Why is it important to send follow-up emails?
It’s estimated that there are roughly 245 billion emails sent and received each day. When you pair that with the fact that there are only about 4 billion email users total, it paints a pretty clear picture: we all get a ton of emails. Your email, no matter how good, stands the risk of being forgotten. That’s why following up is important.
If you’re a salesperson, and email is your primary channel to prospect and connect with potential clients, you may be thinking it would serve you well to try a new channel. However, that’s also not the case. Email is still the undisputed champion. According to research done by McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than either Facebook or Twitter.
Though email has a lot of “noise,” it is still one of the most effective channels you have at your disposal. So, with that in mind, what should you do? The answer is to make the emails you’re already sending better. Basically, it’s a, “work smarter, not harder” proposition. The stronger you make your emails, the more likely you are to stand out in a crowded inbox.
There aren’t any silver bullets to make everything work perfectly. A lot of your success with email, or any prospecting, comes down to tenacity. That said, in this article we cover five tips to write stronger follow-up emails.
1. Plan your approach
There are many different reasons you may want to initiate a follow-up message. Maybe when you first connected with this person you didn’t have much time to talk. Or, maybe you needed to get a detail, or prepare a quote for them.
Before you write your first sentence you need to know what type of message you’re sending. Is it simply a reminder? Or, are you following up on something specific? Do you need to get more information? Whatever “it” is, you need to figure that out first as it will dictate your approach to the message. Covering too much in one email will water down the intended effect. Keep it short… send two emails if you need to.
If you’re sending a Thank You message, you’re going to be more focused on the emotional appeal of the message and probably less on facts and figures. As I mentioned above, sometimes you send a follow-up to get more information, or something you forgot to ask initially. In those cases you’ll probably want to start with some context to have a segue for asking for the information you’re after.
Last, maybe you’re trying to get a meeting, or something similar, set up. In those messages you need to have dates and times ready to suggest. You also want to have a specific reason for the meeting and have it well-articulated in the message. Each type of message has its own nuances, so planning is a necessary first-step.
2. Make a connection
Have you ever gotten an email from someone and had no idea why they were sending it to you or who they were? It may induce some feelings of guilt, but it may just mean you decide they must’ve sent it to the wrong person and you delete the message and move on.
To avoid that happening, be sure that you’re giving context for your message. If you’ve met previously, be sure you mention it. Also, make sure to include some specific details. If you met at a networking event or conference, mention it.
You can also add it a sentence or two about what you were talking about. It not only serves to jog their memory, but also show that you were listening in your last interaction. If you had some common interest you connected over, be sure to mention it. Psychological research confirms that we favor those that we have common interests with.
Also, remember it should be your starting point for your message. If you don’t start with it early the recipient may be confused and decide to stop reading. Half the battle is getting your message read at all.
3. Be direct
No one wants to come off like a car salesperson. Or, rather, no one wants to come off like the stereotype of a car salesperson. The fake smile, the overly-pushy nature, all of it is a huge turn-off for most. That said, you do need to be careful not to overcorrect to the point that your message becomes confusing, or ambiguous.
After you’ve introduced yourself get straight to the point of why you’re sending your message. Everyone’s busy, so it’s a way to be respectful of their time. In fact, the average office worker gets 121 emails a day. Since yours is one of those emails, you need to make sure you get to the point.
It’s not enough to simply say you want to set up a meeting, you also have to say why you want to set up a meeting. Also, give some specific options for dates and times to meet. They may not be able to make any of your suggestions work, but it will get them in the mindset of thinking about it concretely, as opposed to abstractly. According to research, people are more likely to make a choice when presented with less options as opposed to more options.
Being direct can feel a little uncomfortable or pushy at first, but the more you practice it the more natural it will feel. We generally overestimate how aggressive we’re coming off. So, relax, get to the point, and let your intentions be known in the follow-up email. You might want to check out this copywriting guide for further reference.
4. Strengthen your Subject Line
Your subject line is the first thing your recipient will see. It’s basically your first impression, so it needs to be strong.
There are plenty of articles that are solely about writing a strong subject line. With that in mind, I’m going to give four tips.
1. Personalize – There are a number of different ways you could personalize a subject line. However, for a follow-up email the best is simply including the recipients name in the subject line. It lets them know it’s not a mass email and may increase their likelihood of opening it.
2. Be Direct – I know, I’m a broken record. I keep saying it because it’s true. We all get a ton of email. The more you can explain quickly, the better. Having specific information makes the respondent’s life easier when sorting through messages.
3. Keep it Short – According to research, the most optimal subject lines are right around 38 characters. That translates to, roughly, seven words. It doesn’t have to be exactly that, but around 110 characters, or so, most email clients stop displaying text. Think about it this way: it should feel more like a catchphrase than a plot summary.
4. Consider Your Audience – The way you write to your parents is probably very different from how you write to your friends. Your tone and word choice will vary to match each circumstance. This should be no different. Having a humorous subject line, or including things like emojis may be appropriate in some cases, but probably isn’t worth the risk of alienating someone. So, keep it simple and professional. Once you’ve built a relationship, you can change it up.
5. Consider the timing
Do you remember the Dire Straits song, “Romeo and Juliet?” It’s a great song and the last line of the chorus sits heavy, “When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?” Though your follow-up email may not have all the drama of young star-crossed lovers, and the stakes may not be as high, timing matters.
So, you’ve sent your initial message, or made your introduction at an event, now you want to know how long you should wait to follow up. Well, there isn’t any hard and fast rules on what is best. Every situation is different and will have its own considerations. For example, if you have a deadline, or a promotion or sale will be over, you may want to send a message sooner rather than later.
All that said, there are a few guidelines you can follow:
1. Day of the week – According to research the best day of the week to send an email is Tuesday. Thursday takes the number two spot and Wednesday the third.
2. Time of day – Now that you have a day, there are a few times to consider. 10am is the best overall. After that is 8pm, then 2pm and, shockingly, 6am. Again, these are simply guidelines. Also, if someone’s not in your local area be sure to adjust accordingly for their timezone.
3. How much time after – For the initial follow-up, most people suggest waiting three days. Again, that isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the idea is that it’s enough time that the recipient doesn’t feel suffocated, but not too long that they may have forgotten your initial interaction.
4. Frequency – After the initial follow-up email you may need to send more to get a response. So, it may feel unnatural to keep following-up but your tenacity could pay off.
Making a strong connection is difficult. It generally doesn’t happen in one meeting. Like most good things, you need to work at it. Part of building a relationship is communication. It’s common, no matter what you do professionally, that you’ll need to send a follow-up message at some point.
The place to start is by planning. Figure out what you’re going to say and why you’re sending your message. That can help give you direction if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Next, give some context and make a connection. By reminding your recipient how you know each other, they may be more responsive.
After you’ve established some background, get right to the point. We all get more than enough emails, so time is of the essence. Next, you want to focus on your subject line. It’s the first-impression for your message. It needs to be good. Last, be aware of when you’re sending your message. Consider the day of the week, time of day, and time since your first meeting.
Though there are guides to follow, there isn’t going to be an exact blueprint for writing the perfect follow-up message. It’s a skill, and like anything else, you’ll improve with practice. There’s no better time to start than now (well, except 10am on a Tuesday!).