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Propel email conversations forward

Email matters. As communication channels proliferate, email endures. As a result, the better you manage your email conversations, the more smoothly your work and personal lives are likely to proceed.

Reading John Kim’s “Sadly, 20 email tips,” I was struck by his suggestion that email writers should “move the conversation forward.” When I’ve written about email in earlier posts, I didn’t  think about ongoing conversations. Instead, I thought of only one email being sent to one recipient in an exchange that ended after the initial email or one response from the recipient. However, email is often more complex than that, as Kim’s post reminded me. Emails sometimes embroil many recipients in long email threads.

To keep the email conversation moving, try the following tips.

1. Make it clear what you want and from whom

Do you want one or more recipients of your email to do something? Make it clear what you want each person to do and give them a time frame in which to do it.

When you’re writing to only one person, you can put the gist of your request in your subject line. For example, “Please review and reply by AUGUST 1.”

Things become more complicated when you have more than one task and more than one recipient. This is where a summary statement at the top of your email—something that I recommend in most emails—is particularly useful.

For example, you might list the tasks in the order in which they must be done, followed by the names of the people responsible. If multiple tasks are to be done simultaneously by different people, list the people, followed by their responsibilities.

Kim says that he uses the phrase “no action required” for everyone who does not need to act on an email. However, consider whether you can omit those people from the email. I understand that sometimes you need to inform people from whom your email does not require a response.

Moreover, if the mix of people and tasks is complex, consider breaking your message into multiple emails to avoid confusing people. When readers see that large chunks of an email are irrelevant, they tend to stop reading.

2. Help people make decisions

What if you want your email recipients to decide something as a group? Naturally, you can highlight that fact at the top of your email. It also helps to organize the pros and cons, or other considerations in your email. Consider using headings to make your email easy to scan. You might use the headings “Pros” and “Cons.” However, if there are many points to consider, a series of “Pro #1,” “Pro #2,” etc. may work better. On the other hand, a long discussion may belong in a Microsoft Word attachment so you can control its formatting.

3. Rein in diversions

If an email thread is spinning out of control, rein it in. You might ask one person to move a question into a separate email. Or, you might request that the group wait until later to address a specific topic.

Kim says, “If an email thread is ‘spinning’; take the time to super-summarize the situation like meeting minutes with background, situation, decisions needed. This will become a ‘stake in the ground’ that all the people will refer to and prevent more ‘pinging’ of emails back/forth.”

Also, consider picking up the phone to save time, as Kim suggests. I think this can also be easier on participants’ egos when you’re trying to rein them in. Sometimes you should avoid email conversations.

4. Write well, and then edit

Every email will benefit from being written well. Take the time to edit and proofread before you send. Bad writing and typos prevent readers from grasping your message. They also undermine your credibility.

For more on writing good emails, see:

Thanks, Eric, for your help with email conversations!

By the way, I must thank my friend, the writer Eric Menn, for introducing me to John Kim’s blog posts about writing. Eric has been a source of ideas and encouragement since we first met years ago. By the way, he also recommends Kim’s Minto’s Pyramid Principle, which he calls “a great thought piece for writers of all stripes and media! (Except novelists and poets, maybe….)”

Can chronology improve your email?

Bryan Garner’s HBR Guide to Better Business Writing has a great chapter on “Use chronology when giving a factual account.” Bryan Garner: HBR Guide to Better Business Writing

You and your readers benefit whenever you organize your emails using easy-to-follow logic. Chronology is one of the easiest organizational schemes for writers and readers.

Garner suggests “creating a chronology of relevant events before you write, then string the events together in your draft. But avoid the rote recitation of unnecessary dates.” That’s good advice.

Here is an example of such an email that does not go overboard with using dates. I think Garner would like that I use one out-of-chronological-sequence sentence at the beginning to get to the point quickly.

Re: Set next appointment?

Let’s set an appointment next month to discuss your year-end tax planning. Please click here to access my calendar.

At our last appointment we discussed your overall financial planning, including the benefits of year and tax planning. Selling some funds and buying others can help to reduce your taxes while keeping your portfolio appropriately invested across different kinds of Investments.

At our next appointment, we’ll go into the details of your year-end tax planning. We’ll also discuss other timely Issues.

I look forward to seeing you.

Could this chronological approach work for you? My sample may explain too much for some of your clients. I imagine that you can get by with one paragraph for some clients. However, the sample gives you an idea of how the chronological approach works.

 

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

 

The image in the upper left is courtesy of OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay.

Pick your e-newsletter sender name carefully

Recently, I sent the newsletter of a person whom I like to my email’s spam folder. My gut reaction proves that you should clearly identify the sender of your email newsletter.

Unrecognizable sender name spells trouble

When I looked at the newsletter, I thought, “I don’t know this person. Why is he sending this to me?” I also had a vague sense that I’d received multiple issues of this unwanted newsletter.

When I receive newsletters from people whose names I don’t recognize, I’m afraid to click their “unsubscribe” links. I’m concerned that my confirming the existence of my email, I’m sentencing myself to receive more newsletter spam. That’s why I sent this person’s email to my spam folder.

