She showed me 6,782 unread emails.
Six thousand seven hundred and eighty two!
I didn’t know the little red dot on my friend’s iPhone could even handle a number that big.
When I asked her how her inbox got so large, she sheepishly said that most of the emails were personal and she was on top of her work messages.
I was skeptical.
Surely there were more than a few peers waiting for a response from her, and they were probably irritated.
And to at least a few people, her name was probably mud.
Being responsive is an absolute, but there’s more to it…
There’s a universal law in business that says if you respond quickly, people assume you are professional and in-control. If you don’t, folks get put-off and think you don’t care about them or are overwhelmed.
But, there’s more to how others view you than just how fast you are. What you say and how you say it is just as important.
How would you feel if you had been waiting for a week for an answer to an important question from a consultant only to get “Yes, thx” in return?
You’d probably be peeved; I know I would be.
You might even stop reaching out to this consultant unless you absolutely had to, or told somebody else about your bad experience. Word can spread quickly and none of it would be good for this consultant.
Remember: consulting is a relationship business. If your relationships are strained you’ll struggle to move ahead.
Luckily, mastering your email communications is a simple, learned skill. It can dramatically improve your time management, bolster your brand and bring success to your business.
Here are four positive brand attributes you should aspire to and the email tricks to help you get there:
Habit #1 – Be seen as super responsive
Don’t just check your email, work on it. Preferably no more than 3-4x per day, and schedule the time.
And by working on it, I mean you should sit down, review and take action. Respond to, archive or delete every message.
If something requires a follow-up, respond to the sender letting them know you’ll need more time. Log it in your to-do list and move on.
Emails are communication loops. Your goal should be to close every loop you can, as quickly as possible.
Incessantly looking at your iPhone hoping for a golden message to come through is a waste of time. Time that could be spent making another sales call, writing an article or accomplishing another goal.
I work in an environment that demands quick response and it’s not uncommon for me to go through periods where I receive 200-300 messages a day.
When I stick to my schedule, I’m amazed to see that the world continues to spin without me replying every five minutes.
Here’s an e-mail working schedule you can try now: 9:00AM, 11:45 AM, 2PM and 4:30PM.
Your first tasks every morning should be to plan your day by reviewing outstanding items, personal goals and creating an attack plan. Few people will ask you to complete a task the same day after 4:30 without calling or texting you first.
If you’re that paranoid about missing something, use the VIP function on your iPhone (or something similar) to alert you only when a big wig contacts you.
Feel free to close Outlook, Mac Mail or turn off any notifications in between working times.
Habit #2 – Show warmth
Personalize your e-mail sign-offs to connect with your customers as often as possible.
To make this a habit, my e-mail signatures do not include a sign-off by default.
This forces me to take a few seconds to consider how I close my message every time. The return on your investment from responding warmly and appropriately far outweighs the time you’ll spend every year doing so.
The best email sign-offs to use:
- Best, All the Best, Regards, Take care, Looking forward – Tried and true, these are the safest to use
- Travel safe, Have fun in Chicago! Enjoy Puerto Rico! Good luck in Vegas! – I love these for one-on-one emails when the recipient has shared travel plans with me. Reminds them of our conversation and conveys that I was listening
- Thank you!, Thanks so much! Many thanks! – The exclamation point here is important, take note as there are variations of “thanks” I advise against below
- Hope this helps(!) – a touch of humility does well
- Go Bills! – A lot of folks are sports fans, use this for one-on-one threads when you know a game is top of mind for the recipient
Email sign-offs you shouldn’t use:
- Sincerely, Peace, Truly – Overly formal or dated
- Anything with the word “Yours” in it – ditto
- XOXO, Love, Hugs – These are an HR nightmare and are unprofessional
- Sent from my iPhone – This looks lazy. It takes one minute to replace this text with your name and mobile number
- Thx, Rgds – Are you so busy that you can’t type three extra letters? Can come across as harried or immature
Sign-offs you should tread lightly with:
- Cheers!, Ciao – A bit informal, make sure you really know the recipient and context of the email
- Thanks(!) – be careful not use this if you’re giving a directive, it can also come off as disingenuous since it’s so commonplace
One last rule: Never respond to an e-mail using only “yes” or “no”, it can be perceived as cold. When in doubt, add a “please” or “thank you”.
