The 6 Biggest Things Killing Your Sales Emails

(And tips to bring them back to life)

For recruiting and staffing firms, sales are competitive and difficult in any market. And with the market cooling in some areas, it’s becoming more challenging. Among the numerous approaches to sales, email outreach is overtaking cold calls as the preferred way to develop leads. But there are six common mistakes that people make when writing sales emails, according to Keith Weightman.

Weightman began his career in staffing and is now the Regional Vice President for National Accounts with Bullhorn. In a recent presentation to TechServe Alliance members, he gave an overview of these six errors in sales emails, and how to fix them.

1. Your subject line

The most critical error, Weightman says, is usually in the subject line. If it’s not well-crafted, the rest of the email is irrelevant.

“47% of emails are opened based on the subject line alone,” Weightman says. “Where most people struggle is they don’t really understand the psychology behind what makes a person open a cold email.”

Weightman outlines two of these psychological drivers that cause someone to open and read an email instead of deleting it.

  • Curiosity

Effective sales emails create intrigue with their subject line, making the recipient curious about the content. It should be specific enough to the recipient that they see it as directed to them (as opposed to being a generic ‘broadcast’ email), but vague enough that they want to open the email to learn more.

“Maybe you’re reaching out to a company that just had an office relocation, and there’s a bunch of hiring activity going on,” Weightman says. “Your subject line could be as simple as ‘Office relocation.’ That makes me think, ‘Yeah, I just opened an office, but what is this specifically about?’ I need to open it to get more context.”

  • Learning

Emails with these kinds of subject lines are more likely to be opened because they promise new information, something useful and relevant to the prospect. Data is everywhere online; there is no shortage of useful insights to offer, if you simply look for them.

For inspiration, Weightman uses a matrix outlining a range of challenges that prospects face in their business, and six ways of framing that challenge. Each of these are highly likely to spark the interest of the person on the receiving end, making it more likely that they’ll open the email to read more.

Here are the six ways of framing business challenges faced by staffing industry clients, and an example of a subject line for each:

  • Actionable: “4 steps to win the war for talent”
  • Analytical: “85M unfilled jobs”
  • Contrarian: “The talent shortage isn’t a problem”
  • Observation: “Talent shortages hit a 10-year high”
  • X vs. Y: “WFH v. RTO – who’s winning?”
  • Listicle: “Top 5 cities to recruit from”

“These are used at different parts of the sales cycle,” Weightman notes. “Curiosity is typically around the top of the funnel. We’re trying to gauge interest and get people to engage. The ‘learn something’ is typically mid-funnel, or if you’re in a longer sales cycle. Offer thought leadership content so that when the prospect is ready to become a buyer, they think of you versus your competitor, because you’re providing thoughtful insights.”

2. Your opener

If the subject line prompts your prospect to open the email, your next task is to keep them reading. And you don’t have long. “You’ve got probably 10 seconds to capture someone’s attention,” Weightman says, “before they decide if they’re going to continue reading your email or delete it.”

This short time frame means you’ve got to make your opening words count. The key, according to Weightman, is to stop wasting space. Too many emails open with, ‘I hope this finds you well’, or similar sentiments. Others introduce the sender by name or company. These are counterproductive. They don’t add value, and they increase the likelihood that the recipient will hit delete.

Instead, Weightman advises, get right to the point. Ideally, the opener should refer to something specific and unique to the prospect. Perhaps in your research, you saw something interesting that they’ve done, or something that the owner or CEO of their company said. Those make excellent openers, as does the name of someone who referred you to them.

If you don’t have something specific to refer to in the opening line, Weightman suggests referring to a specific challenge that your prospect is likely facing – a shortage of candidates with a specific skill set, for example.

3. Your emails are too long

Most sales emails are written on a desktop. But that’s not where they’re read. “80% of emails are now opened on a mobile device,” Weightman says. “And the way an email looks on your desktop is wildly different than the way it looks on your mobile device.” If you want your prospect to read yours, you need to remove as much ‘friction’ as possible.

Your sales emails should be very easy to read in one quick glance, prompting your prospect to respond. They shouldn’t have to scroll down to read to the end. Weightman says that sales emails should be no more than 90 words. In fact, he says, between 50 and 75 is a ‘sweet spot’.

