One Step Ahead. The newsletter for busy key account managers

How to Write Emails Your Clients Will Actually Read

Clients are overwhelmed by email. To get a response you need to stand out in their inbox. Here are some tips on how to write emails that get a reply.

Do you need to send another email?

"I wish I had more emails," said no-one ever.

And now I know why.

I learned the average office worker receives around 121 emails every day, and they send about 40 per day.

And the average number of emails sitting in their inbox is... 200!

To say your client is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of email is an understatement. And if they're slow to get back to you, know you know why.

To improve your reply rates, your email should convey the right message and tone and not waste the readers time. It says what you want, why it matters and what your client should do.

It’s one of the reasons I changed the format of my emails to you to be more newsletter style so that I’m more focused and (hopefully) give you some interesting, actionable content.

In this newsletter (and latest podcast) I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about email after 25 years of writing to clients.

Why a phone call might be better

First, before your put your finger on the keyboard, ask yourself, "Should this even be an email?"

It might be better to pick up the phone and talk. Conversations help convey complex information more efficiently and quickly intercept misunderstandings before they become entrenched.

Conversations are most suited to:

  • Give feedback
  • Close sales
  • Delegate complex tasks
  • Resolve issues
  • Gossip (yes clients like to gossip too. That “you didn’t hear it from me” news has been invaluable to me over the years).

Tips for better emails

If an email it must be, here are some of my favourite tips:

  • Write with authority. Take out words like “I think” or I believe” - you’ll be more decisive.
  • Summarise. Open your email with the one thing you want the reader to know (in case they don’t read the rest).
  • Remove passive voice. Passive voice focuses on the activity rather than the object/person that performs the activity. Switch to active voice to make your writing clearer and easier to read. It’s tricky to get your head around so read this article that explains the differences between passive and active voice much better than I can.
  • Remove qualifiers and intensifiers. Words like most, many, rarely, often, countless. They are generalisations you can’t prove. Use numbers instead or don’t use anything at all (you’ll be surprised how often you use these; I was).
  • Be brief. Keep emails to under 250 words. If you have to scroll, you’ve written too much.
  • Subject lines. Explain the one thing you want the reader to know from the email. e.g. Revised sales proposal: set up fee waived.
  • Problem/solution. State a problem in the email subject line and explain how you'll solve it in the body of the email.
  • Use 'Reply All' with caution. I reply to the sender and let them decide if it's worth forwarding.
  • Avoid the Cc field. Including recipients unnecessarily means you treat your time as more important than theirs. Do they really need to see this email or are you just covering your arse?
  • Don't use Bcc. It's lazy and the recipient has no idea why they've been blind copied. Instead go to your sent items and forward the original email with an explanation of why your sending a copy.
  • Don't send forwards on forwards. If the email thread gets unmanageable, start a new thread summarising key points to date, remove surplus recipients and attach the original thread for record purposes.
  • Read your email out loud. You’ll pick up mistakes and confirm it has the right tone and won’t be taken out of context.
  • Include a call to action. Explain exactly what you want the recipient to do and give them a deadline.
  • Use down-to-earth language. Avoid the jargon and don’t be afraid to be more casual in your writing, especially if you know the recipient.
  • Setup a reply signature. Include your title, phone number and email address in your reply signature. That way anyone in the email thread can get in touch with you quickly. It's frustrating when people just sign off with their name and you have no idea who they are or how to reach them.
  • Relationship building. Email is an effective relationship building tool. So don't skip the pleasantries like "Have a good weekend" or "How was your vacation."
  • Don't send emails after hours. It looks like you're not managing your workload. If you are working late, use the schedule features in Outlook and Gmail to send the next business day.

Favourite books on writing well

We all learned how to write at school. Good academic writing is all about critical thinking, planning and structure. But business writing is a little different. It’s results-oriented, concise, courteous and understandable.

I always work to improve my writing and here are some books that have helped me to communicate more effectively.

