January 5, 2017

How to Write Better Sales Emails and Engage Your Leads

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Lead engagement takes skill and practice to perfect. Many sales reps have a hard time getting a response from leads over email, even though they send hundreds every day. Building better sales emails to engage your leads means striking that balance between personalization and scalability, and yet, so many sales teams continue to use lifeless form emails and gamble with bulk sends that return a small fraction of engagement.

ALSO READ: 4 Sales Engagement Metrics You Should Track in 2017

So, how do you build sales emails that engage leads? If there were a magic formula, we would have found it and shared it by now. The most we can offer here is a few best practices and information on what can increase your open rates.

Redefine Your Goals

When your goal for each email is too high, it’s easy to get disappointed and fall into bad habits. An initial cold sales email should aim to establish rapport with the lead, not pitch your product. Think of this email as working toward building a relationship, instead of being sent to the spam folder.

A prospect is more likely to talk to someone they have a relationship with, rather than someone they see as “just a salesperson.” Use those soft skills that make you so good as a salesperson to your advantage here:

  • Do a little research and mention a common interest (but don’t be creepy, more on that later).
  • Congratulate the lead on a recent win, like closing a publicized deal or a promotion.
  • Ask questions about the lead that show genuine interest in their product or company — this is a good way to start a conversation.

Offer Real Value

Consider what you have to offer each lead (and by extension, their company), and make it free. This isn’t a quid pro quo situation; you’re going to offer this out of goodwill. Check out their site or what you can find on their processes, and give advice or offer a free service or educational guide. This does not mean handing out “special discounts.” You’re looking to make yourself valuable before the sale, if the sale does indeed happen. 

Why not give your leads a taste of what you can do for them? This is especially applicable in B2B sales, where vendor/client relationships often resemble a partnership. Give away ideas about how their products can improve, or connections to experts and advice. How can you offer the lead a relationship of value? If you’d like some examples of better sales emails and templates to use, check out this article from HubSpot. 

Show You’ve Done Your Research (But Don’t Be Creepy)

Again, use your soft skills here to understand the line between relationship-building research and stalking. If you need help finding where that line is, ask your HR manager. I know that sounds glib, but really. If you think your email sounds a little creepy, it probably is, so dial it back and bring in a second opinion before you hit send. Contacts are flattered when you look at their LinkedIn profile. They file for restraining orders if you send pictures from their daughter’s wedding. 

Make Emails Mobile-Friendly

This should go without saying, but make sure that your email looks good on a smartphone. We hear this a lot because Google’s search focuses on mobile-first, but the reasons behind that make sense for your sales emails as well. Google supports mobile-first technology, because as early as 2014, mobile internet usage overtook desktop, and it hasn’t gone back.

Think about it. Where do you check your email? In line for coffee? Riding the bus? On the toilet? At a red light? (Stop that. You know better.)  No one brings their laptop into the latte line at Starbucks, so if you want your message to be read, make sure it’s still legible and formatted correctly for a smartphone. 

This piece of advice is especially important when you include images and formatted data (like tables) in your email, but not as important if you’re sending a text-only message. If your company uses an email marketing platform, you can test the mobile view of your email there. Otherwise, try sending a copy of the email to yourself and check how it displays on your smartphone before sending it to your contact.

Format For Modern Eyes

How many times have you been greeted with a block of text in an email, and thought “Nope. Not going to read that.” Whether we like it or not, we all do it. That’s why news and blogs segment their articles into short little chunks. We want soundbites. We want takeaways. We don’t want to work hard. 

Try some of these techniques in your emails:

  • Add a space between your paragraphs; it gives the reader’s eyes a rest. 
  • Use bullet points. They organize your ideas into manageable lists, and the eye is naturally drawn to them.
  • Use numbered lists to show orders of importance.
  • Keep it brief. One to two sentence paragraphs are acceptable, as long as each sentence adds value. You can skip filler phrases like “I hope this email finds you well,” or “I hope you had a great weekend!” and get to the point.

Test and Iterate

To do this, you’ll want to send your messages from an email marketing platform, CRM, or email tracking tool that provides insights into which messages get opened, and which languish in the spam folder. Pay attention to your subject lines. I wouldn’t recommend testing more than two subject lines at once. Gather information on the open rates of your two subject lines, pick the best, and test that against a new one. 

ALSO READ: Why I Stopped Following Subject Line Best Practices

Once you’ve tested subject lines, see what kinds of messages are more compelling and which get ignored. Do you have more luck with the added value approach, or the not-too personal connection? How do your contacts react to compliments? Rhetorical questions? 


If you remember nothing else, remember to test and iterate. When a particular subject line or message works well, record that and keep tweaking it.

While scale is important, B2B sales is growing ever more personalized. Blasting form-letter emails just doesn’t work these days, if it ever really did. If you want to win customers, focus on making connections with your leads and starting meaningful conversations, rather than trying to force a conversion.

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