5 Key Steps to Effective Email Canvassing

5 Key Steps to Effective Email Canvassing

Learn how five minutes of time and energy can avoid a lifetime of struggle with customer acquisition

Nick Fawbert

It’s that moment of crisis, and with all other routes to your customer exhausted you turn dejectedly to your keyboard and type out those fateful words…


We’ve all done it and it makes us all feel dirty.

But there comes a point when, under pressure from time and limited options we have to turn to the best of a bad lot and reach out to customers through electronic mail.

I’ve done it myself, and the truth is that in terms of aggregated outcomes, I’ve received more criticism for my emails than I have compliments.

But the fact is that when my business needed to find the opportunities, I’ve always felt that the good outweighed the bad. One hot lead was worth a thousand disparaging responses.

The only question is whether I could have done it better.

Breaking the Ice

The thing about great ice-breakers delivered to an inbox is that they’re as fleeting as a good chat up line: if everybody is using them then they’re destined to fail.

Not only that, but as soon as you’ve used a good one, it’s gone again, never to be repeated.

The bad thing is that means there is NO template, there’s no tried and tested method that we can duplicate.

The good thing is, that despite the demand for innovation, like any good one-liner, there are timeless truths and structures that we can use to make sure we’re making the best of the opportunity.

That structure, and the insights to inform it, are what we need to find.

Learn the Rules to Break Them

It was Pablo Picasso who was in the sights when society needed someone to attribute with this gem: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist"...

...and there’s no better way of learning the rules (in my humble opinion) than the route laid out in  ‘The Education Theory of Apprenticeship’, formalised by a guy called ‘DD Pratt’ in his 1998 book ‘Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education’

We can duck the verbiage to focus on 5 key stages:

  • Modelling – check what the experts do
  • Approximating – mimic the experts
  • Fading – start to experiment
  • Learning – capitalise on experience
  • Generalising – apply across the business scope

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m going to focus on modelling and nothing else.

Those other 4 key stages are up to you.

The Structure

There are several key parts to emails, to get the best out of this process we’re going to separate them out:

  • Objective
  • Tone and style
  • Subject line
  • Greeting
  • Body copy
  • Call to action
  • Sign off

Think of it like a great F1 race team director looking at each part of his car. If we focus on each area separately, we can see what’s working and what’s not and deliver a few improvements.


Sales is effective because we solve people’s problems. But if you’re trying to reach out to a new customer by email then be honest with yourself, you haven’t got a clue what they need.

The wrong way to address this is by trying to list all your capabilities. It’s simply confusing and tiring for the recipient. It’ll never get read.

So, ask yourself what the actual objective of the email is?

Often, if I’m canvassing new customers then I only have one objective: their permission to start a conversation. So 95% or more of my canvassing emails focus on one thing: delivering a point of contact – a phone call or a meeting.

If this isn’t your objective, then that’s fine. However as this email is a first point of contact with a time-poor potential customer, if you have more than one objective you’ll lose them.

Choose one objective and focus exclusively on delivering it.

Then invert it.

Customers come first: you’re not trying to sell your solution, you’re trying to solve their problems.

Tone and Style

Most emails are read in ‘down time’. These are the moments when people have no pressing concerns and will leaf through their inbox deleting dozens at a time.

Some of us will even look at our mobile first thing in the morning before we’ve even welcomed our loved ones into another day.

These are not the moments to talk like a lawyer or a used car sales executive.

Be relaxed, be casual, just be you.

Subject Line

According the HubSpot, 33% of emails get opened on the strength of their subject line. Since your customer won’t read anything else unless they cross this hurdle, getting it right is a priority.

69% of Spam email reports are based on the subject line alone. So getting it wrong may impact your ability to even send another email!

Mobile screens can only fit 4-7 words, so it’s going to be short and snappy.

Given the personal nature of the mobile phone, those big brash demands are out of the window along with the words that go with them. Aggressive words like ‘you’ and ‘quick’ are out of the window, along with all those spammy terms like ‘free’, ‘discount’ or 'complimentary’.

Curtail your natural enthusiasm and try not to pick a fight just when they’re trying to relax.

Instead try to focus on:

  • Asking questions
  • Seeking advice
  • Offering support

Remember to reference back to your original email objective and link it to the subject line. That way everyone knows what you're talking about.

Run multiple versions as A/B tests – try different subject lines on different people and see what works best.


Who you are is a ‘hygiene factor’ in an email. The first concern for the recipient will be context and credibility. They’ll check your name and references later.

Let them know what prompted the message and reassure them of your intent. Phrases like ‘I noticed this and thought of you’ or ‘your mutual friend suggested I drop you a line’ establish confidence and confirm the subject matter.

The most important thing is that it’s personal to them.

Body Copy

Be friendly, be brief and to the point.

Take a quick refresher of your objective for the email and establish:

  • The problem you seek to solve
  • The solution you can offer
  • An action point for next steps

Now – and it really is that simple – get it down in three or four sentences.

That’s it.

Call to Action

You’ll have noticed that we didn’t include that whole, dull tract where your lay out your capabilities, proof points and testimonials.

There’s two reasons for that:

  • You don’t know what your customer will embrace or reject
  • Developing a conversation is your principle objective

So make 'discovering more' your call-to-action, your reason to engage.

Ask for a date, a time, or simply permission to send more, and then it’s up to them to make the move.

Once they’ve asked for more, you’ve secured two critical assets: their permission and their enthusiasm.

Sign Off

Make your sign off short, clear and easy to read. No graphics, no silly fonts and no broken images.

  • Your name
  • Your company
  • Your telephone number
  • A link to your personal business profile (like LinkedIn)
  • A link to your company website

And then you’re done! Rinse and repeat.

Get Started

There’s no time like the present.

Try this four point plan to get going:

  • Collect your most effective emails
  • Book a brainstorm session with colleagues
  • Build a consensus on your most effective messages
  • Draft a few examples and try them out on each other

When you’ve established the model, only then is it time to take it to market and get experimenting. At that point it’s all up to you.

Good luck!

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Nick Fawbert

Nick FawbertNick Fawbert

With 25 years in the media and marketing industry, and almost 20 of those in digital marketing, Nick is one of the most experienced practitioners in the Asia marketing industry. He is Founder and CEO of Mutiny Consulting.

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