What We Learned From Using Humor in Cold Emails (for Sales)

by Nina Cvijovic 7 Minutes

Image via Unsplash.

Sometimes going into the unknown can result in your most surprising business story.

There is too much noise on the Internet right now. When you try to google a specific subject to learn and find new ideas, you get loads of generic articles that seem to copy-past the same cliché sentences and pieces of advice. And a lot of times you’ll hear that you should not reinvent the wheel, because it’s easier to follow the successful pattern of your competition.

At the end of the day is that really you? Does these articles provoke one of those “aha” moments or you simply nod your head using the logic and think: “Yeah, this is how things probably work, because they said so, and they are successful.”

But will that work for you? Do you see yourself using these techniques and most importantly do you feel good about using them?

This story will show you the basic steps of thinking we used to get to the moment of understanding what it means to “do what nobody else does” as Steli Efti pointed out in the title of his book about follow up emails.

It might be something you have figured out by now and I’m very glad if you did. But sometimes even though you read an inspiring article and nod your head approving the idea it stays just that –  an idea. Your brain is still not ready to connect it to the knowledge you already have.

In my life nothing is 1,2,3 because I jump from 1 to 5 to get back to number 3 and I land into a confusion that makes me feel like I’m in a deep fog. In the end, at one point, the dots connect. I see the spark and I’m finally able to understand and implement new ideas. Do you feel that way? Or it’s just me?

Anyway, I got it all sorted out and I’ll share with you logical steps that lead to it.

Yes, we are still talking about humor, but there is a bigger story behind it. And my goal is not only to help you figure out if humor is the right thing for your business, but to make you ask yourself what is the right thing to do.

Let’s start.

Try to Understand What You Stand For

“To be, or not to be”

Ok, Hamlet was contemplating about life and death, so let’s change the sentence a bit.

“To be yourself, or not to be yourself” That is the question.

And Bruce Lee answered it:

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

Not only him. Every successful person will tell you the same.

But here’s the catch.

There is no easy way to do this since there is no guide made personally for you. And finding out who you are is a daring thing to do.

You might be focused too much on how to make things happen, or how to succeed in your business goals, that you forget to place yourself in every step you make.

Take this quote from FunnyBizz guys that inspired us to start implementing humor in our follow up emails:

“Sometimes you are so focussed on getting your need met that you forget to add your own personality.”

Brake the Rules

I love this stage as it’s when the magic begins. But before you start breaking the rules you have to stand on a solid ground.

Do you know what Picasso did?

Many people only remember the paintings he made during the Cubist phase, but before he arrived at that point he learned how to paint by looking up to the old masters, until he became the ruler of the rules.

This is the painting he made when he was only 15 years old. After years of experimenting and going through different phases he found the inspiration and blondes to brake the rules and paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Of course, you don’t have to be born as a genius to do this, though it might help. Breaking the rules is believing in yourself and taking a step into the unknown.

If you are able to express yourself through work, new ideas will come to you and you’ll be free to experiment with them.

And sometimes the best ideas are the most obvious ones, as you will see.

Improve the Wheel

I agree, you should not reinvent the wheel. Instead, try to figure it out and improve it.

There is a book from Steli Efti, that I mentioned at the beginning, Follow Up Formula: How to Get Everything You Want by Doing What Nobody Else Does. Nevena, my colleague from Etools, found it while she was collecting ideas on how to make our follow-ups better. And there it was, one simple heading:

“Put some funny in your follow-up”

And you stop and think, well why not? It’s so obvious that it’s surprising you never thought about it, or you did, but haven’t heard a successful story that will assure you to try it out.

Sometimes the best ideas come from everyday life examples.

For inspiration check out how FunnyBizz is doing it – that’s what Steli Efti was talking about.

Business hours can be stressful for some people. They need to stay focused and finish their main tasks in a given time. Email notifications become annoying signals of more work, more things to consider and more decisions to be made.

This is what ‘improving the wheel’ means: If you understand that regular follow up emails provoke lousy reactions, do something to change it. If your recipients are stressed, make them feel better, make them smile, surprise them while they clean their overflowing inbox. In that way you will simply step out of the negative cause and effect pattern and you’ll be able to fix it.

If we could stop being so serious about work and switch to game playing mindset we’d be able to relax. Humor can break the ice barriers, it can make you more likable and friendly and you will also have fun using it. It’s a win-win combination.

No matter if your proposal was accepted or not, you’re also just playing and enjoying the game. Doesn’t that sound like a relief?

When we started using humor in our follow-ups we noticed how much fun the whole team was having while coming up with new ideas. And the reactions were even better.

People wanted to play along and were expecting our next email just to see in which direction “the chase game” will lead.

Even if they were not interested in our proposal the answers we got were positive.

Look at this ‘No’ for example, it’s hard to take it seriously since it’s a brilliant response.

But don’t be surprised if some people don’t get it, that is also fine:

Do What No One Else Does

There will always be a fear of not being understood or rejected. When Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907 he first displayed it for a group of his acquaintances and the reactions were disgust, shock and disapproval. The painter Derain allegedly said: “One day we shall find Pablo has hanged himself behind his great canvas.” (source) The painting was first exhibited in the public in 1916. The rest is history.

This might seem as a big story – being bold enough to change the course of art. But when you look at it now, what he did was simple, the hard part was arriving to the point to let it happen.

These are Picasso’s words:

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

You’ll find that many artists expressed the same thoughts just using other words. Even Steve Jobs borrowed this quote to explain himself.

Picasso was inspired by African artefacts and he changed his perspective – in literal and nonliteral meaning.

Going into the unknown is not inventing something alien. It’s incorporating new ideas to the existent and taking it further by following your own visions.

Knowing that your business is not living in a separate world, detached for the ‘real world’ or ‘after-work world’ or your personality, can help you implement some basic but powerful changes.

For me life is just a game, as if I were a kid – there are no ultimate obligations, no pressure to be what you are not, there are no rules that will force you to feel miserable while you work. To some people this seems like nonsense. But I feel good, that’s who I really am, so when I approach people with a business proposal I also add my “if I were a kid” philosophy in it.

Not everyone will understand. It’s true. And your goal isn’t to be liked by everyone. Right? That’s beyond impossible.

This is a simple rule I follow: Be yourself and impact the world with what’s best in you.

Do you feel natural using humor? Try it out.

Do you feel natural being formal as the Queen of England? Do it like that.

P.S. If you exaggerate it, it might be funny as well.

Now tell me, are you doing something that nobody else does? Remember, there are no secrets on the Internet. We can all learn from each other.


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by Nina Cvijovic
Nina is a researcher and writer at Etools – a toolkit that lets you find the exact contact details of any business. She is interested in visual art, literature and writing. She believes that the goal of marketing should never be selling, but rather sharing, helping and uniting. The best marketing always starts with honesty and storytelling. You can follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.