Habit #3 – Let them know you honor your commitments
Set a deadline with somebody and hit it.
Here’s a little trick that has served me well over the years.
For any emails where the sender is requesting information from me that requires a follow-up, I will commit to a deadline that includes a day and time when I’ll respond. People tend to remember commitments when they are very specific.
Here’s an example:
“Hi Ashley, I can track that report down for you. I’ll have it to you by 4:00PM tomorrow. All the best, Jason”
Committing is the first part, but the magic is in the follow up and response.
The next day, I will reply to Ashley using the same chain I set the deadline with between 2:30 and 3:30 as follows:
“Hi Ashley, As promised, here’s the report you requested yesterday. Let me know if you need anything else! Regards, Jason”
Why does this work?
- Simply put, I set a deadline and hit it. So many people miss deadlines that it’s actually refreshing when somebody makes one
- In the response, I reminded Ashley of my promise. Chances are she’ll actually see that promise when she opens the email. Wherever you can, subtly reinforce in your customer’s mind that when you say you’ll do something, you’ll actually do it.
- The timing is vital. Anything earlier than 1.5 hours prior to deadline could suggest the task was too easy or that I under committed. Anything later than 30 minutes prior to deadline, folks may start to stress-out wondering whether they’ll hear from me. Be fashionably early when responding to deadlines whenever possible.
It goes without saying that, if somebody really needs what they’ve asked for sooner and you can make it happen please do so. There are plenty of simple requests to use this method for.
Habit #4 – Be a consummate professional
Try limiting e-mails to three sentences.
You should know by now that long e-mails get glossed over at best, and deleted at worst. If you are dealing with executives, it’s vital that you get to the point quickly and not waste their time.
Be concise. They’ll want to know why you are reaching out to them as quickly as possible.
Here are a few three-sentence structures you can use most of the time to craft a worthy email in seconds.
1. Background, Purpose, Expectation – Trying to explain the reasons for sending an email is the number one cause for wordy messages. That’s because most of the reasons are of little importance. Boil the background down to the single most important reason you are reaching out, follow with what you’d like to address and close with an ask:
“Hi Judy, I heard the steering committee has concerns about our project time line. I’d like to discuss these with you to make sure we are aligned. Can we meet this afternoon at 2:00PM? Regards, Jason”
2. Purpose, Condition, Expectation – Nothing beats being upfront. Start with an ask, add a sentence for any caveats or conditions, then set an expectation or deadline as such:
“Hi Sam, Would you send me last month’s sales reports? I only need those for the services group. Have to get my hands on them by tomorrow afternoon so I’m prepared for the leadership meeting on Thursday. Many thanks!, Jason”
3. Connection, Purpose, Expectation – It can be good to warm up a reader. Pick the last memorable interaction or discussion you’ve had with the recipient and keep it tight. Immediately follow with your intent and close with an ask:
“Hi Susan, Thanks again for meeting me at lunch last week. I’m following up to schedule the brainstorming session we discussed. Would next Wednesday or Thursday work for you? Looking forward, Jason”
Expect the 80/20 rule when using these. Most of the emails you send can be in three sentences or less, but there will be some important ones that require more. Use your best judgment.
- Never open a discussion over e-mail if you can help it, always opt for the phone or in-person meetings
- Make sure your subject lines leaves no ambiguity, e.g. “Schedule Brainstorming Session”, “June Services Sales Reports”, “Discuss Project Schedule”
- Keep your To: and CC: lines as clean as possible, not everybody needs to be in the loop
Do you have any other e-mail tricks that improve your image? Tell me in the comments below…