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Cold Email Outreach Excellence with Jon Buchan of Charm Offensive (Part 1)

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Jon Buchan of The Charm Offensive shares his tips for cold email outreach that’ll get a response from anyone. This is Part of 1 of 2.

Listen to Part 2 here when you’re done >>> 

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Jon Buchan’s Charm Offensive website
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Cold Email Outreach Excellence with Jon Buchan of Charm Offensive (Part 1):

Full Transcript

Liston Witherill:
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Liston Witherill:
Now on today’s episode, I have an interview with Jon Buchan of Charm Offensive and you’ll hear that I said his name wrong and he corrects me in the episode, but Jon is known for sending a drunk email that changed his life. There’s a headline. And the result is that people know him for his irreverent, objectively funny, cold email style. I promise you you’ll laugh out loud at some of the things that he’s written. In today’s episode, it’s part one of two interviews that I did with Jon and we’ll be discussing the importance of style, grabbing attention, and being ridiculously different to win clients through net new business and your cold outreach.

Liston Witherill:
In the next episode, I’ll be going over with Jon, how he builds his cold outreach sequences and how you can start to apply those for your business. So if you want to catch the next episode, make sure you do subscribe.

Liston Witherill:
Now if you go to liston.io/podcast and you have any questions about this episode, go there. You can leave a question for me. It’s kind of like a voicemail. You may even hear your voice on an upcoming episode where I answer whatever question you have. Maybe I’ll even dedicate the entire podcast episode to you specifically, dear listener. So that URL is liston.io/podcast. I also recommend you go over to liston.io where I have five sales email templates every consultant needs. It helps you chain together the most important sales moments and gives you templates that you can steal instantly and put into your business.

Liston Witherill:
I’m ripping this line off from Jon now. I promise that one out of five of those templates will be extremely useful and the other four will be at least moderately useful. So there’s a little preview of some of the things that Jon’s going to talk about.

Liston Witherill:
Now if you need immediate help with building a sales process that feels good, is wonderful for your clients, and helps you build the thriving business and industry leadership that you’ve always wanted, I can help you with that too. All you have to do is head over to liston.io/strategy to book a strategy call with me right now. Thank you so much for being here. I am truly appreciative that you’re hanging out with me and now I’m going to bring you my interview with Jon Buchan. Jon, welcome to the liston.io show. How are you?

Jon Buchan:
I’m doing good, man. How are you doing?

Liston Witherill:
Well, I’m excited that you made the time to be here because I’ve been following you for a while. Let’s just jump right into it. What’s with the drunk email? Tell me about that.

Jon Buchan:
Awesome. First off, I’ve got to mention this and I don’t want to be one of those people, but it’s Buchan, Jon Buchan.

Liston Witherill:
Oh, it is? Oh, I’m sorry.

Jon Buchan:
It’s all good, man. Pretty much everyone gets it wrong, but I just would feel wrong if I didn’t bring it up because other people might start calling me that. It’s all good. The drunk cold email, basically. I used to work at London agencies, London digital marketing agencies, and basically quit my way to the top, started as a consultant and then just moved to different agencies. Got my experience, built it up, headed up a department. And then I thought, “I can do this better myself.” There are some things that those agencies did that I didn’t think were … they weren’t like Cowboys, but it wasn’t completely stuff that was going to benefit the client. There’s a lot of crafty tactics at play and I didn’t particularly like. As much as I’d learned a lot and I’d got a lot of experience, I knew it was time. My enthusiasm had gone and I love this stuff.

Jon Buchan:
So I started my own agency and then for about a year it went really well. But then all of my word of mouth leads dried up and I realized, “Oh yeah, it’s easy to be part of an agency and close deals when you’ve got a great salesman giving you hot leads to work with.” And I realized I didn’t know how to open. And that’s when I got desperate. And then I got drunk, wrote this completely absurd email and in the morning still thought it was a good idea to send it to very senior marketing professionals at some of the world’s biggest brands like Red Bull, Packard, Symantec, et cetera.

