Six Tips for Writing Emails that Get Responses

By • June 2, 2013

Jamie Williams headshotBy Jamie Williams

Every day you are inundated with communication. Just today when I woke up and started getting the kids ready for school, my son turned on the TV while he was eating breakfast … and the commercials started. Then I turned on my computer, which overnight collected what seemed like 100 emails.

I scanned the subject lines, deleting all the deals I could have if only I shop before noon and moved some coupons into an “if I ever get time to shop” folder.

Next, I logged into Facebook to see what has happened with my group in the last 8 hours and checked on Twitter to read my news feed. Then I logged into LinkedIn to see what is new in the business world. While taking the kids to school I heard radio ads and glanced at a few billboards. I stopped at Publix Supermarket to grab some breakfast and encountered aisles of product packaging as I’m searching for a few items. Before I actually start my work day, my mind is filled with marketing messages and ads.

  • According to Mashable, 89 billion business emails are sent daily.
  • Many business emails that don’t receive responses have too much information, are directed at too many people or don’t contain a sense of urgency that warrants a fast response.
  • Use relevant subject lines, clearly define what information you want from the recipient, and only send to those who need the information.
  • If someone still doesn’t respond via email after several attempts, call or visit them to convey your message.
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This gets me thinking … How much communication do we take in daily, and how much actually sticks with us past 10 minutes? Out of all the emails I have now sent how many are getting read? How many emails get responses? I started thinking more about email and how people receive their email. What spurs them to respond? Then I think about the 25 I deleted already this morning. Why did I delete them?

I’m at lunch later that day sitting at a restaurant and I glance around. Out of the 10 tables that I could see, at eight of them someone looking at their phone was texting or emailing (and probably not hearing what their lunch companion was saying).

Video: Watch association leaders talk about how they integrate new technologies into their association communications.

So what do we know about email? According to this Mashable article, 144 billion emails are sent per day; 89 billion of those are business emails. Ninety million people access their email on a mobile device. An average worker spends 11.2 hours a week responding to and sending emails. Eighty percent of all emails sent are spam.

These are alarming statistics that pose a challenge for communication. How do we stand out in an email world where 8 out of 10 emails are spam? How can we get the important emails delivered, read and responded to? Today, an email is almost as important as a phone call.

Later that day, I trained one of our sales groups about how to get people to respond faster, or even at all, to emails. I shared these essential techniques:

  • Write shorter emails. Longer emails encourage people to procrastinate. Don’t send a blanket email with lots of information to dissect. Limit emails to less than one paragraph, if possible. As I said earlier, 90 million Americans access their email from a mobile device and if they have to scroll too much to read, they might delete before they read everything.
  • Don’t copy multiple people. Doing so gives recipients the idea that “someone else will respond; I don’t have to.” If you want a response, send your email to only one person.
  • Clearly define what answers you need. Again, sending a generic email that goes below the fold and mentions 50 things encourages procrastination. If you want a company to sponsor a golf tournament and want an answer right away, try asking just what you want to know. List prices. Do the research for them. Build the value of the event. Make it easy to say yes.
  • Write a relevant subject line. Be specific. This morning I deleted 25 of 30 emails I received overnight because the subject line alone didn’t interest me. A bad example of a subject line: “Editorial Update Meeting.” This is vague and contains no call-to-action. A good example of a specific subject line: “Jamie, I need to finalize our article about Offshore Decommissioning.” Be careful not to make your subject lines too long, however, or your recipient may become annoyed at having to digest a novel before opening the email itself.
  • Offer Suggestions. Sometimes a colleague doesn’t respond to an email quickly because they don’t have time to dissect the information within. By offering suggestions or options, you can help him or her make a decision. For example: “John, I have sent you a few emails about this topic but haven’t heard your response. I understand you may be busy, so here are a few suggestions to help you make a decision. Are you available this afternoon to discuss?” Then follow up with a phone call if you still don’t hear back.
  • STILL not receiving responses? Change the form of communication with your client. Call them! If that doesn’t work, send a hand-written card or pay a visit in person, if possible. Many people appreciate offline communication now that online communication is becoming the norm. One firm even requires employees to communicate offline on Fridays. Your clients will appreciate an offline gesture, and they will respond.

When I decided to change the ways I sent email, my responses changed almost instantly. People who never responded before all of a sudden responded. Those to whom I tried to sell an ad responded to my newer version of email.

One thing was common with the changes I made: Everyone wanted the process to be easier. When I re-sent emails and asked specific questions, I received specific, faster responses. These days I won’t send an email that doesn’t make it easier for the recipient to respond quickly. Think about this the next time you read your email. Count how many emails you have in your inbox, and remember that you’ll probably read only 20 percent of them. How will you write emails differently to stand out? How are you going to capture the attention of those that would have normally deleted you? Try some of my techniques above and I promise you: More responses will come your way!

Jamie Williams is an advertising consultant with Naylor, LLC. She has delivered results for associations and advertisers with Naylor for more than 14 years.