9 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Online Sales Efforts

Email sales is more and more common, and as a result, it's less and less effective. But with just a little bit of effort, you can make sure it fails for you. Here's how.

Stever Robbins
8-minute read
Episode #435

Today’s article is a holiday gift to myself and to everyone out there who does sales by email. For me, it’s a rant. If you’re an email sales person, then it will be painful for you, though ultimately useful. And if you’re not, you’ll find this amusing—the same way that it was amusing to watch teenagers get torn to bits in EVIL DEAD. 

Incoming sales emails! I just love incoming sales emails! Last night, I wasted a full hour going through my Get-it-Done Guy inbox and my personal web site inbox reading offer after offer after offer for SEO services, for helpful content I can redistribute to my audience, for requests for free content someone else can sell to their customers, and for custom content writing services. If you or someone you love sends out this kind of email, put on your flame retardant jacket, sit down in a comfortable chair where you aren’t operating heavy machinery, and make sure your therapist is available for when you’re done listening to this episode, because it’s gonna hurt. And do definitely keep listening. I wasted my evening going through your email to no benefit of my own, now you get to spend quality time listening to my thoughts in return. If you really listen, you’ll actually benefit. Here are the mistakes you’re making, and how to fix them.

So tighten your seat belts and Flame. Friggin. On.

Mistake #1: Not realizing you’re a commodity

First of all, you need to know something about the world. You use email sales because it’s virtually free for you. Guess what? It’s also free for all your competitors. You are not the only SEO, website design, or custom content proposal your prospect has received today. You’re the 9,417th. And there’s nothing, nothing in your email that says you’re better, smarter, or more successful than the others. You could vanish off the face of the earth and all your prospects would do is breathe a sigh of relief. To them, you are at best another carbon-copy service, and at worst, a blight on their day, a waste of their precious life energy, and convenient zombie food for the rapidly-approaching, post-apocalyptic, dystopian zombie future.

And by the way, you know how you provide a link to a valuable article as a favor to this person you’ve never met? Don’t bother. In 2004, maybe an article was valuable. Now, we’re drowning in content, most of it repetitive drivel. Your insights are not insightful. Your article is not art. You write an obvious form-letter and want them to believe your recommended article will be valuable? L. O. L. You’ve just demonstrated you don’t know what value is. You are living on another planet, my friend, a planet that is scary, and dangerous, and occupied by one-eyed green monsters who ooze slime. Do not get slimed.

It’s 2016. Generic, recycled, pablum content is not valuable. And a hint: everything I’ve ever seen posted on LinkedIn fits that description. So if you are going to make this awful mistake, at least go somewhere original to get your “valuable content” (Can you hear the air quotes? Because there were definitely air quotes).

Mistake #2: Using form letters

You must earn the right to make a recommendation to a prospect. Why? Because your prospect is flooded with content and offers. They don’t have the time or inclination to read or respond to your email. People are very good at knowing when they’re getting a form letter. And by “people,” I mean “me.”

Earn the right to their attention by showing you’ve put in effort on your end. Learn who they are and customize your efforts. “But that takes work!” I hear you cry. Yes, it does. It’s easy to send out 10,000 email messages to a rented list, and all 10,000 of those people know you value them at roughly $0.

It’s hard to customize an email pitch to 100 prospects. But if you send out 100 inquiries showing you understand someone’s business, you’ll get their attention, because no one does that. As long-time listeners know, intern MG sent a hand-written, carefully-thought-out apology note on fine stationery and made a huge impression that saved a relationship. People respond to personal attention.

Mistake #3: Knowing nothing about your prospect

If you’re talking about SEO services that are priced in the thousands of dollars, it’s certainly worth the time to try a focused, higher-touch prospecting service.

I get pitches for documentary films about pet lizard tattoos for Cambodian refugees. Really? My podcast is about personal productivity. My business website is about Living an Extraordinary Life. The only use I have for a pet lizard is to put it into an enlargement ray, let it starve for a few weeks, and then sic it on the person who sent me that completely inappropriate pitch.

You know what pitch works? A pitch that says, “I have a great app that helps people manage To-do lists the way you recommend in episode 243. It runs on all platforms so your entire audience will find it valuable. Would you consider taking a look?” They make it clear they know my topic area, they know me and my specific episodes, and they know that my audience comprises all platforms. I rarely recommend paid products, but sometimes I do. So in this case, I’d take a look. Is this a lot of work? You bet. But it’s the cost of getting your prospect’s attention, because so many other email salespeople have wasted your prospect’s time.

If you’re a long-time listener to this podcast, you’ll remember that Intern MG discovered that the most effective apologies are customized and show effort. The same is true of sales pitches. The days of commodity pitches to non-opt-in prospects are over.

Mistake #4: Not providing value immediately

A special note for SEO providers: you know that software that finds SEO errors on someone’s website? And you use it to send out messages telling me “your website isn’t optimized?” Well, your competitors use that same software. All 9,417 of them.

Don’t send a message saying “You don’t rank for your desired keywords.” That sounds like a form letter. Give enough value so I know you’re not one of the 9,417 form-letter-sending drones. 

Here’s the message that would get my attention. “Based on looking at your site, you probably want to rank for keywords ‘cute cat pictures,’ ‘adorable puppies,’ and ‘grade d school lunch meat.’ If you optimize your WHAT-TO-DO-WHEN-FLUFFY-DIES.html page for these keywords, we believe you could get a 13% boost in qualified leads for both your taxidermy and school lunch meat preparation services. We’re willing to make your fee partially contingent on that result.”

You’re not just sending a vague form letter, you’re actually giving an example of the value you’d provide and supporting that claim with specifics.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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