How to Write E-Mail Sales Messages That Get Results

    March 3, 2003

Free. . . Sale. . . New . . . Hot. . . Act now! These words announce yet another e-mail sales message. We’re inundated with e-mail pitches and wary of anything that sounds too good to be true. So, how do you write your e-mail sales messages so customers will open, and most importantly, act on them?

To discover how e-mail sales messages work (or fail) we read hundreds of messages. We easily sorted them into categories:

unprofessional — poorly written, poor grammar, a blaze of different fonts and formatting lackluster — messages that left us saying “so what” winners that compelled us to buy a product or service What traits set the winners apart? We analyzed the best e-mail sales message and came up with these SIX STEPS TO E-WRITING THAT SELLS

1. Write A Compelling And Truthful Subject Line
As with all e-mail, the first hurdle is to write a subject line that says “must open.” Great subject lines telegraph the content of the message and promise a product, service, or outcome of real value.

So many e-mail sales messages have FREE or DISCOUNT in the subject line that those words seem to be a prerequisite. But after the first dozen or so free offers, the reader is wary and wants something more.

Here’s a subject line we like: “Branding: Learn Why the Future of Your Company Depends Upon It.” It instantly telegraphs its subject (branding), tells what you’ll learn, and hints at what will happen if you don’t learn it. We’ll read that message, for free or at full price!

2. Deliver A Clear Message Upfront
Your readers are busy – they don’t have time to figure out what you’re offering. They’re impatient, too. They don’t want a tease, a clever anecdote leading up to the main point. Be direct and succinct. Start with a clear statement of what you’re offering.

Here’s an effective opening. Concise and to the point, it grabs the reader with a question then offers a solution: “Are you looking for a unique, inexpensive, and effective way to market your business or site? Try Postcards!”

Many e-mail sales messages open with a lengthy reminder to the reader that he’s opted in to the mailing and detailed instructions on how to opt out. This statement is an important courtesy, but at the beginning of the message it squanders prime real estate, the first screen. You must give the reader the “opt in” information, but put it at the end of your message.

3. Deliver One Message
When you’ve gone to great trouble and expense of compiling an e-mail marketing list you may be tempted to get your money’s worth by using the list to tell all potential customers about everything you do: the winter sale, two hot new products, and free mouse pads. Don’t.

E-mail readers have short attention spans — long enough to digest one message, no more. The best strategy for delivering multiple e-mail sales messages is to write a separate message for each thing you’re trying to sell.

If you do have lots to tell your readers, and would like to communicate with them regularly, consider an e-mail newsletter, a better format for multiple messages.

4. Provide Value
In return for opening and reading your communication, give readers something of value: useful information or a special offer, and perhaps something free or discounted.

Here’s an example of e-mail sales copy that effectively couples the promise of valuable information with a free offer: “Does your Web site have the security you need to conduct business online? To learn what’s powering security on all the leading Web sites, request your FREE copy of Securing Your Web Site for Business’ from VeriSign.”

5. Show Readers How They Will Benefit
It’s not enough just to tell readers about what you offer: “Try our free job matching service.” Let them know how your product, service or offer will benefit them: “Our free job matching service will help you find high-paying gigs. We’ll send you the names of at least two potential clients each week.”

Here’s another e-mail sales message that makes the benefit clear: “Sign-up for the Personal Financial Advisory and you’ll get powerful, objective, personalized advice each week by e-mail on how to invest your money to enable you to reach your personal financial goals.”

6. Include A Call To Action
Your compelling subject line and customer-oriented lead have done the trick: you’ve gotten the reader to open your message. You’ve offered insider information and showed readers how your product or service will benefit them. Now go the distance and tell your readers exactly what you want them to do.

Don’t just tell them to check out your site. Tell them what action to take. Invite them to sign up for your free newsletter, enter a raffle, buy your product. Here are good examples of a call to action:

Enroll in workshops today at Enter to win a shopping spree in Paris by visiting us at Download the demo software at We’ll close our discussion of e-mail sales with a final, heartfelt reminder of the importance of brevity in e-mail sales messages. Media critic Barbara Lippert said it eloquently: “Watching 15 seconds of nasal passages unblocking sure beats watching 30 seconds.”

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE —, a training and consulting company in the Washington, D.C. area that specializes in online writing. Rudick and O’Flahavan are authors of the book Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan Answer Online Writing Questions: Click Here For Free Answers