Jon Buchan:
And to my amazement, it works. I got some of the most gushing, sort of complimentary responses you could imagine. “I never respond to these. I get hundreds, but I have to reply to this. This is the best cold pitch I’ve ever received.” And my personal favorite, “My colleague forwarded me your spam email, and we would like to meet you to discuss opportunities.”

Jon Buchan:
There’s just so many. I kind of realized at this point, because I kept sending this email, and every time I did, I would just get more of the same, more compliments, more sales meetings. And then I realized I could use it for getting PR coverage. So we won a gigantic client, started with my drunk cold email. We won Symantec. Then we had to get them PR coverage. I use the exact same type of copy to get journalists to reply to me. I just found out, “Oh yeah, I can use this for any ask I have.” There’s a way of writing that will improve the chances of me getting the answer I want.

Jon Buchan:
Obviously it uses some persuasive principles, but it does a lot of stuff that you don’t see in the sort of direct response or persuasion literature, for lack of a better word. And yet there’s a lot of new stuff, it’s being disarming, being self-effacing, being understated. All of these have persuasive benefits, perhaps indirectly, because people like people that make them laugh, they trust people more if they’re self effacing. There are all these benefits that potentiate your already persuasive message. And that’s what I’ve kind of cracked on to. That’s when I finally decided to launch a Facebook group. I wrote this ebook With With Words that went through one of my templates, line by line. It was 36 pages long, I think, and I put a draft on a group called Traffic and Copy and said, “Do you want to check this out? If you would like a copy, let me know.”

Jon Buchan:
And I got loads of great feedback and then I started seeing people, responses in my inbox. People telling me that, “I’ve book loads of meetings. I’m getting … look at these responses.” And I started to think I’ve got something here. And then in March, about six months later, five or six months later, I had some personal good news. I got out of a bad situation, which I won’t get into detail. But it kind of spurred me on and I started the Facebook group Charm Offensive. And that was after a phone call actually with a group owner, Cult of Coffee, the guy who runs the Cult of Coffee. Collin Theriot, I’m going to pronounce his name wrong. He said I’ve got something unique and I should go for it.

Jon Buchan:
We launched the group and yeah, this is my career now. This is what I do for a living is I’ve got a community of over 8,000 people in the Facebook group. I’ve got an email list. I’m present on LinkedIn. I’ve got all these information products and a subscription. I’ve just been looking today because I’ve been organizing my Facebook group at all the results people have had, all the screenshots of them getting responses or winning new clients. And it’s been awesome to see. That’s what I do for a living. I hope that wasn’t too rambly. That’s what I’m up to.

Liston Witherill:
So you sent a drunk email which was breaking a lot of the rules of how people think they should communicate in business. And it got lots of great responses and it even landed you a giant client, Symantec, which would be a whale or a dream client for a lot of people. How would you describe the style of that email and can you summarize what was so different about it and maybe so attention grabbing.

Jon Buchan:
First off, it’s written like an email from one person to another. So even though there wasn’t any personalization in my emails, other than the first name, this really frustrates people because it does take a lot of efforts, personalized stuff, and I didn’t and I still had success, is because it is written in a way that reads like an email from one person to another. Those short functional emails that you see bandied around as the ideal cold email templates, which I’m sure work. I’m not saying that they don’t work at all. They’re written in a way that you can see like, “Oh, this isn’t a one-to-one email. This is a template. No one writes like that.” And I realized that if you can just be so refreshingly honest, if you have an approach where you’re just so honest to the point where it’s surprising, that’s very persuasive, it takes people’s guard down.

Jon Buchan:
So one of the first lines in my original drunk cold email was, “Greetings, Jeff, you’ve never heard of me. Hi, I’m Jon. I got your details from a list. Gasp. But hey, at least you’re list worthy. That’s got to be worth something. Right?”

