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How many follow-up emails should you send? When to give up + how to not be creepy

How many follow-up emails should you send? When to give up + how to not be creepy

min read

Ever been ghosted? 👻

In Sales this might look like a solid lead who responded to your sales outreach and seemed to be engaged, but then… silence.

You stare at your empty inbox. You reach out again – maybe it was a busy week – but still, nothing.

What do you do next?

A. Keep following up – persistence is key!
B. Assume they’re not interested and send a breakup email.
C. Give up completely and never email them again.

Be honest. Do you often end up with option C?

If so, you’re not alone.

44% of salespeople give up after the first follow-up attempt – and 48% never even make one in the first place. But 60% of customers say no four times before saying yes. 

So, how many follow-up emails should you send? How do you persist with outreach without coming across as annoying or creepy? 

The truth is, salespeople aren’t sure what the golden rule is for email follow-ups, so we dug into the data to get real answers.

Here’s what we found.

The golden rule for sales follow-up emails

When planning your follow-up emails, it's always important to be respectful of your leads' time and focused on how you can help them.

The number of follow-up emails you send and how often you send them should take into account the following factors: 

  • type of lead you're working with
  • how qualified they are
  • previous interactions

You'll want to tailor your follow-up emails based on these factors.

In this post we'll share the benchmark for the optimal number of emails to send, when to send them, and what to include in each email.

We'll also explain how to use that benchmark to decide the exact right number of emails to send based on the factors above.

Who should you follow up with?

First of all, let’s be clear on who's getting follow-up emails.

A sales follow-up is when you reach out to a lead after they provided their contact information or you've already had a first interaction.

That initial interaction might have been…

  1. A phone conversation
  2. An email response
  3. A form submitted on your website
  4. A download of an e-book, 1-pager, or other asset

Regardless of how you first communicated with the lead, email is the place where you’ll be doing your most effective sales work. That's because 8 out of 10 prospects prefer to talk to sales reps by email.

How many times should you follow up on a sales lead?

You came here for numbers, so we'll get right to it.

Given the data around customers saying no 4 times before getting a yes, the optimal number of follow-up emails is around 3-5.

With 3-5 follow-up emails, you target that range of opportunity to get a positive response. Each message serves a specific purpose and you can optimize your follow-up cadence for response rates based on data.

As we mentioned above, the actual number of emails you send depends on the interactions you’ve had leading up to the point where you got 👻-ed. You'll need to use your judgment and intuition.

For example, you probably shouldn’t bombard a cold lead with 5 follow-up emails when they haven't replied or shown any interest in your product or service.

But if your prospect has already…

  • suggested they’re interested in or like your product or service
  • mentioned an obstacle they have to overcome before they proceed
  • provided some details about why they might be interested
  • viewed your email multiple times

… then you can justify pursuing the conversation beyond 3 emails to address these specific topics.

Once you surpass 5 follow-up emails, however, it's harder to add new value or perspectives and you might risk annoying your prospect.

How long should you wait between sales follow-ups?

Email sales outreach is a lot like stand-up comedy. You need to be confident and able to withstand a bit of heckling…

But, most of all, you need good timing.

Your first follow-up email

It’s important to follow up quickly after your first contact.

Some studies suggest that you’re 7 times more likely to have a meaningful conversation within an hour of your lead filling out a form, asking for a demo, or reaching out for information.

Automating your initial follow-up email can make sure you always catch your lead at the critical moment.

Scheduling your follow-up cadence

If the first follow-up email doesn't get a meaningful response, don’t let your lead go completely cold between touches.

Studies have shown that if the recipient is going to reply to your email, it’ll be within 2 days of it being sent.

Source


The above chart shows the average number of days that sales reps who got responses (blue) wait to send follow-up emails vs. sales reps who don't get responses (red). Here's how successful sales reps set up their follow-up email cadence, based on the chart: 

Day 3: first follow-up
Day 7: second follow-up
Day 11: third follow-up
Day 15: fourth follow-up
Day 19: fifth follow-up
Day 22: final follow-up

It makes sense, therefore, to spread out each message in your email follow-up sequence by roughly 3 to 4 days.

As you can see in the chart above, sales reps who wait longer than 4 days to send follow-ups are less likely to get a response.

Sales email follow-up cadence template

What's in your follow-up email is just as important as when you send it.

After crafting a great subject line to make sure your email has a fighting chance in their inbox, you'll want to focus on addressing your lead's pain points and adding value.

Day 3: Initial follow-up

  • Thank them for the last interaction
  • Acknowledge the pain points they brought up in your first meeting
  • Explain as simply as possible how your product or service can add value and help with their pain points
  • Outline the next steps, e.g. a demo or free trial
  • Set a timeframe so they know when you’ll follow-up again

Day 7: Second follow-up

  • Suggest that maybe they’ve had a busy week or missed your last email
  • Succinctly repeat the value you can add
  • Ask them if they’re still interested – suggest a graceful exit if not
  • Restate the next steps
  • Restate the time frame until your next follow-up

Day 11: Third follow-up

  • Repeat your proposal
  • Restate your next steps
  • Make it simple and short

Day 15: Second to last follow-up

  • Acknowledge that it’s your fourth attempt
  • Recognize they might be busy 
  • Restate your proposal
  • Include a link to a website with relevant information

Day 19: Breakup email

  • Thank them for their time
  • Promise not to reach out again unless they contact you 
  • Tell them how to contact you if they change their mind

When should you give up on a lead?

