Horrifying Sales Follow-up Emails: 5 Scary Examples of What NOT to Do

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You’re staying late at work. It’s dark. Your computer screen is the only source of light in the room. You hear a noise; it’s coming from your computer.  

You have a new email.

As you hover your mouse over the email, you feel a chill in the air, as if someone is screaming, “Don’t open that email!” Ignoring the foreboding feeling, you open the email and scream in horror. IT’S A SALES FOLLOW-UP EMAIL!!!

While a bit dramatic, this scenario happens all the time in the B2B world. It’s common practice to send follow-up emails after a sales pitch or when you’re trying to get in contact with someone, but sometimes those emails are just so bad they scare away potential new customers.

haunted email copy (1)

How can your sales team avoid the horrifying email follow-up scenario? I’ve compiled a few examples of email follow-ups that scared the bajeezus out of me, with lessons on what they did wrong and how you can do better!

Frightening Subject Line

Follow-up emails, by definition, come after a conversation or interaction with a prospect. So they should be expecting your email, and they’ll open it no matter what the subject line says, right? Wrong!

More than likely, your email will get lost in their inbox, like the hundreds of other emails they receive daily. So your job as the savvy software salesperson is to stand out with your subject line, even though it’s not the first time you’re reaching out.

The email below shows exactly how a non-descript subject line can ruin your follow-up:

bad subject line

While the email content is pretty standard for a pitch, take a look at the subject line. If you saw that in your inbox, would you know what this person’s talking about? Would you open their email? Probably not, unless it’s spring cleaning and you’re trying to get your inbox number down to zero.

“Call tracking for mobile” offers no explanation as to the reason for this follow-up. There’s no mention of a previous discussion or even the name of the company until the body of the email. This person was counting on the email itself to get his point across, not realizing that most prospects won’t move past that horrifying subject line.

My biggest recommendation for writing email follow-up subject lines: act like it’s the first time they’re hearing from you. Use personalization to draw their attention to your email, like addressing them by their first name or mentioning their company. Reference the last time you spoke, doing whatever you can to jog their memory about past interactions.      

Shockingly Incorrect Data

In the age of software and big data, there is NO excuse for inputting the wrong information into your emails. I know, it’s easy to just upload a list to your email marketing or marketing automation software system and send out a blast to your prospects, but please make sure you have all of the right data!

Nothing hurts my email marketing soul more than reading an email starting with “Hi First_Name.” Even worse than having no data, is having woefully incorrect data, as seen in this email below:

wrong phone number

Look at that first bullet point; notice anything weird about that sentence? Instead of mentioning our company name, they refer to us by our phone number. Points for the personalization effort, but those good intentions are taken away by the utter lack of execution. Now, instead of generating sales, this email is being passed around our marketing team as we laugh and groan at a database gone wrong.  

While the next email isn’t an obvious example of a prospect’s bad data, it shows the importance of keeping your database clean and up to date. The following shows two shortened versions of emails I received after attending a conference:

same email 1

Notice the time of each email: both were sent to me at the same time, but to two different email addresses. This means there are duplicate copies of my prospect data in their system, but assigned to two different email addresses. No prospect wants to receive the same email twice, within seconds of each other.

It is tough to keep your database squeaky clean but not so impossible that you shouldn’t try. If you have the capabilities, set up alerts that can tell you when something seems off in your system, such as a prospect without a first name, or data that doesn’t match what the field value should be (e.g. a phone number in the company field).

You can also use database management software as an extra tool to keep track of your data and weed out any duplicates. While painful, even a manual audit will relieve some of your data stress, even if you can’t get through all of it.     

Terrifying Email Copy

Nothing’s scarier than a badly written email. Unlike a phone call, you have the time to carefully craft how you’ll convince your prospects to buy your software product, or at least how they’ll take the next steps in the buying process. It pains me that I’m still receiving poorly worded or error-laden follow-up emails.

