The other week, I heard my coworker let out a small sigh. Then, a couple seconds later, he sighed again — this time a little louder. A minute later, he heaved a sigh so massive I couldn’t ignore it.
“Everything good over there?” I asked.
“You won’t believe the email I just got,” he responded. “I’m forwarding it to you.”
When I opened the offending message, I saw nothing wrong with what it said. However, my coworker was clearly annoyed by the presentation: Not only were there spelling and grammar errors galore, but the sender had written several paragraphs without inserting a single line break. To add insult to injury, they’d also included a massive email signature with a cheesy quote.
You don’t want to be “that person.” After all, getting a response from prospects is hard enough; if you add an annoying email habit to the mix, your chances of a reply are almost nil. So open your “Sent” folder, and make sure you’re not guilty of any of these eight email sins.
1) Using subject lines as the entire message
You know your prospects are busy, so you decide you’ll make your email really short and sweet. So short and sweet that the entire message fits in the subject line — and the body is left blank.
- “Have you tried using ahrefs for backlinks?”
- “Just missed your call — are you still free?”
- “Could you introduce me to Jane Villanueva?”
But while you’re trying to get to the point, your prospect is hearing: “I’m too busy to bother writing you a full message.”
At the very least, flesh these snippets out into a concise email:
Not only will an actual email show more respect, but there’s usually at least one sentence (probably three or four!) of additional info worth including.
2) Writing one long paragraph
Have you ever opened a book, looked at the tiny words and jam-packed pages, and immediately thought, “No way am I reading this”?
Well, that’s how your prospects feel when you hit them with a straight block of text — meaning the chances they’ll read even a single line are pretty darn low.
To make sure you don’t overwhelm your recipients, add a line break between every third sentence or so. Just remember to keep related sentences together.
Let’s say you wanted to include these four lines in your follow-up email…
You’d separate them like so:
3) Including an off-putting or ugly email signature
It’s so easy to go wrong with email signatures. Many people try to spice up their designs with “fun” colors, inspiring quotes, and images — but these attempts usually end up looking pretty juvenile. When creating yours, here are a couple style rules to keep in mind:
- Stick to one color (preferably black)
- Don’t include a quote — it’ll annoy more people than it will inspire
- Use small images (i.e., less than 10 MB)
Minimalism is also important when it comes to your signature’s content. Rather than including all your social networks, pick your top two. And instead of dumping in all your contact info, go with the mediums you use most (for example, your Skype name and phone number).
(Want to make sure you’re not violating any more best practices? Check out the 15 most common email signature mistakes.)
4) Using misleading subject lines
If you dig into a slice of (what looks like) chocolate cake, you’d probably be a little miffed to find the inside was lemon.
The same principle applies to email subject lines. Your prospects don’t want to be surprised by the content of your message — they want to know exactly what they’re getting when they click.
Wondering what a misleading subject line would look like? Maybe you’re reaching out to a prospect that’s gone dark; since you want to get their attention, you title your email:
Closing Your File — Would Love to Know Where I Went Wrong
The prospect is probably curious enough to bite. But your email doesn’t say anything about getting their feedback — it’s focused on setting up “a final meeting, so you can discuss their options.”
This misdirection will almost undoubtedly annoy them, so you’re probably not going to hear back. Next time you’re sending an email, remember an attention-grabbing subject line only works when the contents matches up.
5) Going overboard with bolding and italics
I once got a three-paragraph email from a sales rep recapping our consultation. Nothing wrong with that, except he had a field day with the formatting: Bolding key details, italicizing words for emphasis, and even underlining his request to speak again.
The rep was likely trying to draw my attention to the most important parts of his message. However, there was so much going on I didn’t know what to focus on. Worse, the email came across as condescending — like he thought I wasn’t smart enough to figure out the salient info on my own.
To avoid annoying your prospects, bold or italicize words sparingly (and never underline them). You should never bold or italicize more than two sentences or phrases in a single email.
6) Not matching the other person’s style
Mirroring someone’s body language puts them at ease and helps build rapport — and the same effect applies to online communication. With that in mind, you should try to match your prospect’s tone and email conventions.
To give you an idea, imagine you just got this email:
Here’s how not to respond:
This response is like wearing a tux to a pool party: Awkward and overly formal.
Adopting Petra’s casual tone would work far better:
As long as you maintain a certain degree of professionalism (i.e. never send anything you wouldn’t want your manager to read), following your prospect’s lead will help you avoid sounding too uptight or too laid back.
7) Calling things “urgent” when they’re not
Every time you call an email “urgent” or “time-sensitive” when it’s not, you lose credibility with your prospect. You probably already know this — but unfortunately, many reps get confused about the true definition of these labels.
“Urgent” only applies to scenarios that are pressing for both you and the prospect. For example, if it’s the end of the month and you need your prospect to sign their contract so you can hit your quota, your situation is urgent — but the prospect’s situation isn’t. In this case, sending an “Urgent: Signature Needed” message will only make you look pushy.
On the other hand, if the prospect has told you they need the solution by a certain date, and you need their signed contract today to make that happen, you’re justified to add “Action Required” to your email.
8) Using incorrect grammar or spelling
When you’re sending emails all day, misspelling the occasional word or committing a minor grammar mistake is inevitable. Not to mention that unless you’re a stickler for these things, you might not be aware of, say, the difference between “affect” and “effect,” or how to spot a dangling modifier.
Fortunately, thanks to the Grammarly app, you can send perfect emails without being a grammar expert. This free Chrome extension is always scanning your writing for errors, and as soon as it finds a mistake, it’ll highlight said mistake and tell you how to fix it.
Now that you know what not to do, check out our best tips for writing a sales email prospects will want to respond to.