If you’re in sales for any amount of time, you’ll notice that there are some typical topics around sales emails that salespeople ask about a lot (or, more likely, turn to Google for):

  • How to write sales emails.
  • How long should sales emails be?
  • How to title sales emails.
  • How to create sales emails.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, just as important as how to write sales emails, is how to follow up.

I am shocked at how little salespeople know about this critical skill. I’ll give you an example:

The Salesperson Who Didn’t Get the Hint

I had a sales rep email me recently, writing a beautifully scripted message. His initial sales email did all the right things: He addressed me directly but politely, asked if my staff was experiencing a particular problem that his product could solve, etc. etc.

Our existing solution was working just fine, and his solution, while very good, would not provide any help to us. I responded as such in an email. I even added that I really liked his email, and encouraged him to continue his good work! (Hey, I know what it’s like from his end. A little feedback is always a good thing.)

His response? Basically, he begged me for a 30-minute meeting to show me how I was wrong about not needing his solution, offered to have one of his references reach out to me, and offered to walk me through the process of comparing solutions.

My response? I deleted his emails and blocked him from further contact.

In the “Don’t Take No for An Answer” Game, Everybody Loses

This is a game as old as time, played as Buyers versus Sellers. The Sellers reach out to the Buyers in an attempt to sell their products. The game begins.

The Buyers don’t always answer their phones, so the Sellers leave a voicemail or send an email message. The contents of that voicemail or email are key, of course.

The Buyer might ignore the Seller, or he or she might respond. If there is a response, there are several things that can happen:

  • Scenario 1: The Buyer, not seeing how the product can help, says as much. The Seller accepts that answer and moves on to another prospective Buyer—but makes a note to set in motion a plan to keep in touch with the Buyer, in case the situation changes and new needs develop.
  • Scenario 2: The Buyer, not seeing how the product can help, says as much. But through a simple conversation, the Seller manages to educate the Buyer and show that their product or service would actually be valuable. The sale is completed, and they both live happily ever after. Everyone wins.

Of course, salespeople would rather have scenario 2 happen than scenario 1. In my experience, though, scenario 1s are much more rare than we like to think. What usually happens instead is scenario 3:

  • Scenario 3: The Buyer, not seeing how the product can help, says as much. The Seller wants desperately to prove that, really, there is value for the Buyer. He or she wants that “everyone wins” scenario. So the Seller keeps pestering the Buyer with questions, objection-handling techniques, and time-gobbling calls for discussion. The Buyer likely ignores these and tends to their business.

And that scenario, all too often, leads to this one:

  • Scenario 4: The Seller, after not getting a response to their message(s), will make multiple attempts via email, voicemail, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Ouija Board, and skywriting to catch the eye or ear of the Buyer, further clogging up the email box and voicemail box of the Buyer. The Buyer becomes increasingly annoyed, and the Seller is clearly wasting his or her time. But after sinking so much effort into the lead, the Seller just doesn’t want to walk away empty-handed…which, of course, the Seller eventually will. The Buyer, who might actually need the product, has an effective solution slip through their hands. No one wins.

Here’s the problem: The more Sellers out there who fall into the patterns seen in scenarios 3 and 4, the more Buyers have their guard up. Buyers begin to just assume that, if they respond to the Seller to explain their doubt in the helpfulness of the product, they will be barraged.

In fact, most Buyers that don’t respond to sales emails have probably dealt with these “not-taking-no-for-an-answer” salespeople before. Some companies not only hire these types of salespeople, they actually train their staff to act this way.

In turn, some companies train their buyers on how to avoid being sold to, and some even create policies for dealing with salespeople. As the example above describes, no one wins, and some of these companies have acquired reputations for how they act and react. It’s a vicious cycle, and it can be broken only if both Seller and Buyer change their behaviors.

A Better Way to Follow Up a Sales Call

I suggest a better way for both sides to play this game:

For Sellers:

  • Follow the general rules for email (and/or phone) etiquette. I know, I just talked about follow-up and de-emphasized writing… But you need to master both. (If you are interested, our content library has an entire collection on email etiquette, including how to perfect your subject line, spelling and grammar, formatting, etc. Contact us if you want a demo!)
  • Remember, your target prospects are probably getting many cold calls and emails every day from other salespeople. If you want to stand out, you have to solve their immediate pain. So, when cold contacting, don’t just babble on about features. Get to the problem or pain that those features help solve. (If it helps, we have a great course on turning features into benefits!)
  • Be sure to ask clearly if your prospective client is experiencing that problem or pain. If the answer is “No,” accept that—and let the prospect know that a “No” or “Not now” answer is perfectly acceptable.
  • Upon hearing “Not now,” do nothing more than ask if you can keep in touch with news of your product, your company, or your industry periodically. (This is where you partner with your marketing department to nurture that relationship.) If you feel the strong urge to question the Buyer because you don’t believe they answered correctly, I suggest you revisit your initial ask of the Buyer. Did it present a clear description of the pain that your product could cure? If it did, then accept their answer, and go find other potential Buyers that DO have that particular pain and need your product’s help.

Sharpen the saw! It’s never a bad idea to revisit good sales techniques: Sales Training: Getting Back to BasicsEven better, check out some of our selling skills training videos we carry!

For Buyers:

  • Don’t waste your time, or the Seller’s. Just provide a brief, prompt response to that Yes/No question. Sellers are adults that can handle rejection. Don’t be afraid you’ll hurt their feelings with a “No” or “Not now.”
  • Remember that your situation might likely change in the future, and having access to a known solution can be a lifesaver in the future. So go ahead and accept that offer to stay in touch. That seller can be a great resource for industry issues, best practices, other vendor contacts, business references, and more. Besides, if your situation does change, and that vendor’s product would then be helpful, you have a solution already at hand!

Let’s break the cycle together! If you need assistance with your sales training (note the “particular pain”), contact us at ej4 to see how we can help.


Ken Diekemper

Written by Ken Diekemper

With over 35 years of sales and sales management experience in retail, pharmaceutical, financial, data security, and learning and development industries, Ken has not only sold, but also hired, trained, and coached sales executives at all levels of experience.

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