The 3-Step Process I Use to Get a 40% Email Response Rate


In sales, there is something better than the freebies you get at every event: Warm introductions.

If you ask any C-level executive or above, they are 10 times more likely to respond to your email or phone call if you have been referred by a person they like, trust, or respect.

Most outreach emails with no context generate a 1-2% response rate.

I find that my warm referrals normally receive a 40% response rate, which is conservatively 20 to 40 times better than a standard email. The 10X number I quoted above is the bare minimum you should aim for when starting new relationships.

Despite the efficacy of this technique, why are our results consistently sub-par?

There are three primary reasons.

1) Over-reliance on sales automation platforms

The technology industry — just like the consumer market — is subject to repetitive cycles. A new product can improve the way organizations influence prospects in the short to medium-term, but as adoption increases, its unique benefit evaporates.

Technologies like e-signing and auto-dialing were all the rage; now they’re considered a standard part of the stack rather than a new edge over the competition. Sales automation platforms are the latest iteration of this trend.

In the right hands, these tools have utility. However, as sales leaders often neglect training and best practices because they’re besieged by other responsibilities, inexperienced sales development and account executives do more harm than good at 95% of the B2B companies I’ve come across.

A churn and burn approach — where sales reps send mediocre emails to hundreds of prospects at a time — creates a nightmare for future expansion when companies look to improve their growth curve.

Companies are forced to pull the emergency lifeline to the marketing department, who are tasked with resurrecting the firm’s brand reputation from the Silicon Valley graveyard.

By this point, referrals aren’t just impractical: They are unattainable.

2) Sales reps with malnourished networks

In this day and age — where the average tenure of an inside sales rep is 2.4 years — most individuals don’t have a book of business they can leverage as they move from organization to organization.

Furthermore, younger reps are not taught how to network. They approach networking opportunities in such an artificial way that decision makers can see the intent of a sale a mile away.

How many times have you been at an event and someone appears all too eager to start talking about their product in the first two minutes, instead of taking time to connect with you at a personal level?

3) Confusion over how to ask

Continuing the point above, reps simply don’t know how to ask for a referral.

Just as they don’t know the right way to cultivate their Rolodex over time to create genuine connections for future deals, it takes practice to perfect the art of sending the right email.

We often send requests asking for introductions out of the blue with no context and no subtlety.

Let me share my secret.

How to get introductions warmer than cookies

To foster warm introductions, here’s the three-step process I use.

First, I add each high-priority person I speak to into an email database. I send a personal update to this database approximately every three months. I want my contacts to think about me from time to time. In addition, in every email I invite them to share their news with me; I reply to every response personally.

When I do reach out with an ask, they feel like they know me more than ever and I know them — turning what’s normally a nuisance into an enjoyable task. A few rules for this include:

  1. Make sure this newsletter talks more about you and less about your business
  2. Only add people who you consider your personal advocates and friends, i.e. you have done business together long enough they feel personally connected to you
  3. Let people opt out easily. Holding subscribers against their will does more harm than good. In fact, everyone who unsubscribes is helping you. They are explicitly revealing that they aren’t as close to you as you believed.
  4. Use more visuals than text. Images, GIFs, and videos have a greater impact than words.

Second, I strive to be authentic when I meet people in person. I ask them about their interests, use genuine compliments, and position myself as a fun and engaging person. At the end of the conversation, I ask, “What is the best way to keep in touch so we don’t forget about [X agreement, Y topic for follow-up]?”

The final step is send emails that are likely to convert. I have five baseline criteria:

  1. Mention something relevant to them you read recently on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, such as, “I saw you just moved to Austin, congratulations.”
  2. State the importance of the introduction to you and your career, such as, “This deal is make or break for me this quarter.”
  3. Ask what you can do in return and make some suggestions, such as, “I see one of your sales reps is trying to break into X account. Could I help in return with an intro? Is there anything else I could do for you?”
  4. Give them a pre-written template and invite them to make edits, such as, “I wrote an intro email which could be helpful — please feel free to use if convenient.”
  5. Thank them in advance. This adds an emotional trigger, influencing them to take action.

Here’s an actual email I sent, along with the response. For context, John is a marketing leader at his company, and I am requesting an intro to the VP of Sales.



I have been reading what your CEO has been writing on LinkedIn, and I sense a bit of your magic touch — you will have to give me some advice as I’m lucky to get one or two likes on most of the things I share.

We haven’t spoken for a few weeks but forgive me over a quick beer next time we see each other.

