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How To Write A Better Email

How To Write A Better Email

Write what you know. Write how you talk. Show, don’t tell. All these rules of thumb about good writing are true (even if they’re a bit overused) but most of us were probably first taught them when we were writing essays or short stories in school. By the time you started writing email messages —

Write what you know. Write how you talk. Show, don’t tell.

All these rules of thumb about good writing are true (even if they’re a bit overused) but most of us were probably first taught them when we were writing essays or short stories in school.

By the time you started writing email messages — the writing that can make the difference between winning a sale or losing a deal — they might have been forgotten.

Many kids are still taught the formal aspects of writing letters, including salutations and closings, but there are few classes that really focus on the art of writing great email.

This is a little odd, because emails can contain everything from a sales pitch to a job application, a strategic directive or even an offer to acquire a company.

Given how critical email can be to business performance, shouldn’t the quality be consistently better?

The introduction of email was transformative, in that it rapidly accelerated the delivery of communication. Perhaps because email can be written, sent and received so quickly, it also seemed to make communication more intimate.

Most of us now write our own email messages. Sales reps in particular may use email as much as, or even more than, phone calls to connect with prospects and turn them into customers.

Email can be involved at every stage of the journey, from following up on a lead to sending material after an initial meeting or call, arranging the final purchase agreement and everything in between.

The best sales reps are well aware they’re making an impression — good or bad — by the email messages they write to their customers.

Those filled with typos, or which are difficult to understand, may make customers wonder if you’re sloppy in other areas.

Email messages that include multiple exclamation points might make a rep seem over-excited or even juvenile.

If a message sounds like you’re talking down to a customer, it hurts the relationship. Same thing if your word choices create confusion or sound “uppity.”

Here’s how to up your email game. It’s never too late to start:

1. Know your audience — including the one you’re not addressing directly

You probably already realize that if you’re writing to the head of a company, you’ll need to project a high degree of professionalism, using formal salutations as appropriate and demonstrating a respect for their time.

Even if you’re writing to an entry-level employee, however, there’s a good chance the CEO might still read what you write.

It’s not just the fact that the “forward” button” turned business communication from a two-way affair into an entire thread or chain of messages. The fact is in many companies, those making buying decisions are doing so in consultation with a team of their coworkers.

That means your email messages need to take into account what unasked questions might come up if they’re passed on to someone else, and to avoid anything in terms of tone or subject matter that might not be appropriate if someone other than the recipient reads it.

2. Automate the quality control as though your email were aimed at the masses

When a company sends out an email marketing campaign to its database, there are usually a number of rigorous quality checks to make sure it’s clear, concise and will drive the business outcomes the company wants. There’s also a lot of tech involved.

Marketing automation, for example, has transformed the ability to schedule when an email goes out, the segments that receive it and the many ways in which can be personalized. Why not do something similar with your own email messages?

There are plenty of tools to automate checking for proper word usage and whether the message adheres to all the basic rules of English, such as Grammarly. Others, like WhiteSmoke, scans for proper punctuation, spelling and suggests a particular writing style. Slick Write can help reduce redundant sentences or passive voice.

None of these tools replace the need to be mindful of what you’re writing or to do your own proofreading, but they can enhance the process and help you avoid the kinds of mistakes that might make you look bad in the eyes of customers.

3. Give every email the TL;DR test

We all have the same bias: We tend to believe that if we put something in the email message, it deserves to be read.

That might be possible if your recipient has nothing else to do but review their inbox all day, but more than likely they’ll be interrupted by a visiting coworker or manager, called into a meeting or simply get distracted by their own thoughts.

“Too long, didn’t read,” or TL;DR, has become a popular way of acknowledging that lengthy missives are unlikely to get fully consumed in many cases. That doesn’t just mean writing shorter email, though.

Instead, focus on what you need to include or tease in your first paragraph, rather than build up slowly to your main point:

  • If you’re asking for something, put it in the first sentence.
  • If you can offer value that makes granting your request a no-brainer, make that the second sentence.
  • If you can provide more detail and context in the paragraphs that follow, summarize it in the third sentence.

Similar to the way a marketing asset will include a call to action, make sure the person reading your email understands what you expect. Sometimes you can convey this in the subject line, where some messages are labelled “For Review,” whereas others may be prefaced with “Response Requested” or even “Action Required.”

As with all types of writing, the emails you compose for business will rarely be perfect, just as we often wish we could have rephrased something we said on the phone or in person after a conversation.

The point is to practice, and to be intentional about that practice. We all get a lot of email. Make sure the ones you write are worth opening.

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