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How to craft the perfect first email

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Whether an email address comes from a bowl at a trade show or a form on a website, the first message it generates sets the stage for your entire professional relationship, said Christina Galbornetti, director-creative services at data warehouse and technology firm V12 Group. Before you craft your creative, however, it's important to do a little legwork. First, think about that potential customer and find out everything you can about the challenges they face, Galbornetti said. “It's almost like when you go on a job interview and read everything you can so you can ask intelligent questions and talk about what you bring to the company,” she said. To that end, Galbornetti suggested calling the company and speaking to someone several layers below the purchasing decision-maker—someone at the front desk or one of the salespeople, for example. When you call, ask what the company's biggest challenges are, what their competition is and what their goals are. You should also do an online search, reading press releases and other news items to see what the business is and how it is evolving. Once you know what the issues are and how your product or service fits into the mix, it's time to write the creative. Galbornetti suggested keeping it as simple as possible in the beginning. The first email should be concise and focus on the recipient's business challenges, not your product. “It should be under 100 words—short and sweet,” she said. “It's the first of eight to 10 emails in a drip campaign that is going to build rapport with the potential customer.” She suggested sending links to your own or third-party resources; don't rule out collateral from your own competitors. “People like it when you're more worried about helping them than pushing your own agenda,” she said. You should spend about 40% of your time focused on the creative and the other 60% creating the subject line because that's what gets someone to open up and read your message, Galbornetti said. Again, subject lines should provide a clear call to action while avoiding some of what Galbornetti called “gimmicky hooks.” Subject lines that over-promise by using extreme language such as “state-of-the-art” or “cutting edge” may push your message right into the trash, or worse, into the spam folder, she said. “Don't tell people they can win an iPad,” she added. “Instead, offer them something of value, like an in-person consultation.” The final step in the process has nothing to do with email. “Consider a good, old-fashioned multichannel strategy where you pick up the phone and let them know you recently sent an email and would like to spend 10 minutes on the phone following up on anything you might be able to do for them,” she said. “Again, it's all about building that rapport.”
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