This guide has been created as the first step in employing email strategy to get the responses you want from busy people!
It’s a summary of our learning from Ramit Sethi’s “50 proven email scripts”, of which sections of his work has been quoted.
1) The 5-minute straight-jacket technique
Turn off all distractions. Ask yourself: Why am I emailing this person? What exactly do I want? What does the person I’m emailing want? Is this the right person considering my goals? Is this the right time to send an email?
Use this with: People you've just met, people you casually know, people you don’t know but aspire to get something from.
2) Hack the Person’s Mind
Learn everything you can about the person you’re contacting. Read all of their content, browse all their social media, their business sites, etc. You should understand their career background and trajectory, the details of their day-to-day job, their personal interests, their relationship status, and any mutual friends you might have. All of this allows you to build rapport with the person.
Use this with: Anyone new you’re meeting (and presumably you want something from).
3) The Ramit 1-2 Punch
Start with a jab, follow with a cross! Get their attention, then unload the information.
I’m working on a book proposal and wanted to see if I could get your feedback.
Can I send it your way (I’ll include a few specific questions I’m looking for your thoughts on)?
The next email can then include the specifics. This way you get someone to commit to answering you, without having scared them with a bunch of information straight away.
Use this technique carefully, you don’t want a reputation as the guy who always sends a short email followed by something complex.
4) The UNODIR Strategy
“Unless Otherwise Directed”. When you’re stuck with bureaucracy within your organisation, this is a great strategy to use to push things through. Rather than asking an open-ended question (when you need an answer by a certain time), state you will do something unless there’s strong reason not to.
Unless there’s a STRONG reason not to launch, I’ll be launching the new FAQ tomorrow at 11am.
We’ve added the last files, checked the links to ensure they’re working and we’re ready to go."
It’s important to not use a question mark, because really, you don’t want an answer.
You use this when you know you’re right and need to keep a project moving forward regardless of your co-workers’ multiple opinions.
5) Strategic Updates
To build successful meeting and email exchanges you need to stay in touch with all the people you know. This is one of the most challenging and important strategies, as you need to continuously work to keep the lines of communication open.
A good rule of thumb is to send quarterly updates by email. You also want to meet in person or talk on the phone as frequently as seems possible. However, only contact him as often as he seems receptive to and make sure it’s in his preferred style. This could mean email, blog posts, a Facebook message. Whatever works for HIM.
A great opportunity to get in touch is when you see them featured in a news piece or you’ve just read their new article, or even an article about their competitors you think they should know about.
Never just drop an email saying: “Hey – what’s new with you?”
Once again, make it easy for them; they’re busy! Send them some information you know they will find interesting, and if appropriate, include the words “no reply necessary”. This shows that you’re being valuable AND not taking up any additional time.
Use this with: Everyone you’re interested in having a relationship with, no matter how small. For the seemingly unimportant, include them on an automated newsletter update list.
6) Power Dynamics and the Wide/Narrow Formula
Respect the power dynamic between the two of you. You reached out to her and you’re asking for her time. That means you should proactively offer to meet her at a location of her choice at a convenient time. Suggesting a coffee shop near you can sound aloof and even arrogant. Make the effort!
Use their time zone (don’t make them think). Acknowledge how many emails they probably get, so you’d be honoured to get even 10 minutes of their time.
Wide/Narrow Formula. Explicitly offer to work around their schedule because you know they’re busy, but help by suggesting specific times. You might say “I’m totally free on Monday and can accommodate your schedule. How does 3pm work?” This works for content too: “I’d love to talk about all of those things, but I think you’d particularly enjoy hearing about my trip to China”.
Your goal is to minimize the back-and-forth of emails!
Use this with: Anytime you’re trying to schedule a meeting with someone who’s agreed to meet you.
7) Social Proof
This is the most powerful technique. The best way to break through a busy person’s inbox is to get introduced by a trusted referral. This cannot be emphasized enough: getting an introduction from someone trusted by the busy person dramatically increases your odds of a positive response. Using a subject line of “Steven suggested I get in touch” virtually guarantees a response from a busy person. This is because:
1) Busy people use their social network as a filter for credibility (If Steven recommends her, she’s probably good).
2) As a courtesy, busy people will generally accept a phone call or small meeting if one of their contacts suggests them, even if they immediately know there’s no interest. (“Well, I’ll meet this guy as a courtesy to Steven since he’s helped me out in the past. It can’t hurt for 5 or 10 minutes”).
How a busy Venture Capitalist views referrals
“While we accept business plan submissions from everyone, we’ve found that the most effective introduction is from someone who knows you and knows us. We place a much higher priority on deals that referred/endorsed by people we know and trust. We are also big fans of LinkedIn – if you use LinkedIn, please feel free to reach out to us through your network”.
