Rethinking Email.

I’m thinking a lot about reinvention lately.

So much of what we are able to do for clients and agencies is new. Yet how we go about communicating and selling is not. As I work with managers and sales teams our conversations almost always turn to Email and the fact that it’s just not working for us anymore, externally or internally.

Generally speaking, we tend to send badly-structured Emails that are too long, too predictable, to too many people. We use email as a blunt-force instrument, overwhelming our prospects and coworkers with unendurable detail and word counts. What was once a promising chance at immediate connection has jumped the shark and become a burden to all involved. It’s time to stop the madness. Here’s how.

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Deserve their attention. If you haven’t done research on your customer and don’t have a specific way to help him, don’t reach out at all. Inboxes are flooded every day by people who want only to learn about your business or introduce you to my company. Not having a legitimate customer-focused agenda is a non-starter.

Write to the screen that’s being read. When you send email to a prospective customer, write to the email interface on the mobile device where they are no doubt screening and reading it. Write no more than what fits on a mobile screen.  Nobody wants to read a cold, 400-word recitation of your company’s value. Say less.

Have a communication strategy. While you’re whittling your message down to 80 or 90 words, know that it’s just one of the messages you’ll be sending. For a legitimate potential client for whom you can create real value, a couple of short messages followed by an intelligent voice mail followed by a LinkedIn message every couple of days is the perfect cadence – and the perfect blend of media, timing and approach. Stop trying to accomplish everything in one epic Email. Serialize your approach.

Lead with need. Assume you’re getting maybe a glance at your subject line and – if really lucky – a look at the first two lines of your message. Start writing thoughtful, concise, provocative subject lines about topics relevant to the customer, and stop wasting the critical first words with small talk and fake friendship.

Get to the point. Start your emails with I’m writing you because… Then immediately say something about your customer’s situation. This simple technique forces you to elevate the client agenda to the beginning of the communication.

Address to one, send to no more than two. Sending emails to several people or whole teams is just a bad idea. Whether you’re writing externally or internally, it becomes quickly apparent if you’re just covering your ass. Start limiting those distribution fields and speaking directly to your customers (and co-workers) and their agendas.

When it comes to understanding our customers and reaching out to them, there is an embarrassment of riches at our disposal. There’s no reason anyone should be bludgeoning customers with uninformed, cold email in 2019. This is a change you completely control. Make it today.

I’m Writing You Because…

For something we use every single day, most of us really end up sucking at email.

It’s not that we’re not all really articulate – we’ve got some really brilliant writers in our ranks.  It’s not that we have nothing to say – most of our companies really are doing terrific things that create real value for clients and agencies.

No, our emails suck for one very simple and pedestrian reason:  We don’t know how to start them.

We’re asking for your support for the family of our great friend and digital advertising pioneer Joe Gallagher, who we lost tragically and unexpectedly this summer. We’ve set up a GoFundMe page to raise scholarship funds for Joe’s kids. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated and 100% will go to the Gallagher family. Thank you for your generosity.

There are whole books and business articles and classes devoted to the use of email.  Recently, Robert Glazer celebrated the joy of brevity in his ‘Friday Forward’ post.  Brief, well-structured – check, check.  But none of that matters if you don’t – first – get to the point!

Consider that your customers read and edit much of their email on the screen of a mobile phone.  A quick swipe of the thumb and your email is gone and forgotten.  Whether or not that thumb goes left is based on (1) whether you have an existing personal or business relationship – odds are that you don’t;  (2) the subject line; and (3) the first two lines of copy.  Yet despite the critical importance of points 2 and 3, sellers waste this precious real estate every day.

For lack of consideration (or maybe lack of any real reason for writing), we carelessly stick the client’s company name “X” our company name in the subject line.  Perhaps because we want to appear folksy and nonthreatening, we start with something inane like “Hope you had a great weekend!” or “I’ll only take a minute of your time.”

Your subject line is nothing less than the headline for the story you’re writing.  It should speak directly to the core value you hope to deliver.  “3.5 Million Incremental Shoppers for Your Holiday Push” or “High Income Millennials are Not Hearing Your Core Story” would be good examples.

And when it comes to the opening sentence of your email, here’s the best one I’ve ever seen:  I’m writing you because… This simple phrase forces you to speak immediately and directly to the reason why your customer should spend even another second reading.  If you haven’t got a good reason, it will become immediately apparent to you, and you can go back to the drawing board.

It’s time to start thinking, acting and writing intentionally.  Drop the shallow chumminess and stop clearing your throat.  Respect is the new friendship, and if you respect your client’s time by getting to the point you’ll be rewarded with their most precious currency:  attention.

I’m Not Reading Your Email. Here’s Why.

As I work with dozens of sales teams and hundreds of salespeople each year, one thing is consistently clear:  customers aren’t reading their emails, and it’s pissing them off.

You’re frustrated that you took a half hour to bolt together the perfect set of facts.  You’ve tried to personalize it to the customer, conspicuously adding her name at several points in the text.  You even made it a little fun and folksy.  But then….nothing.  Bupkis. Radio silence.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  But before we try to make things better, let’s crawl inside the customer’s head for a minute.

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Not long ago I spoke with a marketer who oversees a lot of ad buying.  He told me that he averages about 225 inbound email messages a day from reps and other vendors who want a piece of his time or attention.  When I asked how he managed all that, his response was simple: “I just pretty much delete the first two from everybody.  Most give up by then.”  Sure, this is a little cold-blooded, but there’s a logic to it.

