Better email

Rethinking Email.

I’m thinking a lot about reinvention lately.

So much of what we are able to do for clients and agencies is new. Yet how we go about communicating and selling is not. As I work with managers and sales teams our conversations almost always turn to Email and the fact that it’s just not working for us anymore, externally or internally.

Generally speaking, we tend to send badly-structured Emails that are too long, too predictable, to too many people. We use email as a blunt-force instrument, overwhelming our prospects and coworkers with unendurable detail and word counts. What was once a promising chance at immediate connection has jumped the shark and become a burden to all involved. It’s time to stop the madness. Here’s how.

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Deserve their attention. If you haven’t done research on your customer and don’t have a specific way to help him, don’t reach out at all. Inboxes are flooded every day by people who want only to learn about your business or introduce you to my company. Not having a legitimate customer-focused agenda is a non-starter.

Write to the screen that’s being read. When you send email to a prospective customer, write to the email interface on the mobile device where they are no doubt screening and reading it. Write no more than what fits on a mobile screen.  Nobody wants to read a cold, 400-word recitation of your company’s value. Say less.

Have a communication strategy. While you’re whittling your message down to 80 or 90 words, know that it’s just one of the messages you’ll be sending. For a legitimate potential client for whom you can create real value, a couple of short messages followed by an intelligent voice mail followed by a LinkedIn message every couple of days is the perfect cadence – and the perfect blend of media, timing and approach. Stop trying to accomplish everything in one epic Email. Serialize your approach.

Lead with need. Assume you’re getting maybe a glance at your subject line and – if really lucky – a look at the first two lines of your message. Start writing thoughtful, concise, provocative subject lines about topics relevant to the customer, and stop wasting the critical first words with small talk and fake friendship.

Get to the point. Start your emails with I’m writing you because… Then immediately say something about your customer’s situation. This simple technique forces you to elevate the client agenda to the beginning of the communication.

Address to one, send to no more than two. Sending emails to several people or whole teams is just a bad idea. Whether you’re writing externally or internally, it becomes quickly apparent if you’re just covering your ass. Start limiting those distribution fields and speaking directly to your customers (and co-workers) and their agendas.

When it comes to understanding our customers and reaching out to them, there is an embarrassment of riches at our disposal. There’s no reason anyone should be bludgeoning customers with uninformed, cold email in 2019. This is a change you completely control. Make it today.

I’m Writing You Because…

For something we use every single day, most of us really end up sucking at email.

It’s not that we’re not all really articulate – we’ve got some really brilliant writers in our ranks.  It’s not that we have nothing to say – most of our companies really are doing terrific things that create real value for clients and agencies.

No, our emails suck for one very simple and pedestrian reason:  We don’t know how to start them.

We’re asking for your support for the family of our great friend and digital advertising pioneer Joe Gallagher, who we lost tragically and unexpectedly this summer. We’ve set up a GoFundMe page to raise scholarship funds for Joe’s kids. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated and 100% will go to the Gallagher family. Thank you for your generosity.

There are whole books and business articles and classes devoted to the use of email.  Recently, Robert Glazer celebrated the joy of brevity in his ‘Friday Forward’ post.  Brief, well-structured – check, check.  But none of that matters if you don’t – first – get to the point!

Consider that your customers read and edit much of their email on the screen of a mobile phone.  A quick swipe of the thumb and your email is gone and forgotten.  Whether or not that thumb goes left is based on (1) whether you have an existing personal or business relationship – odds are that you don’t;  (2) the subject line; and (3) the first two lines of copy.  Yet despite the critical importance of points 2 and 3, sellers waste this precious real estate every day.

For lack of consideration (or maybe lack of any real reason for writing), we carelessly stick the client’s company name “X” our company name in the subject line.  Perhaps because we want to appear folksy and nonthreatening, we start with something inane like “Hope you had a great weekend!” or “I’ll only take a minute of your time.”

Your subject line is nothing less than the headline for the story you’re writing.  It should speak directly to the core value you hope to deliver.  “3.5 Million Incremental Shoppers for Your Holiday Push” or “High Income Millennials are Not Hearing Your Core Story” would be good examples.

And when it comes to the opening sentence of your email, here’s the best one I’ve ever seen:  I’m writing you because… This simple phrase forces you to speak immediately and directly to the reason why your customer should spend even another second reading.  If you haven’t got a good reason, it will become immediately apparent to you, and you can go back to the drawing board.

It’s time to start thinking, acting and writing intentionally.  Drop the shallow chumminess and stop clearing your throat.  Respect is the new friendship, and if you respect your client’s time by getting to the point you’ll be rewarded with their most precious currency:  attention.

Poison Pills.

Last summer I wrote a post called “The Seinfeld Meeting” in which I called out three types of ineffectual “meetings about nothing” that sellers too often prepare for.  But if you’re trying to get through to clients or senior agency contacts in today’s marketplace, you’d better have more than good intentions and extra homework going for you.  Because never before have senior customers had less time to meet with you or more electronic filters to keep you out.

How critical, then, are the words we use in proposing that elusive sit-down?  You earn your attention 5 seconds at a time.  In talking to clients over the years, I’ve learned a few of the specific phrases that will trigger an immediate delete or “no thanks,” and offer them below.  Go forth and dispense these poison pills no more:

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“Update.” As in “I’d like to come by and give you an update on our…whatever.”  What the customer hears: “I’ve got something incremental, mundane and all about us to share with you.  And frankly, I wasn’t even excited enough about it to come up with a catchy name.”  This sounds like dry toast that the customer didn’t even order in the first place.

“Review.” You say “I’d like to review (or ‘go over’) our latest performance numbers, reports, etc.”  The client hears: “Just what I wanted:  more data!”  Clients and agency leaders work hard to get promoted over the years just so they won’t have to “review” sets of numbers. Not to sound too bourgeois, but they’ve got people to do that kind of stuff for them.

“I Want to Learn More.” About your business, your new product launch, your issues.  You may want to believe the client will reward your desire to know more about them, but actually you’ve hatched two assumptions, both of them fatal to your sales ambition:  that (1) you’re not prepared to solve for anything on this call — how could you if you don’t even have a handle on the issues? — and (2) you’re expecting a second meeting — to deliver the goods.  In an age where information has never been more readily accessible, clients have a right to expect you to have a clue coming in.  Or at least to have made the effort.

What to offer instead? For starters, your point of view on the customer’s situation.  You’d be amazed how refreshing — and welcome — it can be to hear “We’ve done some research and this is how your situation seems to us….”  If I’m a marketer today, I’ve got a headcount problem and a braincount crisis.  I simply do not have enough smart people thinking about solving my business problems.   Even if you’re not completely accurate in your description of my issues, I like your ambition and orientation.  At very least, I want to hear more.

Closely aligned with that actionable point of view is your vision of a better future.  If you can’t put into words how spending time with you might improve the prospects for this customer, then you probably aren’t close enough to what they really care about.  I don’t think there’s that many clients who get genuinely worked up over saving a penny.  But they all want more control, better understanding, personal success, competitive advantage.

Now:  take a look at your outbound e-mails and listen to the sound of the voice mails you leave.  Are you serving up poison pills?  Or is your message the one that’s going stand out like a strategic beacon over a choppy, tactical sea?