Formatting can also play a role in getting your prospects to read and reply. Weightman suggests short paragraphs, with just one to three sentences each. “Embrace the space,” Weightman advises, using line breaks between those short paragraphs to create white space in the email.

The result? An email that’s easy to skim, and more likely to prompt action on the part of your prospect.

4. Your emails are too sophisticated

“Typically, sales reps will try to use big fancy words, thinking that it makes them sound more professional to their buyers,” Weightman says. “However, it just comes off as harder to read.”

This means that emails written in that kind of language are less likely to be read. “Would you be surprised that emails written at a third to fifth grade level results in 68% more replies?”

According to Weightman, emails written at a grade 3 to 5 level result in 68% more replies. This isn’t because prospects don’t have the ability to read at a higher level; it’s just marketing psychology at work. Simpler language means less friction.

The fix, Weightman says, is what he calls the ‘Art of Substitution’. Finding the unnecessarily long words in your emails, and replacing them with their shorter equivalents.

Instead of ‘leverage’, for example, just use ‘use’. Don’t say ‘demonstrate’ when you can say ‘show’. Why would you use ‘observed’ when you could just say ‘saw’?

These simpler words make it easier for your prospect to read your entire email, meaning that they’ll be more likely to reply.

5. Your emails lack personalization

It’s easy to tell when you’re reading the same email, word for word, that has been sent to hundreds of people. Those emails don’t attract many responses; most are deleted. Personalized cold emails, according to Weightman, receive double the number of replies.

An email is personalized when it refers to something unique to the prospect, and even better, when it’s tailored to the offering.

As an example, Weightman points to a cold sales email that he received – one of the best he’s ever gotten, he says. The salesperson had done some research and discovered that Weightman is an avid golfer.

The subject line was: ‘Golf puns + sales = hole in one?’. Naturally, Weightman’s curiosity was piqued, and he opened the email to read further.

The email compared improving sales skills to fixing a golf swing, and the salesperson closed by asking Weightman to give them a ‘shot’ (pun intended).

“Not only did the email get my attention,” Weightman says. “I opened it, I responded to it, and they got a meeting with one outreach.”

Personalization works.

6. Your emails don’t have a framework

It’s time consuming to write every email from ‘scratch’, without a starting point. It’s unnecessary, Weightman says, and it’s expensive to recreate the wheel. Having a framework for your sales emails gives you that starting point, while also giving you the flexibility to customize each one to the unique situation.

Weightman offers three frameworks that are highly effective for sales outreach.


This stands for ‘Show Me You Know Me’. These emails are designed to show that you’ve done your research on the prospect and their company. They’re highly personalized (like the golf email mentioned above). They close with a call to have a conversation. Weightman advises using an interest-based approach to this call to action. Rather than suggesting that they book a time for a call, for example, Weightman suggests simply asking whether they have an interest in speaking further. ‘Opposed to a quick call, or should I lose your number?’, for example.


This is an acronym for Problem, Equation, Agitation, Solution, Call to conversation. The email begins by naming the problem a prospect would likely have in their business. “I love using equations in emails because it’s a way to explain a problem or a concept with extreme brevity.” For example, an email to a sales manager about the challenge of getting accurate forecasts from their sales team might say, ‘Last minute updates + happy ears = missed forecasts.’ To agitate is to increase the level of pain resulting from that problem. The email to the sales manager might read, ‘To add insult to injury, you’re becoming your worst nightmare – a micromanager.’ The solution speaks to how your offering can help ease the pain of that problem. And the email closes with an interest-based call to a conversation.

  • The Teacher

The Teacher framework for an email does as the name suggests: shares something with the prospect that they should know, and shows how your offering can help. The email opens with the piece of information. For example, it might say, ‘20% of your contacts change jobs each year.’ It continues by telling them why they should care about the information, creating a sense of urgency. ‘If your competitor finds out first, that’s a problem.’ The next paragraph in the email proves that your offering can help them with this new problem you’ve shown them. And, of course, the email closes with an interest-based call to a conversation.

Bring your sales emails back to life

In his presentation, Weightman shared many more examples, and also one of his favorite tech tools – – which you can use to improve your sales emails quickly and easily. The webinar closed with a lively Q&A session, and the entire presentation was recorded. TechServe members the webinar can be viewed here – don’t miss out!

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