Stop Promoting Mediocrity: How You Think About Sending Emails May Be Wrong

“How many touches does it take to get a reply from a prospect?”

Sales reps and marketers constantly ask this question.

Scour the internet, from blogs to reports to studies, this is what you’ll find: the average number it takes to get a reply ranges from 7 (the industry’s consensus a few years ago) to 17 (yes, I found that in a real report). That’s a pretty wide range.

The outcome: everyone is striving to send more and more emails in hopes of engagement.

There’s only one problem with this: It’s completely wrong!

This promotes mediocrity and adds to the problem.

Think about it. Why is that number so high? Why is it still increasing year after year? Most importantly, why are we aiming for the average? Do you really want to be average? It’s time we do something about this.

So, What’s the Big Problem?

The problem with averages in this context is it promotes mediocrity. I don’t care about the performance of the average sales rep. I want to know what the best sales reps are doing.

It’s important to understand the reasons for this high number before we dive into how we can fix it. Let’s first turn to technology. Technology is a blessing because we can do more advanced things, faster, which includes sending faux personalized emails in bulk.

However, technology is also a curse, and it’s at the heart of what we’re talking about. The advent of “robo-spam” email tools has made it easy to send a high volume of low-quality emails, and thus vastly making it ok. This technology has led us astray.

Here’s what happens: A study is conducted and the results show the number of emails it takes to get a response. At this point, it’s a statement of facts – no harm, no foul. What happens next is what gets us into trouble. We take the results of the study to mean “we should have X# of emails in our outbound email Plays.” Said another way, the conclusion we leap to is “I should strive to get X# of email in my outbound efforts.” However, reps run out of things to say, resulting in crappy emails, which consequently lowers responses. Then, ultimately, the studies in subsequent years show a higher number. Then the pattern continues and spirals out of control.

This perpetual cycle won’t stop unless we do something about it right now!

The False Promise of Sales Automation is at the Heart of the Issue

I can spot “robo-spam” from a mile away, and I bet you can too. Just because someone used my name and company, doesn’t mean it’s personalized. This still reeks of a templatized, generic, one-size-fits-all email. Sure, it may look like it was a bespoke email, but it doesn’t feel like one.

Customization is NOT Personalization.

This small distinction is the big difference between failure and success.

To clarify, I’m not talking about marketing automation. There’s a subtle difference between marketing emails and sales emails. Marketing emails sent via marketing automation tools are emails from a company to many individuals at one time. The recipients know that they’re not the only ones getting the emails. These are usually HTML emails with stock images, loud CTAs, and corporate branding.

Sales emails are one person sending an email to another. The recipient expects he or she is the only one receiving that email. Depending how you use them, these are the emails that can do magic or get you into trouble.

Technology amplifies your efforts, so if you’re sending good emails, it allows you to send more good emails. However, if you’re sending really crappy cold emails, you’ll be amplifying the poor behavior, thus continuing to give sales a bad reputation.

Here’s the test: can you swap out basic variables, such as name and company, then send it to someone else without having to add or change the rest of the email? If the answer is yes, then you have a generic, templated email (aka “robo-spam”).

The Number of Emails it Takes to Get a Reply Should be Going Down, Not Up!

If you want to get replies, you must learn to send better cold email. The average number of emails it takes me to get a reply hovers around 2. Sharp shooters like Heather Morgan at SalesFolk can consistently get a reply from one single email.

How is this possible? What does it take to get a reply on your first cold email?

Once you get it, it’s easy – craft a personalized, relevant and timely email to a qualified prospect.

  • Personalized. Do some research on the person and their challenges, fears and desires. You have access to more information about a prospect than ever before. The best sales reps are like detectives. They go beyond the surface-level company site and the About section on LinkedIn. Don’t tell me you researched me and my company – show me. Only then can you earn the right to ask for a meeting.
  • Relevant: Why does your message matter to me right now? You can spend hours upon hours personalizing a message, but if it’s not relevant, it’s going in the trash. You must connect the personalization and the relevancy.
  • Timely: What’s the difference between lettuce and garbage? Timing. It can also be the difference between a relevant email and spam. This is often a variable outside of your control, but you can leverage trigger events or fluctuations in the market. And sometimes it comes down to luck.

The last thing to keep in mind is write like a human! Don’t sound like a robot. It’s worth repeating: Deliver a personalized, relevant, and timely email to a qualified prospect if you want a reply.

Here are some other tips to help you write better cold emails that resonate with prospects: Write just like you talk to your good friends. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t use 20 words when 12 will do. Have a clear CTA.

The Final Word

Don’t rely on technology to do your job. Technology itself doesn’t make a sale – only humans can do that. Any tool that you use must add to the interaction, not take away from it.

Don’t use technology to automate emails. Use technology to orchestrate human interactions.

What if you had only one email, only one chance to connect with a prospect – what would you say?

Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger is the Head of Growth at Engagio, the Account-Based Marketing and Sales platform that enables teams to measure account engagement and orchestrate human connections at scale. He is passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. You can follow him on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

3 Responses to “Stop Promoting Mediocrity: How You Think About Sending Emails May Be Wrong”

April 21, 2017 at 6:14 am, Brian said:

Great article Brandon.

Here’s one for ya:

You’re the Co-Founder of a bootstrapped B2B startup, the only one doing anything non-engineering. You have 40 hours a week to devote to prospecting/sales. Outside of Sales Navigator, you have a $100 budget.

You’re “only” looking for 5 first calls a week, how do you achieve them?

(SN + + ReplyApp gets you a ton of reach. Outsized, for a one-man shop. Sure is appealing! Does your plan pack a better punch?)


October 04, 2019 at 11:41 am, Stan said:

I can fully relate to this as I constantly get asked by junior sales reps “how many of x,y,z I need to do, to get a,b,c results?”. It is a fair question and shows care and some level of commitment. The answer in my opinion however is not 2,3,..7..20 etc. although it is somewhat useful to have something to measure against.

What I have noticed is that sales reps and managers alike almost always fall into the trap of thinking in a “binary mode”, particularly when talking about quantity v quality. Although I have always advocated for “personalization”, in my experience however, this is a dangerous way of thinking.

Firstly, the answer to this question is somewhat product/service dependent which nobody seems to talk about openly. Selling a high price tag item would always require more personalization compared to selling a low-price tag one.

Secondly, the role of sales is a meritocratic one and reps are judged on the basis of $$$ they bring in over a period of time – with “time” being key here. Because of this time/revenue expectations pressure, and because reps can be grilled over the number of calls/emails, many naturally focus on that.

This does not mean they don’t necessarily want to personalize and add more value – many simply lack the time to research and personalize.

The bottom line is that a sales rep does not equl a researcher unless your product/service requires it.


October 05, 2019 at 5:03 am, Brandon Redlinger said:

Hi Stan – Yes, there are a lot of different factors that go into this. It goes beyond product/service too. My goal here is to get people thinking critically and differently from what we’re so used to. Just because everyone is doing it one way doesn’t necessarily mean it the right way. Thanks again for your thoughts here, Stan!


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