One trick to get to inbox zero: respond to cold emails

In this post, I want to share a secret that perhaps many people who’ve never been in a sales role don’t know.

You know all those emails you get to your work account from people you don’t know? They’re from sales people – usually a Business Development Representative, Account Executive, or whatever. They got your email from some database, or because you listed it on a website 3 years ago and it’s still easily findable from a quick Google search.

They think you want/need their product. And, they’re pretty interested in talking to you about it. In fact, most modern sales organizations have a 10+ touch cadence when reaching out to a prospect. This is a combo of emails, calls, voicemails, and social touches.

So, if you don’t respond to this person’s first email, they’re going to reach out to you another 10 times over the next few weeks.

If you’re like most people, you’ll “ignore” these emails. “Ignore” typically means read the email briefly, try to remember what it was about, remember it relates to a product and person you’ve never heard of, and then delete it. That process takes around 90 seconds. So, for each sales person reaching out to you, you are going to spend 900 seconds fending them off. That’s 15 mins of your life (and probably a whole lot more!)

Aren’t they jerks for emailing me out of the blue?!

If I hadn’t cold emailed a few thousand (or more) people in my life, I’d probably think sales people were jerks – and not worth the time of day. But, they aren’t. For worse, the b2b vendor/customer market is just inefficient, and cold outreach is unfortunately one of the best mechanisms our economy has for matching the right company with the right product.

These people aren’t calling you to be a jerk, and they aren’t calling you to scam you either. 90% of sales people are selling something that is worthwhile (sorry other 10%). It may not be worthwhile to you, but it very well could be (PS they are reaching out to you specifically for a reason, they’ve done SOME level of research, as their time is valuable too).  It’s suboptimal at best to turn these people away without taking 60 seconds to triage their request.

A better solution

Here’s what you should actually do: read the email, think through whether or not this product/service is relevant to your business, and reply to the sales person with the appropriate response. Here are some reply examples:

  • “This is something we’ve been thinking about, I’m free next Wednesday morning, shoot me an invite.”
  • “Let’s jump on the phone for 10 mins so I can understand what your product is a bit more, do you have time now?”
  • “This isn’t relevant for us because {reason}, but could be in 3 months, shoot me a note then.”
  • “This isn’t going to be relevant to me because {reason}, but good luck.”

Congratulations, you just saved yourself the next 10+ follow ups and your inbox is all that much closer to zero messages (not to mention your voicemail, Inmails, Twitter mentions, etc).

A really bad response is: “No thanks.” This piques the good sales person’s interest and they want to find out why, especially if they’ve done some discovery beforehand and think that you are actually a good fit.

Here’s the other reason to respond to the initial email

I find that many people get slightly arrogant when they are being chased. It happens to junior VCs when seasoned entrepreneurs want to get time with them. It happens in the world of dating. And, it definitely happens to people who have vendors chasing them.

Here’s my advice: get over yourself!

If you allow yourself to get arrogant, you’ll miss opportunities. You won’t see the person who’s chasing you who is actually super relevant to what you’re doing, and could add value to your business. You’re going to dismiss them with your chin up, and then lose money by not buying their solution.

How do I know this? Because I see it happen all the time in the world of HR. I see it when I talk to HR folks about what ATS/HRIS/etc they are going with, and I see it when I talk to people about our product who I’ve been chasing for months but by chance meet at a networking event and they say “this is what we’ve been searching for!”

To recap

When you get a cold email, read it, and triage it. Respond to it in the proper manner so you are taken out of the standard outreach cadence and can learn more if appropriate.  Congrats, just just saved 15 mins, and perhaps are going to learn more about a useful product/service.