Essentials of Emails That Sell

I am working on business writing skills with a team that writes emails to sell their company's product. Here are the 12 essentials for sales emails I created for them. Would you add any essentials to this list?

  1. Grab the client in the subject line and opening sentence. Create a reason to open the email and read it.
  2. Focus on just one purpose in each message. Don't make the client (or you as the writer) go in different directions.
  3. Focus on you–not on I, we, or your company. Clients focus on themselves–so should you.
  4. Describe benefits to your client–not features or deliverables. Excite your client with possibilities.
  5. Write to this client–not any client or clients. Use his or her name, and be specific in your offer.
  6. Provide value in each sales communication–don't just check in or follow up.
  7. Ask for action. Give the client a clear step to take. If there is nothing to do, your client will delete and forget the message.
  8. Show the benefits of taking action. What's in it for the client to renew, buy now, or schedule a meeting with you?
  9. Communicate positively. For example, don't change the client's program–upgrade or enhance it.
  10. Be concise. Use short, powerful sentences that don't string readers along.
  11. Format for easy access to content. Help your clients find information fast.
  12. Be professional. Follow the rules of business writing.

The list is concise and focused on getting results–just like effective sales emails.

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Great list, Lynn. It covers all the bases.

    I have four questions I ask from the perspective of the prospect-

    1. What problem will this solve?
    2. Why do I need this?
    3. What’s different about this?
    4. How do I know this will work?

    I use that as my litmus test to ensure the email or marketing is focused on the reader and his or her needs-your #3.

    I love your list and am going to keep it handy for future email marketing. Thank you for sharing.

  2. This list echoes our basic principle for all writing: Think about what your reader wants, and use that knowledge to deliver your message.

    Our 6 guidelines for e-mail etiquette are based on 2 specific principles:
    1. Business e-mails and personal e-mails serve different purposes.
    2. Business e-mails are formal correspondences.
    (From “6 Guidelines for E-mail Etiquette”: )

    Your list of essentials is great. I plan to share it with my marketing specialist.

    In particular, I appreciate the focus on the value to the reader, leading to clear, defined action.

  3. How about inviting the customer to comment on the sales letter and/or state his needs?
    A business does not have to assume it knows everything; it can ask the clients for help.

  4. David, thanks for your comment and link.

    Yoav, I think what you are suggesting depends very much on the situation. What situation do you have in mind?

    It seems to me that asking for clients’ input is good. But asking for help? It depends.

    Thanks for commenting!


  5. Thanks for the tips on email marketing. I happen to believe that Twitter is more effective than email marketing but if you do it right, it can still prove fruitful.

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