A complete guide to sales emails (based on what works)

How to write, send, and refine your sales emails.

By Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published July 11, 2019
Last updated December 2, 2021

Sending a sales email can feel like howling in a vacuum.

The average email user gets 147 emails a day and deletes nearly half of them. Only a select handful actually receive replies. You may wonder, why bother cramming another message into another overpacked inbox?

In short, it’s because sales emails still work. Companies continue to profit off of email campaigns, which have an average return of $38 for every dollar invested.

With a 3,800% ROI, it’s a wonder that people are receiving only 150 emails a day!

No, not every sales email gets answered (or even noticed). But the ones that are well researched and well written are still well worth the effort.

With the right sales email tips, templates, and metrics, you can craft compelling messages capable of engaging and persuading top prospects.

How to write a sales email

From the subject line to the CTA, each element of your sales email needs to grab your prospects’ attention, engage them, and compel them to take your desired action. Crafting a message that does all that requires a lot of thought and effort—which could be wasted on the wrong prospects.

That’s why you need to be smart about who you target and how you target them in your sales emails.

Find the right recipients

Don’t let your sales email fall on deaf ears. It’s better to send sales emails to a select number of qualified leads than to shoot off a wave of generic emails to everyone imaginable.

Get aligned with your marketing team on your lead qualification process. If necessary, review and update your buyer personas. Make sure they reflect the most recent market research and data you have on your current customer base.

Then, research each contact that they send your way by checking out their social media accounts, blog posts, and websites. The more you learn about a prospect, the more you can personalize your pitch to them.

In addition to these marketing-qualified leads, you can find additional contacts by surfing LinkedIn and other networking channels. Or use lead generation software to instantly create targeted lead lists and enrich their contact info with fresh, accurate data.

Write a short subject line

Keep your subject line simple and to the point. Studies have consistently shown that people have pretty short attention spans.

In one sales email experiment, researchers sent 500 emails with the subject line “Quick Question,” and 500 with the subject line “15 Second Question for Research on Annoying Emails.” While “Quick Question” had only a slightly higher open rate, it accounted for 66.7% of all replies.

When emailing leads, keep your subject line to no more than 50 characters (Marketo found that 41 was the ideal amount). Use as few words as possible (Leadium says four works best). And consider personalizing your subject line by using the word “you” or including the recipient’s name. These customization tactics can boost your open rate by 26%, according to Campaign Monitor.

Learn more: What we found out about sales email subject lines from 12 different brands

Use a personalized opening line

There’s a tendency to introduce oneself in the opening line of a cold sales email. Fight it.

“My name is ...” reads like the start of a generic form letter, and it’s irrelevant to the recipient. Instead, talk about something they care about: themselves.

Specific, personalized opening lines like “I loved your blog post ...” or “I was happy to hear about ...” will likely catch the recipient’s attention and encourage them to keep reading.

Or focus on the recipient’s business with a line like “I was excited to read about your company’s product launch.” This approach shows that you’ve done your homework before contacting them, which can help build trust and credibility.

Keep the body trim

As you get into the body of the email, stay focused on the prospect’s needs. Offer something of value that addresses a specific pain point, like a case study or a helpful article.

Again, brevity is key. According to research by, sales emails that contain 1,400 to 1,500 characters (about 300 words) have the highest response rate.

If you need help cutting down your messages, try running your email through a free writing tool, like Hemingway. It highlights complex sentences and helps you break them down. The platform will also check your sales email for readability (aim for a third-grade reading level).

Stick the CTA

Always end with a clear call to action. Directly communicate what you want the prospect to do next, whether that’s signing up for a demo or giving you a call.

The “ask” can be simple, but it needs to provide clear instructions. For example, request that they check out your schedule via a calendar link to schedule a quick talk.

Finally, end the sales email with a signature that includes your company, position, and a link to your professional social media profile.

Learn more: 5 sales email examples proven to engage customers

4 tips for writing and sending successful sales emails

A successful sales email is one that gets answered. Earning replies can be challenging, but there are ways to make your messages more noticeable and engaging.

  1. Optimize your emails for better response rates

    Beyond the basics, there are lots of little things you can do to further enhance your sales emails. For example, try to avoid using any “spammy” terms in your subject lines. Words and phrases like “Best Price,” “Money Making,” and “Click Here” may trigger an email service’s spam filter.

    It’s also a good idea to make sure your sales email is well formatted for mobile devices. Select a text size that’s big enough to read on a smartphone. Resize images—including company logos and icons—so that they don’t fill the whole screen. And make your call to action is an easy-to-click button rather than hyperlinked text.

    Learn more: prospecting email tips for improving response rates

  2. Take advantage of sales email templates

    When it comes to engaging a reader, customization is key. But that doesn’t mean you have to write each one from scratch. And if you’re sending sales email after sales email, templates can save you a lot of time.

    It’s OK to start off with a sales email template, as long as you customize it enough to engage the recipient. If you have a customer relationship management tool like Zendesk Sell, you can create and save countless templates in your CRM. You can also share them with other sales reps, who can modify them for their own purposes.

