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How I Would Grow

Steli Efti has had sales running through his veins ever since he was a kid.  He dropped out of school at 18 to start his first business, had a few businesses after that, and then decided to pursue his dream of making it big.  He sold everything he owned and bought a one way ticket to Silicon Valley.

After a couple of years, he started Elastic Sales which helped venture backed, B2B startups scale their sales efforts.  In the process, he and his team developed their own internal software to make their jobs easier.  As time went on, and after some arm twisting, Steli realized that the software itself was the killer service, and thus was born. aims to not just create the best sales platform, but also to make their customers more successful through every interaction they have with the company.  The more value you provide your prospects with upfront, the more likely it is they will want to buy from you.

Their mission is to never again have a great company fail because they lacked sales.  In the spirit of that mission, the team created a 30-day Startup Sales Success Email Course to teach people to become better sellers, and position as the best tool to help them along the way.

Spoiler alert, this email course is awesome. 

You can clearly see the team took Patrick McKenzie’s lessons to heart and produced an email course that hits all the right notes.  How has it impacted their business?  Steli doesn’t give exact numbers, but says they are getting double-digit % conversion rates for trial signups from the course.  With 10,000+ subscribers to the email course, that definitely moves the needle.

This teardown does not get into the pedantic “change this word to that,” or “change that button to red” type of suggestions.  As a fast-growing startup with a small team, they have much more important things to work on than tweaking the body copy of their email course which already does a great job.  Done is better than perfect, especially when trying to achieve perfection distracts you from all the other areas of your business that need work.  And they’ve done pretty damn well.

I highlight what they are doing well so that you can learn from them, and also point out a few quick wins for the team that would easily be worth their time.  There are 13 emails in the course, 4 of which have some form of pitch.  Their content converts, but if readers don’t open the emails, then it doesn’t have a chance to. 

To solve that problem, I propose headlines to test for each of these key emails.  If they are able to get just a 10% lift in the open rates for their pitches, that could mean hundreds of new trial signups just by changing a few sentences.

I also look at the other key element of the email that deserves focus, the call-to-action [CTA].  For a course that already converts well, they can get most of the possible optimization gains by just focuses on these couple of sentences.  I’ve highlighted the subjects of these emails to help them stand out.

And to wrap it all up, at the end I look at the big picture and see how they could replicate this success in other areas, and what tools they could use to make these efforts even more successful.

Now, let’s check out the emails

Just click the button under each subject line to see a screenshot of the emails

Email 1 (Day 1): "Do you have what it takes for Startup Sales Success?" Open rate: 62%

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The first email’s job is to set the foundation for the course, and let the reader know what to expect.

Right from the start, Steli takes a casual, person tone.  He encourages readers to engage with the content which not only helps them get more value from the course, but also gives him a chance to talk to potential customers and get real feedback

Most importantly, this email is not a pitch.  There is a time and a place for that in any educational email course, but not at the start.  You need to earn the reader’s trust before even THINKING about selling.

Email 2 (Day 3): "The 7 Deadly Sales Sins that startups commit" Open rate: 55.9%

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As the course goes on, it is important to refresh your readers’ minds about what you have already covered.  Your email course is your baby, but your readers have 1000 other things going on in their lives.  And even with great content, it is easy for them to lose track of things after a few days have gone by.

Early in the course, it’s important to deliver quick wins to as wide an audience as you can, and this email does that.  Instead of needed to learn a new skill, people can simply stop making these 7 mistakes and immediately see an improvement.

Steli also breaks away from his corporate competitors by continuing to end with “Happy Selling!”  It seems small, but keeping the tone light and avoiding the standard endings of “Sincerely” or “Regards” really can make you stand out and make the email feel more personal.

Email 3 (Day 5): "How to develop a predictable & scalable sales model" Open rate: 56.1%

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This is the first pitch, but it is very soft and you may even miss it the first time.  This is exactly how it should be.  This is only the third email and while you have given the reader real value by now, you don’t want to just start ramming a pitch down their throat.  Steli did this perfectly by making sure this email was worth reading on its own, suggesting another person’s book, and not pitching until the very end. 

It is also worth pointing out that this email is the first one to get into the nuts and bolts and provide more specific advice.

The open rate is pretty good, so I wouldn’t spend much time worrying about that, but I would focus on the call to action [CTA] for the pitch.  You don’t want to be too aggressive at this point, but it is worth testing the addition of a benefit in the CTA.  Something like “Start your free trial today, and say NO to data entry.”  Optimizing this one sentence will have a bigger impact than changing the entire rest of the email.