The sender used only his first name in his “from” line. It’s as if I identified myself simply as “Susan” instead of “Susan Weiner, CFA” in the from line of my e-newsletter. I had no idea who he was—at least, not initially. But the name nagged at me. Eventually, I realized from the person’s mailing address that I did know him. But, by then it was too late for me to undo his spam designation.

As Campaign Monitor says in “Why ‘From’ names and email addresses are important,

Studies on email open rates have found that trusting the sender is the single most important factor in whether an email is opened or not. That means it’s critical to choose an effective and consistent “From” name and email address.

A better approach to your sender name

If you’re a solopreneur sending an e-newsletter, consider using your full name—first name plus surname—as your sender name. In the example I give above, I would have recognized the full name. I wouldn’t have sent the newsletter to spam.

Sometimes a full name isn’t enough to jog my memory. Even adding a company name to your sender name often isn’t enough. “10 Tips to Optimize Your Newsletter’s Sender Address” by Newsletter2go offers some tips on picking the right sender name. I don’t believe that you should always use your company name as your sender name, as I discussed in “Should my firm insert its name at the start of every email subject line?

The best way to avoid getting sent to spam for an unrecognized sender name is to stop adding people to your email lists without their permission.

It also helps to deliver value in every newsletter. However, everyone defines value differently, so that’s hard to do consistently.

3 ways to make your emails mobile-friendly

Mobile-friendly emails are essential. Your clients, prospects, referral sources, and colleagues are increasingly reading emails on their mobile devices. If they don’t like what they see, they may delete or ignore your messages.

Here’s an interesting statistic from a webinar on “Demystifying Brand Journalism,” sponsored by the American Society of Business Press Editors:

80% of people delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their device.

I’m not a mobile guru, but I’ve noticed three things that encourage me to read emails on my phone.

Technique 1: Short subject lines that get to the point

No matter where your recipients read your emails, you’ll benefit from short subject lines that get to the point quickly. Your first two words are key, as I’ve said in “Improve your email subject-line vocabulary with The Hamster Revolution.”

“Short and sweet” is even more important on mobile devices, which may show as few as 15 characters of your subject line vs. 40+ characters on a traditional computer. Wearable devices could make things even tougher, as explained in “What effect could wearables have on email marketing?” by Wynn Zhou on memeburn.

Technique 2: Use mobile-friendly formatting

Traditional emails, especially multi-column e-newsletters, may be too wide to display well on mobile device. Below is an example of an image that’s too big to be mobile-friendly.

I believe that traditional text-only emails will fit well on your mobile device, although you should still do your best to make your email short and easily skimmed.

If you’ve been producing an e-newsletter for a long time, check to see if you can switch to a mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive format. I made the change earlier this year, using a template provided by Constant Contact.

Technique 3: Avoid attachments

Attachments and mobile devices don’t play well together. Attachments are a pain to download and even more of a pain to read on a tiny screen.

Want to share information beyond what’s in your email? Use a link to a mobile-friendly webpage.

YOUR suggestions?

What works to entice you to read emails on your phone? Much of what works on mobile devices also works on traditional computers.

Please share your insights. I enjoy learning from you.

4 reasons your emails don’t get results

Emails are essential to your marketing and client communications, but bad emails sap your effectiveness. I see four main reasons why emails fail. Once you recognize these weaknesses, you can fix them. By the way, you can jump-start your email effectiveness by asking your company or professional association to hire me to present “Writing Effective Emails.”

1. Your subject lines stink

A good subject line is like an airplane landing strip. Without landing strips, the pilot must survey the entire landscape, wondering “Is that a dangerous obstacle here? A gully there?” It’s exhausting when pilots don’t know where to head. The same is true for your email recipients when your subject lines don’t offer guidance. An example of a bad subject line is a simple “Hello.”

Good subject lines also appeal to readers’ interest in WIIFM (what’s in it for me), as  I discussed in “Focus on benefits, not features, in your marketing.” Readers decide whether or not to open emails based partly on WIIFM.

What else do readers look for?

  • Action items with deadlines, such as “Enroll by March 3 to save $400”
  • Personal connections, as in “Referred by Allan Loomis,” which I discussed in “Top four email mistakes to avoid when you have a referral.”
  • Entertainment—for example, my e-newsletter with the subject line, “Ssh, don’t tell my husband,” got an above-average number of opens

2. Your email doesn’t get to the point quickly

For the best results, start the body of your email with a summary sentence or paragraph. This may be all your recipient reads before deciding what to do with your email.

If you write a long, meandering email, you’re likely to lose your reader. Even if they skim the entire message, they’re unlikely to respond as you’d like.

Getting to the point quickly is one of the kindest things you can do for your readers. Why? Because you don’t make them work to figure out “What is the point of this message?” Getting to the point quickly also boosts the odds that you’ll achieve the results you desire.

3. Your email lacks a “call to action”

Almost every email needs a “call to action” suggesting the next step that recipients can take for their personal benefit. It could be something like “Click to receive a free e-book when you subscribe to my e-newsletter” or “Sign and mail your beneficiary form to Charles Schwab.”