Frequency.  Experts say it takes an average of 9 quality contacts to make a connection with a customer who doesn’t already know you.  Most reps focus on writing one great email and – if they follow up at all – toss off a bunch of “just making sure you got my email” notes.

Brevity. If they’re reading it at all, your customers are reading email on their phones.  So why are you writing it for a laptop screen?  Imagine the screen of an iPhone as your canvas:  very short messages and questions that get right to the point.  If they have to scroll down, they’ll instead choose to swipe left.  And you’re done.

Scheduling.  As you’re planning out your nine smart, short messages to your customer, be sure you switch out your day-parts.  First thing in the morning one day…afternoon a couple of days later… then maybe right at the end of the day.  And while you’re at it, change channels.  Toss in a Linked In In-Mail message, a voice mail or two (think of them as your radio spots) and maybe even a handwritten note or something else tangible.  A good campaign does not say the same thing the same way at the same time every day.

Lead with Needs.  Your headline and the very first line of your messages matter a lot.  So given that you’ve done your homework (wait…you did, right?), reference your learnings to lead with the customer’s needs…in the headline and in the opening.  Your customer knows you don’t really care how their weekend was.  So try starting with “I’m writing you today because…”  Get to the point.  Respect is the new friendship.

What the aforementioned marketer understood was that a salesperson’s approach to the customer isn’t just a way to start the relationship; it is the start of the relationship.  It’s where you demonstrate to the customer who you are, what you stand for, and how much you care about his business.

Don’t waste that opportunity.

The Cone of Silence.

The Cone of SilenceThe topic of this week’s Drift changed when I was contacted by Digiday reporter Ricardo Bilton about the article he was writing about phone-phobic salespeople. I was happy to comment for the piece, but I also think there’s a bigger theme in play. If you’re a young seller, or someone who manages one, this Drift’s for you.

Do younger sellers tend to be phone-averse? Oh yeah. Somehow engaging with customers directly in a two-way, voice conversation is seen as rude, disruptive and overbearing.   Maybe it’s a millennial thing, maybe not. But we’ve nonetheless come to embrace the asynchronous, polite, wait-your-turn-and-wait-for-a-reply ethos of email and text. It’s about fear of discomfort; feeling it or causing it.

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And it doesn’t just impact buyer-seller relationships (the focus of Ricardo’s article). You see it within the home office environment too. I visit client companies all the time and watch as rows and rows of young workers, sitting only inches apart, send one another email after email, never thinking to stop the madness and have a clarifying conversation.

As a manager, you’ve got two concerns here. First, your people end up engaged in long, ponderous email strings over issues better resolved by intimate, immediate conversation. The clarifying question you can and should ask (in person) is “Did you talk about this face-to-face?” Ask it frequently enough and it becomes a mandate, then a habit.

Your second problem is that your salespeople are over-reliant on an email mindset that’s working against them. It’s not that email doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work the way the way they’re using it: in a vacuum and badly. Knowing that it takes between 9 and 12 attempts to elicit a response from an unknown customer, your reps should be thinking of their communication as a campaign. An email about one topic, followed by a well-planned voice mail, followed by another email introducing more information, followed by a Linked In in-mail. And then there’s the “don’t be a meathead” rule. When you do send email, avoid the “Poison Pills” and stop writing so much at one time: What fits on the screen of an iPhone is about right.

And while you’re at it, pick up the phone. It’s good for your relationship with your mom, with your co-workers and with your customers.

Stop Checking In.

Stop Checking inIf you read only the headline over this post, you might think I’m working to stamp out those ubiquitous “I’m at gate 71 at SFO!” social media updates.  OK, yes, I’d like to have that result too, but that’s not today’s topic.  Today I’m addressing something much closer to the heart and soul of sales:  the “pointless contact.”

Here’s how it goes:  You’ve submitted something to a potential customer (an RFP response, a proposal) or are just trying to get them to pay attention to you.  Perhaps your boss asked you about the status of the account; perhaps you got a reminder; or maybe you just woke up in a cold sweat about making your number this month.  You don’t think, you just start typing.  And then, tragically, you hit send.

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And, just like that, you’ve made a pointless contact.  The phenomenon was nicely spelled out in a recent slideshow on LinkedIn.  But every seller – and every buyer – recognizes the script.  “Hey…it’s me…how are you?  Just checking in to make sure you got my proposal….”  It’s a tough habit to break, but nothing could be more destructive to the rep’s reputation and perceived value than “I’m just checking in.”  Translated to English, it means “I got nothing.”  Worse, you start to sound like that insecure, clingy relationship stalker: “Just wanted to make sure you didn’t lose my phone number.”  What to do instead?  In my workshops, I always encourage sellers to break the cycle.

  • Establish a deadline when you make your proposal.  “I’ll call you on the 23rd and then once a week until we have clarity on whether you’re buying from us.”  This approach assumes a level of professionalism, respect and mutual commitment.  And the reason your writing or calling is because it’s what you said you were going to do.
  • Invite the No.  Read your tone of your past emails carefully.  You’re not asking for an answer:  you’re most likely asking for a meeting or an extended conversation that keeps your feeble hopes alive.  I’m a big fan of saying “If we’re not in your plans, I’d be glad to know, because I’ve got other customers to pursue.”  Or better yet, “If I hear nothing by the end of this week I’ll assume we are not getting the business and take you out of our projections.”   This sounds dangerous, but you only risk knowing the truth sooner.
  • Include a Surprise.  Include something of value for the customer.  A bit of relevant news, an article you found, insights on one of their competitors…just about anything.  You become the rep who always sends along something valuable…not the one who’s wasting my time “checking in.”