It’s Not About You! Cold Email Advice from a VP of Sales

July 17, 2014 Ben Sardella

Datanyze Chief Revenue Officer, Ben Sardella, has spent over 14 years building successful SaaS sales teams. He started his career by pioneering the SaaS sales model as a founding member of the NetSuite sales team back in 2000. He currently advises for Yesware and LaunchTrack and is a mentor at LaunchPad LA. 


Over my 14 year career in SaaS sales, I’ve been through a number of sales training programs. While there have been pockets of success, I’ve found that most new processes learned during these trainings are eventually overcome by the same bad habits you had before the training.

Out of the numerous training events I attended early in my career, a single sentence sticks out — a sentence that I’ve been sure to incorporate into any outbound approach for both myself and my team. In fact, this is one of the first things that attracted me to join Datanyze when Ilya pitched me his idea a couple of years back. The best part is, it’s not only applicable to cold emailing or even cold calling for that matter — this simple mantra can be used at anytime and in any place to make a connection with anyone.

“Make it about them, not about you”

That’s it. Use this as your guiding principle and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can make a connection with someone. To understand this a little better, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone receiving an email from you.

Formulating the right subject line

Now keep in mind, whatever the rest of your email includes, it won’t matter if no one actually opens your email, so the subject line is critical. Ask yourself: What would it take to make you open a cold email and read the first couple of lines?

Although there is much debate about adding names in the subject line, I find that if my name is in the subject line, I’m going to open it. For example, I received an email with this subject line: Ben, loved your tweet yesterday. I’m going to open this, because I am now wondering which tweet they are talking about. Even something less specific about me but in reference to Datanyze would catch my attention: Ben, love what you guys are doing at Datanyze.

Point here is this — if the subject line is not going to get someone to be interested enough to read the rest, you are wasting your time sending an email in the first place so don’t be generic.

Creating an engaging email body

Now that you have someone’s attention, how do we get closer to the ultimate goal of getting a positive response? First, be sure to draw a correlation between the subject line and your opening statement. Let’s look at my second example below:

Subject: Ben, love what you guys are doing at Datanyze
Body: Hi Ben, I’ve been hearing about you guys a lot recently….

So now I’m even more intrigued, a little flattered, and personally invested to read the rest. But outside of my perceived obligation to respond at this point and at least say thank you (which, by the way, is a nice mini-win when trying to make a connection with someone from a cold email), what would it take for me to want to engage in a potential sales opportunity? Two common approaches are to either ask for an introduction to the correct person at the company who handles XYZ or make the pitch directly to the person you have targeted:

Example 1: The request for an intro

We have a service that will help you [insert quick one liner about the value your service delivers]. Would you guide me to the person responsible for [insert the relevant department or task your service empowers -- “marketing, sales, pipeline building"] and let me know how I might get in touch with them?

Example 2: The direct pitch

We have a service that will help you [insert quick one liner about the value your service delivers] and have helped similar businesses achieve XYZ results. What’s the best day/time this week or next for a quick 15 minute conversation?

Now in both examples above, I might reply positively, since I’m already inclined to respond. At the least, I’m going to say thanks but not interested at this time or follow-up with me in X number of months while I secretly hope you won’t actually do it…

In either case, there has to be context. The more context you include, the more relevant your message will be and the more likely I’m going to consider you worthy of that 15 minute call. The question is: How do you get context that’s relevant, while, at the same time, delivering an effective value proposition and not overselling what you do?”

Leveraging technology data to enhance relevancy

Using data can really go a long way in improving your conversion rates from cold email to initial call, but the problem is that we are overloaded with data. On top of that, it takes a long time to do research once you look at the website, go to LinkedIn, search for press releases or news articles, scan Twitter and Facebook, and then gather and enter the meaningful data into your CRM.

At Datanyze, we tackle this problem head on by making the research process extremely efficient for our users. Here are a few steps that show how our customers are having success using data to improve the effectiveness of their outbound messaging.

Understand your key differentiators

After testing or polling your existing customers, decide what data point is meaningful to your potential buyers. Referencing things like location if being local is a benefit, size of the companies you work with if they are the same size, or your expertise about the industry if they are looking for outside consulting, will all add salient context to an outreach email.

For our customers, a critical component of the outreach process is understanding what technology each prospect is using.  Let’s say for example you sell implementation and consulting services around marketing automation — the knowledge of what marketing automation platform a prospect uses can be leveraged in a few different ways. To explain, let’s compare a similar email like the example below “generic value proposition”, to an email referencing this info, “research value proposition”:

Example body 1: Generic value proposition

We work with marketing teams to improve the value they get from their marketing automation systems. We have a team of experts that have helped clients like you achieve far more value from their current systems than they thought was possible through best practices we have learned from our engagements with some of the best marketing organizations in the industry. When is the best day/time this week or next for a quick 15 minute conversation?

While the above email is short and to the point, there are a couple of flaws. First off, we have no idea if they use a marketing automation system! Secondly, since we don’t know this information, it makes our “expertise” sound generic, making it difficult to establish credibility during your first impression.

Example body 2: Researched value proposition with technology info

We work with marketing teams to improve the value they get from Marketo. We have a team of experts that have helped Marketo clients like you achieve far more value than they thought was possible through best practices we have learned from our engagements with some of the best marketing organizations in the industry. When is the best day/time this week or next for a quick 15 minute conversation?

Now in this example, we know they use Marketo, and we address this in the first sentence. Credibility is instantly established and I’ve painted the picture of expertise specifically focused on Marketo users in just a few brushstrokes.

Example body 3: Researched value proposition with additional data points

What if we knew other data points besides just the technology they are using and were able to gather these points in seconds to make your messaging even more effective? Let’s test it out.

We work with marketing teams to improve the value they get from Marketo. We have a team of local experts that have helped Marketo clients that are quickly growing like you to maximize the conversion of their growing inbound traffic. When is the best day/time this week or next for a quick 15 minute conversation?

As you can see, I’ve now sent a message establishing myself as a local expert, working with fast-growing Marketo clients on improving conversion metrics. In less time, I was able to send a far more relevant cold email that was shorter than any of the examples above. (By the way, it passes my mobile phone test too!).

For more tips on cold emailing (and cold calling), check out this post.

About the Author

Ben Sardella

Ben Sardella is the Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer at Datanyze

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