Email is the lifeblood of any sales team. Whether you’re engaging with inbound leads or doing cold outreach to new prospects, email is a big part of how you cross the chasm between a blank slate and the buying decision. Reps and account executives who are good at email generate more leads, get more positive responses, schedule more meetings, and close more deals. So what’s their secret?
As it turns out, there’s no silver bullet for email. Mastering the art of the inbox takes practice — and it takes good habits. Very few of these habits will transform your prospecting power on their own. But together, they can help you and your team multiply your productivity beyond what you ever thought possible.
In this article, we’ve rounded up 50 of the email best practices for sales teams. These tips cover the best ways to understand the prospects you’re contacting before you even send your first message, habits that will make your outreach process more efficient and effective, and ideas for writing great emails that will inspire prospects to respond.
Email is about communication. To communicate effectively, you need to know your audience. But sometimes you don’t have much to go on beyond a name, a company, and an email address when you’re doing cold outreach. A lot of reps in this situation will simply fire off a generic template and hope for the best — but prospects can smell this kind of laziness a mile away. The approach is a surefire way to land your emails in the spam or trash folders, where they’ll never be opened and they’ll definitely never generate a sale.
Understanding prospects is important throughout the sales cycle, too. Once you’ve got someone interested in your offering, it’s important to build trust through your communications. Knowing more about your contacts than just their name and job title can help you create a genuine relationship that helps you close the deal down the line.
These best practices are designed to set you up for sales success before you even type a word.
1. Do your homework
A simple Google search can give you lots of background on each person you’re contacting. But who has time for that? Look for an email app with enriched contact profiles so you can quickly see key details like a person’s location, job title, social profiles, and photo — in context, right next to the email you’re about to write.
2. Look for uncommon commonalities
As Wharton professor and New York Times writer Adam Grant points out, one of the best ways to build a genuine connection with a prospect is to highlight something unusual that you have in common.
3. Follow the news
Has your prospect’s company made an announcement or launched a new product recently? Mentioning these timely events in your messages shows that you’ve made an effort to address the recipient specifically and that you’re thinking about their situation.
4. Practice empathy
Yes, you’re trying to sell your company’s product or service — but that doesn’t mean much to a prospect who’s never met you and is about to have their day interrupted by your email. Put yourself in his or her shoes. How can you help them? What problems can you solve for them? Lead with that.
5. Leverage your marketing team’s knowledge
Marketers do extensive research to understand customer personas so they can create great content. They also collect lots of data about what prospects and customers respond to on your website and in your newsletters. Ask them what works for your customer base, then use that insight to inform your outreach.
Outreach is a numbers game. The more emails you send, the more potential leads you generate — so tools that can help you send a higher volume of messages in a shorter amount of time can help you get ahead.
But outreach is also not just about numbers. Sending a huge number of emails is useless if prospects don’t actually engage with your emails and respond.
These email best practices can help you maximize both quantity and quality.
6. Be concise and direct
The percentage of emails that get opened on mobile varies widely by industry, but it’s at least a third of emails across the board (source). Keep your emails as short and to the point as possible to increase the chances that your prospect reads the whole thing.
7. Use the prospect’s language
English may be the language of business in many places, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice for your outreach emails. Translation tools like the ones built in to Nylas N1 (the Nyla email client) allow you to write in the language you’re most comfortable with, then translate your message into the recipient’s chosen language before you send.
8. Spell check
There’s no faster way to look unprofessional than to make a silly spelling error. Choose an email app that checks your spelling automatically, no matter what language you’re writing in.
9. Use templates
Rewriting kills productivity when you’re sending the same type of outreach to lots of people. You can hack your way around part of the problem with copy-paste, but it’s easy to forget to replace variables. Have you ever sent a copy-pasted outreach email and forgotten to update the name in the greeting? Yeah… that’s awkward. By creating templates for blocks of copy you use frequently in your emails, you can save yourself hour of typing time every week.
10. Banish copy-paste
In most email apps, if you want to send the same message to a group of people but have it look like an individual message for each of them, you’d have to copy-paste the message body into separate emails addressed to each person. Choose an email app with mail merge tools built in. That way you can set up a single message and have individual messages sent to dozens or even hundreds of recipients at once.