Here’s how to leverage a shared, trusted connection:
First, ask your friend for the best way to contact your target. Does he prefer email? (Probably). Is there a particular time that works best? Is she on vacation for the next two weeks? Ask your friend for any suggestions.
Next, ask whether your friend would mind making an introduction, or if he’d allow you to use his name in your initial email (“Steven suggested I get in touch”). You’ll have to explain why you’re interested in contacting the target person. Don’t be disappointed if your friend declines to introduce you – sometimes it can just be a waste of time.
If the email is extremely important (getting admission to an important program, or registering for an exclusive event), ask your friend to send an unsolicited, short email to the target singing your praises.
For example: “I heard Brian is applying to your company as a designer. Just wanted to let you know that he’s terrific – great design skills, but more importantly, he’s superb at communication. Let me know if I can answer any other questions”.
Note: Always pre-write the email so your friend can edit it as desired.
Key point: When contacting a busy person – especially extremely busy people like venture capitalists or celebrities – using common, trusted connections is virtually the only way to guarantee a response.
Use this with: Extremely busy people when you have a CLOSE contact with one of their CLOSE contacts.
Do not use this more than once with the same person.
Much of what will follow may seem common sense, but the majority of the time these guidelines are ignored. Just getting these right can set you apart from the unwashed masses!
1) Write a compelling subject line
The subject line is the first and sometimes only thing anyone will read. It’s your best shot at standing out from all the other emails clogging up the inbox.
Examples of terrible subject lines:
Excited to email…
Examples of excellent subject lines:
1) I’m going to be in town next Tues – are you available?
2) Greeting from a blog reader and fan; questions about ING Direct
3) All you need to know about Philadelphia (and a small question)
4) Hello from SF-based aspiring pet entrepreneur
That’s right, take up the whole subject line!
Perhaps even ask a question. You need to set the right tone by being clear and direct in your subject line. When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.
2) The Opening and Close
The friendliest way to open an email is “Hi [name of recipient]”. A more casual but sometimes acceptable approach uses “Hey”. Don’t use “Dear [Mr. or Ms.]. This is too formal for most emails.
Don’t close emails with “Regards”. Too generic. Or “Cordially”. It’s too cold. A better option is to say “Thank you” or even “Thanks”.
3) Tone of Voice
You should tailor your tone to the type of business or corporate culture of the person you are contacting. In most cases, the tone of your professional emails should be precise and serious, but also casually confident. Confidence: “I look forward to hearing from you soon!” (vs. “I hope to hear from you soon.”). Friendliness: “Hi Dave,” (vs. “Dear Dave,”). “How was your vacation?” (vs. I trust you are well.)
Certain words or sentence constructions can affect tone. The phrase “I would be happy to do X” implies that you are doing the other person a favour, or at the least showing you’d be happy to comply with their request. If you are the lower status person, never tell the other person you “would be happy to meet”.
Bad formatting can scuttle even the most helpful, interesting email. Use paragraph breaks and bullet points liberally to make your email easy to read.
Send in plain text rather than HTML so it can be easily read on a mobile device. For VIP emails, send a test to yourself to make sure it’s readable and any URL’s are clickable.
5) Use Correct Grammar and Spelling
Lazy typos signal laziness. Let the reader focus on your well-crafted message, instead of leaving them thinking why you can’t tell the difference between “its” and “it’s”.
6) Be PC
If you don’t know a person, you shouldn’t make unnecessary religious or political or racial references. Even ending an email with “God Bless” can offend. Keep your emails professional.
7) Write well
Use an active, not passive voice. Instead of saying “Your feedback would be appreciated”, say, “I would like your feedback”.
Sound like a human being. The easiest way to do this is to write like you talk. If you read your email out loud and find it awkward, that’s a good sign you’re writing to formally.
8) When It’s Time to Hit Send
If you don’t think about the busy person, you lose. To maximize your chance of receiving a response, email a busy person when they’re most likely to read and process it.
Do not email a busy person on a Friday afternoon or a Monday morning. They will be so busy prepping for their week, or ending it, that they won’t have the time to respond. Think about when they’re most receptive. On Sunday night when they’re prepping for the week? Tuesday morning? It depends on the person, so get researching! Generally speaking, Monday afternoon and Tuesday mornings are good to avoid the weekend purge, but also allow potential back-and-forth rapport that same week.
9) The Risk With Group Emails
A classic thing happens when you email multiple people wanting a response from them all and it’s called “diffusion of responsibility”. If you email 5 people asking “what do you think of this document?” everyone thinks “someone else will deal with it”. The chances of receiving a reply are significantly less than if you email each person individually. Do not do group emails if you want a response from each person.
You now have a basic toolkit of strategies to use for various email situations. With time and experience, these tools will become intuitive and extremely effective when emailing busy people.
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