Jon Buchan:
So I’ve mentioned the very thing that most people would completely avoid, that I got the details from a list. Then I’ve kind of complimented them on that fact. So it’s kind of really honest and kind of cheeky at the same time. “I know there are [inaudible 00:08:38] users, I wanted to introduce myself in a way that showed I was interesting, witty and clever. Alas, I wrote this email instead.” So that might elicit a smirk or smile or it might get a laugh. That’s much better than what you would normally expect to open with, which is, “Do you have …” and I can’t, I have to do it in this ridiculous voice because that’s how ridiculous I find it.

Jon Buchan:
No one speaks like this. At least no one I hang around with. It would start with something like, “Do you have problems navigating the ever changing world of social media?” And it’s just like no conversation starts that way. You would never write an email like that to another person. And that’s a big reason why this style works, is you start with something that gets their attention, it shows that you’re being really refreshingly honest. And you perhaps make a lighthearted, somewhat funny remark.

Jon Buchan:
And then the rest of the email follows suit. It’s a combination of a few different attributes. A, it’s disarming and it’s funny and it’s self-effacing. So you’re a likable person. And also it’s ambitious. You can show ambition and people will get behind you and people like to find new talent. So if you’re going around and you’re showing your ambition and that you know you can do a great job for them, but you’re also being understated and sort of self-effacing and meek and you’re not being this arrogant presence in their inbox, you’re being meek and direct at the same time. That combined with a bit of levity and humor, that’s the intoxicating combination. And that if you compare it to the really jargony approach that’s somehow the etiquette and the way things are done, you can just see the difference.

Jon Buchan:
You’re speaking to the people behind the fancy job titles. I always say to people, because one of the biggest objections to this method is, “It’s fine for you in marketing, Jon, but this won’t work on CEOs or IT directors or finance directors or whatever the job title is that they consider devoid of any humor or personality.”

Jon Buchan:
And I’m like, “No one becomes the CEO of Red Bull, and goes, ‘You know what? I don’t like to laugh anymore. That’s something I did when I was not successful.'” People like to put people on pedestals. You shouldn’t do that. Speak to them like people. It’s amazing that that is a remarkable advice. I only know of writing that way and it definitely has its benefits. And I’m not very good with having that professional veneer, as you may have noticed. And yeah, I think that that’s why it resonates with people. And that’s when they reply to you, they reply trying to kind of beat your humor, or at least they’re writing to you informally. They’re not writing to you with corporate model. And that is another huge advantage.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. So I want to talk a little bit about voice and the chances that you take when you write these emails. Right? So I think that they’re probably fairly polarizing. So the people who respond obviously absolutely love them. But you’re also going to get some hate mail or just be ignored by other people who may be burned by the email. So I’m wondering, how do you think about drawing the line between the balance that you’ve talked about where it’s creative and it’s humorous and it’s self-effacing and it’s disarmingly honest, but also not going so far that you’re not crossing a line. How do you think about, is there even a line?

Jon Buchan:
I’m not being offensive. That’s the thing. It’s like the style is basically being refreshing and yeah, there’s some absurdity and wit in there. But what is the line? Is the line there, if you start getting more people not liking what you saying … or actually yeah, not getting meetings that you could have got if you’d have just been a bit tamer. Is that the worry about the line? You’ve gone so far that you’re not going to get as many meetings as you could have had? I think this is a false dichotomy. I think this approach qualifies and disqualifies people. You’re going to find people that you’re actually going to work with better. You’re going to get on with, you start speaking to them from the first conversation in an honest way. It is a good way of finding people that you’re going to work well with.

Jon Buchan:
And it also, probably more important, you’re not going to work with people that reply with things like, “You should be more professional.” That is not someone I’m going to work well with. There’s nothing wrong with their style. I just would prefer to not work with people that have that opinion. I just find it better for everyone. So while you may not get every single person responding positively, obviously that’s not possible. That’s not possible with any opportunity, but you are going to get the attention of people that ordinarily would never reply to any of these. And you’re also, the people that you do get reply from, you’ve made the best first impression possible. And at the same time you’ve disqualified people that you’re not going to get on with.

