DEATH OF A SALESMAN: Email Is Not Your Friend


What happened to sales people? When did email become perceived as the only highly effective form of selling? What happened to the scrappy days of pounding phones, networking relationships and getting creative? Remember the VITO letter? Ever get one of those anymore?

You’re sorely mistaken if you believe that flooding an executive’s inbox with rote solicitations will escape the DELETE key. If you want to be noticed, it’s time you go old-school and pick up the phone. And don’t expect success after the first or second attempt. That’s just silly.

There once was a time when sales people promoted their President Club achievements and sales training certifications on their resumes: Certified in Solution Selling Methodology; SNAP; Dale Carnegie; The Challenger Sale.… Is Email Badgering a program that I missed?

A quick glimpse at my inbox and I’m met with a deluge of subject lines like: … Conference call? … I want to be your first call? … Meeting request? … Do you have 15 minutes to connect? … Can I buy you a cup of coffee? … I am writing to request 30 minutes of your time

My favorite one – or should I say—my favorite annoying one, is the I-Happen-To-Be-In-Town Email. Because every executive likes to hear, “I’ve got nothing better to do and since I’m in the area, I I could swing by and sell you something.” The absurd thing is that this approach is a sad evolution of the following, which was highly effective:

I’m going to be in town for a very important meeting with an existing client and it certainly would be worth extending my trip if you can afford me some time.

Email has become such an abused form of communication by sales people today that executives no longer look, let alone respond to anything. I don’t care if someone hopes that I am well. I’m not interested in just being updated. Are you delusional? Do you really think pretending that we have an existing email correspondence by starting the first email to me with “RE:” in your subject line will fool me?

I‘ve sent you a few emails already I am following up on my previous email Wondering if you’ve had a chance to review my previous emails I’ve sent you a few notes and could use a response I’m not sure if you’ve received my previous emails….

Here’s a secret: seasoned sales people are successful because they DON’T rely on email alone. They don’t expect it to warm up their prospects and develop their opportunities. They do not expect a sale to just jump out of the water and hook itself on the line of an email passively placed in the water. Sure, they use it, but they certainly don’t use it as a crutch like new sales people today.

I’m a salesman at heart. I grew up in sales and believe that part of what makes me a successful CEO is that I continue to be a salesman. I admire aggressive hunters and when I see it, I respond. My assistant knows to let some calls go through, if they are creative, if they impress her too. Most of all, if they are relentless. If a sales person wants to get to me, and they’re not afraid to get out from behind the veil of email, they will find me. Most people in leadership roles still respect scrappy. Unfortunately, scrappy has become a stand-out today.

My message to today’s sales people? Those who are listening but failing because of your dependency on email. Pay attention. I had a mentor once tell me, and he was right, EMAIL IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. Pick up the phone. Call outside of normal hours – not when you know you will get voicemail. Send a hand-written letter. Network hard. Walk into the office and sit for hours until someone will see you. Hunt people down at shows. Do not give up after one attempt, after 3 attempts or even 5. It can take 10 or 15 consecutive attempts over a short period of time for someone to turn around and say “ok, what do you want to say to me?!?” Develop a shark’s mentality and a thrill for the hunt. Those skills will pay off for the rest of your career. Over time, sales people that develop all of their skills and don’t hide behind email will truly succeed. They will earn the fat commission checks, be met with new opportunities, build future sales teams and become tomorrow’s leaders. Or, at least I sure hope so.