11. Personalize your mail merges
The most effective emails are personal. Use variables in your mail merges to personalize the copy for each recipient.
12. Test mail merges before you hit send
After you’ve set up your mail merge, click through a few recipients to make sure your formatting looks right and that you’ve filled in all the variables appropriately.
13. Send at the right time
Messages should go out when you want them to be read, not when you’re done writing. An email app with send later features built in let you write whenever it’s convenient, then schedule messages to send when your prospects are most likely to open them. Peak open hours are 10am-12pm on weekdays, with the highest open rates occurring Monday through Wednesday (source).
14. Take it easy on the formatting
Highly designed emails look like marketing spam to many recipients. Go easy on the buttons, images, and multi-column layout to increase the chances that your message gets read in its entirety.
15. Design for 600px max
If you use an HTML template, make sure the design is a maximum of 600 pixels wide. Wider designs won’t render properly in many email apps.
16. Make the most of your signature
Include a phone number, social links, and your company’s URL — but not your email address (it’s redundant). Consider adding single line of text with 2–3 links to your best case studies (and make sure you track links so you can see which prospects are clicking through!).
17. Get introduced
According to a study by Reppify, getting introduced to a prospect can increase your chances of landing a meeting to as much as 50% — a huge improvement over the 1–2% conversion rate that’s typical for cold outreach.
Not all well-written emails get the response they seek — but just about all badly written ones get tagged as spam or trash. Use these best practices to help increase the odds that your messages get opened, understood, and responded to.
18. Create urgency in your subject line
Your goal is to motivate the prospect to take action immediately — but be careful that you don’t imply that the message has an expiration date. If the recipient thinks an email is outdated, they’ll delete it without opening.
19. Avoid spam flag words
Using words like free, limited time offer, and hurry in your subject line increases the likelihood that your message will get tagged as spam. If your open rates aren’t as high as you’d like, double check that your subject lines aren’t preventing you from getting to the inbox in the first place.
20. Personalize your subject line
Personalization increases relevance and increases your chances of capturing the prospect’s attention by an average of 29.3%, according to a study by Experian Marketing Services.
21. Keep the subject short
Make sure your subject lines top out around 50 characters. Any longer than that and they’ll likely get cut off in the inbox preview.
22. Establish rapport in your opening
Do you have mutual contacts? Do you live in the same city? Try to establish a relationship before you start selling.
23. Open with something about them, not something about you
Try congratulating your prospect on their company’s recent announcement, mentioning a mutual friend who suggested you get in touch, or complimenting a recent blog post they wrote.
24. Be clear and direct about why you’re reaching out
If the prospect doesn’t understand the purpose of your email within the first few seconds, you’ll lose them.
25. Make sure the body of your message matches the promise of the subject line
If prospects open your message expecting one thing and you deliver something else, you’ve missed an opportunity to build trust. Offer value in your subject line, but don’t overpromise.
26. Be helpful
Think about how your email can provide value to the prospect, even if they don’t convert immediately. Share a tool or a blog post that might help them solve a problem. If you provide value, the prospect will remember you when they’re ready to buy your product.
27. Stay focused on the right thing
Frame your note in terms of how you can solve the prospect’s problems, not on describing what your company does.
28. Dare to be different
Your prospect probably gets dozens of sales emails each week, and most of them will sound like stiff templates. Allow your own personality to come through. Try a little humor, if that’s your thing. Stand out!
29. Not sure what to say? Don’t reinvent the wheel.
30. Keep it short
The average adult has an attention span of 8.25 seconds — so make sure the entire email can be read and digested within that window.
31. Include one or two relevant links
Make it easy for the prospect to find out more about your company and your products — if they want to.
32. Include some social proof
No one wants to be the first to try something, no matter how promising it sounds. Mention other customers who have gotten good results with your product to put your prospect’s mind at ease.
33. Use a simple, specific, low-effort call to action
Don’t make prospects work to figure out what the next step should be. For example, if your goal is to schedule a meeting, your should propose a few specific times to talk rather than asking the prospect to find an opening in their calendar.
In a perfect world, you’d only have to send one email to land a meeting. But here in the real world, followup is an unavoidable part of the sales game. Use these best practices to make sure your email flows are the right kind of persistent — helpful, well-paced, and efficient.
