Calls to action fail in sales outreach emails because they direct readers---by removing choice. A call to action tells prospects, "I want you to do this." It tells them what YOU want them to do.

Is that what you want to be doing?

How do you react---when a sales rep you don't know tells you to do? "Watch this video" or "read the PDF to understand more" or "enjoy a free demo." "Call now. Operators are standing by."

This is exactly why avoiding a call to action in cold emails is effective at provoking conversation with decision-makers. Study and practice a technique to honor the other person's right to choose to speak---or not. It's a different tactic but one that works. Especially in B2B sales. 

A call to action removes choice

Think about the last time a sales person piqued your interest... then stopped. They didn’t try to coerce or steer you. Instead, the rep was silent.

Then, he/she acknowledged your right to choose. (they didn't try to remove it!)

This granted you permission to walk away or engage further.

Given such chances, we often walk away. But think about a time you chose to continue. Maybe the interaction made you curious. So you asked for more details... to fully grasp what sounded intriguing.

Why did you make that choice? Probably because you were offered the chance to choose.

Now shift. Think about the last time a seller piqued your interest but told you what to do next.

That’s what a call to action is. It’s a directive; a guide. It’s a tool marketers use to tell the customer what to do next.

As a sales person, what does giving a directive do for you---in a cold email?

It tells customers what you want them to do. It attempts to remove choice.

This is exactly why avoiding a call to action, in many cases, opens a conversation with decision-makers. 

Psychologists and neuro-linguistic programming geeks have long studied the power of acknowledging the other side’s right to choose.

You should too.

Beware, “Is this of interest?” or “Would you like to learn more?” are soft calls to action that often fail too!

Bottom line: Calls to action are bossy. They either tell or suggest what the recipient should do. They eliminate choice and that’s the problem.

Eliminating customers’ choices works in marketing (sometimes) but never in sales.

Why PDFs and web links don't work

Calls to action usually show up when sellers want prospects to take action.

Book a meeting or demo.

Download a PDF report.

We presume customers won’t do it---unless told to. Or they will take action more often if we TELL them to. Case in point, PDFs and web links in cold email messages.

But consider how PDFs and links are usually applied: In a persuasive context.

Bad idea for cold sales email messages. 

“I’ve attached a brief presentation explaining our value.” Or, “Please consider enrolling in this free demo of our tool…” are calls to action. In most cases they’re working against the sales rep.

Your PDF should not out-sell you!

The goal of your cold email is to spark a conversation, not get your PDF reviewed nor earn a demo or trial. 

That’s a marketing outcome.

Introduction of marketing constructs into sales outreach is proving disastrous. Yet it's quite popular. (among low-skilled sellers) However, decision-makers ARE, open to having curiosity piqued about a problem to be solved... or discuss an issue they’re grappling with. 

They’ve had enough marketing shoved at them---from marketers and, lately, sales people pushing marketing messages and calls to action. 

Stand out by offering choice

Letting the other side choose to engage, or not, allows both sides to mutually qualify whether or not a discussion is worthwhile.

“The problem is choice.”

It’s one of my favorite movie script lines. Indeed, in The Matrix, choice is the problem for Neo, the pesky Anomaly in The Architect’s tyrannical system. Yet for sales reps the removal of choice is the problem!

Think about it. Removing choice is the ultimate marketing outcome. The way it’s executed is persuasion. A call to action matches that kind of bold, brash technique.

Grab attention---then direct it. Hurry, before the customer figures out a way to wriggle off the hook!

But calls to action rarely effective in cold outreach. You cannot tell a customer to engage or meet. You must help them decide: Does a strong enough situation exists to meet? (or not)

I’m often told, “Jeff I need a better cold email message---to grab attention, gain credibility and convince a prospect to talk with me.” 


That sales copyrighting tactic eliminates choice. It attempts to persuade and coerce a decision. It's one-sided. Result: A few meetings happen but with reluctant prospects.

There IS a better sales copywriting tactic. And community---busy perfecting it.

Consider your decision-maker is bombarded with meeting requests---all asking to give sellers the chance to persuade them! Words trying to establish credibility and convince make you look exactly like all the other inbound messages.

Instead, let the other side choose to engage or not. This allows both sides to mutually qualify if a discussion is worthwhile.

Acknowledge your prospects’ right to choose. This begins the process of helping customers to convince themselves to meet… if, in fact, the decision to engage is what they need.

Want to stand out in the inbox? Show prospects you're neutral to their choice---to respond or not. 


Want to see an example of how I'm helping students eliminate calls-to-action---and replace with provocations instead?

Leave a comment below and let me know---or be in touch at I'll show you.

Even better, join us in our sales copywriting Academy

(Was that a call to action?!)

In 1999, I co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc. where I helped secure 2 rounds of funding and built the sales team. I've been selling for over 2 decades.

After this stint, I returned to what was then Molander & Associates Inc. In recent years we re-branded to Communications Edge Inc., a member-driven laboratory of sorts. We study, invent and test better ways to communicate -- specializing in serving sales and marketing professionals.

I'm a coach and creator of the Spark Selling™ communication methodology—a curiosity-driven way to start and advance conversations. When I'm not working you'll find me hiking, fishing, gardening and investing time in my family.

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