You can do everything right and still have a lead go cold on you. That’s the harsh reality of sales.

You know it’s time to give up when you’ve reached or exceeded the limits of your usual sales cadence and have received…

  • No reply at all
  • Only non-committal replies from employees low in the decision-making chain

Then, my friend, it could be time for the breakup email.

How to send a breakup email


It sounds like the last thing you'd want to do after all of the effort you've put into following up with your lead, but this tactic can actually work.

If you do it right, a breakup email can…

  • Prevent you from looking desperate 
  • Remind your recipient that you’re a real person and not a bot, even when you’re sending it using a mail merge
  • Help you confirm a lead has gone cold
  • Create a sense of urgency and re-engage your prospect (if you’re lucky and write a good one)

That’s right. If you have a great breakup email, you could still close a deal.

Not sure where to start? Check out this breakup email template.

How to write a sales follow-up email

Now that you have an outline for your sales follow-up email cadence, there are some basic best practices to implement.

1. Nail the subject line

Getting your lead to open your email is the first hurdle – and yet subject lines are often an after-thought. Make sure your lead actually sees your message by starting with a great subject line.

2. Personalize

This means more than just addressing your prospect by name. Use their words in your follow-up – what was their goal, what challenges were they experiencing, and what exactly were they interested in? 

Personalization like this can double your reply rate, so using a CRM or another reliable method to keep track of what you discussed in your first interactions can go a long way

3. Differentiate

If they didn’t reply to your first email, they probably won’t respond to the same message four days later. Change tack and try to add value in a new, refreshing way. Your follow-up messages should be heartfelt, honest, succinct, and direct. 

4. Shorten

Keep it short and sweet.

Research shows that emails between 50 and 125 words are far more effective in terms of response rates than your long and desperate wall of text.

5. Measure

Carefully measure your response rates, make adjustments, and A/B test. Replicate the cadences that get the best results.

The sales cadence we spell out above is just a template. Once you've tested your email follow-up cadence, fine tune based on what works and what doesn’t.

5 sales follow up fails to avoid

Before you start sending your follow-up emails, make sure you don't push your lead further away with any of these mistakes:

1. Not tracking leads correctly

Nothing exposes the cracks in your email strategy like following up with a lead who's already responded, converted, or told you they're not interested.

Several email tools can help you avoid this faux-pas.

CRM or tracking tool

Having an organized system - that you'll actually keep up with - to track your leads ensures that you know where each lead is in your process.

Obviously, we recommend Streak's CRM because it's built right into your Gmail inbox and can automatically show when your team last interacted with a lead... but the most important feature of your CRM or tracking tool is that you actually use it and keep it up-to-date.

Automated email follow-up

Using a mail merge tool to schedule your follow-up emails can save you time and prevent mistakes.

For example, it could pause the email sequence when you get a reply so you don't send a follow up email to prospect who has already responded. 

Email tracking and link tracking

Email view tracking and link tracking show you when a lead has opened your email or clicked on a link you’ve included in the email. 

Knowing if a lead has opened your email, how many times they've opened it, and which links are most interesting to them can help you qualify them based on interest and focus your efforts on engaged leads.

2. Not having an opt-out function

This one’s pretty simple to explain: it’s literally illegal to not have an opt-out function.

Yep, sending cold outreach without one could land you in deep trouble.

GDPR laws, especially in Europe, are strict on giving recipients the ability to unsubscribe from any marketing they receive. 

This doesn’t just go for newsletters, but also direct sales and marketing like cold calling and cold emails.

3. Getting the personalization wrong

Email analysis shows that personalization in your emails helps boost email engagement. It’s a tried and tested way of capturing the prospects’ attention.

However, bad personalization is worse than no personalization at all. There’s nothing more awkward than sending one of these into the prospect’s inbox: 

  • “Thanks for sharing more about your [insert pain point]”
  • “Dear [NAME], it was great speaking to you on [MEETING_DATE]...”
  • “Dear Valued Customer”

You can avoid this with a tool that allows you to insert variables for your contact’s name, their business, or any other data fields you’re tracking.

Most tools will point out errors with variables and enable you to preview your mail merge.

4. Being passive-aggressive

Remember that a sales lead doesn't owe you anything.

Imagine if you got an email like this:

Hi there,
Just following up on the three emails I sent after our software demo on Tuesday. I spent quite a long time preparing my presentation, so I would appreciate an answer.
Please respond ASAP.
Richard

Would you want to buy anything from this person?

Probably not. In fact, more than half of buyers say they would be encouraged to make a purchase from a salesperson who wasn’t trying to apply pressure or hassle them when following up.

So if you want to write successful follow-up emails, don’t try to force the issue with those tactics. They don't work. 

5. Being invasive

Email tracking tools also don’t give you a pass for being creepy.

No one wants to feel like they’re being monitored. Prospects don’t appreciate receiving “I see you opened my last email…” messages from sales reps – that’s not what email tracking tools are for.

The information you get from an email tracker should be treated like your boss’s sweat patches: pretend you don’t see them when you’re talking in the lunch room, but adjust the AC accordingly.

Conclusion

Think about that question we asked you at the beginning. What do you think your answer would be now?

What’s that? “A”, you say? 

Well, look who’s been listening.


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