VIDEO: How to Design a Killer SaaS Sales Email – Steli Efti

Learn how Steli Efti rolls out a Killer SaaS sales email campaign. In this video you will learn:

  • Learn his simple, 4 x step formula for writing killer sales email campaigns
  • How he launched, and pivoted from a software company to a SaaS company
  • How his goal was to double the productivity of every single salesperson in (His 30+ staff are outperforming his competitor with 300+ staff)
  • How to get higher open rates with sales email (most subject lines suck btw!)
  • Why you need to write something that’s worth reading.
  • Why Every sentence in your sales email should be a pitch
  • How a great follow-up strategy will win you more business. i.e. “if you don’t have a follow-up sales email already in place, don’t even send the first one.”
  • And how an 8 X follow-up strategy helped close a half a million dollar deal, and why you need to create feedback loops in your email campaigns (great case study)

As Steli says “There’s probably not a single person that has written more about sales emails, especially for SaaS startups” than him – watch the video below and read the transcript.


* This keynote was presented at SaaStock18 in Dublin. Steli Efti will return to Dublin this year for SaaStock19. Grab an early bird ticket at the best possible price before Friday, July 12th to see him and over a hundred other fabulous speakers.

About Steli Efti, CEO

Steli Efti is the CEO of “At, we’re building the sales communication platform of the future. With our roots as the very first sales CRM to include built-in calling, we’re leading the industry toward eliminating manual processes and helping companies to close more deals (faster).

Since our founding in 2013, we’ve grown to become a fully profitable, 100% globally distributed team of 33 high-performing, happy people that are dedicated to building a product our customers love.”

Start of Transcript

Designing killer sales email

– All right, so raise your hand real high, real proud if you have no f*cking idea who I am, you’ve never heard of me before. This is good for my ego. Especially at an event like this, where every other minute somebody runs up to me to tell me, “everybody knows you, you’re so amazing.” Like, people tell me really, really nice things, so I do this, and every single time most people are like, I don’t fucking know, I just walked into this room, there was a free seat, I sat down, I don’t know what this is all about.

All right, so, today I’m gonna talk about one of my favorite topics, which is emails. Designing killer sales emails. A lot of people are like, emails, really? Can we talk about something that’s more kind of 2018/2019? Can we talk about something that’s more cool and interesting, but the truth is that, the fundamentals of emails are still being broken every single day. Most sales emails that I see are just terrible. And what we’re gonna try to do today together is improve the emails that you send to prospects and customers, to make the world a better place. Does that make sense? Yes, no? I just want a free seat to digest my lunch. All right, so a tiny bit about myself, because most people don’t know who I am, before I launch into the actual content, right?

So, I’m very European, for those of you that are gonna be like, yeah, this guy lives in the US but this wouldn’t work in Europe. I’m as Europe, as people can be. I am Greek, but I grew up in Germany. That covers the entire cultural spectrum of Europe in my mind. And I’m from the south of Germany, I’m a Swabian Greek. That’s a walking talking oxymoron. There’s no culture, two cultures in Europe, that are more different than those two.

So I grew up in Europe. I dropped out of school when I was 17/18, to start my first business. And I’ve never had a real job in my life. Everything I’ve ever done was starting companies, so I would have employment, right? I’ve done a few small businesses in Europe, and then 14 years ago, I decided to sell everything I had, I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco, to build a massive technology company. My goals were very timid. All I was really trying to accomplish was, to build that multi-billion dollar company within two years, be Steve Jobs’ best friend, and be Time Magazine Person of the Year. Nobody has to look up on their phone and research if any of this has happened. ‘Cause it hasn’t, right? 🙂

So, the first company was a soul-crushing, failure and defeat. Took me five years to recognize and realize that, and then the second company, through a few twists and turns, turned out quite all right. And that’s the business that I’m running today. Originally, it started as elastic sales, and elastic sales was a simple idea, we wanted to offer B2B SaaS companies, a sales team on demand. You had to be venture-backed. And you had to be based in the Bay area. You had to have a lot of money to give us and you had to have product-market fit. And then what we would do, is we would figure out a predictable, repeatable and scalable sales process for you. Hire tons of salespeople and really scale up your sales efforts.