  • Writing Without Bullsh*t. This is my favourite book. Jam-packed with practical advice on how to say what you mean. Many of the tips in this email are from this book and one thing that has always stuck with me is Bernoff’s advice to treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own. This is a book I read every year.
  • Power Sales Writing. I love the laser-focus of this book on getting prospects and turning them into clients. Lots of practical tips on everything from lead generations, follow up, breaking bad news, saying sorry, cold emails, subject lines, social media and lots more.
  •  Writing That Works. This is a brilliant book that covers a lot of bases. The author says that writing styles need to adapt to the format and gives advice on how to write emails, memos, presentations, plans and reports, proposals, resumes and more.

In other news

  • Grammarly. Free tool to help you write your best and mistake-free. It has a Chrome browser extension which makes it easy to improve your writing on Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other platforms you use.
  • Hemmingway Editor. My favourite (and free) tool for concise writing. The app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors. Yellow means shorten or split the sentences. Red means your writing is too wordy. Blue is words you should omit, and green is passive voice. It’s got a distraction free writing mode too.
  • 30 Ways to Write Better Emails to Clients. If you want to dive deeper into email best practices, check out this post I wrote with a collection of tips on everything from subject lines, ‘To’ and ‘CC’ best practices, writing tips, formatting tricks, sending attachments, etiquette and more.
  • New Account Manager Introduction Email Templates. You may need to introduce your clients to a new account manager because the old one left or got promoted or you simply need to shuffle accounts around. This article from Acquire has three email templates, use cases and tips on how to send introductory emails.
  • Textexpander. I can't live without this app. It creates snippets of text which you can trigger with a few key strokes. You can eliminate repetitive tasks and save tons of time. I use Textexpander shortcuts to write emails to chase payment, welcome members to The KAM Club, add my favourite Instagram hashtags to posts, email signatures, links to my booking calendar and lots more.
  • Reusable text blocks for Outlook. It's easy to create reusable text blocks in Outlook with the Quick Parts feature. They're stored in galleries and you can insert blocks wherever you like in your email. Perfect for regularly used phrases, FAQs, signatures and more.
  • Signature Hound. Take all the hassle out of designing an email signature. Signature Hound is completely free, has 9 templates that are completely customisable including design, calls to action, personal and business info. Just fill in the blanks and your signature is ready in minutes. Best of all, they have a dozen installation options for everything from Outlook, Apple Mail and Gmail and iOS, and Windows devices. No excuses not to get rid of “Sent from iPhone.”
  • Why You Should Schedule Your Stress. There are times when we’re busy, overwhelmed and worried but instead of dealing with what’s bothering us, we push it away. This article explains why it’s a good idea to schedule time to identify all your worrying thoughts and think about how to overcome them. I really like this idea of spending 15 minutes a day to intercept my anxiety and do something about it, so it doesn’t spiral out of control.
  • The KAM Club. Learn more about the world's most amazing community of key account managers and get access to tools, templates, guides, coaching and training, like The Key Account Manager's Guide to Resolving Issues.
  • New swag. I’m dabbling with merchandise for customer success, sales and key account managers. I’ve got a few mugs and t-shirts already, so if you’re after some fun gifts check out the store. Like this new “Nope” mug.
Visit The KAM Club store for fun stuff

Quote of the week

The objective of an email, whether to a colleague or a prospect, is to communicate an idea. If the recipient gets intrigued enough to open it—and if the content matches the promise in the subject line—then you’ve succeeded. ~ Josh Bernoff

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Have a great week

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown is one of the leading key account management experts in the world. Through The KAM Club, a global membership community for key account managers, his blog that reaches 20,000 people every month, and a range of training and coaching services, Warwick has helped thousands of key account managers get better results, faster.
Go here to read Warwick's story from key account manager to entrepreneur. If you want to send Warwick a quick message, visit his contact page here.

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