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8 common outbound email copywriting mistakes

Posted by Bradly Lebsack | Apr 17, 2021

Email is a major channel for sales teams to reach prospects. Yet despite its ubiquity and effectiveness, the response rates from outbound emails are relatively low.

The current average response rate is 1% and the average open rate is sitting at around 20%.

We can do better.

Fortunately, there are many strategies you can employ to increase your cold email response rates. Below are common mistakes I see people do when creating outbound email cadences and recommendations on how to improve.

Not Enough Research on your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Most teams looking to do outbound for the first time will not spend enough time defining the target audience. Not having a defined ICP will make it much harder to write compelling messaging since you do not know who you are writing to.

Let's assume we are creating an ICP for Copyfactory as a basis for creating an outbound sequence.

Here is a bad definition of an ICP: "Vp Sales at a Software Company". This ICP does not give us nearly enough information to start writing an informed message.

If this was the persona I was given to write for I would immediately start asking questions such as "what verticals within software?", "Should the VP of sales be managing a team of SDRs?", "Is this an experienced VP of sales or someone new to the role?". The point being, there is simply not enough context to start building effective messaging.

Here is a stronger description of an ICP: "Recently hired VP of sales at a FinTech company using Hubspot CRM". Although not perfect, this gives us a lot more to base our writing off on.

Now I can begin asking questions like "If he is recently hired, maybe he is looking at adding new technologies to the sales stack?". "Since they are a FinTech company what sales collateral do I have?", "Seeing as they use Hubspot, I should mention our native integration". 

Other aspects worth considering when building your ICP could include location, industry news, and intent signals that would make it a better time to reach out now. 

It's for this reason that we allow all requests submitted through  CopyFactory  to include additional ICP information.

Having a more focused ICP will lead to greater open rates and response rates because your message is more targeted from the onset. 

Your Email is too Long.

How many times do you get an email that has 6 paragraphs, 4 links, and a random cat meme attached to it? Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit but you get the idea. If I get tired just looking at the email there is a 100% chance I'm not going to read it.

When creating an email, first-time copywriters have the tendency to include the company history, founder story, list of use cases, and other sections to try and show the prospect why they should consider your solution all in one email.

This does not work in practice.

If I want the founding story, I'll google it. If I want to know more about the sender I'll take a look at the email signature and find their LinkedIn handle and social links.

Too often I see messaging that describes how to use the product from A-Z. This assumes the reader is even interested in knowing  how  to use your software. Rather, position your email to gauge interest or ask smart questions that show you are credible in the space.

I know it's been said a million times but your email should be promoting and selling benefits, not features or product walkthroughs.

Sales automation platforms do a great job of showcasing the goal the prospect is trying to achieve. They don't pitch you on all the technicalities and various use cases that allow you to connect with your buyers. Rather, they simplify the statement with messaging such as "Send emails that get replies" (this is how Lemlist positions its product if you're curious).

Understanding the difference between features and your contacts' goals will help you be more concise in your messaging and ultimately have a message that resonates with your ideal customers.

Not Making the Email About Them.

A natural reflex that writers have is to include the word "I" more than the word "You". This happens because writers (often founders) are excited about showing all the ways their software or service can help the contact that the end result turns into a long-winded sales pitch that never ends.

I try to make an effort that after every sentence to reflect back on how this directly helps the prospect and why they are receiving the communication in the first place.

Remember, you are likely not the only person writing to this contact and therefore you must make every effort to cut through the noise. 

Personalizing your email is the ultimate way to build rapport with a prospect because it actually shows that you have researched them and have an understanding of their situation.

By reducing the number of times you reference yourself or your company you increase the chances of keeping the reader engaged and having them respond to you.

Unclear Call to Action

Most email teardowns that I do have a common pattern among them. They either have too many calls to action in an email or none at all. Raise your (virtual) hand if you have seen this sentence in your inbox this week:

"Do you have 30 minutes for a call?".

Ok, now keep your hand up if you have seen this SAME sentence from the SAME sender more than once in 30 days? 

Wow, that's a lot of hands! 

Is the sentence itself inherently bad? No, of course not. It's the overuse and wrongful use of it that negatively affects your email cadences. 

Too often do I see people use it in every single email they send. If the person you are reaching didn't answer the first, second, or third ask for time.... what makes you think they will answer the fourth? Hint: They won't.

