breakup emails

by Jeff Molander, Conversation Enablement Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc.

Should you send breakup emails to sales prospects? If yes, how and when? Consider the two most common situations where you're ending...

  1. a final, cold follow up email message where there is no conversation, or
  2. an existing conversation where the customer was engaged but is now silent.

You may call it a final notice message, an ultimatum, closing your file or a farewell message. This article explores the concept of so-called breakup email messages and reveals psychology behind their effectiveness -- or lack thereof. 

What is a breakup email?

When a client disappears, goes dark or ghosts you -- for an extended period of time -- most need to move on at some point. Hence, the term breakup.

However, some never use breakup messages -- choosing to leave the door open and avoiding misunderstandings. 

Problem is, this increases the number of "no decisions" on your prospect list!

When should we breakup?

It depends on the scenario.

  1. In the cold email context the breakup email is a final email... a follow up in a series of unsuccessful outreach attempts. Is this a breakup? Not really because there is no existing relationship.
  2. With existing conversations there comes a time where we need to boldly provoke the other side into action. An implicit threat to walk away may be in order, effective!

Main decision criteria include:

  • who you're selling to,
  • how many accounts you're calling on,
  • what you're selling & associated cost,
  • sales cycle (how long to close),
  • and more!

"I chased a client for two years before I landed them. It was because of consistent, professional communication," says Ben Baker of Communicate Your Why.

"Over two years we had 6-8 conversations, they received my monthly newsletter... There was two-way communication and I was invited back to have updated conversations over time to move the process forward," says Ben.

Ok. But what happens when customers commit to going forward -- and then vanish, or never decide?

Ending existing conversations

"Our most successful approach (ever) is one we call the 'farewell' email. We send this to prospects who have stopped responding," says Bindy, CEO Fabien Tiburce.

"We let them know... we assume the project is on hold or we are no longer considered. We leave the door open for them to reopen. However, we will no longer contact them. The response rate to that is 75%.

Yes, you read that right."

Fabien says, "Turns out you cannot beg your way to business. Your customer has to want your product as least as much as you want to sell it to them. Also turns out NO is a powerful word. Sales people are trained to seek yeses from customers.

breakup emails

I find saying no brings balance, credibility and two-way trust as well. You get more business when you are prepared to walk away from it."

Interested in learning more about Fabien's specific tactic? Get in touch or leave a comment below.

Beware of most subject lines, "effective" messages

Most advice on sales breakup subject lines and templated messages found while Googling are junk. 

"Language choices become stale and worn quickly. Especially if you read about it on Linkedin," says Carl Ferreira, Director of Sales of Refine Labs.

"Anytime I see a tactic shared on LinkedIn I know it's decayed and near its end of life. Being at the top of your sales game means constantly recalibrating. Sales is more of a living organism and less of a machine. Its always evolving, moving, changing course."

This is one reason why seeking 'nos' from clients (when breaking up) can be effective. It's counterintuitive. 

Provoking a negative response is a psychological element of Fabien's (above) effective technique. However, others experience this tactic differently.

Should you breakup -- ever? 

Again, it depends on the scenario. If you don't have a conversation started it's not really a breakup is it? If you have a stalled conversation it may involve "next step commitments" where you have leverage. In fact you may have much skin-in-the game... and a lot to lose if the customer never decides.

That's when seeking a "no" may provoke response.

 "I’ve studied the 'no' strategy before. For some people it finally puts them in a position to make a decision, for others it seems like an ultimatum and they tune it out," says Micah Logan of MELD Fitness and HushFrame. 

Then again other sellers see it differently.

"A farewell email says to a prospect that the salesperson has given up on them and that's not a good thing at all to communicate or advance a buyer to buy from you," says Joe Caruso who works in the franchise sector... which often takes longer to court buyers.

Some breakups aren't

What if your prospect doesn't believe the seller's good-bye message -- and harms brand? Some industry segments are rife with promises to stop which are immediately broken.

"I have concerns about this technique of utilizing a closing your file, breaking up or farewell email messaging," says Joe Caruso, who speaks as a buyer and seller.

"The most obvious problem on the buyer side -- that I have experienced -- is my file never gets closed. I receive more 'just checking in' messages from that seller.

That (lie) does not help the seller's reputation."

Remember, we're not trying to trick or deceive people. We're just trying to make best use of our time by seeking closure. 

The case for breaking up, moving on

Ben Baker, who sells podcast production services, counters with, "I have not gotten 75% response rate, but it has helped me close more files and move on... and stop wasting my time."

Ben says sending a closure letter gets some to, "get off the fence and make decisions, but mostly, by sending the letter, it allows both of us to move on in a professional way without them having to feel awkward about not getting back in touch with me."

To Ben, it is a level of professionalism to send it, "whether it provides impetus for people to move forward or not."

Ben says responsible business owners must, at some point, "realize not every prospect will become a client. We need to know when to stop and focus our time and efforts elsewhere... on those who see value in our product or service."

To a large degree what you sell, and to whom, determines if and how to breakup.

How and when to walk away

We've all had that promising lead and/or customer "vanish" on us. The truth is, it hurts our pride. As people, we seek closure. It's human nature. And as a result, we tend to spend too much time on these "silent" leads -- time that could have been utilized more effectively. 

Ben Baker says he sends breakup emails when usually after months of work, continued communication that goes un-responded to, "and the realization that the customer has probably moved forward with another opportunity."

"As organizations we need to realize that not every prospect will become a client," says Ben, "and we need to know when to focus efforts on those who see value in our product or service."

He feels sending a closing (breakup) email is the most professional way to say "if you are interested, here is one last chance to connect, but if you are not, then thank you for your consideration, I will not bother you anymore."

If our members' collective experience has taught us anything it is that needy sellers start less conversations.

So, why not stand out?

Take Fabien's advice above and be prepared to walk away from business. This is essentially what the breakup email does for you. It is somewhat of an "ultimatum" that demonstrates your content with moving on. 

What this does is have a psychological effect on the buyer side. Buyers are used to seeing "needy" sellers who: push, ask for meetings and/or continue to educate. So, when you stop pushing and show prospects that you don't need their business, it tends to provoke a response. Thus, allowing you to either qualify or disqualify the lead -- enabling you to focus your efforts elsewhere.

Interested in learning more about Fabien's specific tactic? Get in touch or leave a comment below.

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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