Do you have a follow-up email strategy as part of your overall sales email strategy? If not, it’s a good time to develop one. Follow-up emails are an underrated component in your sales email campaign, responsible for helping you save otherwise lost deals and maximize your potential conversion rate.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to write a follow-up email, and some of the most important elements of any follow-up email.
Why Send a Follow-up Email?
Let’s say you send a prospect a sales email, detailing your products and services and giving them a compelling call-to-action. Your prospect doesn’t respond. Clearly, they’re not interested, so sending a follow-up email is pointless, right?
There are many reasons why someone might not respond to your initial email. Sure, they might not be interested in what you’re selling. But they might also be busy. Or they might not have seen your email before it got buried in their increasingly disorganized inbox. Or they might be interested in your product, but they just didn’t pull the trigger because they’re a natural-born procrastinator.
Sending a follow-up covers all your bases here; it gives people a second chance to see what you have to offer, and reinforces your brand recognition, potentially persuading even reluctant prospects to think about your business. In some cases, it can also invite feedback from uninterested buyers; if they know you’re persistent, they might reach out to you and explain why they’re not interested.
If you don’t believe me, the statistics speak for themselves. About 80 percent of prospects will say “no” 4 times before they ultimately say “yes.” Yet 92 percent of salespeople will give up before their 5th attempt. Also consider this; the average response rate for a sequence of 1 to 3 emails is a measly 9 percent. The response rate for 4 to 7 emails in sequence? A much better 27 percent—triple the initial rate.
Would you send a couple extra emails to triple your response rate? Of course you would. You just need a bit of research, practice, and experimentation to make your follow-up emails work.
How to Send a Follow-up Email After No Response
For the purposes of this article, follow-up emails are sales emails sent after an initial sales email (or several) has failed to generate a response. We’ll get into some specific strategies, including how to time your emails and how to draft subject lines, but for now, it’s important to review the most important components of a successful follow-up email strategy:
- Master the timing. You understand intuitively that you shouldn’t send a follow-up email 15 minutes after the first one, and that you shouldn’t wait a full year before sending a follow-up, but within these wide parameters, when is the perfect moment to send your second message? Should you wait a day? A week? What’s the protocol? Too fast and you’ll annoy your prospect, but too slow and you’ll lose their interest and recognition.
- Be polite. Aggressive salespeople aren’t typically successful, especially via email. Accusing your prospect of not responding, or getting impatient is only going to work against you. Remain polite, high-level, and positive at all times.
- Try something new. Some salespeople follow up with a messaging model very similar to their first email; they basically repeat the same strategy and hope for the best. This is counterproductive, as it’s clear the strategy doesn’t work the first time around. Instead, experiment with something new. Try a different subject line, a different body message, a different offer, or a different call-to-action. Change something, or you’ll be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
- Be direct. The more emails someone receives from you, the less patient they’re going to be with your messages. It’s important to be as direct as possible, especially in your 3rd, 4th, and subsequent messages.
- Remain personal. People don’t want to read an email that was probably sent en masse to dozens or hundreds of prospects. Templates can be helpful for finding your voice, but if you simply copy and paste them to every prospect, they aren’t going to work. Your follow-up emails should be as personalized as possible, tailored specifically to the individual (or at least the target demographic) opening them.
- Increase value. Some people simply aren’t replying because they don’t find what you’re offering to be valuable; they don’t see the value in your content, or they don’t want to waste time talking to you. With each follow-up email, you should work on increasing the perceived value to your customers; sweeten the pot with a deeper discount, a freebie, or some kind of promise or guarantee.
- Add context. Initial emails tend to be vague and alluring, but with subsequent follow-ups, you’ll need to be clearer. Give people the context for your message and your products, and try to be increasingly unambiguous.
Setting Your Follow-up Email Goals
Before you spend much time drafting follow-up emails, you should set some goals for your salespeople. What are you trying to accomplish? What’s lacking in your current strategy?
If you’re building a strategy from scratch, you may not have data to work with, but if you’ve been relying on an email strategy for a while, you should be able to gather some metrics about your past performance. For example, is your first-email response rate near zero? If so, you may want to work on your first-message strategy first. Do your follow-ups tend to get lots of unsubscribes and blocks? It could be an issue with timing or tone.
Most people will want to focus on one or more of the following metrics:
Your main priority will dictate the shape of your follow-up strategy. For example, optimizing for conversions will require more aggressive calls-to-action, while a focus on open rates will require more attention to your subject lines.
Writing Your Follow-up Email Subject Line
The secret to getting your follow-up email opened, and therefore the gateway to all your other follow-up email goals, is writing an effective subject line. We’ve written an exhaustive guide on writing the perfect sales email subject line, so make sure you read it if you haven’t yet.