4. Your email suffers from common writing problems

The best written communications achieve the three Cs. They are compelling, clear, and concise. Emails that lack these characteristics are likely to disappoint.

If you’d like to write better emails

Want help boosting your emails’ effectiveness? Your company or professional association can hire me to present “Writing Effective Emails.” I also offer email and e-newsletter critiques for a fee.

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Make an email sandwich for introverts

Quiet influence: introvert's guide to making a differenceIntroverts like to think things over before they speak.

If you cater to their needs with an email sandwich, as suggested by Jennifer Kahnweiler in Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, you’re likely to have more productive exchanges.

Here’s what Kahnweiler suggests when you schedule a meeting or phone conversation:

Step 1. Write and send in advance an email with “all necessary background information for a discussion.” This lets your readers think about your agenda or ideas prior to your conversation.

Step 2. Discuss the topics with the other person in person, on the phone, or in some other “live” format.

Step 3. Send an email summary of your conversation’s key points. This helps the reader reflect “before committing to action,” as Kahnweiler says.

This email sandwich creates “thinking space for others,…especially…introverts,” says Kahnweiler.

As an introvert, I heartily endorse the email sandwich. I wish everyone would use this technique.

On the other hand, crafting an effective email sandwich takes time. You may choose to reserve it for high-stakes meetings or discussions that benefit from reflection. In addition, sometimes a quick phone call works better than an email.

If you’ve used an email sandwich with clients, prospects, or other important individuals, has it worked for you? I’m interested in learning from your experience.

 

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book.

One topic per email, please

Limiting every email to one topic is the best way to ensure your message gets across.

I’ve concluded this after some failed experiments in highlighting multiple topics. I list and number topics in my email subject lines. For example, 1) White paper draft; 2) invoice. This works most of the time, but not always. Some of my invoices have been paid late as a result.

Perhaps this technique would work better if I also listed both topics at the top of the email’s body. For example, I could start with the following:

Attached you’ll find:

  1. The draft of your white paper
  2. Your invoice

Alternatively, I could have discussed each topic under a separate heading. At a minimum, I needed to mention both topics in the body of emails instead of relying on the subject line to do all of my work.

Your solution for multi-topic emails?

I’d like to learn how you handle multi-topic emails. Please share.

Outlook Social Connector: A cool email helper

Outlook Social Connector

You can see multiple categories of information using Outlook Social Connector

Better email communication results from a better understanding of the person with whom you’re exchanging messages. It’s hard to keep all of the relevant information in your head, or even to collect it in one place. This is why I like Outlook Social Connector, which I learned about in consultant Bill Winterberg’s presentation on “Transformative Technology You Can Implement Today” at FPA Experience 2012. While Winterberg highlighted the tool as an aggregator of social media activity, I especially like its email function.

Email history display

When I write anything more than a simple email, it helps to see an overview of my recent emails with the recipient. Sure, I can get that by doing a search, but Outlook Social Connector automatically presents that information to me.

Eyeballing this history may remind me of something that will strengthen my email. Another tab shows me attachments we’ve traded recently, which is handy if I want to confirm that I’ve sent the latest draft or invoice.

Social media information

I’ve connected Social Media Connector to my LinkedIn account. When I click on an email, I see my contact’s LinkedIn

  • Photo
  • Recent activity (New connections)
  • Status updates

This helps me to personalize emails to the recipient. For example, I may comment on a blog post link posted by the recipient.

Facebook is also an option

Outlook Social Connector connects to more than just LinkedIn. The most noteworthy other option is Facebook. I wish they’d add Twitter. However, LinkedIn, in my opinion, is the most helpful option for business.

If you’re using Outlook Social Connector, I’d love to hear how it has helped your emails, client relationships, or marketing.

Should my firm insert its name at the start of every email subject line?

You asked plenty of great questions during my presentations on “Writing Effective Emails and Letters.” One participant asked whether a company should insert its corporate name at the start of every email subject line.

I say “No,” as long as the sender’s email address clearly indicates the corporate affiliation. The space limitations of your email subject line, which I discussed in “Don’t make this mistake in your email subject lines!” mean you shouldn’t include information that doesn’t serve a purpose. Repeating your company name in the subject line wastes space.

Does YOUR company use its name in subject lines?

If your company uses its name in every subject line, what’s the reasoning behind its approach? Does your firm’s email address not clearly reflect your company name?

If you missed my email presentation at FPA Experience 2012…

Tips for writing effective emails were the focus of AdvisorOne’s interview with me, which appeared the week before my presentation to FPA Experience 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. If you missed my presentation, you can still get my advice in “Are Clients Deleting Your Emails?” on the AdvisorOne website.

Want to learn more about writing emails that get results? Here are links to some of my earlier posts about them:

Meanwhile, the Q&A in San Antonio spurred ideas for new articles about email, so stay tuned. Feel free to add your own ideas and questions in the comments section.

Speaking of email, if you sign up for my e-newsletter, you’ll receive convenient links to my blog posts in your email inbox.