So for a period of around two years, we talked to every VC in the Bay area. We talked to all the SaaS CEOs. We looked at all the data, we knew everybody’s dirty laundry, dirty little secrets. We knew what worked and what didn’t work. So we assembled an incredible amount of expertise. And during that time, we built an internal piece of software, called We never really intended to sell software or to turn from services to software. We wanted to build software internally to allow us to scale, to allow our sales people to be doubly as productive as the average sales person out there. And we built software because I was the first sales person we were renting out, and I hated all the sales software that was out and available at that time, with a passion. So, I’m like I’m not gonna fucking use 10 hours of shitty software with them, I’m gonna kill myself. I have two co-founders that are technical, why don’t we build something that’s better? That was the entire vision for the product. Let’s just do something that doesn’t suck. And within a year, that kind of iteration of doing sales for over 200 back to back start-ups, and having an engineering team that was sitting in the middle of a sales room, and was actual friends with the salespeople, that created a very strong point of view of what good sales software is and what it isn’t. And eventually within a year we decided to launch the software as a little side project. Within six months the software outgrew the services in revenue although it had 10x less employees. And that was the signal that made us think well maybe we should just do the software thing and forget about the services side of things.

So since January 2013, we’ve been running, it’s an inside sales product that’s focused on doubling the productivity of every single salesperson. We have a lot of technology built around emailing, calling and communicating in a much better way. All right, and we’re just 30 people. We make many many millions in revenue. Our smallest serious competitor has I think 300 employees versus the 30 that we have. We’re fairly similar in revenue size.

All right, so since this is the quietest of all rooms so that people don’t come and turn away, I hate having good potential prospects of customers leave, let’s do this. You cannot interrupt me, like I’m uninterruptable, so just, if you’re at that area, come in. Sit here, just populate the middle area, just like fill the room, fill the room, you’re all welcome. All right. Oh I also have a podcast with this handsome fellow who’s one of the pioneers of SaaS, founder of KissMetrics, founder of Crazy Egg, an investor and advisor to almost every SaaS company you admire. Hiten Shah and I have a podcast called The Startup Chat. A lot of people tell us they like it. Check it out if you’re into podcasts. And I’ve written a shit ton of content, right? There’s nothing that I’m gonna discuss today where you’re gonna I wish you would tell me a little bit more about this specific thing, that there’s not a book about. So if you send me an email with the subject line, bundle motherfucker, I’m gonna send you all my books and all my templates in a simple link for you to get. Does that make sense? Yes, all right. Thank you one person with high energy. I appreciate you.

All right, so let’s talk about sales emails. So there’s probably, I don’t know if there’s many people out there, there’s probably not a single person that has written more about sales emails, especially for SaaS start-ups, than me. There’s not more people that gets shitty sales emails sent to them every single day. The worst are the ones that just copy and paste the template that I published, right? And then try to sell me. You people haven’t heard this. Come on in, just fill all the spaces. Don’t be outsiders, be insiders, come on in. So here’s the thing. Good email today, with the standard, the quantity and quality of emails we’re getting, if you’re writing good sales emails, they’re gonna be dead. They’re not gonna be effective. You need to write great emails. Here’s the nice thing about great emails though. Great emails will never go out of fashion. They will never stop being effective. Why? Because there are so much shitty stuff in your inbox that when something is great, it stands out. You’re actually happy as the receiver. I feel like, oh my god I wanna kiss this person. Finally, somebody’s written something that shows me that they truly understand who they’re sending to and what they’re trying to accomplish.

When you write emails, you can do it selfishly. You can just go, I wanna get more demos. Then we write up some shit so somebody clicks a link to gallantly schedule the time so I can get more demos. That is your perspective. Ask yourself, what does the receiver of the email need? What does their day and life look like? What does their inbox look like? And think about delivering an experience to them, right?

And here, it’s very very simple. Here are the four steps you need to get right to write killer sales emails. Come on in people, fill up the blanks here, don’t stand outside, come on in. First, the very first and most important thing, is that I need to open your email, right? I need to see it in inbox and it needs to entice me to wanna open it. This is the thing you should be spending 80% of your time on. Every day there are about 20 people that send me their email to get feedback, and every day I have an autoreply that says where the fuck is the subject line? I don’t know if I would ever see this. How can I give you feedback if you’re not including the subject line? But as humans we think, since the text of my email has many more words than the subject line, probably is more important. Wrong. If you have a good open rate, you might have a 30, 40% open rate, that means 60% never fucking see a single word you’ve written in that email.

First they need to open it, then they need to read that shit. You think just because I opened it, now I’m reading everything? I don’t. Nobody does, do you? Do you really read carefully word by word, meditate, read again, share with other people, go read it, you print it out, look at it? No, you scan that fucking thing and decide to move on with your life. So you need to write something that’s worth reading.

And now I need to fucking respond. You need to tell me exactly what you want from me and why. And because I won’t respond the first time around, you need to have a follow-up strategy. Let’s go through that step-by-step real quickly. Most subject lines suck because they’re written from a mental framework of one to many. You’re writing these subject lines as if they are ads or newsletter subject lines. Every fucking word is capitalized because that’s how you write emails to your mom, and it’s some shitty thing like The 10 Reasons why Clothes are Gonna Help You Close More Deals. Anybody can spot that this was not written from one human specifically to me. So when I see that, I delete, right? I need to save time.