Jon Buchan:
I think as far as the line, if I was writing stuff, really polarizing stuff, deliberately mentioning topics that were controversial, then there would be a line. But I don’t think there is. The only thing I could do is maybe if I went overboard on the silliness and I wasn’t taken seriously. But I’ve always been very measured. I know how to get the balance right and that’s just something that comes with experience. So obviously looking at my templates and stuff like that, but I don’t think you can really take it too far in a sort of offensive … because that’s not really part of the style. So it’s really just about practice. Looking at examples of copy and looking at the structure and practicing. I don’t know if that helps at all.

Liston Witherill:
Well I think it does because I know for sure there are people listening to this right now feeling exactly what you said. “This just wouldn’t work for me. I can’t talk to my clients like that. I don’t believe that I can write this way.” Now, I’ll tell you your style is not what I would write. So the way I write is always informal. So you and I definitely see eye to eye on that. And the way I write is also extremely honest. So I guess I’m wondering when I read your copy and I especially see how people are interacting in your Facebook group, people very much just adopt your voice. And I’m wondering if someone’s like, “Okay I don’t want to do it the Jon way, but Jon has some really useful ideas.” How do you talk to them about making this theirs?

Jon Buchan:
Yeah, because it’s all very systematic. The thing I’m doing more and more of now is obviously I teach about a wide variety of things, but it’s a big part of the daily content I’m creating, is joke formulas. To me it was just reflexive. If I write something, I’m not thinking about what jokes I’m going to put in. It just comes out. But I’ve reverse engineered loads of my old stuff and I’m just constantly writing and then examining what I’ve done and then looking at also stand-up comedy, sitcoms, looking at the joke formulas there and then you can use these same things in business corporate.

Jon Buchan:
But obviously not all of them because not everything translates. But there are little just tricks of language that you can use and that will work no matter where you start. And you could be really blunt, you could be really dry. You could be like your shock humor. You can be really witty and wordy. You can be silly. It’s really how you use those formulas. It’s the tone that you use and the directions that you go in the words you choose. But there are structures you can use and they will work no matter what your style. And I actually prefer it when people do try and adopt their own style. They can learn the techniques from me, but then they can make it their own and only sort of a trained eye would know that perhaps I was the influence.

Jon Buchan:
I much prefer that, that’s such a great thing to be able to help someone with to get to that position. But obviously not everyone wants to nor has the time, energy, or inclination. I’m fine with people using them as templates and using it as a weapon. But yeah, I do much prefer it when people are getting into the writing. Because I’m a writing nerd. And I just think it’s incredibly powerful. If people, ideally everyone would have the ability, and that no one would ever have to buy templates. But that’s maybe not the best commercial direction for me. But that’s the way I think, I would much prefer more people to learn the principles and the formulas behind the copy and then they can turn it into their own style, because a lot of people come up with ideas and jokes and things that I would never have thought of myself. That’s one of the cool things about doing this kind of stuff.

Liston Witherill:
So one thing you mentioned early on is that when you sent this first email, which was sort of your big aha moment, right? And then you created the Facebook group and it really all just gained momentum. But when people read that first email they thought, “Wow, this is so refreshing and this is so different.” I’m wondering, how do you think about if Charm Offensive is incredibly successful and this becomes a standard way of communicating in the business world, does the novelty wear off?

Jon Buchan:
I will be rich when that happens. I will be fine with that. That’s a long time away.

Liston Witherill:
So Jon, I appreciate that. But let’s put your Rolls Royce aside for a second and focus on the audience here. Right?

Jon Buchan:
I’m joking about it because it’s a worry that I used to have. Are you asking if it becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes ineffective?

Liston Witherill:
Of course, yes.

Jon Buchan:
My answer to that is this is something I used to worry, I didn’t start the group for ages because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to use my own technique. And now I realize, and I spoke to Collin about this, Cult of Coffee, and he said that’s ridiculous. It’s because we’re not all email in the same guy. If we’re all emailing the same guy or a few people, it would stop being very effective.