Instead, you should replace your call to action with pertinent questions that make the prospect reflect on their current situation. These questions should be simple by nature but make them realize what they are potentially missing out on by not using your product or service. 

For example, a question-based call to action for one of our sequences could be: 

"Have you considered adding an outbound copywriting tool to your sales stack?"

Too often do senders have the wrong objective in mind which is to close a deal or book time when in reality you are trying to start a conversation. 

Bad Email Formatting

The world has gone mobile and your communications must adapt.

As mentioned above, if your email looks intimating nobody will read it. This logic also applies to your formatting of the email itself.

Here are some tips when formatting your cold email:

  • Try to avoid 3-4 long sentences in a single paragraph.
  • Do not bold and italicize words in your email. This is a dead giveaway that your email is canned and looks more like a marketing communication than an outbound email.
  • Send yourself the email after you have written it. Preview on desktop and on mobile. Do sentences look run-on? Is your main idea stuck between 2 other sentences? Does it flow properly and clearly have a goal? Does my subject line hide all the preview text of the main email?

These are some quick wins you can deploy when building for your sequences and take 2 minutes to fix.

As they say, we eat with our eyes first! 

Ultimately, a cold email is sent on behalf of someone and incites a response. Therefore, if the email you send looks like it was made with fancy images, bolded text, and multiple paragraphs it looks very impersonal and will negatively affect the performance of your campaigns. 

Another trick I use is to read the email out loud. Usually, I will notice where the flow might be 'off' and where my ideas are not as connected as they should have been. After reading the email I should know exactly what the main purpose, idea and call to action of the email is. 

In the event that I notice multiple ideas being presented in the email I will either shorten the text or break the email into a different email entirely. 

Simply put, if as a writer I am confused as to what the main idea of the email is then my potential customer will definitely feel the same way.  

In my opinion, formatting and content for outbound email copywriting are deeply intertwined and therefore spend just as much time on the spacing, formatting, and logical flow of the email as I do on the content and copy itself. 

No Personalization

People often hear the word personalization and think this comes in the form of deep research on a singular contact. Although true, personalization actually takes several forms.

For example, you can personalize at a job title level, company level, vertical level, and of course at a contact level.

Senders will typically write one email sequence and apply it to all of the segments. When asked why the reason is usually due to a lack of time or bandwidth.

It goes without saying that the main reason for low response rates is because your message looks canned/automated and no thought was put into why the contact should have received that message. Nobody wants to feel like they are on someone's list.

If you do not have time to personalize each email communication at a 1-1 level then consider further segmenting your contact data into more distinct buckets.

For example, instead of writing to ALL e-commerce companies, you can segment for e-commerce companies that are wholesalers that also use Shopify as a technology of choice.

This allows you to ask relevant challenges pertaining to Shopify in the wholesale industry and also allows you to map more relevant content, case studies, and testimonials.

No Defined Email Cadence

Often, I see teams using marketing platforms like Mailchimp to run their cold email campaigns. Besides the fact that this is against Mailchimp's terms and conditions, there is a greater point to be made here.

It's the wrong tool for the job.

If you are serious about cold email then please invest in a proper email automation platform. If you are enterprise take a look at Salesloft or Outreach. If you are an SME take a look at Reply or Lemlist.

By not using the right email sequencing platform you will not know what is working, you will not benefit from many of today's integrations and features that allow for multi-channel outreach.

It's imperative that you have a properly defined cadence with 3-7 steps. Sending the odd email with no followups will only lead to failure.

No Testing

Last on the list is the complete lack of testing that we see today.

Revenue leaders know they need to test in order to continuously improve on key metrics as open, reply and revenue won however lack the ability to test messaging variants.

You are not alone, and although most know they need to do it most won't simply because they lack the time.

It's best practice to test new messaging every 3 weeks. In digital marketing, there is a term called 'ad fatigue where ad performance dips over time. The same applies in cold email. 

If your email automation supports it (most do) consider A/B testing call to actions, subject lines, value propositions, case studies, and email length. 

Over time you will notice patterns emerge from the data and you can start to see those response and engagement rates trending upwards! 

I hope you got something out of the above, and have a few ideas on how to tweak your next messaging sequence.

If you are looking to streamline your outbound email copywriting process CopyFactory is a tool that does everything described above and more. If you’re interested, you can register and start making requests