Don’t Make These 11 Email Prospecting Mistakes

Prospects appreciate email connections, but your efforts could fall flat if you commit these errors.

Don't Make These 11 Email Prospecting Mistakes

Are you still prospecting by email? Good! According to research from the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, 80% of buyers prefer to be contacted by email.

As to successful email prospecting, that’ll depend on your strategy and tactics. If open rates and conversions aren’t where you want them to be, check your approach against this list of common email prospecting mistakes.

1. Ignoring Referrals

Far too many salespeople fail to ask for referrals—from their contacts and others they encounter as they’re trying to connect with decision-makers. Once received, be sure to mention a referral in the body of your prospecting emails. This ought to be the first item on your checklist, especially when you consider that 84% of B2B buyers start the purchasing process with referrals. Referrals alone can supercharge your sales prospecting success.

Tips for taking advantage of referrals:

  • Ask your referral to make a warm email introduction
  • Mention your referral by name near the top of your message or in the subject line
  • Weave your referral in naturally. For example, “Our mutual contact, Rachel Johnson, said you’re the best person to talk to about your company’s 2021 marketing objectives.”

2. Writing Like a Robot

“Dear madam or sir” just doesn’t cut it these days. Only automatons use copy/paste templates, generic wording, and boilerplate language—not top sellers. That’s because generic prospecting emails are the first to be ignored, especially when you consider the volume of email most people sift through daily.

How to write more personably:

  • It’s easy to tell salespeople to “write like a human.” What we mean is to be thoughtful and be you, namely:
  • Demonstrate your thoughtfulness by tailoring your message to a prospect’s specific needs
  • Research their work history, professional background, and publications
  • Spend a little more time getting comfortable with your natural syntax and style

Have a voice, in other words. Research from Boomerang found that any emotion is better than neutral—positive or negative—to the tune of 10-15% more responses. Use action-oriented language, share an anecdote or two, and be humorous if you’ve got it in you.

Here’s an example:

Hi Jessica,
Despite the 30 or so connections we share on LinkedIn, you probably don’t know me. Based on your background, though, I’m guessing you know how important response time is to customer satisfaction.

Hope you don’t mind, but I ran a little test and found that ABC Company customer support has an average response time down to 48 hours. Not bad at all. It could be better, though. We helped XYZ Company cut their response times in half.

Jessica, are you interested in a 10-minute demo of how our platform could do the same for you?

One more thing: address people by name. People’s eyes are automatically drawn to their names in print. Put the recipient’s name in the subject line or use the recipient’s name in the body. Double-check for their preferred name (is it Jacob or Jake?).

3. Making It All About You

Do you know how many prospecting emails I’ve read that start with the words “I” and “we”? Lots. Many then launch into details about their product, features, and results. We, we, we. Us, us, us. You can hardly blame a prospect who reads an email like this and asks, “What does this have to do with me?”

How to focus on the needs of your prospects:

Put all of your email messages through the three-second test. Does your email focus on the prospect within the first three seconds? If not, you might need to reframe things through the lens of buyer impact.


✅   Say this … ? Not This …
Your recent blog post got me thinking …

You asked a good question on [insert mutual LinkedIn Group]

What is it about inbound lead targets that are so challenging for VPs of Marketing? Several have shared with me that …

I was just thinking about …

I see we’re both members of [insert LinkedIn Group]

I work with VPs like you all the time …

4. Being Too Wordy

Like it or not, people don’t read long-form anything anymore—especially not cold emails.  Keep it brief and use hyperlinks to longer-form assets, such as blog posts and case studies, to do more talking for you.

How to keep it concise:

  • Read your emails out loud (you’ll quickly spot unnecessary words or extraneous detail)
  • Draft and read your emails on a smartphone (55% of emails are read on mobile devices)
  • Convert dense blocks of text into standalone sentences or bulleted lists
  • Keep a copy of The Elements of Style on your desk (a field guide to clear and concise writing)
  • Give Hemingway Editor a spin

5. Making Things Difficult to Understand

As it is, the business world is rife with enough jargon, business-speak, and five-dollar words. Fancy prose and intricate concepts don’t always capture buyer attention. That email you wrote at the third-grade level could fetch you a 36% better response rate over something written at a college reading level.

