anatomy of a sales email.jpg

When lawyers send email to a contact whom they consider a candidate to give them business, most write a few paragraphs extolling their firm’s or their expertise and experience, or their cost-saving scheme, or some solution they believe will persuasively cause the recipient to want that.

Ironically, this approach causes the lack of progress that lawyers call me to coach them to overcome.

Sales emails are made up of a series of discrete goals:

  1. Open

  2. Reinforce interest with the first line or sentence

  3. Earn the right to post a Call to Action

  4. Provoke the desired action/response

Your Subject line determines your open rate

Your email Subject line must serve the same purpose as a direct mail piece’s envelope: It must motivate the recipient to open it. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what’s inside. It's your very first impression of the email -- and from it, you'll do your best to judge the content on the inside.

As the email marketing wizards at Hubspot put it, “The best email subject lines are creative, compelling, and informative without giving too much away. A good subject line that piques interest is the difference between a prospect opening or ignoring an email.”

Relevance and Timeliness. When we subscribe to an email list, much of the time, it's because we want to be kept informed, or at least learn more about a given topic (more on that later). Similar to piquing your audience's curiosity, crafting email subject lines that incorporate trending topics or timely headlines can help you establish your brand as an authority within your industry -- and can compel people to click to read.

Name Recognition. The easiest way to use this is by referencing the name of the person who referred you. To keep it short, I use “via Joe Smith” in parentheses, e.g., (via Joe Smith). Then, the relevant Subject follows, like this:

Mike O’Horo (via Joe Smith) Question about [issue]

Curiosity. Think of the stories behind your industry, and find ways to include them in email newsletters and frame them within the subject line in a way that piques your recipients' collective curiosity.

These are just a few examples of how to improve your Subject lines. Hubspot offers 29 of the Best Sales Email Subject Lines, which you can easily adapt.


The first line of the body copy: Reinforce interest

OK, your Subject line did its job, and your recipient opened your email. The first line of your email should tell them what this is about, and why they should care. That means no long intros. Get right to the point, and honor the promise of the subject line.

Here’s an example of email I sent to law firm leaders to get them to discuss a longstanding problem for which I’d finally figured out a solution. My goal was to get them to validate my view of the problem, and give me feedback on the solution I envisioned, but hadn’t yet committed to creating.

Subject: (via Joe Smith) May I get your feedback on a big idea I’m vetting?

Recently, I had a very informative conversation with Joe Smith about my idea to reduce firms’ business development training risks.

Joe thinks the idea has merit, and thought you might be willing to share your perspective regarding its soundness and feasibility, too. I haven't created it yet; I'm trying to determine if it makes sense for me to invest the time and money to develop it.

May I impose on you for a short phone discussion to get your candid thoughts on my concept and its application?



Let’s parse this example:

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Provoke the desired action/response

The desired response is for them to schedule a call, not to buy from us. A business solution whose “what” and “how” can be described briefly enough for people’s email tolerance is very rare. Most times, the description runs a few paragraphs of long sentences.

Let’s say your Subject line did its job and caused the recipient to open the email. Most people, seeing a long email, will defer reading it until they have more time. That means your email has defeated itself. Its length chased them away.

The mistake is trying to sell something in an email. Have you ever actually had someone call you and hire you as a result of the content of an email? Have you ever hired anyone directly as a result of email content? Of course not.

Unless you’re an expert at direct-response copywriting, which is a very distinct science and art form, you have zero chance of that working. So, why do it at all?

Instead, think about how you do get hired. You have a conversation with someone about a problem they face. They decide that you seem to understand the problem, their industry, and their company context. They like your approach, and can envision it working effectively within their environment. They like you well enough to work with you.

The conversation is the key

The first domino in that progression is getting them to talk with you. That’s the singular goal of your email. Include only what serves that goal. Leave everything else out.

So, why should someone speak with you? Let’s begin with why they wouldn’t. There are many reasons, but they’re all a form of, “What you want to talk about doesn’t align with my priorities right now.” You’re thinking, “When we work our magic and produce this great legal outcome, your life will be better.” That may be true, but that’s not the decision they’re faced with right now. They’re making a much more contained one: “What will I get out of a 20-minute call with you?”

Narrow your perspective to that. What will they get out of the 20 minutes? About the only thing you can guarantee is some fresh thinking about a significant problem, a more useful or complete perspective, some understanding of new options. That’s it.

Understand that we have the luxury of doing nothing about most issues that arise; we’d ignore everything if we could. We prioritize based on the relative consequences of ignoring each problem. If we have the luxury of ignoring your problem or issue, that’s what we’ll do.

Before you begin writing that approach email, visualize a really busy person viewing your email Subject line on their desktop or phone. They have too many emails, so they’re using Subject lines as triage. Each email competes with all the others. “Open me!” Make sure your Subject is relevant.

Mike O'Horo

Acquiring and mastering business development skill is a three-part mission: Education, Training, and Coaching. Each produces a different outcome, and should be accomplished using different tools at appropriate cost.

  • Education produces understanding, awareness, context, but no skills. Like law school. The Dezurve content library lets you accomplish this easily, conveniently, and at trivial cost.

  • Training is the actual doing. It produces practical skills available to you when you need them in the real world. RainmakerVT online simulations and video courses let you learn and make your mistakes privately in our virtual world, at modest cost.

  • Coaching produces tangible success by guiding you to apply successfully the skills you learned.

Click on the links to learn more about each component. Contact me to discuss your situation and options.