Templates don't work.

Scaleable provocations do.

Jeff Molander

Sales communications coach & Managing Partner, Communications Edge Inc.

Trainer to brands like:

Think about the last spammy, templated message you received.

How quickly did you delete it?

How easy was it for you to spot?

Did the subject line tip you off—”opening promises an obnoxious pitch?”

Maybe the subject tried tricking you into opening?

Have you ever opened a message only to get angry … or laugh to yourself … because the first sentence was an obvious set-up to a pitch?

Ever wondered if your emails have the same (negative) effect on prospects?

The 3 T's

There is a better way: A communications technique. 

There are three “flavors” of cold emailing strategies. Technique is driven by your approach:

  • One-to-one emails
  • One-to-many emails (campaigns)

Sending one-to-one emails… trying to earn attention of C-level contacts? Sending one-to-many, campaign-style? Whether you’re targeting CEOs or VP/Director level contacts… or individual buyers/candidates… you have 3 choices. 

Tailored: you target (and deeply research) a specific person or company; then craft multiple, relevant, and direct messages… one-to-one. Provocations are often based on research in combination with other, optional “provocation elements.” (come learn them here with us)

Targeted: you segment larger groups of contacts based on common characteristics; then, develop messaging focusing on broad priorities or challenges. Targeted are sent from one (you) to many. Provocations are based on issues and, sometimes, creating a feeling that you know a specific fact about the target prospect. Or the provocation can be based on a case study. 

The idea with both strategies above is to provoke using curiosity. 

Templated: this involves pumping out the same message to big, wide lists of potential buyers. This is the approach we simply cannot recommend for sales prospecting. Because it just doesn’t work and it’s more of a mass marketing approach.

These are your 3 choices.

Trainer, John Barrows gets credit for this simple way of viewing (and approaching) cold email, strategically. Most sellers should be practicing both Tailored and Targeted. Because you may or may not have the time to research each target client. You might. I know some people who have 200 people to work for the entire year.

It depends on what you’re selling and to whom. But most sellers should be doing both … sending emails that are custom tailored and, also, targeted widely. 

This makes 'templates' successful

Our most successful students apply a flexible messaging approach. ​They use message templates that don’t scream “I’m a cut-and-pasted template!” to prospects. These provoke discussions because they either feel or are personalized. This is caused by a communications technique.

Effective, curiosity-sparking messages are not truly templates. Because they don’t offering static, cut-and-paste messaging. 

Targeted (one-to-many) messages use mental triggers.

Tailored (one-to-one) use triggers + research / observations about the target. 

Bottom line: These messages provoke curiosity because they stand out and are atypical in a handful of ways. Curiosity-sparking messages: 

  • look & sound dramatically different (using specific copywriting techniques)
  • challenge customers to consider their decision-making process
  • avoid suggesting the client needs a solution
  • don’t push / sell / pitch (like 95% of messages do)
  • instead, pull customers… spark curiosity 
  • begin discussions that may (or may not) result in a meeting
  • avoid questions that entrap / make clients vulnerable when answering

In a moment I’ll give an example. But here’s the mind shift:

Effective templates help you customize faster—not send faster.

Think of it this way. Your email is an interruption. So make it SUPER short. Whether you’re starting from cold or trying to continue a conversation; with email it’s gotta be brief, blunt and basic … and damn provocative.

Most of all the template must not:

  • look like it was cut-and-pasted and sent to the masses!
  • talk about your solution… at all
  • ask for a meeting
  • ask questions making targets feel vulnerable (to your pitch) if they answer

Provoking (rather than pitching) isn’t “cut-and-paste-easy.” But it isn’t brain surgery either. It mostly involves trimming back to 2-4 sentences. Literally. The other key element is sparking curiosity.

The Spark Selling method works. Well, that’s our community’s name for it at least. Our customers named it “Spark” since it’s mainly about sparking curiosity. This technique, when applied to sales, is helping start more conversations. Not just with cold email messages. LinkedIn and calling/voicemail too.

