My guest on this episode of Accelerate! is Heather R. Morgan, founder of SalesFolk. She is co-author of The Human’s Guide to Writing Cold Emails That Don’t Sound Like a Spammy Robot. Among the subjects Heather and I tackle in this conversation are the steps involved in writing great cold emails, how to avoid entering Heather’s email Hall of Shame, and Heather’s best practices for developing the cold emailing campaigns that get outstanding results.
What’s your most powerful sales attribute?
Being very blunt.
Who is your sales role model?
What’s one book that every salesperson should read?
One of Zig Ziglar’s first books.
A copywriting book by David Ogilvy.
What music is on your playlist right now?
Turkish music, Gypsy music, modern, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Jay Z.
Andy Paul: Paul It’s time to Accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching – any resource that I believe can help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you. Hello, and welcome to Accelerate! I’m looking forward to talking with my guest today. Joining me is Heather Morgan. Heather is the founder of SalesFolk. They help companies create better cold emails and acquire more customers. Seems very, very succinct and concise, but it’s a little more complex than that. Heather, welcome to the show!
Heather Morgan: Hi, Andy. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
Andy Paul: Oh, yeah. Thanks for joining me. So you maybe have one of the more interesting paths into the sales field that I’ve seen. You were an economist, or you are an economist, but you were a practicing economist, and you wrote an interesting chapter a book that I found online and I read.
Heather Morgan: You read it? Oh, my God. It’s so academic. It’s honestly not something I’m all that proud of. And I don’t agree with everything I wrote. But World Bank didn’t want me to change certain things, so it’s in writing forever!
Andy Paul: So just for people listening, Heather contributed to a book called Food Security and Sociopolitical Stability, and wrote a chapter about the Middle East and North Africa, about the challenges they face – with food security, which is the procurement, availability of food – and their social and political stability in the region and tying it into Arab Spring. So very, very interesting.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, so just to give you a quick background, I used to live and work abroad for a long time. I was actually in Egypt shortly after Arab Spring when they were going through all the transition, and I lived there for a year. I was in and out of Egypt, Tunisia, and the whole region during a pretty turbulent time. So as much as I would like to actually tell a more vibrant story of my experiences in the book, the book is a bit more academic since it’s through Oxford press, but maybe someday, if I’m not writing cold emails all the time, I’ll write a book on my actual experience in Cairo.
Andy Paul: Well, just for a second or two, what was it like being there? I presume you’re traveling by yourself through this region where there’s a tremendous amount of turmoil going on, as you talked about – Tunisia, Egypt – on the streets. I mean, obviously it overtook the government in Egypt and so on. What was that like? I mean, that seems like it was pretty daunting and frightening at times.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, I mean, there were definitely times where I almost died a few times, between car accidents, Molotov cocktails, tanks, and being kind of caught in crossfire. I also witnessed some pretty horrific events, like a woman being gang raped in the streets. But overall, honestly, I had a great time. I’m pretty good at, just like with cold email, connecting with anyone in person or online. And I actually used my cold email and online, cold-connecting-on-LinkedIn-and-Twitter skills to make a lot of friends really quickly. So I don’t think I could ever really say I was all that lonely. I moved there on my own, but that was like the fifth country I’d lived in on my own since I was 16. So it wasn’t really anything new. But the skills definitely, I think, have helped a lot with sales and being an entrepreneur, being able to build rapport really quickly and being able to handle tricky situations.
Andy Paul: Yeah, I think if you could navigate the streets of a country where civil order didn’t rain at all, and come out on the other end, that could help your sales background, navigating tricky sales situations. So how did you get from there – working for the World Bank, being in the Middle East – to becoming this acknowledged expert on how to write a better cold email?
Heather Morgan: So it’s kind of a strange thing, and I guess I’ll tell you exactly what happened, then I’ll back up a little bit because I think that’s very connected. So actually, I got MERS on a trip to Dubai. I was one of the early cases of people who got MERS, which was like SARS, basically, but it’s a middle Middle East version of SARS. So I actually contracted it, and I didn’t know that I had it in the beginning. I went back to Cairo and I was at my friend’s house, and my dad was actually supposed to come in less than 12 hours, coincidentally. I started coughing up blood, and I almost blacked out. And so my friends took me to the ER – the nicest ER in Egypt.
