Why Aren't My Emails Generating a Response?
You know you’ve got a great product or service, one that can change the world (or at the very least make it a little easier for your customers). Yet when you email your prospects, you hear nothing. What gives? How come some people get crazy high reply rates while all you’re getting is digital tumbleweed?
I’m an SDR at Reply, helping fill our sales funnel with qualified leads and booking meetings. We see great results from our cold emails, with reply rates of over 25%. If you’d like to reach more clients and boost your response rate, check out these 14 reasons your emails might be failing.
You have the wrong contacts on your list
Every email campaign starts with your list, the people you’re reaching out to. It can be tempting to email everyone all about your amazing, life-changing service, but that’s a surefire way to a low response rate. Instead, an effective campaign starts with an ideal customer profile.
Bonus: Find out the biggest mistakes people make creating buyer personas.
Get started by talking to your marketing team about your ideal customer. Find out what kind of companies they are, how many employees they have, their location, etc. For example, at Reply, our ideal customers are SaaS companies with 1-200 employees, in the US and Europe.
Once you’ve found your ideal company, you then want to drill down and find the ideal contacts at the company. Who will use your service? What’s their job title? For a smaller company, this might mean reaching out to the CEO. You also need to think about who makes the buying decisions.
In my experience, when a company has more than 50 employees, there’ll be someone higher up you need to speak to. So, in our outreach, we’ll include them, as well as the end user.
Once you have a clear picture of what your customer looks like, it’s time to build your list. At Reply we look for accounts manually, using tools like Angellist and LinkedIn Sales Navigator, to find right people.
You can also filter databases using your ideal criteria.
Action: Review your contact list to make sure all the leads match your ideal customer profile, for users and decision makers.
You’re using the wrong email address
If you’re going to get a response, you have to use the right email address. Yes, it sounds obvious, but you’ll be amazed how many campaigns I see with bounce rates of 25% or higher. Usually, it’s a result of buying outdated lists of leads (more on that later).
When you’re looking at your list, you need to be confident that those addresses won’t bounce. Personally, that means aiming for a bounce rate of 5% or lower.
What about general email addresses, like sales@ or info@? Traditionally, people avoid these kinds of addresses. But, since GDPR, I’ve noticed a lot of salespeople saying these are better as they aren’t private, personal addresses. So don’t rule them out.
Action: Manually check to see your email addresses are still valid
Low-quality contact lists
Closely related to using out-of-date emails, lots of people end up with outdated contact lists.
This is usually because they’ve used third party lead databases, or bought their lists from a shady outfit. It might seem like an easy way to build up a contact list, but if the list isn’t up-to-date, it might hurt your campaign more than it helps.
For example, if some of the fields are low quality or outdated you can end up sending something like "Hi john" (with that lowercase first letter) or "Opportunity for Google Inc" (thanks to incorrect company info).
How likely do you think a prospect is going to reply after receiving an email like that?
It’s clear your message is automated and you’re more likely to get flagged as spam than get any kind of positive reply.
I actually tried this out to see which way is better and purchased a 5,000 contact lead list. 50% of the leads were wrong, with outdated or incorrect information. Only half of those leads were any good.
I get why this happens. Going through a thousand names to check all the details are correct is a difficult and time-consuming job. Unfortunately, if you’ve bought your list that’s exactly what you need to do. You need to go through those entries manually, look for mistakes in company names, first/last names, and all those other fields.
To make sure this isn’t a problem in the first place, I recommend building your list manually or outsourcing the task to a reputable company.
Action: Manually review your lists for quality, or better yet build them yourself.
Wrong subject line
Ah, subject lines. They may be the shortest part of your email, but they’re also the most important. They’re the first thing your prospects will see, and will help them decide whether to open your email or send it straight to the trash.
Still, I see plenty of subject lines that are too long, too short, or just plain too salesy. There’s a science around writing a great subject line, and it’s important you learn it.
Thankfully there’s a lot of articles on the subject for you to teach yourself. However, if you only do one thing, make sure you avoid using spammy words.
Your prospect’s email provider will likely block the email from ever reaching them, and it’ll hurt your email reputation. Even if it does somehow make it through to the prospect’s inbox, it’s unlikely they’ll ever read it. So always avoid spammy words like Opportunity, Free, Ultimate, etc.
When it comes to the ideal subject line length, I’ve found 3-5 words performs best, so try to stick to that.
Action: Make your subject line short and clear for best results
Your email is too long
If you’re excited about your product/service then it’s no surprise you have plenty to say about it. If you’ve spent a lot of time researching your ideal customers, you probably want to put all your insights into your email, addressing every possible concern or question your prospect may have.
The result? Your cold email is now an essay.
There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic or using your research in your email. However, people are busy. They’re already dealing with a mountain of emails with a limited amount of time. When you get carried away and write a screen-filling email, they’re more likely to save themselves the trouble of reading it and just delete it.
When you remember that most emails are opened on mobile devices, then it doesn’t take much for an email to appear too long.
