Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

Recently, I wrote about my Closing the Loop email that’s a bit of a secret weapon when it comes to raising deals from the dead. I received some comments and many more emails about the fantastic responses people were getting from it. One of the emails asked me if I had a similarly effective email template for reaching out to prospects you want to do business with. I do. Hence, this article.

First let me qualify how effective you can expect this to be with some context. I developed this format in 2000 and used it for many years. When I first started using it my response rate was 70%. That was back in the day before people were overwhelmed by their inbox. As time went by the response rate dropped. When it went below ten percent I remember thinking, “well this doesn’t work anymore.” Most people would kill for a ten percent response rate today, or even five percent.

For the email below, it would be silly to talk about response rates because it’s not meant to be used as a mass email sent from your email marketing tool of choice. Those emails smell like marketing messages. This email is meant to be used to reach the odd highly coveted prospect If you view the format as a starting point for a handcrafted person to person email, I think you’ll be successful.

When I fully launched my consulting practice in early 2002 I happened upon an online directory of independent advertising agencies that included email addresses for the principals. I would click, paste, add first name, send, repeat. After a few minutes I checked my inbox and it was already loaded with replies. I had replies already from people in other firms who had been forwarded my email. (That is the real, never-previously-been-told story of how Win Without Pitching was launched and I’m forever grateful to Tony Mikes for publishing that directory on the Second Wind website.)

The Format

Here’s the version I would use today. Have a look then I’ll explain why it works.

Hi [Firstname];

I’m a business development advisor to creative firms worldwide. I’ve helped hundreds of advertising agencies on five continents win more business at higher margin while breaking from the convention of giving their thinking away for free in a pitch.

I see you are a member of [network].

Feel free to say no if you don’t see a fit but… might I be of help to you?


Analyzing the Components

This format works for five reasons.

First, it’s succinct. I get right to the point in my two sentence introduction using my combination positioning statement (claim of expertise) and reassurance statement (description of who I help and how). I’ve eliminated as many words as possible. I haven’t asked the reader to click a link or read an attachment or worse – forced him to wade through a poorly crafted missive that could have been a third of the length or less.

Second, it’s relevant and distinct. I’m not sending this to anyone that it doesn’t make sense to, but more importantly, I’m enquiring about an area that few others serve. For you to use this format to sell branding or full-service marketing communications would put you in the same category as those SEO spambots. For more guidance on a narrow enquiry read my article titled The Armour-Piercing Introduction. (link at the bottom of this page)

The third element of this format is the use of the second paragraph to keep me honest, to ensure that I craft an observation that’s specific to their business and keep me from spamming a list. In this one-sentence paragraph I might name drop some of their direct competitors that I’ve worked for, how I came across their business or some other observation about their business to get me out of the mass email category. Whatever you choose to do here, it should be personalized but short.

The fourth reason it works is that I make it easy to reply. The key here is one that I discovered almost 14 years ago and to this day I have never heard anyone else articulate it: if you’re looking for a response (you are) then end your email with a closed-ended question, allowing the receiver to respond with one word.

And finally, this format works because it’s respectful. The last line begins with some of my favorite words, “Feel free to say no…” borrowed directly from Jim Camp and his book, Start With No. Most people don’t adhere to point #4 above because they’re afraid of hearing no, but no is the second best answer you can receive. When you tell people that it’s okay to say no you remove the emotional weight from replying. This works in combination with point #1. Together, you show that this is just business and if the prospect doesn’t see a fit he’s not going to hurt your feelings. You also build credibility by demonstrating selectivity.

Analyzing the Responses

There are three categories of responses you will receive in reply to this email. The first is no reply at all. This will be the norm. I can’t tell you what the percentage will be but the more direct competitors you are seen to have or the less relevant your offering the less likely you are to receive a reply.

The second category of reply is no. You will get a few of these one-word replies and they are gold. First, you know not to waste your time at this point. Second, congratulations, you are in a conversation now. Don’t abuse it but know that down the road if it makes sense to reach out again you can reply in the thread.

The third answer is not yes (you will never hear yes in reply to this email) but something other than no. These are the replies that you escalate to a telephone conversation as quickly as you can.

So to recap, the combination is:

  1. Be succinct,
  2. Be relevant,
  3. Include a small personalization,
  4. Invite “no”, and
  5. Make it as easy as possible for the prospect to respond.

Use Responsibly

For the small few who will blast this to their entire list, I hope you rot on a blacklist in the low-rent section of Hell. For the majority of you who will use this approach responsibly the way I’ve intended, good luck – let me know how it works.


PS: Here’s the Closing The Loop email I mentioned. Use it for raising prospects from the dead. Here is The Armour-Piercing Introduction, also mentioned above.

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Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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