For success in Business Development, just speak normally

Feb 1, 2022 | Business Development, Sales, Skills

Starting this one with a statement. This is what I believe:

There is a common mistake to be overly formal in email tone early in a career. 

Why is that and how to get over it?

As the years go by, this is something that I’m seeing more and more. Perhaps it’s become more prevalent? Or perhaps I’m just more aware? Either way, whether it’s Teams, face to face or email, it’s the same story. 

But I see this most in email.

To whom it may concern

OK, a little bit of range finding. This is not about moving away from ‘Dear Sir’, ‘Dear Madam’ or ‘Dear Business Owner’ and then banging in the same generic message over and over. Let’s assume we are all playing a game far above that level.

What I’m getting at here is more subtle. And as a business owner who is now increasingly on the receiving end, it can make all the difference.

Best foot forward

Only last month, I was cold approached by someone offering services who began with Dear Mr Pringle and then apologised three times in the opening two lines. It was the stilted nature of the generic intro combined with the peppering of apologies which really put me off. I could feel the awkwardness at the other end and felt sorry for the guy in question. In the end, I came away with negative energy from the experience. This is not the way to kick off a useful relationship. 

But look, I’m far from innocent here. I fell head first into the formality trap in my early sales career. Looking back I reckon my BD emails can be broadly put into 3 phases.

We are better than this

Phase 1, Overly formal

Overly formal Stu was easy to spot. Email tone and structure would be pretty much just like what (in my head) a lawyer’s letter would look like. 

I was young, I was talking to BUSINESS people. 

I used to start with ‘Dear…’ and end with a variation of ‘yours sincerely.’ 

Somewhere In the middle there would be me extolling the virtues of whatever my agenda was, accompanied by a vague request of what could happen. It wasn’t clear what I was asking for as the next move. I thought letting the recipient choose what should happen next was polite. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work out well.

I think this came partly from being scarred by a bruising encounter very early on while as junior sales doing outbound work. I can still remember the dressing down a lawyer gave me for not calling him ‘Mr Smith’ on the phone instead of ‘Hi David.’ Fortunately, those kinds of dinosaurs have now long since left the pitch.

Phase 2, Business speak

Let’s call this ‘the synergy phase.’ I would pack in the industry buzzwords and fill the rest with jargon. Looking back, this is full cringe and gives me cold sweats just thinking about it.

What drove this habit? Was it to try to be part of the pack? Trying to play the same game as the big boys and girls?

Time is a great healer and I can now just about apprise this nonsense with a calm head. The root cause was because I didn’t feel like I was peer to peer with those I was contacting. I was little Sales Stu who didn’t know much and I was contacting these super cool successful people who knew their stuff. I did not have the knowledge. I did not have the confidence. And so, my crutch was to hide behind industry terms and business gunk.

To be frank, I didn’t always know what some of the stuff even meant. 

Phase 3, Just ask 

Look, we’re all busy. We’re bombarded by messages every day. We haven’t got time to wade through stuff. Not only that, with the proliferation of Slack, Teams, whatsapp and so on, email is not the only game in town. Not by a long way.

The art of a ‘cold’ sales email is a topic that deserves it’s own piece. And I’m happy to oblige with  my own thoughts in this post.

The mantra here is that it’s good to be brief. In the most basic terms, break it down into three parts: 

  1. The reason for getting in touch
  2. Why it’s relevant and 
  3. What you are suggesting as the next move.

We know you do this… you’ve likely come against that… we found the same and we’ve found a way round it… worth a chat?

Every word counts 

We’ve established that getting to the point swiftly is a good move. What about the words themselves?

I say drop the buzzwords. No synergies, no leveraged opportunities, no bullshit bingo. Instead, just say it as it is.

The call to action

One thing I was taught early that really stuck with me was that as sales people we must not make the buyer burn any unnecessary calories. Make it easy for them to buy. Don’t make them read long winded paragraphs. Don’t make them have to choose what the next move is. Tell them what you believe is a sensible next step.

The really small stuff can make such a difference. Only last week, I was sorting renting out the flat which belonged to my Grandad back home in Scotland. Communication between the solicitors and myself got crossed up and I ended up with two members of their team messaging me at the same time. The junior asked me if they should book a time or leave it to me to call. The senior just sent me her mobile number and said “Call before 10am Monday morning.”

That second route worked for me, I knew what to do and when because otherwise the week would get going and likely they wouldn’t pick up straight away.

Make the next move clear and you’re on to a winner.

Are you nodding along while reading this?

Well, why not get in touch and see if Make the Break might be able to help you out. What have you got to lose?

Yo dawg, what’s-up?

How informal is too informal? There is of course a lot of light and shade here. Knowing your audience is key. But don’t assume a senior manager at a multinational necessarily responds well to formality. At the end of the day, we are all people.

If someone has read even a little chunk of my own content and comments across social platforms, they will know that my tone of voice is relatively informal. 

I do not mind one little bit if someone I’ve never had contact with starts the first time with ‘Hey Stu’ over Dear Mr Pringle. Only my mother calls me ‘Stuart’ and even then only after I’ve said something mildly inappropriate at a family gathering. The rest of the time, I’m Stu, I sign off all my posts that way. 

If someone starts with ‘Hey Stu…’ subconsciously I reckon they’re aware of my stuff. And so I’m probably more likely to reply.

In summary, less granular deep dives. More, hey this could be useful.


(not Stuart)