    If you’re sending cold emails, there are lots of different ways to break the ice. You can offer a valuable resource, ask for an introduction, or try the PAS (Problem, Agitate, Solve) or AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) framework. Find the cold email template that suits your needs, and edit it to suit your recipient.

    Learn more: cold email templates that skyrocket response rates.

  3. Add value with every follow-up email

    There’s a good chance you won’t get an answer to your first email, and that’s OK. Persistence pays off: was able to boost their cold email response rate from 1% to 12.6% by sending follow-up emails.

    If you do get a reply, follow-ups are essential to keeping the conversation going. Just remember that each sales email should display the same level of personalization: Nothing kills a connection faster than a one-size-fits-all message.

    Instead, try to add value with every follow-up you send—especially if you’re trying to get someone’s attention. If a contact goes quiet, don’t simply pester them with “just checking in” emails. Send them something that might interest them, whether it’s more relevant information, an article, or some other resource.

    Learn more: 11 sales follow-up emails that work (+ follow-up email templates)

  4. Send sales emails at strategic times

    The optimal time to send sales emails can vary depending on your industry, customer base, and other variables. Analyze your own historical data and test different send times to find the ideal schedule for your emails.

    If you don’t have the time or resources to assess your email data, you can look at what existing research says about when to send. According to Sleeknote, studies have shown that Tuesdays and Thursdays get the best results. More specifically, Thursday boasts the highest open rates, while Tuesday has the highest click-through rates. As for the hour, 8 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. seem to be the most effective times to press send.

How to track and measure the success of your sales email

As you send sales emails, continually monitor their performance to find out what’s working best in your messages.

If you use a CRM to schedule and send each sales email, you should be able to easily gauge the results. For example, Zendesk Sell includes a Communications Center that allows you to see if and when an email you sent was clicked on. Sell also automatically tracks key metrics and provides instant insights with email activity reporting.

When it comes to sales email tracking and analysis, there are a number of key metrics to keep an eye on and compare.

Open rate

The percentage of recipients who opened their email. A high open rate indicates that your subject line was compelling and your brand is recognizable. If your email’s open rate is sky high, but its reply or click rate is low, then you need to overhaul your email copy.

Formula: [Unique opens/Total emails delivered (Total sends - total bounces)]

Click-to-open rate (CTOR)

The percentage of unique recipients who click through to your website after they open your email. CTOR divides clicks by the number of opened emails rather than the total number of delivered emails. That makes it a better indicator of engagement and resonance than click-through rate, since it only accounts for the people who actually read your email.

Formula: [Unique clicks/Unique opens]

Reply rate

The number of responses you receive. Reply rate is one of the most revealing metrics for determining whether your email copy resonates with your prospects or not. Most prospects don’t even open their emails. If you can persuade them to respond to you, your email most likely piques their interest.

Formula: [Unique replies/Total emails delivered]

Objections rate

Responses explaining why the prospect is not interested in your product or service. If your email has a high reply rate, but a lot of prospects say they don’t have the budget or time right now, then you’ve most likely caught their attention but haven’t yet resonated with them. While this situation isn’t ideal, you can still turn some objections into conversions by forging a genuine relationship with prospects. Help them meet their needs without asking for anything in return. And be persistent.

Formula: [Unique objections/Total emails delivered]

Positive reply rate

The percentage of responses that express interest in your product or message. A prospect who seems eager to connect with you or wants to move on to next steps right away is the best indicator that you’re doing something right. If one of your emails receives a high positive reply rate, then try to emulate its key elements in all of your other sales emails.

Formula: [Unique positive replies/Total emails delivered]


Positive replies from qualified leads. Receiving a ton of replies from prospects can feel great, but if they’re not qualified for your product or service, then what’s the point of continuing the conversation? Make sure you’re measuring lead quality to determine whether you’re reaching out to the right caliber of contacts.

Formula: [Unique qualified prospects who replied/Total emails delivered]


Number of recipients who ask to be taken off your mailing list. Unsubscribes reveal that your sales email isn’t relevant or that you’ve sent too many emails to certain prospects. If one of your emails receives a high unsubscribe rate, then tear it out of your playbook.

Formula: [Unique unsubscribes/Total emails delivered]

These sorts of metrics can be especially valuable when conducting A/B split testing. For example, if you want to figure out the most effective subject line, try out two different options and record the results. Whichever subject line has the highest open rate is the more effective choice.

Or if you want to determine the best call to action, you might send out two otherwise identical sales emails with different CTAs. The email with the higher click-to-open rate will be the one with the strongest CTA.

Make each sales email more effective than the last

Sending out cold emails can seem pretty fruitless at times. But if you keep testing out different tactics, monitoring the results, and refining your process, you’ll eventually learn what works best on your prospects.

Zendesk Sell can help you send, track, and analyze the impact of your sales emails. The CRM lets you create and save unlimited templates, monitor when and how often your emails are clicked on, and glean insights about the success of different campaigns. Sign up for a free trial to see what Sell can do for your sales emails.

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