• Paying attention to email etiquette can take you farther in your sales relationships than any fancy negotiation techniques.
  • Samantha McKenna of #samsales Consulting describes the most common faux pas she sees people make in their interactions with prospects, especially via email.
  • Sam talks about applying the power of manners to every step of a prospect’s journey. She believes in responding to new leads on the same day, not allowing a calendar link to do the work, and owning up to your mistakes.

When you hear the word “manners,” do you imagine yourself teaching a life lesson to a small child?

If so, you’re not alone in that association. Who actually talks about manners as an adult?

The answer: not enough of us! 

That’s probably because there’s an assumption that we all automatically apply them to everyday life after a certain age. Unfortunately, that’s not true — in life or sales.

Samantha McKenna, the trusted sales pro behind #samsales Consulting and the Show Me You Know Me framework, is passionate about keeping manners top of mind. She shared some timeless advice, including her tenets of email etiquette, on an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales.

Why prep work is non-negotiable

Manners apply before you even have an interaction. Sam reminds us that it’s critical not to skip the prep work phase if you want to indicate that you value your prospects.

Sales Manners

Doing a bit of research doesn’t have to take a long time — and you’ll reap huge rewards. 

Most importantly, you’ll avoid making a fatal error like repeating questions your lead already answered in a previous stage of the process.

Properly preparing to speak with someone — or email them! — means finding out:

  • Their name and what they prefer to go by. Don’t get this one wrong!
  • What their company does. You’ve gotta really get this if you’re in B2B sales.
  • What their role entails. This should be comparable to your caliber and experience. “I would be horrified to think that there is a BDR qualifying a CRO,” says Sam. 
  • Where they are in the buyer’s journey. Ideally, background details should already be available to you via your sales engagement solution
  • Their personal and company values. What they care about should be what you care about.

The above list encompasses the very least amount of background you’d want to know.

By the way, this applies to conversations with both prospects and interviewees.

Does it seem obvious that you need to understand who you’re talking to? Maybe so, but Sam sees people forgetting these basics left and right. 

However, she says you don’t have to go overboard and read or watch every single piece of content a person has created before you meet with them. A LinkedIn profile visit and some sniffing around their company bio is often sufficient. 

Prioritize responding quickly to make your lead feel acknowledged

How should you use the info you discovered in your prep phase?

First of all, you’d be wise to reach out to the prospect warmly and immediately.

“The urgent bird gets the worm,” says Sam. It doesn’t matter how much you know about a person if you’re not applying it smartly —and right away. A personal response is powerful, and more so when it shows up within a few hours of an inquiry.

Even if that response has to be “I’m swamped today, but I’m going to follow up with you tomorrow,” acknowledgment is the key.

Think basic principles of interpersonal communication. When you make time for someone, they feel like they matter to you.

While you’re entitled to personal boundaries (you do not have to be available 24/7!), you also need to be aware of your first impression. Every action you take — and its timing — sends a message. 

Wouldn’t you rather have that message be: “You’re someone I’d like to make time for,” rather than “You can wait for me to have time?”

Referrals are the most precious leads!

Responding quickly is crucial no matter what, but it’s a do-or-die move when you’re dealing with a referral.

Sam is emphatic that following up with a referral should never be something you just put on your list of things to get to later. Referral leads are gold because they cost you nothing.

Always follow this rule of thumb: When a colleague sends a referral your way, shoot them an email the same day.

Sam says the only time you can get away with not doing so is if your car is on fire!

Pro tip from Sam: When you send an important email for which you’ll be awaiting a response, BCC yourself! It’ll stay right there in your inbox, so it’s more difficult to forget if the prospect doesn’t get back to you in a day or two.

The email etiquette of referral follow-up

Manners also dictate going a bit beyond your standard email sequence for a priceless referral.

That’s because you must update the person who put their reputation on the line and sent you that lead! They deserve to know how it went.

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Here are some best practices for updating the source of your referral:

  1. Send a quick thank-you email after you have your first call.
  2. Follow up with an update when the lead is midway through the sales cycle.
  3. After you’ve closed the deal, consider sending a gift or hand-written note.

These manners will help you maintain a solid relationship with the person who finds you worthy of their recommendation.

Don’t rely on your calendar to communicate for you

There’s one big no-no that Sam says is completely inappropriate as a substitute for a personal email in your first interaction with a prospect: the calendar link!

When you ask someone to find a time on your calendar, “you’re setting the precedent that you’re lazy,” says Sam. You’re asking the other person to do the work, which creates anything but a stellar customer service experience.

What would make for better email etiquette? Just a tiny bit more thought.

It “doesn’t have to take a mountain of movement” to mention a couple of specific slots in your email, Sam adds. You can offer your full calendar as a backup. This effort could make the difference between closing a deal this week and having to wait a month.

Stay accountable when you’ve messed up

How about if you didn’t give the best first impression? What if you showed up a few minutes late to that call or forgot to update the colleague who sent you a referral?

In that case, it’s time for “falling on your sword,” says Sam.

Accountability goes a long way in repairing the damage. You might not think your mistake was a big deal, but stay consistent with those manners and apologize. This sets the stage for the kind of relationship your lead can expect to have with you after they’ve committed: a real and honest one.

Apply what you’ve always known about manners

The heart of human interaction is basic decency. Sometimes people don’t agree on what that means, but that doesn’t let us off the hook. 

The sales industry is all about people. To be successful, you must invest in treating everyone courteously.

Now, go be an urgent bird!

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