I’ll recap some of the high points here, and explain why they’re especially important to follow-up emails. Your follow-up email subject lines should be:
- Concise. The shorter, the better. You have a limited space to work with, and even within that space, some prospects will stop reading after just a few words. Make those words count.
- Differentiated. If a prospect reads a subject line similar to one they’ve seen from another company, they’re going to roll their eyes. Your follow-ups also need to be obviously distinguished from your first-message subject lines.
- Relevant to your audience. Could you use this subject line for anybody in the world? If so, you’re not catering to your specific target market well enough. What makes this email message relevant to them?
- Useful or valuable. Similarly, you’ll want to provide some information or an appeal that is useful or valuable. What will your prospect have to gain by opening this follow-up? You can make this obvious or simply provide a tease.
- Friendly and approachable. People are more likely to respond to an email that comes from a friendly person than one that comes from a cold corporation. Try to write humbly and naturally.
- Tied to an action. Ideally, your subject line will also motivate some kind of action, suggesting what you’d like your prospect to do next. Sometimes, simple is the best approach; for example, “chat later this week?” or “download our whitepaper!”
Timing Your Follow-up Sales Email
Okay. When are you supposed to send your follow-up message?
As you might expect, there isn’t a firm, universal answer to this, but there are some pieces of evidence that should direct your strategy. Email timing, overall, is a topic all its own; people are more likely to open an email on a Tuesday than they are on Friday, and more likely to open an email at 9:30 am than at 4:45 pm. Some of these metrics are intuitive, while others are perplexing. And of course, they vary wildly by industry—so you can’t count on them to be 100 percent accurate for your needs.
But because this article is focused exclusively on follow-up messages, let’s focus specifically on email follow-up messages. According to a study from Yesware, 91.24 percent of email messages are opened the same day they are received. Only 1.68 percent of emails are opened 1 day later, and it doesn’t get better from there. Similarly, 89.74 percent of responses come the same day the original message is sent, with 3.06 percent of replies coming the next day. In other words, if people are going to open your email and/or reply, they’re going to respond within a day.
As a salesperson, you know that fast responses and follow-ups are, for the most part, a good thing. You’ll want to respond as quickly as possible to keep your momentum strong. So if people will reliably respond within a day of getting your first message, or not at all, you can feel secure sending your first follow-up just 2 business days after the initial message.
From there, you’ll want to space your emails out a little further. If someone ignores 2 of your emails, it’s a good sign they aren’t champing at the bit to reply to you. If you keep sending follow-ups in short order, you’ll be more likely to annoy your prospect than win them over. Accordingly, wait an additional 3-5 days before sending your second follow-up (email number 3). Email number 4 should wait even longer, perhaps a week, and so on. After sending several messages, try not to follow up more frequently than once a month.
So, here’s a good pace for sending follow-up emails:
- First follow-up: 2 business days
- Second follow-up: 3-5 business days
- Third follow-up: 5-7 business days
- Fourth follow-up: 2-4 weeks
- Fifth follow-up (and beyond): 1 month
Optimizing a Follow-up Email for Conversion
Let’s talk about optimizing your follow-up email for conversion. Hopefully, you already have a conversion optimization strategy as part of your broader plan for email-based sales. All conversions manifest as some kind of value exchange; your prospects volunteer their time, their money, their information, or some combination of these things in exchange for a product, a service, or a piece of information. A good conversion optimization strategy will focus on improving the value of this exchange (i.e., making it logically more compelling to “convert” in the first place) and incentivizing action by making it easier or more exciting to convert. For help maximizing conversions, see our guide on sales email best practices.
There are many strategies you can use to make your emails more persuasive, and incentivize more conversions overall, but there are some specific points that are especially valuable for drafting a follow-up email:
- Make the offer unique (and ideally, better). Just repeating that you have a product for sale at a price of $30 isn’t going to work. For your follow-up to be effective, it has to be different in some way. Can you lower the price? Can you throw something else in? If all else fails, you can explain that there are fewer days left to take advantage of this offer. Just make sure this email presents it in a different light.
- Take advantage of new information. The longer your campaign runs, the more information you’ll have on your prospects. Did this person engage with your previous email at all, like watching a video or clicking a link? Use that information to personalize and improve your follow-up. Did they fail to open the email altogether? It’s a sign you need to take a totally different subject line approach.
- Make it easier to convert. Try to make your call-to-action both more prominent and easier to use. Big, bold buttons work especially well—as do emails optimized for mobile devices.
How to Increase the Value of a Follow-up Email
Your follow-up emails should, in some way, raise the stakes. The offer wasn’t compelling enough to encourage action the first time (or second time, and so on), so it needs to be better in some key way to be successful in repetition. There are several ways to increase the overall value of your follow-up emails, and these are just a few of the most important:
- The deal. The core deal can be improved in a way that makes it more attractive or less costly for the prospect. For example, you could decrease the price of your offer, or include more with the package you’re offering. You could also reduce your ask, such as requesting a 15-minute meeting rather than attendance of a 1-hour webinar.