Andy Paul: Is there such a thing?
Heather Morgan: I mean, it was pretty bad. They didn’t even get my name right. I still have an X ray on my wall that says “Heather Rain.” They were trying to give me a shot of something, but the needles in Egypt are known for being unclean and reused. People get hepatitis and HIV somewhat regularly. So I’m trying to fight them injecting me with something that I might have an allergic reaction to, or might give me a serious disease, in broken Arabic while I’m hallucinating. So that was pretty crazy. And coincidentally, my dad was coming within this timeframe, but I was too sick to pick him up, so some of my friends went with my roommate to go pick up my dad. During the next few weeks he actually helped me recover, but I was hallucinating a lot. I kept thinking about California and the Bay Area. It was just one of those things. I’m from Northern California, and I’ve always liked the Bay Area and kind of wanted to try living there. By the time I was well, I was already kind of set on the idea of taking a little bit of time away and coming back, maybe even doing an internship at a tech company. Which sounds funny to say now, but I wanted to learn more about tech, and not, you know, my corporate economist thing. So what was originally a quick one way ticket really quickly evolved into “oh, the country’s breaking down too, and my friends got carjacked.” And I just decided it was time to go. So within a couple of weeks, I decided to move back to America. And I was pretty frustrated, honestly, with some of the things I saw with World Bank and different NGOs and organizations in terms of not really making a difference, and even corruption. So I didn’t really want to be an economist anymore.
Andy Paul: Funny, that.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, I love economics from a nerdy perspective, but I wanted to have an impact. I truly believe that technology companies and entrepreneurship are the way to do that. So I dove in headfirst; I actually got my job through sending a cold tweet. But I sent a lot of cold emails to get job interviews, and I landed a job with a business – actually, a mobile games company – doing business development, even though I knew nothing about either. And that’s sort of what led me into doing what I do now, because I had no relationships, obviously, in games, or in tech, or in the Bay Area.
Andy Paul: Given your background, I don’t imagine that was a big barrier for you.
Heather Morgan: No, it wasn’t, but at first I thought, “Okay, what do I do?” I had this moment for a second where I thought, “Oh shit, what do I do?” But I don’t really let much keep me down. So I just started doing mail merges to a couple hundred contacts in the gaming industry – and I’ve been sending cold emails since I was a kid. They used to be letters, but it was something I did because I love writing. And I didn’t even know that cold emails were a thing, or something that someone would pay for. I didn’t know what sales or bizdev really was. And so here I am doing business development, sending emails to people like the founder of Guitar Hero, and I’m getting responses. And I’m getting like a 67 or 68% response rate.
Andy Paul: Which is unheard of, right?
Heather Morgan: Yeah! And honestly, I didn’t even know that was good. I thought it was okay. I didn’t know it was amazing. And then next thing I know I’m setting up all these meetings with people that you read about in magazines for my boss, and I didn’t even know that these people are a big deal because I don’t come from the gaming industry. So here I am, meeting with all these people and I’m pretty nonchalant about it because I don’t even know who they are really, or what it means, who they are. So my boss was pretty excited. He starts bragging about it and I started getting other companies from 500 startups approaching me. And from there, I just started turning them into freelance writing clients because I’ve been doing freelance writing on the side since college. And so I just thought “okay, I’m not making a ton of money right now. San Francisco’s expensive. I could use more money; I’m not ready to leave my job yet.” Before I knew it, I had six or seven paid clients, and my boss wanted to relocate. So it was a perfect time to cut ties.
Andy Paul: Start your own thing!
Heather Morgan: Yeah. And originally, it was not just cold email, but I pretty quickly saw that this was something no one else was really doing the way I was doing it. And that I was getting better results than anyone else in the industry. And so I decided to focus on it because it’s close to where the money is. Obviously.
