I always chuckle when really influential people mention something like, “Oh, I get over 600 emails a day,” because it sounds just so truly dreadful, even for a humble-brag. But what might be even sadder? The chances of your emails being seen and responded to by a person like this aren’t that good.
But there are a few simple rules you can follow to increase the likelihood of not only getting your emails read, but getting a response. Whether you’re emailing a high-level exec at your company or an important professional contact, follow these rules.
Pay Attention to Time of Day
Email is great, because it feels like a non-intrusive way to get a hold of someone. The thinking goes that “it doesn’t matter when you send the email, they’ll get it when they have a free moment.” But it doesn’t quite work like that. In fact, we all have email usage patterns, where we look at and respond to emails during certain peak hours. And getting your message to the inbox when someone is actively emailing means you have a better shot at being seen.
Typically, leaders tend to check email early in the morning or late at night since they are busy in meetings during the most of the day, so that’s a good place to start. If you don’t get a response from someone after a week, try emailing again, but at a completely different time of day.
Don’t start the email with a long diatribe about who you are, where you found someone’s email address, or your life story. Just get straight to it. In journalism, there is the concept of putting all the essential elements of the story in the lede, not burying them deep down in the fifth paragraph. Do the same here.
And literally, keep your email to as few words as possible. A really long email is going to be scanned so quickly that there is virtually no chance that your actual reason for emailing is going to be seen. On that note:
Be Clear About What You’re Asking For
I get emails all the time that I finish reading and I say to myself, “I have no idea what this person wants.” Having a goal or desired action from your reader is essential, because if someone doesn’t know what you want, he or she likely won’t respond. So what’s the goal? Do you want a person to meet with you? Do you want him to connect you with someone? Or do you just want her to click a link to learn more about something? Make sure you specifically mention what you’d like the action to be. And make sure to be as polite as possible.
Make it About Them
A busy person doesn’t have time to read about what your company does, what your job search is like, or what you really need right now for your business. Instead of dedicating a lot of words to yourself, make it about the other person. What can you do to help him? Why will responding be beneficial or easy for her? I rarely respond to an email where a person talks for two paragraphs about what his company does in agonizing detail. But if a person can quickly tell me how she’ll make my life easier, then I’m inclined to learn more.
Subject Lines Matter
We put so much time into our emails that we often forget about the subject line. But subject lines for personal emails are just as important as they are for marketing emails (in which we painstakingly obsess over ever word and feverishly test different options to see what works best).
It’s easy to skim right over or ignore generic subject lines, so here are some I’d totally avoid:
- Greetings from Elliott
- Following up
- Great meeting you
Why? Because they’re generic and could come from anyone. You won’t stand out. Instead try something like this:
- We shook hands at the Smith Charity event last night
- Introduction for Person 1 and Person 2 to Connect
- You probably won’t read another email like this today
They may be a little off-the-wall, but they’re probably different from anything else in the person’s inbox.
The bad news is, when it comes to reaching out to an important contact, you may do everything right and still not get a response. But hey, when someone is reading a few hundred emails a day, he or she may not always get to yours. Don’t take silence as a rejection—instead, read our tips on how to be pleasantly persistent and keep at it. Over time, following these rules will increase your chances of getting a response to a greater percentage of your emails.