I’m emailing you as I would greatly appreciate an introduction to [name], the current VP of Sales. Thanks in advance for your help here — it is really important to me given that I will be in the area in four weeks and would love to visit as I am seeing some companies very close to your Denver office.

Since you’re helping me, is there anything I can do in return? 

I have written a template below you can copy and paste — but please feel free to rewrite it in your own words.

Thanks again,
Dailius Wilson


Recently one of my friends, Dailius Wilson, reached out as he will be in the area in a few weeks, flying in from San Francisco. Given that he already works with [company #1], [company #2], and a couple of other firms in our space, I think it would be a good opportunity to get the low-down on how his company is helping them.

I have CC’d him in the email to you and included a brief elevator pitch below: 

You know how it is extremely difficult to give prospects early access to our references? Dailius’s company helps deflect 30% of reference requests by proactively bringing authentic third-party reviews to use instead of conventional reference calls. His company also helps [company #1] and [company #2] boost sales by assisting reps to write better prospecting messages with their technology.

Excited for you both to meet.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and feel free to contact me if you would like to see more of my most successful templates.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been republished here with permission.

HubSpot CRM


The Ultimate Guide to Small Talk: Conversation Starters, Powerful Questions, & More


Like it or not, small talk is integral to your success. Whether you’re networking, speaking with a new prospect, or warming up a customer before upselling them or asking for a referral, you must be able to build rapport with casual conversation.

To help you master this crucial skill, we’ve written a comprehensive guide to small talk.

The Ultimate Guide to Small Talk

The meaning of small talk

Small talk is light, informal conversation. It’s commonly used when you’re talking to someone you don’t know very well and at networking and social events.

How to make small talk

There are four strategies that’ll help you make small talk in any situation.

First, ask open-ended questions. Most people enjoy talking about themselves — not only are we are our favorite subjects, but it’s also easier to discuss yourself than something you know little about. Think about it: Would you have a harder time speaking about 14th century glass-blowing or your favorite book? Open-ended questions generate an interesting, dynamic conversation and encourage the person you’re speaking with to open up.

Second, practice active listening. It’s tempting to tune out occasionally, but you’ll forge much stronger connections if you pay attention. The other person will notice how engaged you seem. In addition, it’s much easier to ask relevant questions and remember details to bring up later if you’re not listening with one ear.

Third, put away your phone. We tend to pull out our phones when we’re feeling uncomfortable or awkward in social situations, but nothing will sabotage your conversational efforts more quickly. Few people will approach you if you’re scrolling through your phone — and you’ll send a plain message to anyone you’re already talking to that you’re not interested.

Fourth, show your enthusiasm. Small talk might not always be the most stress-free activity. However, if you go into it with the right attitude, you can actually have fun. View these conversations as opportunities to learn more about other people. You never know whom you’ll meet or what they’ll have to share — so embrace the chance it’ll be an amazing discussion.

Small talk topics

Having good small talk topics up your sleeve won’t just help you kick off great conversations, it’ll also relieve some of the anxiety of walking into an unknown environment.

Good small talk topics

1) The location or the venue

Discuss your surroundings. Are you in a beautiful hotel, home, or conference area? Is the town noteworthy? Did you recently visit somewhere cool nearby?

2) Entertainment

Talk about what you’ve enjoyed lately and what’s on your list. That might include the Netflix show either of you are binge-watching, the last movie each of you saw, the books you’re reading, the podcasts you’re streaming, any plays you’ve attended, and so on.

3) Art

If the person you’re speaking to enjoys art, ask them which museums they’ve gone to and would like to visit, their favorite exhibits, which artists they enjoy, if they have any recommendations for galleries, which genre and medium of art they prefer, how their interest developed, and so on.

You can also discuss changes in the art world. Are there any new trends developing they’re interested in (like “post-internet art”)? What are their thoughts?

4) Food

Food is one of the best small talk topics, since almost everyone loves to eat. Ask which restaurants they’d recommend and the dishes you should order. If they don’t eat out often, ask which dishes they like to make at home. Describe an upcoming scenario and get their opinion on what you should cook or bring. For example, “I’m responsible for dessert for a housewarming party. There are 10 people coming — two vegans, one person with a nut allergy, and another who doesn’t eat gluten. What would you suggest?”

5) Hobbies

Delve into the other person’s passions. They’ll be enthusiastic to talk about what they love, and you’ll get the chance to connect with them on a deeper level.

Ask what they do in their free time, which activities they participate in outside of work (and how they became involved), what their childhood hobbies were versus now, whether they’re taking any classes, and what they’d like to try (sushi-making, novel-writing, salsa dancing, etc.).

