Quick question: Would you please stop sending me emails using that subject line?
Hi internet, I know how busy you are. I hope you don’t mind checking out this blog I’m writing, because I think it’s something you may find of value.
But really, let’s talk about the “quick question” subject line. Recently, my ConsumerAffairs colleague Patrick Madison shared a great article by Carrie Kerpen discussing this subject [line], and less than 24 hours later, yet another “quick question” was being requested of me by a stranger.
After I read Carrie’s article, I searched my inbox knowing I’d come up with countless results. I’d have even more if I hadn’t deleted countless additional emails with the same request.
It’s worth noting I’m a relatively patient person. I don’t like it when I hear about prospects who respond rudely to sales people — after all, we’re all just trying to do our jobs. I never respond with a negative tone, and do my best to keep an open mind. Still, it’s probably helpful to understand a bit more about the mindset a prospect may be in when your “quick question” hits their inbox.
Your quick question isn’t as quick as you think it is
If you’ve identified someone like me as a possible decision maker and user of your product, you’re probably framing the email as a pitch to gauge my interest. What this means for me is I have to research your product before making a decision to spend even more of my already limited time on a discovery call. As a marketer, to avoid being dropped into yet another email campaign, I will move to another window, likely incognito, to conduct my research, which could take 15–30 minutes depending on how much information I have to read before I have a feel for whether the product meets my existing needs. After researching, I have to spend time responding, which usually means I have to search for and locate the email in my inbox, which often has as many as 200 unread emails in it when I get to my desk in the morning.
If I read your email and realize I’m not the right contact, I will have to figure out who the right contact is within my organization, and pass the request on if I know they are actively looking — something that still requires use of my time. While it uses less time to pass you to the right contact, knowing I’m not the right department or the right contact means I’m also aware you’re not effectively targeting your prospects. This may sound innocuous, but asking to be handed to the right person is a roundabout way of asking me to do your prospecting for you. I already have to do my job, so asking me to do your job is not my idea of a strong opener.
Know your audience, and know enough about the roles they play as potential customers
I’ve told you I’m a marketing professional. I’ve discussed the limited bandwidth I have. You know I hate seeing hundreds of sales reps using the same tired subject line over and over again. But do you have a feel for the tasks I am focused on each day? Do you know which responsibilities are owned by someone in my role? Are you familiar with the ecosystem your product lives in, and the ecosystem around my role? How about some of the common tools people like me are already using? What about the challenges people in my role and my industry are facing? This is the knowledge you need to find the right people quickly and avoid being volleyed from person to person. But what I’m about to say is even more important:
You are attempting to sell something, and your question is not quick. It’s better to acknowledge this fact and compose your outreach accordingly.
If you know you’re reaching out to the right person, consider alternatives to email
The other day, I had to clean 2000+ unread emails out of my inbox. Of those emails, around 80% were marketing automation campaigns I did not opt myself into, and many were automated sales development sequences with generic messaging and the same tired subject line. During this inbox purge, I uncovered a few emails from people I actually did want to speak to…people who emailed me a couple months back and simply got lost in the shuffle. While I do frequently request communications in email form to keep a paper trail, sometimes it’s quicker to just call me up. If I don’t answer, leaving a voice message is welcomed. By all means, email me a follow up email so I can listen to your message and respond quickly with a yes or no. Nail that elevator pitch though, because after 30 seconds I usually stop the voicemail and move on with my day.
Beyond emails and calls, social selling is a great tool, but don’t forget social is about building rapport not hard selling. You don’t ask a Tinder date when you’ll be getting married on date number one (at least I hope you don’t), and you shouldn’t ask to schedule a demo on your first touch in social media, either. But let’s move away from using technology for outreach — recently, some of our sales team members packaged up some gifts and thoughtful printed materials and sent them over to a prospect as an effort to make a meaningful connection. It worked.
Appeal to your prospect’s vanity
I’ll admit it: I write with the intention of sharing something I hope will resonate with other people. I want to connect. I want to be helpful. One of the most rewarding experiences for me is when I receive an email, InMail or tweet acknowledging something I’ve shared or written about. I hate saying it, but appealing to my vanity is a great way to build rapport and get my attention. At the very least, I feel like you’re having a dialog with me and willing to engage more versus just trying to set another appointment to pad your paycheck. However, be sure to actually read the entire article. There are times when people reach out and mention something I’ve written, but clearly haven’t digested the content. Subject lines doubling as compliments are a nice way to give a personal touch to outreach. Yes, it requires more effort, but if you’re prospecting wisely, you should have a narrower list of better fits so your conversion rates will likely be even higher than a spray and pray with “quick question” subject lines.
Sales isn’t an easy job, but sending the same tired email everyone else is sending won’t make it any easier
I respect those of you who are sales reps. You face rejection constantly, and you are well aware of how saturated some markets have become. Everyone is after the same prize, and everyone is committed to the sales grind. I have no idea how you do it day in and day out. Respect. No, it’s not easy to come up with unique openers. Research takes time. Emails take time. Calls take time. You have hundreds of people to contact, and you have lofty metrics to hit. Your paycheck reflects your success in outreach. Work smarter — learn how to fine tune your prospecting and really understand the personas of the people you are selling to. Build relationships. Personalize more. Last, but not least:
Stop using “quick question” as your subject line.
Update: Since writing this post, I’ve uncovered several “quick” emails in my spam folder. If that’s not a case for a subject line revamp, I honestly don’t know what is.