How to keep it simple:

  • Use a conversational tone and plain language
  • Avoid being too technical, didactic, flowery, or ornate
  • Ask someone to read your email drafts and provide first impressions (outside your department, ideally)
  • Workshop your prospecting emails with a third-party consultant

6. Giving Too Many Options

Something funny happens when people are given too many choices: they get overwhelmed, lock up, or tune out. We’ve found that many salespeople tend to offer too many calls to action CTAs or introduce too many concepts. Even when done in the spirit of being helpful and informative, too many choices lead to indecision.

How to narrow the focus

Use a single CTA – see what we did here with this single point?

7. Avoiding Numbers, Digits & Data

At a time when most people scan emails, there’s one way to catch the eye: use numbers. Think “100” instead of “one hundred” and “50%” instead of “fifty percent.” Back up your claims with realistic, verifiable numbers, too.

How to use numbers to your advantage:

  • Use actual digits for percentages, years, dollar amounts, and so on
  • Cite data from internal, third-party, and sponsored reports
  • Co-opt statistics published in notable industry news
  • Bring in real-world numbers from actual customers or clients
  • Be consistent! Nielsen Norman Group has a handy guide to writing numbers for the web

8. Not Asking Questions

Did you know that emails that ask one to three questions are 50% more likely to get a response? We’re not just talking about the hello, how are you? variety. We mean targeted and intentional questions that elicit a “yes.”

How to ask the right questions:

  • For appointment setting, ask the reader to choose between multiple time slots (for example, “does 10:00 am or 1:30 pm work better for you?”)
  • Tie the data you’ve shared to the prospect’s desired outcome (for example, “Would a 25% increase in self-service efficiency make a difference to your organization?”)

9. Being Too Pushy

Nobody wants to be treated like a number or be subject to a “close each sale or die”-type seller. The most flagrant examples we see are failing to give people an out, pushing when the probability of a sale is low and responding unprofessionally to rejections.

How not to be too pushy:

Let your prospects know that they can opt-out. It’s a powerful influence principle that can dramatically increase the chances that someone will say yes. For example, “If you’d rather not, I understand,” or “Feel free to skip the survey altogether, or to share it with your team.”

Should someone say no to you, resist the urge to respond in haste. You might just be talking to the wrong person in the organization, and it would be a shame to burn bridges just because of one little “no.”

10. Burying the Ask

Have you ever watched an enthralling Super Bowl ad only to find out it’s yet another car commercial? It’s the same feeling prospects will experience after reading your beautiful sales email, only to be left wondering just what it is you want them to do.

This is known as “burying the ask.”

How to write good CTAs:

  • Make your CTA clear, obvious, and clickable (if possible)
  • Use active language (“go,” “schedule,” “reply”)
  • Ask prospects to do one thing, not five (see mistake #6)

11. Sending Only One Email

The likelihood that your first email will get through and get a response is low. Even if your email intrigues the buyer enough to want to act, they often think, “I’ll respond later.” Then the next email comes in, their meeting alert goes off, or their phone rings, and your email is forgotten.

It takes on average eight touches to break through and generate a meeting.

How to breakthrough with multiple touches:

  • Use an Attraction Campaign—a multi-touch, multi-modal approach—to breakthrough and generate meetings
  • Be consistent with your messaging
  • Use the reverse direction technique at the end of your sequence to let prospects know you won’t reach out anymore

Getting people to open emails, engage with them, and take action is as difficult as it has ever been. If you’re making one or more of these mistakes, it’s probably affecting your ability to generate meetings. Do these fundamentals right, consistently, and you might just create the incremental improvement needed to surface your next conversation, opportunity, or sale.


  • Erica Schultz

    Erica Schultz is author of “Not Today: The 9 Habits of Extreme Productivity” and chief marketing officer at RAIN Group, a Top 20 Sales Training Company that delivers award-winning results through in-person and virtual sales training, coaching and reinforcement.

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