- Content. You can also sweeten the pot by offering better content somehow. For example, you might include a free whitepaper download if you originally asked for user action in exchange for nothing. Content is a relatively low investment that can instantly make your offer more attractive and your message more engaging.
- Reader-centric writing. Work on adjusting your follow-up emails to be more reader-centric; avoid “I” statements and talking about your company. Instead, focus on the reader’s needs. How is this going to benefit them? Why are they going to be happy after responding to your email?
- Urgency. Though urgency can’t directly increase the logical or mathematical value of your email, it can increase the costs of not taking action; a ticking clock means there’s a penalty for procrastinating. Imply that your offer is changing or disappearing in a fixed amount of time and you’ll likely encourage faster and more consistent action.
How to Close a Follow-up Email
Your follow-up email needs a strong closer if it’s going to be optimally effective. There should be a powerful call-to-action near the end of your message, as well as an invitation for further discourse; for example, “let me know if you have any questions” or “I look forward to hearing from you!”
In addition, it’s important to make sure you’ve included ample personal information that prospects can use to reach out to you in their communication medium of choice. Some people may be interested in your offer, but may not want to respond directly via email; accordingly, you should include your name, title, phone number, physical address, social links, and more.
Measuring and Analyzing Your Follow-up Emails
One of the most important tools in your arsenal is measurement and analysis. Follow-up emails are a tricky business; even with hypothetically “perfect” messages going out to your audience, it’s possible they’re going to miss the mark in some way. Only by experimenting with different variations in your subject lines, core messages, closings, and offers will you discover the variables most important for your audience.
The ideal methodology to use here is AB testing; essentially, you’ll send two variations of the same follow-up email to similar prospects. Assuming you have one or two isolated variables, and consistent measurements from each variation, you should be able to identify which variables are most valuable for securing conversions, generating clicks, or achieving the goal of your choice. Iteratively, you’ll be able to construct better and better follow-ups, unique to your business and your target market. Just make sure you’re using an app that reliably captures email analytics data.
Integrating Your Follow-up Email Campaign
Sales email campaigns work best when integrated with other elements of your high-level business strategies. For example, sales emails should have synergy with your core email marketing strategy; marketing and advertising emails are great for generating brand recognition and initial familiarity, but individualized sales emails are better for sealing the deal.
It’s also helpful to have both a human-driven email sales strategy and an automated drip campaign, at least for some industries. Having automatic emails when a customer abandons a shopping cart, engages directly with your brand, or creates a new account can help you capitalize on customer interest, without detracting from your sales strategy.
Also, make sure the email addresses you’re working with are relevant to your organization. Buying a list of random emails and blindly messaging them isn’t going to help you land sales; instead, it’s better to curate email addresses of known members of your target demographics, even if the process takes longer and/or is more expensive. Otherwise, it won’t matter how many follow-ups you send or how valuable they are; they’re going to fall on deaf ears.
Follow-up Email Examples
We’ve done a lot of talking about ideal follow-up emails in concept, so let’s close this article with a section offering some examples of valuable follow-up emails.
Be sure to check out our guide, 21 Sales Email Follow-Up Templates That Work, for more robust and numerous examples, but here are a few unique examples for this guide:
Subject: Time to chat?
I sent you an email a couple of days ago, but didn’t see a response from you. I was hoping we could get on the phone for a quick chat—do you have 15 minutes this week? Let me know if you’re available this Thursday.
Subject: Need more info on [subject]?
Hope you’re doing well! Lots of professionals in the [industry] industry tend to struggle with [subject]. That’s why we’ve put together this guide, just for you. If you’re hesitant to make a decision or if you just don’t know where to start, this guide can provide you with the direction you need.
Check it out here [link]
Hope to hear from you soon!
Subject: Overloaded inbox?
I sent you a message earlier this week, but I can guess it got lost in the clutter. No worries!
I was hoping we could spend a few minutes on the phone this week to discuss your needs—when are you available? We’ve got a limited-time special on our best-selling product, and I want to make sure you have time to take advantage of it.
Looking forward to our conversation,
Now that you’ve learned all the secrets for how to write a follow-up email, be sure to optimize how you start your emails by checking out our guide on how to start an email. Next, it’s time to learn more about the success rate of your follow-up email strategy. For this, you’ll need a tool to give you detailed insights. Take EmailAnalytics for example; with a click, you can integrate EmailAnalytics with your Gmail account and start crunching data associated with your account. You can quickly visualize how often you send and receive emails, analyze your top senders and recipients, and even measure metrics like your average email response time. If you’re interested in learning more, you can take the product for a test drive with a 14-day trial; sign up for free today!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.