6) Work

Talking about your day jobs can be tricky. You don’t want the conversation to devolve into a boring comparison of what you do — which it quickly will unless you steer toward more interesting territory.

On the other hand, work is a good small talk topic because the vast majority of people have something to say.

Instead of asking generic questions like, “Where do you work?” “How long have you worked there?” and “Do you like it?”, use interesting, unexpected ones such as:

  • “My [niece/son/grandchild] wants to become a [profession]. Do you have any advice I should pass on?”
  • “What’s your favorite aspect of your job? Why did you decide to work in [X field]?”
  • “Many of my clients in [X role] tell me [Y detail about job]. Has that held true in your experience?”
  • “Which skill do you use the most in your work? Is that what you expected?”
  • “What’s the stereotype of a [job title]? Does it hold up?”
  • “Is there anything you didn’t anticipate about this role? Do you like or dislike that?”

7) Sports

Some people could talk about sports all day. Others would rather talk about anything but. There are a few rules of thumb for discussing sports.

First, if you’re in a group of two-plus people, make sure everyone is a sports fan. You don’t want to exclude someone from participating.

Second, while an enthusiastic conversation is fun, a heated one won’t help your networking goals whatsoever. If you or the other person starts getting riled up, change the topic.

8) The weather

Weather is the ultimate small talk topic. It’s typically not the most scintillating conversation-starter, but with a little creativity you can spark some engaging discussions.

Ask about the other person’s plans given the weather (for example, if it’s rainy are they going to stay at home and watch movies? If it’s sunny, are they going to have a BBQ, do something outdoorsy, go on a hike, eat dinner on their patio, etc.?)

You can also discuss their favorite type of weather and why they like it. This frequently turns into a discussion about their personality, which can be fun and interesting.

Get them talking about the weather in their hometown. Is it different from where they live now? The same? Which type of weather do they enjoy more? If they could choose to live anywhere based solely on climate, where would they stay?

Seasonal rituals and traditions are handy conversation-starters as well. Do they do anything special this time of year? Are there any places they visit, trips they take, people they see, or other activities they do?

Small talk topics to avoid

While every situation is different, there are five small talk topics you’re probably better off avoiding. The other person might feel uncomfortable discussing these — especially if you don’t agree.

  1. Politics
  2. Physical appearance
  3. Religion
  4. Age
  5. Anything PG-13 and up

Conversation starters

For prospects:

  • “What’s the most exciting thing about your business?”
  • “What’s the most exciting thing about your product?”
  • “What’s the most exciting thing about your team?”
  • “What’s the most exciting thing about your industry?”
  • “What’s the most significant change at your company in the past six months?”
  • “If you could go back one year in time, what would you do differently?”
  • “I’m curious to know your story.”
  • “Tell me about your highlights at [company name].”
  • “Tell me about your lowlights at [company name].”
  • “What’s your biggest priority right now?”
  • “What’s your lowest priority?”
  • “What is your boss fixated on right now?”
  • “What’s your number one most important metric?”
  • “What can I do to help you achieve [X goal]?”

For customers:

  • “How are things going?”
  • “What’s your progress on [X goal]?”
  • “How has business changed since we talked last?”
  • “What are you worried about?”
  • “What are you happy about?”
  • “Which industry events are you planning on attending?”
  • “How are your efforts in [related business area]?”
  • “How’s life in [city]?”
  • “What can I do to make you even more successful?”

For professional acquaintances:

  • “What’s your industry like right now?”
  • “Do you need any introductions?”
  • “As an expert in [field], I’d love to hear your thoughts on [event, announcement, major change].”
  • “Tell me about your latest work win.”
  • “We’ve discussed your role before, but it’s probably evolved since then.”
  • “Which blogs are you reading to stay informed on [topic]?”
  • “You’re still one of the only people I know who [did X, achieved Y].”

Small talk questions

The talking points above are great umbrella topics for small talk, but you might be looking for specific questions.