Andy Paul: Yeah. So I was thinking about this: I’ve known about you for a long time and subscribe to your newsletter and all that and the visual image I have is that you must be on cringe mode every day. I draw the analogy of like – because I’m here in Manhattan – and you must be like a person with like an overdeveloped sense of smell walking through New York City on a hot humid summer day. Which would just be horrible. So I cringe when I get most of the cold emails I see every day. And I know something about it, but I’m not an expert like you. What’s your reaction when you get some of those?
Heather Morgan: I think I’ve always really enjoyed comedy and laughing. I have kind of a twisted sense of humor. So I find a lot of them really funny, some of them kind of annoying and sad, obviously. But I laugh at a lot of them. The whole idea for the Hall of Shame – which we’re a little behind on, but we just hired some new people to help us with that – was that myself and our team and some of our business friends like Lincoln Murphy, who is at Gainsight, and even Bridget Gleason and some other people who I know you also know… We were sending different emails to each other to laugh at them and how bad they were. Lincoln especially still sends me them all the time. He’s like one of the best people who contributes to the Hall of Shame. But basically, we were sending them, making fun of them, and making little comments, and then I realized, why aren’t we just doing this publicly? And so it became a thing. I’m still thinking about ways that we can scale that more and reach more impact because there’s so much material, but we still want to have some control of it because we don’t want it to become something that’s just kind of trashy or self -promotional. We want people to actually learn from the mistakes, and as much as I do enjoy poking fun at some of the companies that you know, are selfish and thoughtless enough to send obnoxious cold email like that, I do want people to improve. Some people actually kind of called us out by saying, “oh, you shouldn’t call out the company name,” but quite honestly, we did anonymous ones for a long time and people didn’t really…
Andy Paul: Well you could have been making them up.
Heather Morgan: …They didn’t take them as seriously. Yeah, and if you’re going to spam people, you have every right to be called out. It’s not private information.
Andy Paul: And shame’s a powerful motivator.
Heather Morgan: Exactly.
Andy Paul: I agree. Actually, as you know Bridget’s on my show quite frequently, and we’ve joked about that on occasion, of having a hall of shame for cold emails and cold calls.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, well, we should all collaborate more. I love Bridget; she feels like the aunt I never had.
Andy Paul: Yeah, well she’s a good friend. So okay, let’s walk through some of the steps you prescribed for creating effective cold emails. Because I have to admit, I’m a good writer, but I’m not a great email writer. I’ll own up to that. So last year I downloaded one of your ebooks. The Humans Guide to Writing Cold Emails. Very useful book. So I thought it’d be useful go through some of the steps in the book. And the first thing I think that a lot of people get wrong, and I certainly see this in the cold emails I get – because as you might expect, the position I’m in, I get hundreds – they don’t get the objective of the email. So let’s talk about the objective of cold email, because I think people oftentimes get that wrong.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, so I mean, the objective is plain and simple. It’s to start a conversation, and I think a lot of people make the mistake of either trying to do too many things at once or sell too hard. You’re not selling in your cold email unless you’re like, a Nigerian scammer. All you’re trying to do is just start that conversation to see if it might be a fit or not.
Andy Paul: That’s a pretty straightforward objective and yet, there’s this pressure on. I mean, a lot of the emails we get are created not by the sales rep themselves. They’re created by marketing or somebody. They really should know better.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting. So when I first got in the space – and I see it evolving a bit, but it’s still mostly the same – you saw one of three things. It’s still kind of the same, but people are actually starting to create roles around cold email, I think partly because of some of the work and advocacy we’ve done, which is awesome. But before, you would see a lot of sales people either writing one-off emails, which can be great but aren’t really scalable enough, especially if you’re not targeting huge enterprise accounts. They probably don’t make sense timewise and resource wise. Or they would have marketing writing their emails for them. But a lot of time when that happens, they’re often too generic or they’re not trying to start a conversation, they’re trying to get you to click a link, which is not what you need for sales prospecting and sales emails. So that doesn’t really work either, and a lot of people still make that mistake, and hopefully they’re going to change that, but not always. And then the third thing that I saw, and I still see: You have companies going to outsourced lead generation agencies, which I personally don’t really believe in for a lot of reasons, and they’re oftentimes mass-producing pretty generic templates. So what they usually do is they promise to set a certain number of appointments, but you don’t realize the kind of volume that they’re sending in order to do that. And a lot of times they’re very generic and they’re not very targeted to your persona or even your product or your business. They’re just that stupid, generic ‘who’s the right person’ approach. And I think where that might have worked like a decade or so ago, people don’t have patience for that. And enough people are doing that. It’s like we say in economics, the tragedy of the commons; it’s basically been polluted. So now that doesn’t work anymore.
