How To Write A Follow up Email: The Complete Guide

Last Updated On: September 5, 2017



Whether you are reaching out to warm prospects or cold emailing, the single most useful lever you can use to improve your response rates is by learning how to write a follow up email. The average sales person makes only 2 attempts to reach a prospect, yet study after study has shown that it takes multiple touches and there are rich benefits for sales people who follow up multiple times for a response.

In fact, the most persistent sales people like Steli Efti of Close.io, don’t stop at a certain number of follow ups.

 

According to Steli: “I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one. But, if they don’t respond at all, I will keep pinging them until they do. And trust me, they always do. 🙂

Whether you are channeling your inner Steli Efti or want to stick to a more conservative approach, there is often a thin line between following up persistently and stalking your prospects.

If done wrongly, then you will end up sending a series of meaningless emails and end up irritating your prospect and reducing the chances of doing business with them. Yet, if the follow up is done right, it can add value to your prospect, evoke a positive emotion, intrigue them about your product and compel them to reply your email.

In the context of a cold email/sales prospecting, whether or not you have an effective follow up strategy can make an impact on your response rates by up to 4-5x. Take a look at this cold email case study by Heather Morgan of Salesfolk

  • 92% of all replies to the campaign were generated in the follow ups
  • 55% of the replies were generated between the 4th to 8th follow ups

Clearly having an effective follow up strategy can improve your response rates by 4-5x and can make or break any cold email outreach.

In this post, we deconstruct the principles of an effective follow up email and present 12 tactics to ensure that your follow up is compelling.

The Key Principles Of How to Write a Follow up Email 

You know a bad follow up email as soon as you see one. It simply tries to put the last email back on top and has only one purpose – to remind you that you haven’t replied yet. It offers no additional incentive or point of view to compel you to reply. Those are the follow up emails you want to avoid writing. What you should be writing are emails that provide them additional reasons to reply and that create a positive emotional impact and helps move your case forward.

Keep these 4 principles in mind when writing the follow up email.

1. Treat Each Follow up As An Opportunity

Each follow up is an opportunity to make another impression with your prospect and not a necessary chore that you must go through to get a reply. Each follow up email provides an opportunity to engage with your prospect for 30 seconds. You can use those 30 seconds of attention to 

  • Add value
  • Evoke a smile
  • Gain credibility
  • Show empathy
  • Show understanding
  • Capture attention
  • Differentiate yourself

If the opportunity is used well, then it leaves a positive impression. Even if the prospect does not hit reply immediately, they will recognize you in your next follow up and as you build a series of positive impressions and demonstrate your interest in helping them, the chances of a response become much higher.

2. Make each touch/ follow up unique

If your follow up email consists mostly of “check ins” and sentences like:

  • Just checking in on my previous email..
  • Did my email slip through the cracks ..
  • Just putting this to the top of your inbox ..

then you are wasting an opportunity to present a different and new side of your business/ yourself.

It is critical to make each follow up unique. For example, you may talk about value proposition #1 in your first email, then talk about a different value proposition in your next follow up and then talk about a different pain point or offer a case study/ social proof in your next follow up and so on.

John Barrows offers this advice: 

Say some thing unique in each follow up. Show your prospect another side of you. Give them another reason to reply. 

3. Add some soul in your email content

Too many emails today look like they have been written by a bot – rather than a human being. They convey very little emotion. Are often very bland and boring. If you can infuse a sense of your personality into the email – humor/ confidence etc are all ways to make your email more memorable.

Sam Dunn provides a neat “human style guide” to make your emails less salesy and more human. It is a good read for those getting started with cold emailing.

 4. Put yourself in your Prospect’s Shoes

Identify with your Prospect persona. What are their top goals and challenges? How can you/ your company genuinely help them either accomplish their goal or remove their challenges?

Think about their state of mind when they get your follow up email, what is their average day like.

Heather Morgan, in fact, goes one step further and advises that when you draft a cold email/ follow up template, pick one prospect and write your cold email templates for that prospect. You can then subsequently abstract it into a template. 

12 Ideas and templates for your follow up emails

Use one of the 12 ideas provided below as inspiration for your next email template. Use triggers, humor, competitive insight, images, testimonials and other ideas provided below to stand out, differentiate your follow up and compel your prospects to reply.

Follow up email ideas

1. Use Triggers to make your follow up email more contextual

As a sales development rep, it is always a good idea to keep an eye out for triggers which you can mention in your follow up emails. For example, did your prospect raise funding or did they win a large deal or hire some one recently or get covered in the media?

All of these are triggers that you can use to make your follow up more personalized and contextual.

Triggers make your follow up more contextual and timely. It adds a sense of personalization.

2. Speak to a single but unique pain point in each follow up email

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospect and try to empathize with the various pain points that they may face. Now rather than sending them a bullet point list of things you can do for them, pick one benefit or pain point and talk about it for each email.  

For example.

This email focuses on one key pain – time spent in onboarding and keeps the focus centered around it. You can use a subsequent follow up email to talk about another pain point. 

