How to Write Sales and Marketing Emails That Get Replies and Start Conversations

2.5 million emails are sent every second.

If you’re a CEO, director, vice president, or some other title-holding business leader, it’s safe to say that at one point or another, it’s felt like all those emails were flowing straight to your inbox.

You know what I’m talking about — formulaic prospecting emails, big hype marketing emails, and offers from companies with products you tried once and never looked at again. Those emails always seem to pile up, demanding your attention, a never-ending chorus of distraction.

But every once in a while, one or two of those emails really stands out. In the sea of messages that fill your inbox, the subject line looks, well, human — almost like a friend wrote it. So you decide to open it.

When you do, it greets you by name — not in some creepy canned way, but in a way that feels like you’re casually chatting with a friend. To your surprise, instead of a sales pitch, the message is conversational — friendly, even. What’s more, it contains a message you actually care about.

You love this email so much that you read it all the way to the end. And then, much to your surprise, you do the unthinkable:

You reply.

^ What I’m describing above is mostly an anomaly — the stuff marketers and sales reps dream of. But it’s not totally out of reach if you understand what your sales email is ultimately driving towards. For most, that’s a high open and click-rate.

But my colleague, Alex, says that if you really want to know if your message resonates with a recipient, you’ve got to dig deeper and look at click-rates as well as the number of conversations generated from your email. As she astutely points out, in the world of B2B, metrics are meaningless if a conversation isn’t a byproduct.

So, if the objective is to get replies and start conversations, why do so many emails from marketers and sales reps feel like the opposite of a conversation?

I’ve noticed there are two main reasons for this:

#1 — People are afraid to break from something I call “The Professional Voice”.

Everyone’s got their own version of “The Professional Voice” — that authoritative-sounding, formal tone that somehow finds its way into everything we write or edit. Whenever we craft an email, it creeps in, transforming otherwise conversational copy into dull, dry prose. It’s nothing like how we talk everywhere else in our lives, but for some reason, in the business world, we let it take hold. And we need to stop doing that.

#2 — We’ve forgotten what it means to be human in the B2B world.

The last ten to fifteen years in SaaS have brought us many great things. But in our effort to scale outreach and automate everything, we’ve lost sight of what it means to write like a human. We assume optimizing our emails means adding a lead’s name into the salutation field of an email, and then dropping the mic so the software can automate success from that point forward. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t work like that.

And that’s where the power of conversational email comes in.

In the next seven minutes, I’m going to show you how to write emails that people will actually reply to, and will help you start more conversations with potential customers.

So let’s dig in.

What You Need to Keep In Mind When Writing Sales and Marketing Emails

Understand what personalization really means.

I’ve spent a lot of time working alongside sales teams. Some were outbound, some inbound, and others were a mix. One thing they all had in common was that these sales reps wanted to connect with people.

The same for the marketers I’ve worked with — they just wanted to write copy that resonated, and compelled people to take action. But far too often, that’s not what happens.

And that’s because we’re confused about what it means to personalize an email. We think that if we stalk a prospect on social and drop a few biographical details into an email that otherwise sounds like a stiff sales pitch, we’ll get people to talk to us.

The end result usually looks something like this:

Hi {{Name here}},

Reference something from a prospect’s LinkedIn profile to prove this isn’t a spray and pray email.

Then say that you work with companies like X, Y, Z to improve their [insert industry jargon here] to achieve [insert wordy catch phrase invented by your company here] with the help of your [insert software platform name here].

Ask if you can grab 15 minutes of their time to talk about how your [software platform name] can help them achieve [broad business outcome].

^ Not a joy to read. And also, not a meaningful way to personalize an email.

Besides being formulaic, emails like this don’t work because they look like the hundreds of other emails decision-makers get everyday. I’ve seen first-time sales reps send 25 emails or more like this every day, barely get a response, and wonder why.

“I spend all this time researching and writing emails, and no one replies.”

“Personalization doesn’t work,” some say.

But personalization requires more than just checking out someone’s LinkedIn profile and filling in the salutation field in an email template. And it’s definitely going to take more than using the wordy catch-phrase from your company website to get someone excited.

So, how do you make personalization work?

Remember this: Personalization is context + tone.

If you’re writing a cold outreach email, you obviously need to do your homework to understand where a prospect is coming from. The industry they’re in will give you the context you need to understand some of their problems and maybe even some of the buzzwords associated with the space. But here’s the thing: You must resist the urge to drop them all into the body of your email. I promise that it’s not going to buy you any street cred, and everyone else does this, too.

And the goal is to not sound like everyone else, right? Right.

The next key ingredient is tone.

My colleague, DG, is the master of this.

When he writes an email, he writes it as if he were talking to a friend. Not overly casual, but never, ever stiff and formal. He writes how he speaks. And it works.

Here’s an example from DG ??

Don’t make it about you.

Whether it’s a cold email or part of a marketing sequence you use to nurture visitors who hit your site once or twice, no one wants to read about how amazing your product/tool/business is.

So, when you’re writing a sales or marketing email, make it about the recipient. Acknowledge that they don’t have a lot of time to spare and hit them with something of value early in your message. This is of particular relevance to sales or marketing email nurture efforts.

Ask yourself these questions when crafting the body of the email message:

  • Do you have information on how you can improve a process related to their business and talk about it in a way that isn’t jargon-y?
  • Can you inspire a bit of FOMO by talking about how competitors are using a specific approach or process to get better results?

Most importantly, don’t assume it’s clear the value of a product because you name drop which other companies use it (“Companies like, [Impressive Brand 1] and [Impressive Brand 2] use us to…”). This is the easy way out, and in the process of name-dropping you miss out on the opportunity to show why you care about a specific prospect’s unique challenges.

Remember: Tell, don’t sell. Your message shouldn’t sound like a pitch — it should be an invitation to keep talking about something that’s relevant to the recipient’s professional life.

Keep it simple.

Simplicity doesn’t just mean writing a short email– it also means being mindful of how many ideas you can fit into one email. For example, here at Drift, our marketing emails tend to be a bit more text-heavy than others. But you know what? It works for us because we focus on simple concepts and conversational tone. For sales reps, it’s important not to present too many concepts to the reader in outreach and above all else, keep the message brief.

“When you’re emailing someone, it’s so easy to make it too long. There’s so much we sales reps want to tell people about how we can help,” explains Sean Kenny, Conversational Sales Advisor at Drift.

Here are three ways you can keep it simple:

✍? Choose your words carefully. Stop with the industry buzz words and jargon. Yes, people do care about ROI, but 98% of emails throw this acronym and similar ones around as if it bestowed instant credibility. Level up your sales or marketing emails by using plain language to share a message. Where there are three or four words to describe a concept, try to eliminate one or two.

Read your email out loud. I’ve been writing for ten years and I still do this. Whether it’s a blog post, an email, or a landing page, reading things out loud helps you identify run-on sentences, awkward phrasing, and corporate speak. Never forget: If it doesn’t sound good when you say it, scrap it.

Save the creativity for a side project. When your email hits a decision-maker’s inbox, you want it to stand out for the right reasons — not the wrong ones. And as clever you think your ideas are, the overly playful and creative emails can come across as a bit too familiar if you’ve never spoken to someone before. So, if you’re sending a cold email, save the creativity for another time and go for something that cuts through the noise because its impactful and clear, not overly familiar and playful.

Sometimes You Want to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

If you want to write sales and marketing emails that get replies and start conversations, don’t be afraid to break away from traditional corporate speak and use your unique voice to personalize your message. Simplify the big ideas you want to share, and put the focus on getting your lead to the next stage of the buyer’s journey.