B2B Email Prospecting Still Works – If You Do It Right

By Chris Beall, CEO, ConnectAndSell
A person typing on a keyboard with a web if envelopes around them

The good news about using cold email for B2B prospecting is that sending a virtually unlimited stream of targeted emails is cheap, as in “inexpensive.” And, with a modest investment in tools and technologies, you can get a fair amount of information back about who opened and interacted with your emails. It’s even straightforward to run A/B tests on different subject lines, body lengths, inclusion or avoidance of specific terms, and market micro-segments.

My guess is I could go on and on about the advantages of B2B prospecting by email, and still get helpful comments about the advantages I hadn’t mentioned. However, email prospecting also provides:

  1. One advantage that is actually a disadvantage
  2. One big disadvantage that has always been there, but is growing at an alarming rate
  3. One fatal disadvantage that hardly anyone talks about

A sales rep who spends all day sending emails doesn’t get much practice having conversations with actual human beings. As a result, their conversation confidence and competence degrade with disuse.

And, if they have a call reluctance problem (and who doesn’t?), the temptation to send “one more email” instead of make “one more call” can be overwhelming. The phrase “silent library” has been applied to more than one sales floor, and the silence has become even more deafening as the pandemic has turned field sales teams into home-bound inside sellers – and inside sales teams into lonely typists.

The big disadvantage that has always been in play with email prospecting is its lack of negative feedback. A cold phone conversation yields a rich mix of feedback – mostly negative and very nuanced – because of the expressive power of the human voice and a rep’s ability to choose a predefined call outcome and even take notes. In contrast, email feedback is primarily “crickets.” Sure, you might get some unsubscribes, and you certainly get a lot of “no response” – but there’s not much there to tell you why. And the current trend is toward ever lower response rates, sharply exacerbated by the pandemic, and unlikely to improve any time soon, if ever. Net, email is getting more expensive and less effective, and has never been particularly good at delivering insights.

Then, there is the fatal disadvantage: One email just doesn’t contain enough information to get a stranger to trust you. An average email contains about 5,000 bits of information – just ask any computer science type. That’s as much information as is transmitted in ¼ of a second of a phone conversation!

To work the math backward, it takes about seven seconds of a phone conversation to get someone to trust you. And those seven seconds are all you have, according to negotiation expert Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference – How to Negotiate As If Your Life Depends on It.

So, you would need to send 28 emails (and have some of them get opened and thoughtfully read) to get a first dollop of trust. And trust is the one thing you MUST get in B2B sales. Why? Because B2B buyers are inherently conservative. They are not betting with their money as consumers – they are betting with their careers. And they won’t place that bet, in the form of doing business with you, unless and until they get to the point of trusting you, the expert in your field, more than they trust themselves, the generalist.

The good news is that turning this fatal disadvantage of email into a consistent advantage is a fairly straightforward process. You simply need to recognize there are fundamentally two kinds of people you can send an email to: 1) strangers, and 2) people you have some relationship with.

The key is to recognize that you have a relationship with everyone you talk with. Everyone. Even someone who just hears your voice and hangs up on you. And an email sent to someone you have a relationship with will almost always be opened and read. Especially if that email is sent immediately following that conversation.

This means you can look at a first human conversation with a stranger – sometimes called a cold call – as a solid and reliable launch point for an email conversation with someone you know and who knows you, even if only a little bit. The result is an extraordinary jump on open, read, and response email responses. In addition, your email itself is trivially easy to personalize and contextualize. You just spoke with this person! If they are busy, acknowledge that in the email. And, if they say they are “all set” or “interested, but send me some information,” acknowledge those as well.

And one more thing is available to you. You can include a link to some of the wonderful content your team has produced and that could help your prospect learn about your approach to solving an important problem they have. Given the high likelihood that the person you just spoke with will open and interact with your email, you have a golden opportunity to provide value based on your company’s special insights.

So, one little change can make email work powerfully in B2B sales. Talk, then send. It’s that simple – and a lot more fun than sending messages endlessly into the void.

Learn more about ConnectAndSell.