Emails are an incredibly convenient way of getting in touch with people. Whether it’s your first contact with someone you’ve never met or regular communication with a colleague, dropping them an email is quick and simple. Unfortunately, that convenience has a downside, and can lead to inboxes overflowing with more correspondence than anyone needs or wants.
Sometimes you need your email to stand out, and you need a response. Whether that’s getting someone to reply to you about a business opportunity, answer an important question, or just carry out a task, here are 10 ways to get people to respond to your email.
No one wants to open an email and be greeted with an essay. People are already strapped for time, and having to read through that much information moves your email very quickly to the ‘do later’ pile – the one that never gets touched. Keep your email brief by:
The ideal length of an email is 50-125 words, which is 2 or 3 short paragraphs. For reference, the opening paragraphs to this article are 103 words, which is the perfect email length. Longer than that and people start to tune out. Shorter and you’re possibly missing information, or seeming abrupt.
Similarly, you’ll want to keep your email simple, not just by shortening the word count, but by shortening the words. Sentences too. People want to be able to skim your email and get the gist of it. Using short sentences and easy-to-understand words lets them do that comfortably.
While you might imagine flowery language and long sentences make you look smart, having to read verbiage is off-putting.
If you want an answer, you have to ask a question. Too many emails seeking responses leave out this crucial component, and it can lead to a lack of urgency in responding, or even worse, confusion.
If you need an answer to an actual question, it’s vital that you ask the question in the email, and not just imply it. Without a question, you’re not asking for feedback, even if that’s exactly what you need, and chances are the other person won’t give you any.
Sometimes you don’t need a specific answer, in which case it’s less obvious that you should be asking a question. Ask one anyway. Questions are a great way to get people more involved with what you’re saying, and the more involved they are, the more likely they are to respond.
Letting your respondent know what you need from them goes a long way to actually receiving a response, whether it’s a reply via email or by actually fulfilling the task you’re requesting. As with asking a question, it gives them something definite to do, and avoids confusion.
You can combine questions with actions by offering a number of options. It engages people, and requires a response from them. Take the following example:
Which would you prefer me to do?
1. Drop what I’m doing and work on it now
2. Leave it until Monday and discuss it then
Asking a question begs a response, while offering two easily interpreted actions gives them a clearer understanding of what the question means, and what you want from them.
A reply isn’t the only response you might be looking for from an email. Sometimes the response you need is for the recipient to take action. Whether it’s visiting a link you’ve sent them or carrying out a vital task, you want them to do something, sooner rather than later.
Give them a reason to do it. It’s a straightforward approach that increases the likelihood of getting what you need. Adding a simple ‘because’ makes people more likely to listen and act on what you’ve given them.
Subject lines are there to let people know what your email is about, so use it to grab their attention. An urgent-sounding subject line is more likely to draw someone to the email than something run-of-the-mill. Make sure your subject line reflects the importance of what you’re sending.
If an email conversation carries on for a while, the original subject line can become redundant. Update it as the topic being discussed changes, or when you reach a point that you need people to pay attention to your email immediately. A back and forth can become low priority, but a new email commands re-evaluation.
The time you choose to send an email is vital in getting a response. The best time to send it depends on who the recipient is, and what you need them to do.
Asking someone to perform a task is less likely to produce a response if the recipient is out of the office, either for the evening, weekend or holiday. Sending the email during office hours is more likely to get a response.
On the other hand, trying to get someone to respond to something non-work related during office hours is less likely to succeed because they have more important tasks to attend to. The beginning or end of a day, or at lunch time, might be a better time to send that email.
It never hurts to use a greeting. It’s friendly, and using someone’s name directly engages them on a level that a bland ‘Hi there’ can’t accomplish. Similarly, launching straight into your topic without an introduction can be off-putting.
Unless what you’re seeking is incredibly time-sensitive, it pays to be patient. When asking for a response, whether in the form of an action or a question, it’s best to allow some time so that the respondent doesn’t feel hassled.
This applies even more if they don’t already know you. Being asked for a phone call ‘today’ or ‘this afternoon’ is sudden, and gives them no time to think. Asking for ‘next Friday’ is reasonable, and more likely to produce a response.
Sometimes your email arrives at an inconvenient time, or recipients are interrupted while responding or they simply didn’t think it was important at first glance. Following up gives you a second chance to be noticed, and if they’ve already seen it, you’re now in the forefront of their mind.
Just make sure not to follow up too often or too quickly, as this will certainly put people off. Give time, and respect their ability to interact with you when they have so much else going on.