How long is too long? At Reply, we aim for 80-100 words, with a maximum of 120. One of our clients sometimes sends prospecting emails with just one sentence. However, rather than thinking in terms of a strict word count, think about the purpose of the email. What action do you want the prospect to take? What information do they need to take that action?
Cut out anything that doesn’t contribute to the purpose of the email.
This means no rambling introductions, no comprehensive history of the company, and no long list of achievements and awards you’ve received in the last 20 years.
Action: For each paragraph, sentence, and even word in your email, ask yourself if they’re needed. If they don’t serve a clear purpose, cut them without mercy.
While we’re on the subject of the purpose of your email though...
Your email is too salesy
Having found their ideal customer’s email address, what does the average salesperson do?
You can hardly blame them, but trying to go for the hard sell in your initial cold email is unlikely to work out.
The truth is people don’t like to be sold to. We tend to skip adverts if given the choice. We try to avoid salespeople in shops if we can, then keep our head down and mumble how we’re just browsing if one approaches.
Some salespeople may get away with going for the hard sell when face to face or on the phone with a prospect. However, with email, the prospect is more likely to hit delete than sit through a sales pitch they never asked for. If your email sounds like a desperate used car salesman, people won’t hang around.
Emails can be divided into two different classifications: aggressive and neutral.
Aggressive emails go straight to the sale: ‘Would you like to buy our product?’
On the other hand, I prefer to use Neutral emails. After finding a prospect, I’ll typically send an email a little like this: ‘Recently I was going through AngelList and I saw your company. I really like your product idea! I wanted to ask, do you use email automation?’
Often I’ll get replies thanking me for my email and we’re able to start a conversation.
Action: Check your email for aggressive hard selling, and replace with neutral language.
Not having a clear call-to-action
Even if you’re following my advice and not going for the hard sell, that doesn’t mean you can forget about your call-to-action (CTA). Once people get to the end of your email, you need to tell them what to do next.
Leaving them to work out for themselves what to do next is leaving a lot to chance. If there are no links or clear actions to take, they won’t do anything except move onto the next email.
What should your CTA be? Well, every email you send should have a clear purpose. If it doesn’t, why are you bothering to send it? While the purpose will likely be to sell your product or service a CTA of ‘click here to buy our product’ is going to be too salesy.
Your neutral email will be better served with a CTA asking them a question, encouraging them to reply. It might be a link to a helpful piece of content or an invitation to download a relevant whitepaper. It could be to book an appointment to learn more about your product/service.
I recommend making the CTA something they can accomplish quickly, easily, and without too much investment.
For example, if your CTA is a question, make sure they can simply reply to your email, rather than having to complete a contact form. If you’re linking to a helpful piece of content, make sure the link goes straight to the content, without making them have to search for it. If you want them to book an appointment, make sure they can easily select a time that suits them, rather than having to send a series of emails working out a mutually beneficial time.
Action: Ensure your email ends with an appropriate, easy CTA.
Your email is full of mistakes
After spending a considerable amount of time on writing the best email they can, some people are eager to hit send. However, it’s worth reading through it again to check for any mistakes. While I believe done is better than perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to send out sloppy, unpolished emails. Even just one mistake, if it’s obvious, can mean your email looks more like a scam than a legitimate prospecting email.
Even if the content is great and your product/service would be perfect for the prospect, if it doesn’t look great, then people will assume it’s not. We judge books by their cover, and if a company is sending out emails full of mistakes that could be easily fixed, then just how bad is their product going to be?
This includes spelling and grammatical mistakes. It’s easy to rely on spellcheck here but remember, even the best of these tools aren’t perfect.
Their They’re knot not always able too to spot words spelled correctly butt but used in the wrong place.
It’s also important to check for any email formatting issues, including your links and merge fields.
Back when I started working as an SDR, in my second week, I collected a list of 200 leads. I pushed all of them to our sales automation tool and ran the campaign. And after a couple of minutes, I noticed all my emails had a massive mistake: All of them started with “Hi < LeadName > .” It turned out the merge fields from my CSV file weren’t correctly uploaded to the sales automation tool!
It was my first and biggest mistake, but it taught me a valuable lesson: always check your email thoroughly before hitting Send.
Action: Review (or even better have someone else review) your email for mistakes. Ideally, send a test email, so you can see the email exactly as your prospects will.
Your email isn’t relevant to the prospect
Of all the cold email that lands in my inbox, the ones that get deleted the quickest are the ones that clearly aren’t relevant to me. There’s no point in even reading them. Don’t try selling me debt-recovery solutions when I don’t deal with that side of the business.
While they’re reading your email, your prospect is asking ‘So what? Why should I care?’. Your email needs to answer those questions. If you’re pitching a product or service that doesn’t help them in some way, you’re both wasting your time.
You should know all about your prospect’s needs before you write a single word of your email. If you’ve carried out your research and have a clear ICP from the start, being irrelevant is less likely to be a problem.