Email 4 (Day 9): "Close More Deals. Make More Sales." Open rate: 49.7%

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This is an awesome sales letter that hits all the key components of a great pitch. 

He flat out tells the reader that a sales pitch is coming, but says that even if they aren’t interested they should still pay attention to how it is structured [he is right]. 

  • The email then tells a story which is great for engagement, and giving a personal context to so that sales people will realize it is built by people just like them
  • He overcomes objections by including testimonials of real people with real businesses
  • Then he focuses on the benefits [not the features]
  • And finally, disqualifies prospects who wouldn’t be a good fit.

The open rate isn’t horrible, but this is the most successful email in their campaign so you want as many people as possible reading this email.  “Close More Deals. Make More Sales” is the headline from their website, and I am sure it performs well there, but it doesn’t seem to be doing a great job of getting people to open the email. 

I would test something like “You can finally say NO to data entry.”  You want to hit a nerve in the reader so they are compelled to open the email and find out how they can solve their problem.

If the team does nothing else, testing a handful of different headlines for this one email and sticking with the winner will produce dramatic results.

Email 5 (Day 11): "Sales scripts & how to handle customer objections" Open rate: 55.1%

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Two things to note here:

First, after a couple of pitches, you need to get back to the information.  Even though every email has been useful to the reader, they don’t want to be bombarded by a sales pitch.  Remember, they signed up for the course to learn.  Steli gets even more actionable than before by providing downloadable templates that readers can use to take action today.

Second, the emails up until this point have been long, so he gives the readers a break so they don’t burn out.

Email 6 (Day 14): "How to give a demo that actually sells!" Open rate: 49.7%

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Another actionable, valuable email on a topic that sales reps and founders get completely wrong all the time.  Every expert in any field has a list of examples where the common wisdom is completely wrong, and an email course is the perfect opportunity to set the record straight.

Email 7 (Day 17): "The power of the follow up…" Open rate: 49.5%

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Like the last email, this focuses on a topic that almost every sales rep [and person in general] could learn a lot from. 

On a side note, after reading this email and Steli’s longer blog post on this subject, I have put his advice into practice and seen transformative results personally and professionally.

Email 8 (Day 20): "The most important lesson I ever learned in sales" Open rate: 48.7%

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Steli again uses storytelling to engage the reader, drive home a fundamental sales concept, and asks the reader to engage with him.

At this point it is important to note that while every email has a testimonial at the bottom, the testimonials are not about  Instead, they all talk about the value of the course.  This is very savvy as it gives the course social proof and makes the reader want to stick around until the end.

Email 9 (Day 23): "Startups: Why You Need To Call Your Customers" Open rate: 47.3%

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This is another soft pitch at the end of an informative email.  Here the team uses a benefit based CTA I have been advocating by saying, “Check out and start making more calls today!”  They could test whether or not emphasizing the free trial helps, but that isn’t where I would focus the bulk of my efforts.

Instead the team should work on, you guessed it, the headline.  While sales reps are used to making calls, the average startup founder HATES getting on the phone and the thought of talking to customers can be downright scary to them.  This email makes a strong case for the value that a startup can find by getting on the phone, and even without the CTA at the bottom, it is something that these people should read.

BUT if I am a founder who fears getting on the phone and read this subject, I would instantly start coming up with excuses about why I’m different and would just skip the email entirely.  The headline needs to get past those excuses by calling them out with something like “Stop being afraid of your customers” or even just “You need to call your customers. No excuses.”

I would also test adding a headline before the pitch.  “What would your business look like if you made 30% more calls?”

Email 10 (Day 26): " A Crash Course in Sales Hacking & Deal Closing" Open rate: 46.6%

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After almost a month of long emails, it is a good idea to break things up with a video that can be consumed a little more passively.  Not only does the video do that, but it also establishes authority for Steli (he is a big enough expect to be asked to speak at a conference), and when people are able to see and hear him speak, it leaves a deeper impression on them.

Email 11 (Day 29): "The Virtual Close" Open rate: 45.4%

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Another great sales tactic, and this time uses a tweet for the testimonial.

Email 12 (Day 32): "How to Respond to Discount Inquiries" Open rate: 44.7%

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This email has the lowest open rate, but was very popular when posted on the blog and on Hacker News.  There isn’t a pitch in it at all, but for content that has proven to be valuable to readers, it is important to try to get it in front of as many as possible. 