Andy Paul: Right, I think for the reasons you talk about, now more people have the tools, more people are sending this type of communication, and it still seems to a great degree – and I know you probably run across this in your work – that we’re seeing the sales model itself evolve. They’re still, despite the lip service, focused on quantity over quality. And until people seem to be able to come to terms with that – if you just look at the steps you recommend, it’s not a trivial amount of work to get the email right. But companies don’t seem to want to do that. Especially when they still leave the responsibility for creating the emails in the hands of the SDRs or people like that.
Heather Morgan: Yeah. And I think one of the problems is that salespeople are really busy, and they don’t have a lot of time. Everyone is, especially tech companies, under a ton of pressure to grow and scale and meet crazy goals. And everyone’s looking for ways that they can get results faster, or cut corners, or be more efficient. And I think a lot of times people, partly from some of the software companies out there that are meant to accelerate sales, people think that they’re a magic bullet or silver bullet. And so with that in mind, some of them really sell themselves that way. That’s part of the problem. We have a client, and I had two sales calls earlier this morning that are exactly this thing. They’re telling me that they need to send thousands and thousands of emails, but they’re getting like a couple percent response rate. And they assumed that was good. And when I tell them…usually when I hear that, I try to back them up and ask them what their actual goals are. I say to them, “okay, what would you do if you got a 10% response rate to this volume? Could you even handle it?” And usually, the answer is no, because if you’re sending thousands and thousands, and you only have you know, 10 salespeople, what would you do? If you were sending emails got 1000 responses? It’s a problem. So a lot of the time, they’re not doing that well, and instead of fixing the problem, they try to just do more of it. But you have a lot of problems with this. And obviously, you can run out of your market and you’re wasting your leads. But the biggest problem that most people, especially sales organizations, do not understand – and this totally echoes in our calls today – they don’t understand email deliverability. And if you’re getting bad numbers like low opens below 20, or even in the 10% range, you’re probably having deliverability problems already, and you probably don’t have a targeted enough list and message. So the problem is, the more volume you do, the more spam complaints and other issues like high bounce rate you’ll have, and eventually you’re going to get blacklisted. And so like with one of our clients we’re looking at, we warned them about volume. They were telling us “we need to do more,” and I told them that if you slow down and create a better list and do one tenth of what you’re trying to do now, I think you can get three times the results you’re getting now. And I see that a lot. And I already told him before, but they kind of went against my advice, since we were not an outsourced lead generation company – and I have no intention to be. So we don’t control their list quality, we just advise them on it. And so even if we give them really good copy, and they have a garbage list, that’s not the persona we wrote for, there’s bad leads that are not qualified or inaccurate. If you do that, and at scale, no matter how good your copy is, you’re gonna have problems. And that copy you wrote won’t be relevant to that audience, too.
