This blog was updated in October 2023.
Unless you’re a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey, a business mogul like Richard Branson, or a universally recognised figure like Barack Obama, your unsolicited email will often be deleted.
Worse yet, even when you have legitimate reasons for sending emails, such as seeking clarification for a project, requesting feedback from your boss, or following up on a lead, your emails are either not promptly acknowledged or ignored altogether.
When you do get a response, it’s frustratingly vague or fails to address the issue at hand. This scenario forces you to send additional emails, thus spinning the vicious cycle of email hide-and-seek.
Then, if your role is steeped in marketing and sales, your stress is magnified. You know from experience how you agonise about crafting ‘cold emails’. You know the type — those catchy, actionable emails designed to coax engagement and generate sales from prospects you’ve had no prior contact with.
But before you write off that difficult or non-responsive recipient as the devil incarnate, understand that people are busy. They juggle deadlines, countless meetings, addiction to devices, and short breaks — often ineffectively. This means that emails deemed unimportant or irrelevant are shelved to be answered when the recipient has a spare moment, which never happens. So even with the best intentions, that email you vaguely labelled ‘Next phase’ won’t be opened.
Why emails really matter
Before you conclude that emails are so passé, the points below should convince you to take them seriously:
1) Despite the popularity of social media, emails are still considered a critical tool in daily life across four generations: Baby Boomers (born 1940s/1950s), Generation X (born 1960s/1970s), Generation Y/Millennials (born 1980s/1990s), and Gen Z.
2) Business-to-business email marketing is considered a gold mine due to high conversion rates linked to email lists.
3) Email responsiveness boosts trust in a brand, impacts sales, and builds repeat business.
Moreover, as a professional or executive, you’ll be perceived as unreliable and untrustworthy if you don’t respond to emails promptly. Consider this faux pas from management’s viewpoint: Why should you be promoted to high responsibility when you can’t be counted upon to acknowledge issues and address them on time?
Therefore, learning to write a winning email and respond appropriately will get you noticed and set you apart from the pack.
Writing that elusive, compelling email
So, here’s the dilemma: presenting your thoughts to ensure a response is almost always guaranteed.
I say almost because, despite your best efforts, some people who are not ’email people’ won’t respond. In such cases, you’ll need to find the preferred method for communicating with them, such as via telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, video-based communication tools, social media, etc.
Drawing upon my experience writing numerous unsolicited emails (in situations where I had no prior contacts) and other emails to persuade or trigger actions from CEOs, diplomats, and organisations, I learnt one critical point about emails that yields results:
Highlight the value/benefit you will bring to the recipient.
Whatever is contained in your email should make his/her role easier (making him/her look good), his/her business more competitive/profitable, or his/her company’s brand more recognised. Only when you can address the allure of value, even from the subject line, will your email be opened.
Below are tips that will help you with the process.
1) Write a catchy subject line
This is the most essential part of the email, but is often given little thought.
Grab the recipient’s attention by writing a short, declarative phrase that gets straight to the point.
For unsolicited emails, options include:
A) Most Admired Company X in Y Location Seeking Partnership in Z Venture
B) Boosting Recipient Company’s Profits Using X Initiative
C) Increasing Recipient Company’s Sales with Proven X Method
D) Addressing X Problem to Forestall Y Crisis
For other expected emails, the rule of thumb is to jog the recipient’s memory to prompt him/her to respond quickly.
I) Approval Required for Project A Before B Deadline
II) Follow-up on C Issue for D Purpose
III) Recommendations for Quick Resolution of E Issue
Remember that the aim is to entice the recipient to click on the email because of its relevance. The straightforward subject line allows him/her to ‘tune in’ on the issue and eliminate ambiguity if he/she handles similar matters.
2) Construct the body of the email
The body of the email should comprise the following elements:
A) The salutation/greeting
You must ensure the correct spelling of the recipient’s name and title.
“Dear Mr/Mrs/Dr X”
“Head of Sales/CEO, Y Company”
Avoid using “To Whom It May Concern” in your business emails when you can find the name/title of the recipient. The lazy phrase gives the impression that you couldn’t be bothered to do basic research and may ruffle some feathers. Don’t take that risk.
B) The heading
This section isn’t always necessary. However, if it’s required, use similar wording as the email subject and add a few extra words for clarity.
C) The opening line
Get to the point quickly:
“Last year, your company recorded X million USD in revenue. We can increase your sales by X% this year. By merging our company’s software Y with your existing tool…” (For unsolicited emails where you’re adding value).
“Further to our discussion on X date about the proposed budget for Project Y…” (For an email to jog memory).
D) The call-to-action (CTA)
The CTA is the action you want your recipient to take and essentially the purpose of sending the email. It could be a date for a meeting you’d like scheduled, some urgent documentation you need to be sent, some innovation you’d want to be approved, or a complaint you wish to be handled.
Simply state your request politely:
“I’d appreciate it if you could kindly schedule a meeting to discuss the X solutions we offer that will reduce your operational costs by Y%“.
“To ensure the smooth delivery of Project X, please suggest which of the options mentioned above will be most effective“.
“I’m appealing for your quick response to de-escalate the X issue”.
E) The closing remarks
End with a flourish, always adhering to standard business etiquette:
“Whilst awaiting your response on this sensitive matter, we wish to thank you for your cooperation”.
“Thank you for your time. I look forward to receiving feedback at your convenience”.
Remember the parting words:
“All the best”
“With (my) best regards”
“With revered regards” (for those VIP recipients)
“With a deep appreciation of your continued/anticipated support”
If you’re wary of rocking the boat, then the standard will suffice:
“Sincerely” or “Yours sincerely” (for ‘named’ recipients, e.g., Professor X, Mrs Smith)
“Yours faithfully” (for ‘unnamed’ recipients, e.g. “The Director, Corporate Communications” or “The Dean, X Business School”)
Notes to remember
Generally, your email should be short and at most four or five paragraphs, including the closing remarks.
When addressing a complex issue, you may need to write longer emails. Nevertheless, your writing should be crispier, so aim for shorter sentences of 20 words. Use bullet points when communicating multiple ideas and strip away flowery language. Strong verbs such as ‘provided’, ‘analysed’, ‘sold’, ‘built’, ‘supervised’, and ‘led’ effectively highlight important information.
You should also prioritise the active voice as often as possible: “We decided to discontinue the process” versus “A decision was made to discontinue the process“.
I) Proof-read thoroughly
“I cited Shakespeare in my literature class” versus “I sighted Shakespeare in my literature class”.
Use the second option and get a free pass to a psychiatric ward.
II) Edit ruthlessly
“Let’s eat, grandma” versus “Let’s eat grandma“.
You get the idea.
Now, I concede that you don’t have to be a celebrity or a popular figure to write powerful emails that will resonate with your recipient.
It may seem that all the points mentioned in this post will make writing that powerful email cumbersome, but the opposite is true: Your email will be succinct, clear, and will prompt action.
Trust me on this.
Therefore, take the plunge. Use the tips provided and go craft that email!
What other tips have you used to write effective emails? Let me know by posting your comments below.
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N.B – First, second, third, sixth and seventh images are courtesy of Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net. Fourth image courtesy of Jscreationzs via freedigitalphotos.net. Fifth image courtesy of Sira Anamwong via freedigitalphotos.net.