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The Science of Successful Sales Emails: An Interview with SalesFolk’s Heather R. Morgan

4 min readMarch 1, 2016

Are people actually responding to your cold emails, or are they just deleting them and marking them as spam?

SalesFolk Founder and CEO Heather R. Morgan

SalesFolk Founder and CEO Heather R. Morgan

Heather R Morgan, Salesfolk founder and CEO helps her clients like Kissmetrics, Verifi, and inDinero create scalable cold email campaigns that actually get responses and start sales conversations with qualified leads. She’s written more than 10,000 cold email campaigns in the last 10 years, and her company has written and optimized email campaigns for more than 200 B2B companies.

Heather was recently a panelist in our on-demand webinar From Cold to Customer, which tackles how to ramp up outbound sales responses using personalization. We loved all the actionable insights that Heather shared, so we decided to do a follow-up interview covering some additional ways to maximize response rates from your sales emails.

RingDNA: What’s an example of a technique or strategy that used to get responses, but no longer does?

Heather R Morgan: I think the classic “who’s the right person approach” to cold email is pretty close to dead.

Too many people have used that tactic when spamming, and so it’s no longer effective. It’s also not very plausible anymore because we have so much information on our customer now (and they have plenty of information on us as well), so this is rarely a credible excuse anymore.

Using this tactic generally makes you look lazy, which won’t start meaningful conversations with real decision makers.

RingDNA: What should sales be automating and what should not be automated?

Heather R. Morgan: I love automation. I think you should try to automate as much as possible, but you need to make sure you take the time and effort to do so correctly.

Automated emails are useless without the right messaging and targeting though.

I even send mail merges to my own grandma, but I can do so because I have a thoughtful message that sounds human and conversational to start with. I am also careful to segment my lists so that the right message always goes to the right audience, and I have enough data in my CRM and CSVs that I can append plenty of custom inserts so that even large email blasts still sound like they’re one-on-one messages.

I think the question isn’t so much about “what can you or can you not automate,” but “how can you automate things so they still sound thoughtful and not robotic or generic.”

RingDNA: What are some of the most effective ways to personalize an email?

Heather R. Morgan: You should start out by thinking about WHO you are actually writing to first.

Clearly define who is in your audience that you are trying to reach, and think carefully about their pain points and priorities. Do research to understand them better, and learn more about these needs, as well as what keywords and tone to use with them.

A lot of times you don’t need to actually invest time and money into a lot of data appending for “custom inserts” in your emails (like personal notes, university name, location, etc) if they focus on relevant benefits or problems that can be resolved to begin with.

Beyond that, the custom insert that often performs the best is “Competitor” name. (e.g. “We recently helped <<Competitor Name>> improve their sales by 23%).

RingDNA: About how long should reps be spending on a single email?

Heather R. Morgan: That’s kind of hard to say… I’m not really advocating that reps sit down and write one-off emails anymore (although it doesn’t hurt when you have a few big targeted accounts you’re going after). That’s not a very efficient use of a salesperson’s time, and is hard to measure or scale.

I think they should invest enough time into thinking about and researching their audience, as well as crafting their emails that they are actually good. (And I would recommend doing this over several days so that you have more time to think, reflect, and brainstorm.)

However, once you write some great templates and find out what’s really working, you can keep reusing many of those same emails over time, and so you don’t have to spend much time on writing new emails.

You should never think you’re done creating new emails though – a template that was once very successful can later die over time as industries change and prospects’ needs also evolve.

That’s why it’s good to keep testing new things.

RingDNA: How do you know if your outbound sales campaigns are successful or not? What are some relevant metrics and benchmarks salespeople can use to know if things are working or not?

Heather R. Morgan: Every industry is a little bit different, but a good benchmark for cold emails that I consider to be successful would be open rates of 35-75% and response rates of 10-35%.

You shouldn’t obsess too much about your open rates, but rather use them as an indicator of deliverability issues. If your open rates are 20% or less, you probably have a problem with your mail server IPs and/or bounce rates.

Otherwise, don’t worry too much about open rates because you might have false positives or negatives.

In terms of response rates, you should also be paying special attention to the positive/neutral ones (not just “out of office” or “take me off your list.”) Generally speaking, it’s also good to track how many appointments are set from your sales prospecting emails, as well as how many deals actually close.

It’s also important to remember that factors such as product-market fit and list quality will also affect your email campaign’s success. If you have a crummy list, you probably won’t have much luck. Likewise, not even the best email copy can fix an absence of product-market fit.

For more prospecting insight from Heather and other sales leaders, check out our on-demand webinar From Cold to Customer!

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About the Author

Heather R. Morgan

Heather R. Morgan is the Founder of SalesFolk, which helps B2B companies craft thoughtful and relevant emails that start warm conversations with potential customers.