I’m learning a lot from experience—and from our customers.​ 

Bottom line: Students having the most success use a flexible message approach. ​

Effective templates help you customize faster—not send faster.

A Tailored interruption

Let’s have a look at what a Tailored (one-to-one) provocation looks like + why it works.

This is only ONE example. There are many variations.

There is a learn-able method to the madness! 

Subject: exposing

Ron, 
noticing you're investing in Challenger selling training for the account team. Are you open to exposing them to provocations that start client conversations? 

Not sure if a new communications technique is a fit for SLW. This technique is unorthodox, but effective. 

Do you have a way to decide if the team needs help starting conversations when prospecting, Ron? 

Best regards,
Jeff Molander

 ​​Subject line: less than 5 words, unusual, contains tension, provokes "exposing what?"

Opener: No salutation, states observation (proves research), asks for open-ness about related challenge.

❸ TriggerApplies negative reverse and keyword trigger (unorthodox but effective).  

❹ Closer: Asks un-biased question that leads the client to examine his decision-making process. (avoids leading Ron to answer in way that makes himself vulnerable to a sales discussion)

Will Tailored work for me?

Do you know the market really well? Are you able to “go deep” and research prospects? Tailored Spark provocation is for you.

Familiar with clients’ pains, worries, fears and goals? Great. Don’t play on them in your message!! Doing so usually backfires.

​If you’re already researching targets… or willing to consider it… this increases odds the Spark Selling method will help. Even if you don’t know what to research, how or why. A little bit of research goes a long way in sparking curiosity.

Because it proves you aren’t just another template-pumping spamma-jamma.

Both Tailored (one-to-one, personalized) and Targeted (one to many) technique are most effective when combined with your strengths.

Want to apply this technique in your setting? Join us in an upcoming 4-week, intensive coaching workshop.  We only have a few seats left and are taking 10 students maximum… so we can spend time helping each of you develop provocations.

Oh… and bye the way. If you take advice from marketing pros on creating sales prospecting messages read on. This is probably 80% of the problem. Stick with me. We will put you on a better track.

Avoid marketing speak like the plague!

Show your homework

Standardized templates do not work. They feel too “mass mailed.” Easy to spot, instant delete.

But a mental-triggers-based approach to message design—that is mostly template-able—does.

Customization is key. Psychology is front-and-center to triggering response.

For example, lately, quickly proving you’ve done research/homework on targets is provoking response for most of my students. Nothing provokes quite this well.

Finding ways to signal “I did my homework” is one of the strongest elements you can have in a first paragraph (of the first cold email touch). Proving you’ve done homework dramatically increases response rate.

It grabs attention … big time.

Because this signals to your prospect:

– your email is not another offensive, mass, cut-and-paste message (spam)

– you’ve invested time in researching them (via specific proof, an observation)

Aside from getting opened (subject line) this “homework element”, alone, is often enough to earn a prospects’ attention. From that point the rest of your message (the “meat”) requires provocation. And there are a few different ways to provoke curiosity that I can show you too.

Why not come see a few in our upcoming 4-week, intensive coaching workshop? Join us! We only have a few seats left and are taking 10 students maximum… so we can spend time helping each of you develop provocations.

Remember, nothing screams “impersonal” more than a templated email. The reason sales email templates rarely work is simple: Most use the same, “telling” communications format.

What do you think? Will a more provocative approach work in your situation? Get in touch with me or join a small group of us in the workshop.

Sales communications coach & Managing partner

Telling prospects, "You should consider X solution because Y research says so" is a non-starter. Pushing information at customers works far less than provoking them.


"People generally opt in to receive marketing newsletters, but no one chooses to get cold emails. This simple fact is one of the most important differences between the two," says cold email expert, Heather Morgan.


Ms. Morgan reminds us also how cold emails arrive without context. This is often the first time prospects have heard from you. Further, "you haven’t yet earned their trust or attention yet," says Ms. Morgan.


Context is key. Why talk at when you can talk with? Why push when you can pull, attract the conversation to you? 

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