Jon Buchan:
But you think about how many businesses are in each city in America and each state, then the US, then the whole world, then all the people that work at those businesses, because it’s not just the founders that are getting emails. Then all of the other reasons people call and email each other, and then all the other asks that … there’s no way that I would be that ubiquitous. And if I did, as I say, I would be incredibly wealthy, not just rich, I would be wealthy if it got to that stage. I wish I had the confidence in myself that I could get that level. But I don’t think I’m ever going to be that successful.

Liston Witherill:
Well, so one thing I’ll tell you is I’m sure you’re familiar with Aaron Ross, predictable revenue, which was sort of like the stuffy version of what you’re suggesting. And what I see a lot is people who are at a certain level in companies that have a certain revenue, right? So larger companies, more powerful, say decision makers, they’ve seen that, “Can you refer me to the person in charge of X email,” like 150 times?

Jon Buchan:
Yeah.

Liston Witherill:
While I agree with what you’re saying, there are a lot of people in the world. I also think the key decision makers at larger companies get hit up constantly. And so I think the core of my question is is this just novelty because people aren’t used to seeing communication in this way? Or do you think that there’s something actually unique and breakthrough about this?

Jon Buchan:
I don’t think actually it’s breakthrough and new. What’s the thing that you see on so many dating profiles? Sense of humor, that has worked with trying to get the attention of a love interest for countless … since we’ve needed to do that, to continue the species. Well, since humans have been around, it’s been a weapon that you’ve used. It’s never gone out of fashion. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

Jon Buchan:
So [inaudible 00:19:17] an individual template, it could be that a specific template or a specific set of lines, say the CEO of Red Bull keeps getting those. I’ve achieved a level of success where that’s prominent. That could potentially happen with some real high-end prospects, but I would say the Charm Offensive thing is more about an approach, it’s not just individual lines or templates. It’s an approach to dealing with people.

Jon Buchan:
Obviously there is in the initial template, there’s a lot of jokes in there that work and if you’ve seen them over and over, it might seem like a gimmick now. But it’s not just about those individual lines. It’s about the underlying principles of being disarming and how to deal with people. It’s not just about that initial email. Every interaction matters. So that’s not just copy.

Jon Buchan:
I noticed this when I was hanging out with Daryl Warner, who is a cold calling guy.. And I learned a lot from him. That was one of the guys I used to go to sales meetings with. He was the business development guy. I was the consultant. I met with them recently because I convinced him to start his own group. And he has the same way, we were in a pub, the same disarming way of just dealing with people, every little interaction.

Jon Buchan:
And I realize that’s benefited me a great deal with running an agency and doing what I’m doing now. And as I’ve been writing up things, like [inaudible 00:20:24] and Symantec, and how to create a niche, I’m realizing all of just the little tiny things that I do and it is a charm offensive. It’s basically trying to behave in a way and speak in a way and write in a way and deal with other people in a way that maximizes your chance that every little interaction is going to go well and you’re overall building positive goodwill with people, a good reputation and all of these other things.

Jon Buchan:
So yes, an individual email template and a specific line or a photo of a fairy in bunny ears, that might be, if I achieve, if I keep growing, it might be that some high level prospects or in some specific industries, that one person may be inundated with this. I don’t think that’s happened yet. But the overarching principles I’m speaking about it and the stuff about dealing with making sure every interaction matters and dealing with those in the best way possible, I don’t think that’s going to go into fashion. I think that’s more complex and there’s just more to it. That’s how I would answer that question. I don’t know if I rambled on there. Sorry.

Liston Witherill:
No, you got it man. So I think that’s a good place to leave it. So in tomorrow’s episode, Jon, we’re going to talk about why every interaction matters so much and how to put structure. You talked about the structure of Charm Offensive and what does that look like? How do we think about maximizing our interactions and then applying that to our outbound and our marketing. So thank you so much for being here, Jon, and we’ll talk to you again tomorrow.

Jon Buchan:
No problem.

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