I wouldn’t spend much effort on this, but trying a couple different subjects could really help readers get more value from the course.  I would start with “They’re buying for the wrong reason” or even “Ugh! Another discount request…” 

The “How to” subject lines don’t seem to perform well with this audience, and they also clash a bit with the personal tone that the emails themselves sound.  They make it clear what the reader can expect, but they don’t sound like how you would talk with a friend.

Email 13 (Day 35): "Book: The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales (50% discount)" Open rate: 44.8%

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This is the last email in the course and it serves as a pitch for the book.  For the last email, I think the pitch should be for the core product.  Readers have already had several opportunities to sign up for the trial, but just because they passed before doesn’t mean it is time to go for the downsell.  There are still people out there who just need a little more of a nudge to get started, so give it to them.

What I would recommend is sweetening the pot by offering the $19.99 book for free if they sign up for the trial TODAY.  For people that already signed up for the trial, he can say “already signed up?  No problem!  Just reach out to me at and I will make sure you get your free copy.”   If they sign up for the trial, I would even consider shipping them a physical copy of the book in exchange for their address and phone number. 

If they still say no, that’s fine.  Create one more email that is sent only to people who did not sign up for the trial and THEN offer them 50% off the book alone.  But don’t do this before making another trial pitch.

By packaging the book as a bonus with the trial, you will convert a higher percent of people who were previously on the fence.  And by then following up with a discounted offer for just the book, you turn an even larger share of your prospects into real leads.

Your audience will be made of people at different stages of the buying cycle, so make multiple offers in order to satisfy as many of them as you can.

Two Tools to Double the Effectiveness of’s Content Marketing

  1. Retargeting

The team does a great job with their blog and content marketing in general, and as a result they get tons of traffic from Hacker News,,, and all over the web.  They have a SumoMe popup for their email course, an opt-in box at the end of each blog post, and a link in the header to a dedicated landing page for the course.  If they are killing it with these opt-ins, then they are getting maybe 10% of their traffic to sign up for their sales course.

The problem is that means they are losing the remaining 90%.  Content marketing is a powerful tool, but without the proper systems in place, it can be very wasteful.

Retargeting gives them more opportunities to reach out to that 90% that would otherwise be lost, and Facebook makes this easier than ever.  What they need to do is setup Facebook’s Custom Audience pixel on their blog, allowing them to serve Facebook ads exclusively to people who have visited their blog

The team should target this audience with ads promoting their email course. These people have already shown they are interested in what they are writing about, so they are going to be very responsive to similar content, especially something as valuable as a 30-day training course to get better at sales.

This strategy lets them leverage their amazing content market to get as large a share of their readers into their funnel as possible.  Opt-in forms, popups, and landing pages alone cannot compete.  With retargeting, no longer is it acceptable to throw out 90% of your traffic.

With a CLV of $1,000s, think about how much money is simply going out the window without these systems in place!

  1. Nurturing sequence for book buyers

The sales course ends with the pitch for the book, but what happens after a prospect buys the book?  Nothing!

When somebody buys the book, they are saying that they trust and are very interested in learning more about sales, but still aren’t sure about the full product.  This is a great opportunity to follow up with emails that are a bit more sales-y that are designed to overcome their objections.

Include a weekly digest of the latest blog posts at to continue delivering value, but in between those emails, send out detailed case studies showing how other companies were able to use to demonstrably improve their bottom line, or even just sharing more testimonials.

At this point, it could be worthwhile to be slightly higher touch and send out personal emails to these prospects asking about their needs and trying to setup a call.

Whatever tactics they settle on, the main thing to keep in mind is that there is a group of highly qualified prospects that aren’t being given the attention that they deserve.  Doing anything proactive with this group is sure to show up in’s bottom line.

Steli and his team are sales experts, so I don’t expect that all of this is news to them.  The problem fast-growing startups like face is that there is a constant balancing act, “is it worth spending another hour fixing something that isn’t broken, when we could also be working on a new initiative to really move the needle.”

Their content marketing and email course are amazing and have a material impact on their bottom line.  It works.  But the goal of this article was to provide the tools to potentially double [or more] the impact of their content marketing, getting more signups for the course, and show the quick wins that squeeze the course for every lead it has.  When combined, the results will move the needle for and for your business.

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