3. Share some interesting or relevant content

Think about what your Prospect is interested in reading.

Sharing a recent blog post or industry research in your follow up email can add value to your prospect. For example, you can share an interesting link to some insightful article that was published in their industry.

An easy way to see what your prospect is interested in is to take a look at their social media feeds and see what they shared recently. Then it is a good possibility that they will find similar pieces of content relevant.  

4. The Terse Followup

John Barrows talks about a creative follow up idea for prospects who have gone completely dark on you – especially after showing some initial interest. Let’s say you have sent 4-5 different emails and follow ups and have not yet received a response, here is an idea to try out. Send a new follow up with no additional content in the email body – but with a new subject line. 

Just keep a trail (thread) of all the previous emails you have sent the person and in the subject line, just say:

The beauty of this approach is that it keeps the focus completely on the subject and those 4 words. If there are prospects who have been meaning to get back and need another nudge getting over the line, then this might do the trick – especially towards the end of your follow up. 

5. Talk about one new benefit for each follow up email

Some times it may be tempting to write an email with a bullet point list of 4-5 benefits that your solution or offering provides. Hold off on that temptation.

A much better strategy would be to use one benefit for each follow up email that you send. It makes it much easier for your prospect to grasp. Here is an example: 

It is simple. Offers just one benefit. The Email does not talk about your product or company or even yourself. It clearly focuses on the one benefit that you can get and compels you to respond if you care about it. 

6.Use Social Proof in your follow up email

As you plan your email sequence, you may devote one of your follow up emails to providing social proof.

7. Use Testimonials in your follow up email

Like social proof, testimonials is another interesting touch that may be used to add some credibility to your offering. 

Follow ups like these do much more than putting your previous email back to the top of your prospect’s inbox. They also convey confidence and social proof. It uses the follow up as an opportunity to tell a story about your brand.

8.Share a graph

You can share a graph showing the impact you were able to make to some of your existing customers. For example, if you are an SEO agency, then you may use a template like this:

This is a powerful email that conveys in a pic what you were able to achieve for a similar prospect. It allows your prospect to drink in the graph and imagine what a similar graph would do for their business.

9. Add some humor to your follow up

The surest shot way to stand out among the hundreds of emails that your prospect receives every day is to add a dash of humor. If you can make your prospect smile, then you are one step closer to making them like you. 

But as always, make sure that this is appropriate for your target audience. Twitter and LinkedIn are good places to get a sense of the type of content that your prospect engages with and to see if a funny content is some thing that they will appreciate.

Adding funny GIFs, Images and videos is a quick way to insert some humor into your follow up emails. For example, this video from Funnybizz uses humor to spice up a follow up email.

Or this cookie monster gif to indicate that you are still waiting for a reply to your previous email:

follow up email giphy

10. Add a customized image to your follow up

By now prospects suspect that you are using some form of technology to send more emails and follow ups every day. So what can you do to convince your prospect that this is a customized email that was written just for them. Here is a brilliant example of what Freshdesk did. They send a personalized email. But inserted inline with the email content is an image with the prospect’s company name – in this case, TimeDoctor.

It should not be too difficult to take this picture once and customize it each time with a new prospect Logo using a tool like Canva or Photoshop. But it definitely stands out and creates a memorable impression on your prospect.

11. Share some competitive insight

One of the fastest ways to shoot to the top of mind is to share some thing that your prospect’s competitor announced and reference that in your email.

For example, if you are prospecting to a list of players in the user onboarding industry, then you may want to use a template such as this one here:

This template combines multiple elements to deliver a winning email. It uses a recent trigger, references, competition, provides value and delivers a customized message that should be compelling to the recipient.

12. Use a breakup email template

This is one strategy that has been written about a lot and is used a little too often these days. But it is still often effective. It usually reminds the user that you have emailed a few times – but didn’t get a response. And that you plan to stop following up.

This email makes it easy for the prospect to hit reply and let you know a single number. It also shows some empathy and that you don’t wish to flood their mail box with more follow ups.

Follow up Email Strategies

The Timing of your follow up emails plays an important factor in the success of your cold email campaigns. Follow up too soon and you may end up irritating your prospects, follow up too late and you may find that the prospect no longer shows any interest.

If follow up is not timed correctly then it reduces the chances of doing business with your prospects.

So how long do you have to wait to follow up if there is no response?

This actually depends on the situation, the context, the relationship and the interactions you had with your prospects.

For eg, if you have to follow up with a busy CEO of a large enterprise then do not send the follow up email in 2 days and the next follow up another 2 days later. You will have to provide more time, may be 4–7 days until the first follow-up and then may be follow up once a week after that.

In general, when following with your prospects, it is better to start off by following up with high frequency, then decrease the frequency over time.

