Why Salespeople Need to Learn to be Better Copywriters (Or Else)

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Before the digital age, it was the smooth talkers and the extroverts who did all the selling, over the phone or in face-to-face meetings. But with the explosion of email as a sales tool, good writing has become an indispensable skill for the well-rounded salesperson.

Sales reps faced with the new email-centric paradigm have a choice: learn how to sell with the written word (ie learn how to write effective sales emails), or be obsoleted by someone from marketing.

To help all the veteran cold-callers out there avoid extinction, and give the sales rookies a head start, I reached out to a much-beloved copywriting expert to get her take on what makes for an effective sales email.

I first discovered Henneke Duistermaat’s blog, Enchanting Marketing, years ago when I wanted to push my copywriting skills further. Although I had been writing cold emails for more than a decade and had already read every major modern copywriting book, her blog still offered fresh ideas.

Here’s what Henneke has to say about writing sales emails that actually sell:

How can you make emails more engaging?

When selling face to face, we know how to show an interest in potential buyers so we don’t come across as pushy—we ask questions to learn what buyers are struggling with and then explain how we can help.

In writing, we can take a similar approach to make our emails more conversational and, even more importantly, to focus more strongly on the email recipient rather than the sender. A useful trick is to start with a “you question” instead of a “we statement.”

Most people start their emails with a “we statement.” For instance:

My name is Johnny Depp, Marketing Coordinator for Awesome App. I’m reaching out to you to offer you an exclusive, personal demonstration of the Awesome App platform.

These two sentences are both written from the sender’s perspective instead of engaging the recipient; and they don’t tell the recipient anything useful.

Moreover, people have already seen a name in the “from” field, so starting with the sender’s name means you’re wasting people’s time—busy executives hate time-wasters!

A more engaging approach starts with a “you question:”

Would you like to get more positive product reviews on your website?

Our research shows sending a request for a product review at the right time can boost reviews by 47%.

If your question addresses a problem that the recipient faces, you’ve immediately gained their attention. Once you have their attention, you can suggest how you can help solve their problem.

How can you build trust when emailing a stranger?

Think about what makes you mark emails as spam—these are usually emails that are impersonal and irrelevant. So the key is to learn more about who your email recipients are and make sure they feel the email addresses them personally. This starts with addressing emails to the right person, and then connecting with their situation—why is reading your email worth their time? Why should they contact you to set up a call?

Too often we forget to put ourselves in the shoes of the email recipient. When you write as if you’re writing to one real person, your email becomes instantly more personal and less spammy.

What’s the biggest mistakes you see people making today with copywriting?

One of worst I see people make is using generic statements like “We’re passionate about creating awesome websites” or “We’re committed to customer service excellence.”

Such generic statements are filler, because they don’t help readers imagine how you can help, for instance, improve their business performance or why working with your company is such an enjoyable experience. These generic statements don’t help persuade readers to buy—and may even repel potential buyers because everyone says the same.

To make your emails more credible and persuasive, focus on adding specific details. For instance, instead of writing you’re committed to customer service excellence, you could mention specifics like having 24/7 support by phone or have a testimonial of someone who explains how exactly support helped to set up your service. This is also a great way to build trust.

Generic statements may repel; specific details sell.

How can you sound more interesting and human in a sales email?

One way to inject personality into your writing is to choose different words. Many words are overused—words like state-of-the-art, cutting-edge, world-class, first-rate, amazing, awesome, and ultimate. Through excess use, these words have lost power—they’ve become wishy-washy. So, use them in moderation and try a less obvious word or, if it suits your brand voice, use everyday language or even slang. Think about your email recipient and read your email aloud. Would they laugh at your use of language? Or be happy to hear from you?

What’s a good first step for salespeople who want to improve their emails?

A good way to improve your emails is to start studying emails written by pros. When you study emails, think about questions like: Why does the subject line entice you to open the email? How does the first line engage you so you want to read on? What is the purpose of the email? Is all the information relevant or can the email be shortened? How does the writer entice you to respond or click through? How does the email content foster trust—why do you believe the claims?

When you understand why other emails work or don’t work, you can apply the same techniques in your own email writing. It’s one of the best ways to improve your writing skills.