However, it’s important to also make that relevancy and value clear to your prospect. Even if you’re not going for that hard sell, you still need to give your prospect a good enough reason take action. The best way to do this is to reference the big challenge your prospect faces, in the words they use to describe it.
So, using our earlier example of a neutral email, if our ICP is struggling with implementing email automation, we ask them how they’re currently handling email automation. If, however, we’ve found our ICP isn’t familiar with email automation as a solution, we’ll use the terms they are familiar with, maybe asking how they’re currently handling their cold outreach or outbound sales.
Action: Read your email from your prospect’s perspective. Is it obvious why they should care?
You're relying on poor templates
We all love a good template. We even include a library of templates in Reply. They make writing emails much easier and save us from having to start with a blank page.
However, some people have become over-reliant on their templates. They think by changing a few merge fields for personalization, you’re done.
For a start, there’s no such thing as the ‘best’ template. Your audience is unique to you, and you still need to carry out that research to find out what works best for them.
Even if there was a single ‘best’ template, you can guarantee that everyone would be using it and it would very quickly lose its effectiveness as prospects grew sick of every email in their inbox looking identical.
At Reply, we build new templates for each campaign. We keep a collection of high performing openings, pitches, closings, etc. We then pick and choose the best ones for the specific campaign.
Once you’re happy with your template, share it with someone in your target profile. For example, if you’re emailing CEOs or sales managers, get feedback on your email from your CEO or sales manager.
Action: Make sure your template is complete, correct, and tested with your target market.
The biggest and most important problem I see is people using a 0% personalized template. Maybe they’ll go as far as using a variable like a prospect’s name and/or job title, but that’s the limit.
Let’s be clear. Everyone knows B2B companies use automation software to personalize that kind of thing. It simply doesn’t have the same impact anymore. To be effective, personalization has to go much further.
At Reply, we use several variables in our templates. For example, we use personalized URLs, so the links they click on are customised to them and their company. As an added benefit, sign-up forms on the site are already filled in with their information, saving them time and increasing the chance of a successful sign-up.
For some of our follow-up emails we also use weather APIs to customise the email to the weather where they are, usually in a humorous way: “Hey, you’ve probably gotten a lot of emails like this, have you checked mine? BTW, I checked and it’s going to be 14 degrees and raining in London tomorrow, so remember your umbrella!”
Action: Make your emails truly personal to your prospects with custom URLs and other variables.
Forgetting to follow up
Following up is crucial for a campaign to succeed. I find that just 3-4 follow up emails will dramatically increase reply rates.
Rather than sending a new email, we keep all the follow-ups in the same thread as the original email. I’ve heard that CEOs in computer software companies get over 50 new emails every day, so I don’t want to fill their inbox with more emails than necessary.
Additionally, I want them to be able to see my original email.
My strategy is to encourage them to read that first email if they haven’t already: ‘Have you seen my previous email? I think Reply could help with your email automation…’ I’m still not trying to sell in my follow-ups. Rather I’m reminding them of the first email.
Having all the follow-ups in the same thread helps, as the original email is right there and they don’t have to go searching for it.
All the rules for email templates apply just as much to the follow-ups as to the original, so make sure they’re not too long, but rather correctly formatted and personalized.
Action: Follow up with anyone who doesn’t respond to your original email at least 3-4 times.
Sending emails at the wrong time
Just because you can send emails at any time, it doesn’t mean you should. For example, sending your emails on a Monday and Friday, or in the morning or evening could drastically lower your reply rates.
I’ve found, for our prospects, Tuesday/Thursday works best. However, as these times vary by industry, I recommend searching online to see what time works best for your prospects.
If you’re using Reply, you can easily find out the best day. All you have to do is click on the Statistics tab and see which day is seem to be better performing in terms of campaign than others. This will show you at a glance when you should be sending out your emails.
Action: Research your industry to find the best day/time to contact them.
Guessing rather than analyzing
Once you’ve completed the campaign, it’s tempting to think your job is done. However, just as your business is unique, so are your prospects. No matter how good your template is, there’s always a chance there’s another, better, way of doing it.
The solution is to A/B test everything. That includes the contacts, the subject lines, the email templates, the time of day and the number of follow-ups. For every variable, check what results you’re getting and optimize your campaign.
Reply users can take advantage of our A/B testing functionality, allowing you to easily test templates and campaigns to make sure your emails are performing at their best.
I recommend prioritizing any campaigns with a response rate of less than 10%. If you’re already getting 15-20% then I would be wary of messing with something that’s already working well.
Remember, we’re living in fast-changing times. Industries and trends can change overnight, and your top template may stop working. To stay on top of these changes, I recommend re-testing all your campaigns every 6 months.
Action: Set up A/B testing for your key variables, and remember to check the results regularly.
Getting high reply rates can be tricky, but it’s far from impossible. By taking the time to set up your campaign the right way and testing it regularly, you’ll soon find more of your ideal customers.
Interested in learning more about creating an effective outreach campaign? Pick up our free Comprehensive Guide On How To Nail Cold Email, including tried and tested templates you can start using today.
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