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Don’t Repel Sales Prospects You’re Trying to Attract

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Since taking my new role as director of sales and marketing at I.T. Solutions, I have been inundated with email requests for meetings and have been amazed at the range of approaches. Actually, most of the emails are unprofessional, generic, and often demanding in their approach for a meeting and overconfident in their ability to “solve my problems” (even though they know nothing about my business). I did find four companies that did a great job providing relevant content and messaging in a professional, consistent, and not annoying manner over a period of four to six weeks, which prompted me to reach out and provide my requirements. Two of them became vendors.

Given my past nine months of being solicited by fellow salespeople, I’m sharing what approaches work, and don’t work, for me (and I suspect they will for other busy professionals). Here are some dos and don’ts for professionally approaching prospects and scoring the most important win in a sales pursuit—securing a meeting.

Don’t presume appointment time/date in the email title. Appointment logistics come after earning the right for a discussion by demonstrating your value to my business. Don’t be presumptuous.

Don’t ask dumb questions in the email title. Titles like “Are you interested in increasing your sales leads?” stem from the ancient sales motto of keeping the customer saying “yes.” Sophisticated buyers today want to be helped by sales professionals that are looking for long-term relationships, not made to feel like they are being manipulated.

Do use a respectful or compelling email title. In my first contact, if I don’t have much knowledge of real requirements, I use “Introduction/Meeting Request,” to be clear about the fact I do not know them and am requesting time.

Do keep introductory emails concise and readable. My introductory email is structured with three paragraphs consisting of two to three sentences. Small separate paragraphs help bring the eye to important points and show respect for your recipients’ time. In the first paragraph, introduce your company and explain how you help companies like theirs. In the second paragraph, demonstrate success using metrics from similar and/or known companies—the more specific the better, and use bullet points. In the third paragraph, request a short (15- to 30-minute) meeting to discuss their business objectives and how you might be able to assist them. Then thank them for their consideration. They owe you nothing, so be as polite and respectful as possible.

Don’t ask me to forward your email to the right person. If I like your email and think it will help our company, I will forward it without your request. If I’m the wrong person, do your job and determine the right person before you send it!

Don’t send introductory emails every two to three days. More is not better in this case. The prospect may be interested but hasn’t had time to respond. If I get four emails in 10 days, you’re demonstrating that you’re focused on what you want (an appointment), but not on how you can help me on my terms.

Do provide consistent follow-up with additional content. Two of the vendors I referred to above used a very professional email drip campaign. One started with communication from business development and then transitioned to a technical role that got into more detail about their capabilities with website design (which was a need). She accompanied her email with a link to relevant content, which provided value and enticed me to go to their website and explore. After I downloaded the content, she acknowledged my action and asked if we could meet. I wasn’t ready to meet, and she provided additional contact, which finally enticed me to reach out. All these interactions had five to seven business days between them, so it always felt like follow-up, not pressure.

Do keep in touch with prospects that say “interested but not now.” My first job in sales was telemarketing. I had many prospects that became customers because of my patience and persistence, sometimes over 15-plus months. It doesn’t take much time for a quick email or call, and it shows you are willing to sell on their schedule. 

Paul Harney (pharney@itsoli.com) is director of sales and marketing for I.T. Solutions, a professional services firm delivering strategy, transformation, and technology solutions. Its core consultants are IT practitioners with experience in the corporate and consulting worlds strategizing and implementing solutions from vendors such as Oracle, Microsoft, Salesforce, and ServiceNow.

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