Here are 17 that have proven to work extremely well:

  1. “How did you end up at [name of event]? If you could snap your fingers to instantly summon your [coworker, boss, best friend], would you? Why or why not?”
  2. “What’s been the highlight of your [day, week, month] so far?”
  3. “Are you a long way from home?”
  4. “Would you recommend that [food or drink they’re holding]?”
  5. “What’s the most memorable part of this [name of event] so far?”
  6. “If this was Groundhog Day and you had to repeat this day over and over, would you be relatively happy or unhappy about this particular day?”
  7. “What’s the last movie you saw in theatres? What did you think?”
  8. “What was the last concert you went to? How was it?”
  9. “How did you choose to work in [field]? If you could go back in time, would you make that same choice again?”
  10. “Would you advise your children to go into [field]?”
  11. “If you could turn one of your current skills into a bona fide superpower, which would it be and why?”
  12. “Which TV show would you choose to live in?”
  13. “Which TV show most closely mirrors your life?”
  14. “You remind me strongly of a celebrity, but I can’t remember who it is — whom do people always compare you to?”
  15. “When was the last time you did something for the first time? Were you glad you tried it?”
  16. “If you were responsible for catering [event], what would you order?”
  17. “If you were hosting this event, [who would you invite to speak, which theme would you have chosen, what would you have done differently]?”

How to make small talk with strangers

Talking to strangers is nerve-wracking for most people, even if you’re fairly charismatic and confident.

The number one technique to use? Questions. As long as the other person is talking, you don’t need to say anything beyond “mhmm,” “tell me more,” and “interesting.”

That’s far easier than attempting to entertain them with your own stories.

Don’t just ask one question and then move on. Once the other person has finished their answer, ask a follow-up question. This mitigates the risk you’ll seem like you’re interrogating or interviewing them.

For instance, if you say, “Where are you from?” and they reply, “Minnesota,” you might ask, “Why did you move?”, “What’s the greatest similarity between Minnesota and here?”, “If you could have brought anyone along with you from Minnesota, who would it be?”, “Where are your favorite places in Minnesota?”, “If I go to Minnesota, what can I absolutely not miss?”, or another Minnesota-centric question.

When you first kick off the conversation, you know virtually nothing about this person. That’s why author and speaker Gretchen Rubin suggests opting for topics common to both of you in the moment.

Your physical environment is always a safe bet. Look around for something worth commenting on — the architecture, an interesting piece of artwork, the song that’s playing, and so on.

The other person’s clothing can also work as a conversation-starter, although you want to avoid seeming creepy. Give compliments like, “Those shoes are pretty unique. Where did you get them?” and “I like your shirt’s design. Which brand is it?” rather than ones like, “Your pants look good.”

Rubin also recommends “reacting to comments in the spirit they were given.” When the other person makes a joke, laugh — even if you didn’t think it was a knee-slapper. If they offer a surprising detail or anecdote — like “The lack of an Oxford comma could cost a Maine company millions of dollars in an overtime lawsuit” — react with surprise. They’ll feel gratified by your response, which will make them want to keep talking to you.

How to end a conversation

It’s also handy to have a pre-planned exit. If the conversation is stalling — or it’s simply finished and you need a non-awkward way to walk away — use this line to gracefully wrap things up.

Here are eight potential exit lines:

  1. “This has been great — thanks for telling me about X. Do you have a card?”
  2. “Can’t wait to hear how [initiative, project, personal decision] goes! Let’s catch up at the next [work party, conference, meeting, get-together].”
  3. “I’m going to go grab [some food, a drink]. Great to [meet you, catch up].”
  4. “I see my [friend, coworker, client] over there and should probably go say hi. Want to exchange contact info?”
  5. “The next session is starting soon, so I’m going to go find my room. It was nice meeting you!”
  6. “Excuse me, I’m going to use the restroom. Enjoy the rest of the [event, party, conference].”
  7. “Well, glad we got the chance to connect over [topic]. I don’t want to dominate your [morning, afternoon, night] — I’m going to [check out the snacks, say hello to someone, take a walk around the venue, etc.]
  8. “Is there anything I can [help you with, do for you]?”

How to get better at small talk

It doesn’t matter how bad you are at small talk: With practice and the right strategies, you can improve. Small talk is a skill just like any other.

1) Look for opportunities to make small talk.

The more frequently you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. You’ll also quickly learn which topics generate the best conversations, how to gauge a person’s mood and personality by their body language and tone of voice, when to pivot to new topics, and the signs a conversation has wrapped up.

To reduce your nervousness, practice your small talk in a low-stakes environment. Go to a casual networking event for a different industry, attend a meetup, or ask your friends to bring you along to their work events.

You can also “train” by talking to strangers when you’re out and about — just make sure you don’t force a conversation with anyone who’s clearly not interested.

2) Pretend you’re speaking to a friend.

Would you be on edge if you were making small talk with someone you knew really well? Probably not. If you need a quick trick to mitigate your anxiety, pretend the other person is a good friend. As an added benefit, this mental shift will make you seem warmer and friendlier.

3) Give yourself a break.