34. Be cool
Following up every single day is the fastest way to annoy a prospect and get yourself tagged as a spammer. Map out your cadence in advance and stick to the plan.
35. Create a followup strategy
80% of sales require at least five followups to get the deal moving (source) — but less than 20% of salespeople actually follow up their initial outreach with a second email (source). Your strategy should include at least six personalized touches, spaced a few days apart, to give prospects a chance to get to know you.
36. Become a master of the cliffhanger
Think of your email flow like a TV series. Each email should tell its own story, but the overall sequence should also tell a bigger story. Keep prospects interested and wanting more.
37. Never follow up just to “check in.”
Every one of your outreach emails should have service-oriented purpose — either to explain how you can help the prospect solve a problem or to share a resource that might help them.
38. Track opens, but don’t read too much into them
In sales, a high open rate means that the subject line you’re using is a winner — but not much more than that. Your ultimate goal is to get the prospect to agree to take the next step toward a sale, not to get people to open emails. (And definitely don’t use open notifications as an indication that it’s the right time to follow up. If you email or call a prospect right after you see that they’ve opened your email, you’ll just creep them out.)
39. Track clicks to learn what your prospect is interested in
Are your recipients clicking through to specific resources you’ve shared? Are they visiting your website to learn more about your product? Each click gives you information about the prospect’s frame of mind and where they’re at in their purchasing decision. Use these insights to personalize your next touch with them.
40. Use automated reminders
Manually tracking when you should follow up with each prospect is a huge waste of your valuable time. Your email app should have built-in reminder capabilities so you can prompt yourself to follow up if a prospect doesn’t reply within a specific time period.
41. Find the decision maker
If your prospect isn’t the right person to talk to, ask them to refer you to the person who is.
42. Bring your CRM into your inbox
Context switching happens every time you move between the different tools you use to do your job. For sales reps, a lot of this switching is between email and the CRM. Choose an email app with CRM connectivity built in and save yourself hours each week by creating or updating records automatically from your inbox.
43. Auto-populate basic information for contacts and accounts into your CRM
Don’t waste time retyping key data into CRM records. Look for a tool that automatically matches contact and account data to the proper fields in your CRM.
44. Use an integrated calendar
If you’re scheduling meetings, you spend a lot of time switching between your inbox and your calendar. Choose an email app with your calendar integrated directly into the inbox to save time.
45. Stop doing the scheduling dance
Finding a time to meet can be an exercise in frustration, sometimes taking dozens of back-and-forths before you settle on a time that works for you both. The easier, more efficient option: propose blocks of times that work for your schedule so your prospect can just pick one that works for them.
46. Make contact quickly when prospects indicate interest
If your prospects take certain key actions, like clicking through to fill out a form for more information, the speed of your response can be a key factor in whether they convert. A study by Inside Sales found that web leads are 21 times more likely to enter the sales cycle if they are contacted within five minutes.
47. Automate your flow
48. Customize the flow by segment
Build content into your flows that are specific to each prospect’s industry or role.
49. Kill messy CC and BCC chains
When it’s time to broaden the conversation with other members of your team, share threads instead of CCing and BCCing.
50. If you aren’t getting a response, do one final ask
If a prospect hasn’t responded to you at any point in your followup cadence, send one last note to ask if it’s OK to close their file. This little bit of urgency may be enough to prompt a response and start a conversation.
The Nylas CloudAPI is designed to improve sales teams' efficiency
Here at Nylas, we believe that a better email experience is the key to making your work life more productive and more enjoyable. That’s why we designed Nylas Cloud, the next-gen communication API that powers your web application or platform with email, calendar, and contacts data.
Through a suite of smart features designed to help teams focus on what matters, prioritize effectively, automate repetitive tasks, and share resources, Nylas Cloud transforms email into a delightful experience — and a hub for driving concrete business results. The platform is easily extensible and customizable.
Nylas is the next-gen platform for building enterprise communication products. The Nylas Cloud API works with over 2.5 billion inboxes, syncing email, calendar, and contacts data bi-directionally with your website or application. With Nylas Cloud, you can focus on building the features that your customers love, and less time dealing with infrastructure.