, you know, I learned something and I immediately fired everybody. No, no, no, I didn’t. We’re actually very healthy.
Lee McKnight: Yeah, that’s the key. Because I think some people listening or when you say you’ve got to research your prospects — “I don’t have time. I don’t have time.”. Well, OK, but your example is perfect because OK, you might not know the ins and outs of that person at that moment. Right? But you’re speaking to them. And then when they’re opening, they’re clicking, they’re showing interest. Then you could do a deeper dive.
Sean Doyle: So especially if you’re in services, you’re afraid of giving it away, right? So, the thing I would tell a services company is to share the principles. The principle is 45 percent of your AGI should be spent on salaries. So that’s a principle for my industry. Now, he didn’t tell me what to do. If it’s too high or too low. We didn’t discuss if it’s too low, here’s the problems that that creates. If it’s too high, here’s the problems that creates. So that application is why you’re paying for professional services.
Let’s say you’re selling something. Let’s say you’re selling a service or some capital expenditure item. Same thing. The idea that this product, this machine could do something, or a service associated could do something for your industry. We can talk about the principle of how lease operating expenses can be lowered by 30 percent. Would you like to learn more about that? “Oh, well, yeah, that’s interesting. And you’re in my industry.” So, you know it doesn’t give me anything. I’ve still got to buy the equipment or buy the service. So, you’re not giving away anything.
So, showing industry expertise. Now, if you’re broadly positioned and serving everybody in the world, then you’ve got a problem. But that’s a marketing problem that marketing should solve. That’s an excellent point. And I love the way you teed off. I mean, it’s funny, that you and I have those folders. But I think if you are a CMO of that company or CEO, it can be such a great, valuable tool for your team. That costs you nothing. Right? I mean, you’re getting these every day, whether you like it or not. And yes, some of them are just complete trash and you know it’s bad. But there are some that if you can parse it the way that we have today. I really think, as you said, have it be a learning session and it could go a long way.
Sean Doyle: Love it. Lee, you’re an expert in your field. You’re a leader of salespeople and marketers and I love the insights you’ve offered. Love the follow up. Have you written a book? Anybody can buy?
Lee McKnight: I should look into it after the action figure line. But yeah, we have a ton of content on our site RSWus.com. And those videos are ideally helpful for folks and they’re all based on new business and sales. So, it was great to be here. Thanks for having me Sean, I really appreciate it.
Sean Doyle: Hope you enjoyed that podcast. We certainly had some humor and good time with Lee. I enjoyed the conversations, but most importantly, I hope you got some value out of it. I hope you heard a few things that you can immediately implement at your offices. The main thing I really hope you heard was this idea of Cognitive Marketing and how that informs the use of sales — when to say what in sales emails. And if you want to talk about that? Of course, shout at me. Sean@fitzmartin.com. Or just call the office 205.322.1010. Most of all, we want to be incredibly helpful to you achieving your goals. We know emails are a powerful tool and almost always it can be used more effectively. Until the next time, this is the Aligned podcast.