Andy Paul: Right. So let’s start there again. As you talked, you used the word ‘persona.’ Unlike mass emails that are purely volume dependent, if we keep sending more we’ll get some percentage of that. Unfortunately, it seems to be the prevailing ethos, and too much of the tech driven world these days is that you have to have – unlike your instinct, which is to say, aim as broadly as possible – you’re gonna be more productive if you’re more targeted as you’re developing a persona of who you’re addressing with your email.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. Related to The Human Guide, I think one of the first things – and I’ve written a lot about this, you can see in there, or on the SalesFolk blog, or my column on Ink’s Influence Talks. But one of the big problems is that people are not even creating a specific buyer persona. If they have, it’ll be like, Marketing Mike and Staff Sally, and they need to be including thermographic information ideally, if possible, title, company size, possibly industry. The more indicators you have, the better. The way to really do this, I see it sort of as a loop that feeds back into itself. So when we do a campaign, we’ll look at about 10 or 15 contacts from a CSV, and we’re looking at them on LinkedIn, Twitter, where we can see keywords and tone and things like that. But if you weren’t sure who your persona was, what would be good is to try and do some searches on LinkedIn as to who those contacts might be. So maybe you type Product Manager, and you start looking at product managers and seeing whether or not that’s a fit, and what people fit and what don’t. And that’s how you can create your qualification/disqualification criteria. As you’re doing that, you should be thinking about those things with your emails because people want to go really wide, but actually, the more laser-focused your emails are, the more you’re going to really see success.
Andy Paul: Yeah, no, absolutely. As you talk about, as you mentioned here, is keywords. When you’ve identified that title range or whatever it is, that’s going to identify as feeling the pain for the product or service you’re selling, as you showed in the ebook – pick one person out as a starter and look at the keywords in their profiles. The things that they have in there, their summary about what they do, their past job, responsibilities, the recommendations that people have written about them, that will start giving you clues about how you should start constructing the email.
Heather Morgan: And I think something that a lot of salespeople get daunted or confused by is they think that they have to do this for everyone they’re contacting. No, you just have to do it enough times for that same audience to understand them. So whether that’s looking at one or 5 or 10 profiles, once you have that nailed, you’re good. You don’t have to do it every single time. So I think, you know, some really good sales people who send really great one-off emails, they get it, but they don’t always get how to scale it up. And writing a really good email template isn’t that different than a one-off email, you just have to reverse engineer it. So, as long as the information you’re talking about is relevant to everyone in the audience, because in theory, they should have similar pain points and priorities, then you can create a template that is basically the same as an email that you would have sent to one person, approximately, that could be sent to hundreds or thousands and still get similar results.
Andy Paul: Are there any other tips you have about personalization because, again, I think it’s something that gets great lip service. I’ve got certain pet peeves, because I know that any email I get that starts with the word, ‘hi’ or ‘hey’ is probably a mass email. It’s become sort of a thing now, and it seems like people should switch that up. Do you have recommendations as to what people should do?
Heather Morgan: Every audience is different. It’s sort of three things. First of all, try to pick one person to write for when you’re writing email campaigns, even if they’re totally mass templates, just because the language and tone will sound more like a one-on-one conversation. But the second and third piece of advice I have is, you obviously need to think about what’s relevant for your audience. But you also need to think about what else everyone is doing. I actually wrote an article about this, on why some of my best cold email templates are dead. What inspired this was that I had an email template that actually got 16 or more new customers for one of my SAS clients, a single email, and it got included in Aaron Ross’s Predictable Revenue sequel, which I actually helped do some of the writing and editing for. And he posted the template, he wanted a template, he asked me for one and put it in the book. And then he wrote a blog post on it on HubSpot that went a little bit viral. And it’s really funny because I actually picked that template because I was worried people would blatantly rip it off without thinking about it. It’s a template that is very specific to the client that we wrote it for, their particular business, and it would not work for most companies. And so what happened was, I started seeing that same template in my own inbox with people cold emailing me, and people telling me that the email template didn’t work and they’re in like pharma, and it was written for a SAS salestech company. So I think the real key is, you know, with all my tips, you can’t be lazy.
Andy Paul: No shortcuts to success.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, you have to learn how to fish for yourself. And that’s what I want to teach people. And the way to do that is to be thoughtful. So to answer your question, things are evolving, and my best email templates have and will die, and even my best tactics. So try to keep it human. Think about how you would write a conversation to your friend, especially if you have a friend who fits that persona, and do that, but also keep in mind, what are people in your space doing already? What do marketing emails look like? Because you don’t want to look anything like that. Capitalizing every word of your email looks like a marketing email, and people are less likely to open it. So we don’t capitalize our subject lines, things like that.