I might get a bit nitpicky in my analysis with the next two examples, but in my opinion, any email you send out, whether it’s a follow-up or a first pitch, should be close to perfect with its copy.

unclear content

From a formatting perspective, there’s a lot of weird spacing and capitalization in this email. Why is “Email” capitalized? Is it some type of personalization gone wrong? Either way, it looks weird and doesn’t give me a good impression of this company’s skills.

Also, when he mentions “the email below,” there is no actual email below for me to see! I appreciate his effort to reference our past interactions, but without the original source, I have no idea what he’s talking about, especially since he doesn’t mention his company or product in his follow-up.  

Warning: the next email I’m about to show you is rated “RS,” for Ridiculously Scary.

wrong info spelling errors

Spelling errors, incorrect data- iit’s a prospect’s worst nightmare! First of all, the article she’s referencing has an obvious spelling error…in both the content and the subject line! “10 Questions to as Prospective Vendors” should be “10 Questions to Ask Prospective Vendors.” That one missing letter created a horrifying email experience, and was honestly pretty confusing since I wasn’t sure what she was referencing at first.

The other big mistake isn’t obvious from the email, because it relates to her data. According to her records, she’s reaching out to me because I’m the author of the article. However, that is completely incorrect. My colleague wrote this post, and that is clearly stated at the top of the article she’s referencing and, apparently, read. So not only did she get the title of the article wrong, she didn’t even email the correct author of the post.

These types of mistakes will send prospects screaming from your company. If you send error-filled emails during the sales process, how can they expect you to provide an error-free product? Yes, that may be a crazy assumption to make, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the reason you’re losing out on sales.

If you’re going to use personalization, make sure your data is correct and your formatting makes sense. And though it seems simple, always proofread your emails before sending or inputting them into your email sending system. A second set of eyes also never hurts, so feel free to ask your colleagues to take a quick look before sending.

Escaping the Terror for a Happy Ending

Never fear, you’re not trapped forever in the haunted house of horrifying sales follow-up emails! In order to fend off scary emails like the above examples, you’ll need to get back to the basics of copywriting. Since this is a follow-up email, give your prospects clear actions they can take to move forward in the buying process.

Even though many of these horrifying email follow-ups used personalization ineffectively, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great tactic! 43% of marketers say that personalization leads to more conversions, and as our inboxes become more and more crowded, it’s incredibly important to rise above the noise with a personalized pitch.   

And above all else, PROOFREAD!! Or you may see one of your emails in my next blog post. But in all seriousness, there’s no excuse for typos or incorrect data when we live in an age where everyone is sharing their personal information online for the world to see. Use it to your advantage and impress your prospects with how well you understand their pain points and how your software can help.

What other tips do you have for avoiding the creation of horrifying sales follow-up emails? Share your thoughts in the comments below, as well as any other examples of email follow-ups that sent shivers up your spine!

Looking for Email Marketing software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Email Marketing software solutions.

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About the Author


Caroline Malamut

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Caroline is the Vendor Marketing Manager at Capterra. Her love of marketing began while growing up in Philadelphia and has only grown since attending the University of Pittsburgh. In her free time she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, and cheering on her Philly and Pitt sports teams.


[…] realm are notoriously low, and argues that poor subject lines are partly responsible. An article by Capterra also documents some ‘horror story’-esque examples of terrible subject lines and how they are to […]

[…] shockingly incorrect data and terrifying email copy make for emails that are dead on arrival. Read the post to get some tips on how you can help end these […]


Glad you guys caught it 😉


“Spelling errors, incorrect data- iit’s a prospect’s worst nightmare!”

I see what you did there. 😉


Thanks Caroline.

Email get’s a bad press often, but with a bit of time and effort it is still the cornerstone of most sales in one form or another.

I like the deliberate typo 🙂 “Spelling errors, incorrect data- iit’s a prospect’s worst nightmare!”

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