Don’t write subject lines that are generic and they could be an ad on some billboard. Because that’s the number one way, 99% of all your emails, subject lines are written today. The next thing though is some people are all about the hat. They’re like, Steli what was the best subject line you’ve ever seen? What’s the subject line that opened, that magically opens all the doors? And I go, you need to be careful because your subject line needs to promise something that your email delivers.

I’ll give you a very simple example. If you wanna have an open rate of 100%, who’s interested in this? Raise your hand. I like the people that are like, it’s impossible so I’m not gonna fall for this, Steli. You guys are very sophisticated. Come on in, come on in, come and just sit in the middle, sit on stage, it doesn’t matter, just come on in. All right, so, here’s the best subject line you could ever write if all you care about is people just opening it. I have your parents in my basement with a gun at their head. I guarantee you an amazing open rate. I guarantee you people that don’t have parents that are alive will open that fucking email. Like what the fuck is this all about? I’ve had these emails, these tricky subject lines. One of them, my favorite one, is “very disappointed”. Somebody sent me this once so obviously, I zoomed into that subject line instantly and was, what did we fuck up? What did I do wrong? So I open it and it goes, dot dot dot, very disappointed, dot dot dot that I have not been able to connect with you. I tried calling you three times, and I went motherfucker. Motherfucker and I give them a small clap. You got me. You really got me. Delete. If you trick me, if the beginning of our relationship is you lying to me and tricking me, fuck you. I don’t need that in my life. So promise something in the subject line you’re actually delivering. Keep it short, keep it personal. A question’s usually pretty engaging. But make sure that what you say in the subject line somewhat connects with what you’re saying in your email.

Now, I open the fucking thing. Now I need to read it. Most people don’t really consider again the recipient. The fastest way for me to delete your email is an email that’s four pages long. Or an email that’s terribly formatted. Why? Because I don’t know you. You don’t have enough capital to force me to read everything carefully, right? So what I’m trying to do is scan real quickly, what the fuck is this? And if you make scanning difficult, I instantly decide you’re not a human I want in my life. If you pretend I owe you reading, then I will give you delete it, right? Very simple.

So every sentence in your email should be a pitch, it should be nicely formatted so if I wanna scan, I can do that. If you think about a simple structure, you need to tell me who the fuck are you? Why you getting in touch with me, why right now? Why should I believe you, right? I mean you say really nice things, maybe you write I’m gonna give you $10 million. Have you ever gotten that prince, Kenya prince email, Nigeria prince email, right? Those emails have amazing content, right? I’m a prince of fucking, there’s like alligators outside trying to kill me, I’ve 10 billion. Can I wire, all I need is your banking information? The context is actually pretty incredible, right? Why are we not responding to this shit? Because it’s not credible, although it’s like very fantastic.

So once I understand who you are, what you want from me, why right now. And I go I kinda get it. Now I need to believe what you told me. And then you need to fucking tell me what you want me to do next. Which is another thing. Those are such simple things, right? Such simple things. But everybody gets them wrong.

Call to Actions. 80% of all sales emails have two or more Call to Actions. You go, the more the better. I give people an assortment of things to do, right? You can download my ebook, download our whitepaper, click here to schedule a time, click here to trial our product, and click here to read my traveling blog, right? What the fuck?
Again, once I’ve read your shit, I now have just one question which is if it’s somewhat intriguing or I think maybe this would be relevant, I just wanna know one thing. What the fuck do you want me to do next? And the majority of sales emails either ask me to do too many things, again, I don’t know you, I don’t owe you anything, I can’t stop my day and do the 30 things you’re asking me to do. But the other opposites that are even more beautiful are sales emails with no Call to Action. Just tells me all these amazing things and then just cheers. Tom. And I go, okay, what am I supposed to do now? I need to now decide and reply and ask you what the next steps are? Please don’t do this. Keep it simple, one Call to Action, one reasonable Call to Action. Here is our whitepaper of 5,000 pages about the industry. Please read it carefully page by page and then respond with your questions and a time to talk. It’s not a reasonable request.

And then, because most of us will not respond the first time, if you don’t have a follow-up email already in place, don’t even send the first one. It’s pointless. If you only have one email to send, don’t send it. You need to think it’s gonna take five to eight attempts on a cold email outreach to have at least a chance to reach the person at the right time. If your email is amazing but it’s just the day I was on stage and I got 500 emails from people? Bad luck, I’ll never see this thing. I’ll never respond to it. If you email me the day that some big crisis is going on in our company, and our product is down, good luck. Like it doesn’t matter how amazing your email is. It’s not the right time for me to respond. So you need to have a strong follow-up strategy in place before you attempt the first contact.

