Inboxes are crowded places.
With the constant flow of email marketing vying for our attention, it’s more important than ever to get strategic about business email.
Emailing eats up a quarter of the working day. That means that on average, we spend two hours a day clearing out the inbox.
No surprise that so many of us fall into the category of “stress emailers.” We react quickly, skim emails, and respond either right away or not at all. (A USC study found that 50 percent of email replies are sent in fewer than 60 minutes.)
I spoke to Tarzan Kay, a copywriter specializing in email marketing, who shared some simple tricks for highly effective emailing.
“There’s so much great science to help us understand inbox behaviors, and how to get better, faster responses,” says Kay. “I limit emails to one subject, and keep them to a grade 7 reading level. Not because I don’t think my reader is smart, but because she’s incredibly busy — if she can’t digest it in 20 seconds or less, there’s a good chance it’s going into the ‘save for later’ pile. Later rarely comes.”
Language is a powerful motivator, and an equally powerful de-motivator. Even a subtle turn of phrase can change the mindframe in which the remainder of an email gets read.
“I sprinkle my emails with lots of feel-good ‘trigger phrases’ to warm up my reader and put them in the mood to reply. Starting an email with a simple phrase like ‘I like the way you’ve [insert admirable thing]’ can be the difference between a glowing reply and getting sent to trash.”
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Here are Tarzan Kay’s top 5 tips for getting faster replies to business emails:
1. Write a straight-to-the-point subject line
Subject lines don’t need to be stylish or pique curiosity. Save that for email marketing, or cold prospects that need to be courted. Subject lines are most effective when they’re crystal clear and affirm the body of the email.
- “Speakers for Job Convention” is better than “Convention Ideas”
- “Sat Aug. 4 Meeting @ 10am” is better than “Meeting Time”
2. Get to the point fast and reaffirm the main idea
Don’t assume the recipient remembers the subject to which you’re referring. Inboxes are chaotic, and it’s inconvenient to have to search through previous emails to pick up the thread.
- “Very generous of you to offer me the corner office. I accept.” is better than “Wonderful. I accept.”
- “Glad you liked my presentation at last week’s job convention.” is better than “Glad you liked it.”
3. Play copycat to the recipient’s email style
Some busy execs love to send zero-frills emails — one-liners with no greetings or small talk. If that’s the case, you can dispense with the foreplay as well. Say what you need to in as few words as possible.
On the other hand, if you’re just getting to know someone, and his emails regale you with tales of last Saturday’s golf game, feel free to reciprocate. Bonus points if you can relate back with a tale of the famous hole-in-one you hit in the summer of ‘92.
4. If you need action on multiple items, number them
If there are multiple questions that need answering, and they’re scattered throughout the email, it’s a lot of work for the recipient to comb through and answer each question. It’s quite likely at least one will slip through the cracks.
Don’t make the recipient work too hard. Number your questions, and add bullets to action items, if you’ve included those as well. That way she can reply back in the body of your email, using it as a template.
5. Add formatting
Most of us scan emails the same way we scan articles. This is especially true for group emails, where tasks are delegated to a few different people.
Use bold text. Underline it. Write it in red. Highlight names. Your point will come off quicker.
Anything in caps draws the reader in immediately. THIS WORKS great for highlighting the main call-to-action.
Finally, shorter is almost always better. Say what you can in the fewest number of words possible.
Comb through it before sending, and eliminate any extraneous words. You won’t win any literary awards, but you’ll most certainly get more helpful replies, quicker. Consider that your gold star.