Follow up strategies for different types of prospects:

  1. For a Prospect who responded at least once or shown some interest and then went cold:In this case, you can continue to follow up until the prospects ask you to stop or tell you that they are not interested. After the first 4-5 follow ups, you can maintain a regular
    cadence with a mail being sent one in every 7-10 days.
  2. For a prospect who has shown very little interest but has also not unsubscribed:To all the prospects who are opening your follow up emails, clicking on the links, etc; you can continue to follow up with them by providing different types of “value add content”. By providing something of value, you will always stay on the top of their mind when they do need what you are selling. You can choose to run fortnightly/monthly drip campaigns for such prospects.
  3. For a prospect who has never shown any interest:For a prospect who has never opened any of your emails, not clicked on any links, etc you can stop following after 6-8 follow up emails. There is no point following up with such prospects till perpetuity. Your emails might also be landing in the spam filters, etc and only hurts your reputation beyond a point.

Follow up Email Stages and Sample emails:

You can broadly categorize your cold email and follow up emails into 4 stages.

  • Mail 1 → Cold Outreach
  • Mails 2 and 3 → Initial follow up
  • Mail 4 → Seek implicit permission to follow up
  • Mails 5 onwards → Nurture to a response

Stage 1: Cold Outreach email:

Write a killer subject line and start your cold email with a quick, sharp intro. Provide one context (why you are reaching out to them), exactly one value proposition (how they benefit from speaking to you) and one call to action (call/ referral). And some personalized connection which can help make your email less cold and more warm. Do your research to know about the prospect and try to find a connection. Read more on how to write an awesome cold email.

Sample cold outreach email

Stage 2: Initial Follow up Emails

For people who have not replied to your cold email, send your next 2 emails with in the next 8-10 days. Provide some context about the fact that you reached out to them earlier. Provide a copy of the previous email in the email trail so that they can easily scroll down and get more context.

Each of these emails can try to convey a different value proposition. You can also experiment sending in a different time of the day compared to your previous email. Be sure to have an unsubscribe link in these emails.

At this stage, you have sent 3 emails (1 cold email + 2 follow ups). All the people who are eager and hungry for what you are offering will have replied. All those who are remotely not interested in what you are offering will have unsubscribed/ responded that they are not interested.

Sample follow up email 1

Sample follow up email 2

 Stage 3: Follow up to seek implicit permission

At this point, you may try a “quasi-breakup”. Something along the lines of “if this is not of interest, just let me know and I will stop following up”. The purpose of this email is to get some implicit permission to follow up. If they have not responded negatively, then you have sufficient reason to continue to follow up.

It might also be a good idea to look at your list and stop following up with people who have not engaged at all (i.e. not opened your email at all). It is possible that you are reaching the wrong address or they are deleting your emails without opening.

Sample quasi-breakup email:

Stage 4: Follow up to nurture a response

At this stage, you are left with a set of people who might be “somewhat” interested, but not excited/ compelled enough to give you time or respond to your call to action. But for some reason, they have given you implicit permission to follow up. Perhaps the timing is not just right yet. Perhaps it is one of those things they are thinking of but is not top priority right now.

For these people continue to follow up, but with a longish time delay (15-20 days) between emails. Now is the time to add value. Share some relevant reading material, links etc which might be useful to their industry/ job/function. What you are effectively doing is nurturing these “maybe” prospects over 2-3 months.

Once you have sent around 7-8 follow up emails, you might want to take a pause and send them a final email providing them with your contact details and an option to get back if and when they are ready to speak to you.

Sample follow up email to add value:

Sample follow up email to add more value:

5 point checklist Before you Send your Follow up Email

Once you have written your follow up email, and are ready to hit the send button, take a minute to review your email content.

  1. If you received this email, what would your immediate emotion be? Are you likely to smile or be irritated?
  2. Is this email remarkable in anyway? Will it stand out among the hundred other emails you got today? Does it look like it came from a human being?
  3. Does it come across as salesy? Does it come across as someone trying to add value to your business or does it come across as someone who is trying to make a quick buck?
  4. How will this email look like in a mobile phone?. Does it have short crisp sentences or long winded paragraphs?.
  5. Are you spewing out features or talking about benefits?. Are you throwing too much jargon or talking in plain sentences that anyone can understand?

The Brutal Truth about Email Templates

Here is the harsh reality. No email template works for ever. If a certain follow up starts working, more and more people will start adopting the same strategy and soon enough, it will become common place that recipients will start recognizing them. The shelf life of an email template is now probably no more than a few months.

James Meincke of CloserIQ provides some valuable advice when it comes to email templates. The key is to study various templates. Look for patterns. And use them as inspiration to write your own email templates. Here is a collection of 100+ email templates.

Anthony Iannarino in The Only Sales Guide You Will Ever Need talks about the beliefs and behaviors needed for sales success – where he points out that Caring – the desire to help others as a strategic advantage in sales.

Certain things never change, regardless of technology, economy, and society – clients still tend to buy from people they like and trust. And that comes from people who care about them.

Irrespective of what follow up strategy or template you use, it is important to exhibit that your solution can create value for them and help them achieve their goals. That your top priority is their gain and not yours. Follow up emails provide another opportunity to show your prospect that you care.

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