The follow-up advice I give is the most valuable advice I give, measured by, at this point might be hundreds of millions in revenue generated for people. I have like an ebook of 200 case studies. So people tell me, Steli I followed your follow-up advice, we just closed a half a million dollar deal, it took us nine months, and here’s the email thread, and here’s all the follow-up that I made, and here’s what the person responded to. It’s not rocket science but nobody does it. So if you follow-up, you’re in a race on your own. You’re going to win eventually, right? So when it’s cold, I wouldn’t do more than eight follow-ups. That’s my personal ethics but everybody can choose that on their own. If it’s warm, if we have a connection, this is a high-value interaction, it seems like there’s a promise to really do great things, I will follow up forever. Forever. Until I get a response. Yes is good, No is good. Maybe is where start-ups and everything else of value goes to die.

If you are not as crazy as I am, and if you just double the follow-ups you do, we’ll make the world a better place, I promise you. Now some people, you know, one thing that I wanted to share that I’m really proud of, the team’s just launching at Close, is that we just launched email sequences within CRM, the inside sales CRM, so today when you use our product, you could just have a sequence of follow-up emails, then when you talk to somebody you could just say I wanna subscribe that person, this person’s gonna keep hearing from me, with engaging, hopefully, useful content until it’s the right time for them to reply and then we can engage in a human to human interaction.

Now, there’s another thing. A lot of people just look at people like me and go, let’s read Steli’s ebook on emails, let’s copy his templates, let’s do what he or she says, whoever the expert is. That’s nice, that’s the starting point. But the best expert to get advice from are your prospects and your customers. Create feedback loops. When you send an email and people open it and they decide to jump on a call with you for instance, don’t just launch the call with like, hey it’s so exciting to talk to you. Let me tell you everything about Close. Here’s the thing you should do instead. Hey, before we start talking about the proposition of working together, let me ask you, I’m sure you’re a busy person, you’re getting tons of emails. What made you want to respond to my email? What made my email stand out?

Learn from your customers, learn from your prospects. We hear the same thing again and again and again, you’re gonna learn how to improve. And conversely, you could call people that open and no respond. And you don’t have to say my software told me you opened it 720 times. It’s a little creepy, right? Just call people and say hey I tried to get in touch with you, this is probably not for you, as the founder or senior member of the team, or whatever, give yourself some title that’s enticing. I just need one minute of advice from you so we could build a better business. People love to give advice. People love to give advice, right? So you go hey, I sent you a few emails. I assume these emails you’ve probably seen, maybe fleetingly but you decided it’s not for me, right? The person either is gonna go I don’t remember or yeah. Then ask, why. What sucked about my email? Have you ever received a great email? What advice would you give? If you were an advisor on our advisory board or Board of Directors, what advice would you give me if I wanted to reach people like you in your position with an email? I believe we have something great, but I need to be able to communicate it well. What would you say? How would you do it if you were the founder of our company? You’d be surprised how much time and how much advice people will give you if you ask them for it. Ask your customers and prospects to help you improve your sales emails.

And the other thing, the reason why I don’t, like I’ve done, I’ve talked about sales emails before and oftentimes I’ll have a shit ton of templates. And people love it, that makes everybody just snap, and then again a picture, and then again a picture. And it’s kinda cool for me, it’s cool for you. But the problem with just sharing templates is that most people will then just copy and paste that shit. And so once you have a template that works, I’m a big part of the problem here. I’ve taught really really effective sales email templates and now everybody’s using them so they don’t work anymore, right? You know how many break up emails I get? You know how many quick question emails I get? You know how many one, two, three email templates I get? Words like, hey I haven’t heard from you. It’s probably three choices. Number one, you’re dead. Number two, you’re alive but you don’t like me. Number three, this might not be the right time. Just reply one, two or three and we’ll go– Like I’ve taught all these things and now my inbox is full of this shit. So don’t just copy things. Even when you see my templates, ask yourself why is this working? What is the design, the experience behind this? Not just like copy and paste, change Close for my company, Steli for Bob. Boom, we’re in business now. And expect the same results I had. I might sell to totally different customers. Ask yourself what is the fundamental design rules behind this email? Why is it working? How can we apply that to us? And I’ll give you an offer here that’s very simple.

If you send me your emails, including the subject line, please I’m gonna scream at you, all caps all out if you send me an email without a subject line. And one of you will. It’s like the laws of nature. If you send me your email, the one email that you most struggle with or that you want the most feedback, not 400. I try to be helpful but I’m not that helpful, right? So send me one email, tell me the subject line, the text, who you’re sending it to, what the results are. And I’ll give you specific feedback or I’ll ask some questions that will help you get it to be better. Just send it to me at God agrees with me.

Thank you so much.


Remember you can see Steli Efti and over a hundred other speakers in Dublin this October for SaaStock19. Grab a ticket before Friday, July 12, for the best possible price.