Andy Paul: Very interesting. We go to the last segment of show now where I’ve got some standard questions I ask all my guests. In this first question I have for you, it’s a hypothetical scenario in which you, Heather Morgan: , have just been hired to be VP of sales for a company whose sales have stalled out. And the CEO, the board are really anxious to have things turned around in a hurry. Obviously, turnarounds don’t take place in one day, but what two things could you do your first week on the job that would have the biggest impact?
Heather Morgan: That’s a great question. Um, so before I can do anything, I would want to learn what’s going on, although that wouldn’t necessarily directly have impact that would lay the foundation out. So I would try to spend some time learning a little bit more about the customers, and I would do that with both online and offline research. And I would look at also, obviously, the company’s CRM and hopefully see who they’ve been selling to in the past, and what accounts have been the best and biggest and most repeatably successful for them. And then from there, look at – what kinds of companies are these? What kinds of people are the decision makers? And then talk to my sales team to see what’s been working and what’s not been working in general, as well as what has recently changed, because I think a number of things could be going on here. Are there industry-wide changes, have your audience’s needs changed? Or, maybe you suddenly have a lot of new competitors as well. So it’s not exactly two things, but these are the first things I would do, and then from there I would make a plan.
Andy Paul: Excellent. Okay, good answer. So now some rapid fire questions. You can give me one word answers or elaborate if you wish. So the first one is: When you, Heather Morgan, are out selling your services, what’s your most powerful sales attribute?
Heather Morgan: Sales attribute, can you explain that a little more?
Andy Paul: Is it your sincerity, is it your charisma, is it your ability to listen? What’s your strongest attribute?
Heather Morgan: I think it’s that I’m very blunt or raw, and real.
Andy Paul: Okay, all right, direct and to the point. Perfect. So who’s your sales role model?
Heather Morgan: Honestly, Bridget Gleason is definitely one of them. I think she’s the anti-bro. And that’s what I really like.
Andy Paul: Okay, great. What’s the one book you think every salesperson should read?
Heather Morgan: Ah, this is a great question. Um, either one of the old Zig Zigler books, I think it’s Selling 101. I forget which one is which. Or I would have them maybe read an old copywriting book by either Ogilvy or Sugarman or Caples.
Andy Paul: Okay. Excellent answer. All right. So last question. What’s on your playlist these days, what music are you listening to?
Heather Morgan: Oh, man, that’s a great question. I have a very strange music taste. I’m very happy to have Spotify.
Andy Paul: Choose for you?
Heather Morgan: Yeah, there’s definitely Turkish music and Gypsy music, modern music, Nicki Minaj and Jay Z and Lady Gaga, and all kinds of things old and new.
Andy Paul: Very eclectic. I like that. Turkish music a little hip hop, modern music. Excellent. Okay. I love it. Well, good. Well, Heather, thanks for being on the show today.
Heather Morgan: Thank you so much, Andy. It was wonderful being your guest.
Andy Paul: So tell people how they can find out more about you and SalesFolk.
Heather Morgan: Yeah, so obviously they can go to the SalesFolk website. We offer free cold email critiques, if you fill out a lead form at the bottom of the site. You can also find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/untraveling. Or on Twitter, it’s Heather Rey Han – it’s my middle name, the Turkish one. And we also have a cold email mastery course if you want to do some hands-on learning yourself. The first lesson is free, and we have a couple other lessons that are also unlocked right now.
Andy Paul: Excellent. Very good. Very good. Again, thanks for being on the show. And remember, friends, make it part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate your success. And one easy way to do that is to make this podcast, Accelerate!, part of your daily routine, whether you listen on your commute, in the gym, or as part of your morning sales meeting. That way, you won’t miss any of my conversations with top business experts like my guest today, Heather Morgan, who shared her expertise on how to accelerate the growth of your business. So thanks for joining me. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling, everyone.
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