Whether you’re at a networking event, a party, a conference, or an office function, walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself can be terrifying.
I don’t know about you, but I never stroll over without a detailed plan of what I’ll say and how I’ll say it. After all, people form a first impression of you in a tenth of second — so as crazy as it sounds, a lame opening line could sabotage the entire relationship.
But even though I’ve always been strategic about my in-person opening lines, I only recently began applying the same level of thought to my online messages — a common sales email mistake. After taking a cold, hard look at the first lines I was using, I identified a few that were totally flopping. I tossed them from my repertoire … and my response rate more than doubled.
1. “My name is … ”
Names are one of the hardest things to remember — because, let’s be honest, people aren’t that interested in them. That means starting emails with, “My name is Aja Frost, and I’m an account executive for Zone,” will send my recipients straight to snoozeville.
Plus, it’s easy for prospects to figure out your name if they want to. All they have to do is look at the “From” field or email signature.
Luckily, fixing this mistake is easy: Just cut this sentence from your message so it now begins with the second sentence. Your recipient will appreciate how quickly you get to the point.
2. “I work for … ”
Launching into your message with “I work for so-and-so” is even worse than starting with your name. Not only is it boring and unoriginal, but it’s like planting a huge sign in the prospect’s brain that says, “I’m trying to sell you something!!!”
Telling the prospect which organization you represent can be useful; for instance, if the company is well-known, or if you’ve met the buyer before and this detail will help jog their memory. However, you’ll want to weave your company’s name in naturally.
3. “Did you know … ?”
Some reps attempt to create urgency by starting their emails with a rhetorical question, such as, “Did you know most U.S. workers have an average of 199 unread emails in their inbox?” (Yup, that’s a true stat.)
I have bad news for anyone who believes prospects will read this line and think, ‘No, I did not know that. Wow, I better drop everything and work with this salesperson!’
The typical reaction is usually closer to: ‘Ugh, if I wanted cheesy selling, I’d go watch an infomercial. Delete.’
You can definitely use intriguing stats to instill a sense of urgency, but dropping them in out of the blue won’t get you a response. If you’re going to start with a stat, make sure that you personalize it to the prospect’s unique situation and weave it into your email naturally, like so:
- “Email marketers like yourself usually struggle to improve their open rates. After all, the average consumer has 300% more unread emails in their inbox than four years ago.
- “In the past year, I helped two other companies in autocare increase their email open rates by an average of 20% … “
4. “Congrats on … ”
A trigger event — a relevant, recent occurrence that creates an opening for a sales opportunity — is a fantastic reason to contact a prospect and offer your help.
But as CEO of CB Insights Anand Sanwal explains, starting your email with a generic “Congratulations” is a major mistake.
“This is a hollow, lazy opening,” he writes. “While I like being congratulated on things as much as the next guy or gal, this screams ‘form letter.’”
To make it clear you’re not spraying and praying, get specific — really specific — with your congratulations.
For instance, instead of “Congratulations on getting funded,” you could write, “Just read that you raised $1.5 million in Series A funding from Harold & Bloom Investments — congratulations! Your plans for growth sound exciting, especially an expansion into the Midwest market.”
Bonus: That gives you the perfect segue into your next line:
“Usually, when companies move into new territories, they need to get boots on the ground as soon as possible … ”
5. “I’ve been thinking … ”
Your closest friends care about what you’ve been thinking. Your prospects? They do not. So rather than starting off with “I’ve been thinking” — and immediately coming across as self-interested — simply invert the statement.
Wrong: “I’ve been thinking about your recent acquisition of Darby Apparel, and … “
Right: “Your acquisition of Darby Apparel on Friday got me thinking … “
The second approach feels much less self-serving, simply because it starts by referencing the prospect (“Your”) rather than the rep (“I’ve”).
In fact, you should never begin an email by talking about yourself — sales emails should be about prospects. If you find yourself saying “I,” use this inversion trick.
Let’s say you wrote, “I’m also a member of the Dallas Entrepreneurs group on LinkedIn, and I saw you posted a question about Google AdWords.” Flip this sentence so it reads: “You posted a great question about Google AdWords in the Dallas Entrepreneurs group on LinkedIn last week.”
Now the focus is firmly on the prospect.
6. “I hope you’re doing well … “
This line might seem fine on the surface — after all, who will be offended by the sentiment?
But in sales, being bland is the kiss of death. Your prospect will probably stop reading before the end of the sentence, meaning they’ll never get to your thought-provoking question, unexpected insight, or offer to help with a relevant challenge.
Instead of using this line, dive right into your message. Not only will you save precious space, but you’ll also have a far better shot of catching the buyer’s attention.
And if you’re feeling like taking a risk? Try a bold opener such as, “I’m worried about your company’s [ability to do X, strategy for Y, response to Z].” If they’re not doing well, you have an opportunity to add a lot of value.
7. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
Sales reps sometimes use this line to follow up with inbound leads who downloaded a piece of content, watched a video, or visited a site page.
The good thing about this line is that it’s timely. You’re reaching the buyer right at the moment they’d like to be contacted by Sales.
The bad thing about this line is that it’s vague and confusing. What does “find what you’re looking for” mean, anyway?
Get specific so your buyer knows exactly which opportunity or pain point you’re referring to.
Here are some sample lines:
- “Did our pricing page have all the details you need?”
- “Do you feel ready to start a Facebook ad campaign after watching our training video?”
- “Can I answer any questions about the feedback our job description analyzer gave you?”
The more granular you get, the easier it will be to kick off a productive conversation.
Forging a good first impression with a new prospect can be tricky — but with these five openers out of the way, you’ll have a better shot. Sometimes, what you don’t say matters as much as what you do.