If you’re a sales rep emailing prospects during the pandemic, you’re competing for attention within inboxes that have never been more crowded. Virtual communication is “real” communication now, and two key trends are making it harder for you to stand out.
First, in a trend that The Economist calls, “It could have been an email,” meetings are getting shorter — by 20%, according to this Harvard Business School study. Conversations that used to happen in meetings are happening in emails instead.
Second, that same study shows that more emails are being sent in the pandemic (by 5%) — with more recipients on average (by 3%), and more frequently after-hours (by 8%).
How can you make a splash in this digital sea of emails, and capture people’s attention as their inboxes overflow? Let’s take a look.
Keep it short
Assume your prospects and customers have shorter attention spans, and respond appropriately. PwC Advisory Principal Mike Hoody recommends using fewer words, showing less formality, and being more direct in your emails.
“Just get to the point, get it out there, two sentences, get your answer,” he said.
Ryan Ott, a Salesforce account executive, said his emails mention just one or two important things. He addresses other topics later on the phone. Before COVID-19, he might have sent over five questions or action items.
“I try to make it more consumable and quickly digestible for them, so that they don’t open the email and just say, ‘I’m going to get back to this later,’” he said.
Less wordy doesn’t mean less work. You may have to think harder about what information or action items to prioritize and include in emails, versus what content to leave for later.
If you have trouble getting your message across succinctly, templates can help bring focus. Ott says he will sometimes write a template that he retools and personalizes for depending on who he’s talking to. He also shares those templates with his team.
Your company or team may also create templates to help ensure consistent messaging around certain products or topics. For example, there are times when a company may want to sound less “sales-y” — and using a template can help you strike the right tone.
Schedule meetings directly from email
Just as you don’t want potential and current customers to see a long email and decide to review it later — only to forget — you also don’t want to make it difficult for them to schedule time to talk with you.
Email-calendar integrations make it easier to coordinate meetings by cutting out back-and-forth about timing. Ott uses Salesforce’s Gmail integration features that allow email recipients to accept their preferred meeting time with a single click right from the email.
“I just make it so that all they have to do is click the time to connect and make it as frictionless as possible for customers to schedule time,” he said.
Send messages at the right time
Emails received at the wrong time get buried or forgotten. Scheduling emails — a feature on the Salesforce platform — allows you to pick the right future time for an email to send, improving chances you will receive a response.
The right time to send emails, though, isn’t always a straightforward answer. It really depends on what your customers want from you.
“For some accounts, they want that trusted advisor, instant gratification feel,” meaning they might enjoy immediate responses, “but other accounts, maybe less of that,” said Productivity and AI Product Leader Austin Tam, whose team works on Salesforce productivity integrations.
In the latter case, responding too quickly — say, on a Saturday night — could make you appear overeager. (Not to mention, some people just don’t like evening or weekend work emails.)
One good rule of thumb is that you may want to avoid overly busy days. Tam says it’s often best to email midweek, rather than on Mondays.
Another one is that people check their email in the morning, when they start their work day, Ott said. Though he sends response emails as he writes them during the day.
Ultimately, you know your accounts. Maybe the best time for some customers is when they’re getting back from lunch, or as they wind down their days. In any case, your timing should be intentional.
Timing is also about cadence. When you don’t hear back from a prospect, how soon do you follow up? You can try testing different cadences to see what rhythm of communication gets a better reaction.
Break down information silos
If you send an email and never record the correspondence in your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, did you really communicate with that account?
Information stored in emails can easily end up siloed from other relevant data. When that happens, colleagues working on the same account may not have visibility into your communications with the customer and find themselves looking at a different set of information. As a result, they may make different assumptions, which can lead to confusion and conflict within a team.
Salesforce automatically logs email submissions, so you don’t have to. An expanded integration with Gmail enables you to automatically view how content in an email connects to existing customer information in Salesforce.
“It requires less deliberation,” said PwC Advisory Principal Mike Hoody. PwC is an early user of the integration. “It’s just there, so you can move [between Gmail and Salesforce] without having to explicitly do it.”
At the end of the day, email engagement in the age of COVID-19 is about balance. With so many people working remotely, digital information overload and screen weariness cause significant stress. To succeed with prospects and customers in this environment, you need to communicate thoughtfully.
“More discussion, more demonstration, less materials is a technique that we’re trying to do more,” Hoody said.
Be intentional about what emails you send, how often, and when. Balance your persistent effort with a reasonable ask. And make it easy for people to move to the next step.
When responding is easy, prospects and customers are more likely to do it. And that’s a small, but crucial, step toward building a strong and lasting relationship.