Don’t dwell on awkward moments or long silences. We’re all far more focused on and critical of ourselves than anyone else in the room. You might be cringing for days after you mess up someone’s name or crack a joke that falls flat, but chances are, every other person will forget within two minutes.

Next time you’re worried about a specific faux pas, remind yourself it’s nowhere near as big a deal as you think.

4) Set a goal.

Having an objective can make small talk feel more meaningful. For example, maybe you commit to meeting four people at an event, or exchanging contact information with two other professionals in your field.

Once you’ve gotten a concrete goal, you’ll feel purposeful and focused. This also allows you to objectively measure your success.

HubSpot CRM


Organic Networking: 3 Tips for Natural Success


Every interaction you have, with everyone from your pet sitter to your massage therapist, is an opportunity to network professionally. But how do you most effectively represent and market your company or personal brand without seeming opportunistic, inappropriate, or intrusive?

Here are some quick tips to help you make connections, expand your social network, and nurture professional relationships.

Be Interactive.

Extroverted people seem to have it so easy, making friends with everyone from their UPS delivery person to other dog owners in the park! But these interactions don’t rely on actually connecting deeply with everyone; instead, making successful connections can be as easy as noticing and remembering things about the people you see frequently. Taking the time to notice and acknowledge the people you routinely interact with can help you extend your social network slowly but significantly. For example, remembering your law office’s UPS carrier’s name and inquiring about her baby can help your brief interactions be social connections as well as routine service calls. Carrying an extra biscuit to the dog park can help you win over a friendly pup (and his owner). When your UPS carrier needs to write a will or your park friend gets a speeding ticket, you might be the first lawyer to pop into their minds. 

Be aware of what people do and what they need, and make people aware of what you do and the needs you fulfill—without trying to sell them anything. As the old axiom goes, “people like to work with people they like.” Most everyone participates in social groups outside of work, which can be fertile ground for potential professional connections. Use your social media profiles to post links to interesting articles about your profession; share amusing anecdotes about your job during long runs with your training group; or volunteer at the food bank wearing your company t-shirt. If you’re an event planner, for example, the more people in your social network who know what you do, like you, and think you are trustworthy, the more likely it is that one of them will call you when they need to plan a wedding or corporate event. Expanding your social network multiplies your chances to use your social connections for professional advancement (without being a pest).

Be Sincere.

Most people can tell when they’re being “schmoozed” or manipulated, and few respond well. If you’re not a social butterfly, but you’re at an event that calls for some social interaction, try being honest about your discomfort: “I never know what to say at these things! Small talk just isn’t my strong point—I’m more of a numbers and details kind of person. Hi, I’m Julie, by the way.” Especially in situations where you feel vulnerable or exposed—literally or figuratively—being open about your insecurity can earn you respect.

Another great way to gain and strengthen connections, especially if you’re not great at chit-chat, is to ask open-ended questions and genuinely listen to the responses. Most people like to talk about themselves, their passions, their kids, etc., so ask them, pay attention to their answers, and remember them (see tip #1). If you don’t feel comfortable chatting with your hair stylist, ask him how he got into styling, what his dream job is, what his favorite movie or pop culture hair inspiration is, etc. and just let him talk. You’ll be surprised how close this can make people feel to you without you having to share anything. 

Don’t Force It.

I was recently on a plane sitting next to a woman who was frightened to fly. We chatted a bit as the plane ascended about the safety and physics of flight and the beautiful scenery we expected to see along the way. When we reached altitude, she settled in to enjoy the view, and I whipped out my laptop to work on a blog for a custom homebuilder. When she turned back to me to point out the majesty of the Grand Canyon, she noticed my work in progress; as it turned out, she was a Realtor. After talking briefly about the advantages of retaining a content creation expert to write your business blog and the current state of the real estate market in her location, we exchanged cards and returned to our respective activities.

Nothing about this encounter felt for either of us like we were trying to “sell” the other on our product/brand; rather, exchanging professional information was an organic part of an ongoing interaction at a time that was appropriate. Learn to take advantage of openings when appropriate, but don’t force them. Afterward, make sure you follow up with a note or email. If you become friends on social media, make sure to engage further than just the initial add. Use calendar reminders to encourage you to remember to follow up, even with social contacts.

The long-term secret to networking is developing a strong social network. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever to connect with and keep in touch with contacts located all over the world. Engaging an experienced marketing company can help you make your website and social media platforms look professional and welcoming. Once you learn how to use them to enhance your in-person social networking efforts, you can more easily leverage your social connections into professional gains—without alienating your friends.

Learn more about networking with this free eBook about networking on LinkedIn!