How To Respond To Emails

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Person typing up email on laptopHow To Respond To Email Enquiries

Sending a simple email reply to a prospect or a customer seems to be the easiest and quickest way to communicate in business. However, this daily form of communication has some serious inherent problems that if overlooked can cost you money and time.

Effective communication involves much more than words. Voice inflection, tone, pace of speech, body language and facial expression are all vital components of communicating and are missing in email correspondence. The result is miscommunication, misunderstanding and missed sales opportunities. As a professional sales person, you need to spend as much time practising and perfecting your email communication methods as you do in communicating on the telephone and in person. This template offers some basic guidelines to help you create clear and effective emails that do what email is supposed to do: convey a clear, simple and effective message

The Email Problems
First, let us examine some of the problems with email. Then we will explore the solutions and finally we will design a checklist for you to ensure that your email communication stays on track.

1. Lack of Emotion:
The most evident problem with email is that there is no way to effectively convey emotion and feelings. The written word is not the same as the spoken word. In a face-to-face conversation or even on the telephone, your tone of voice and changes in the “pitch” of your voice convey your feelings. In a face-to-face conversation, your body language and facial expression do the same. Likewise, while you are speaking to a customer in person, you have visual feedback and clues as to the effectiveness of your words. As you are writing an email, in your own mind, you know what you “mean” when you write a sentence: you know your intent. However, the reader will often receive a different meaning. Sending emails that correctly convey exactly what you “mean” requires skill and practice.

2. Response Time:
During an in-person or telephone conversation, responses are instant. That is, as you speak or ask questions, the answers come immediately. With email, the responses can come over a period of minutes, hours, days or even longer. This often causes both parties to “read” some meaning or intent in the timing of the response, especially when the timing changes in the middle of the communication. As an example, you send an email to a prospective customer with information on your services and the prospect responds within a few minutes with some questions. You reply answering the questions also quickly and again, the prospect emails within a minute or two. Then, you send an email regarding the price of your services and there is no response. You wait, and after two hours, still no reply. What does this mean? Usually it does not mean anything. However, this delayed or change in response time will often conjure up false images on both sides of the message.

3. Delayed or Suppressed Feedback:
On the telephone and face-to-face, the parties involved have instantaneous feedback to the message as it develops. During a face-to-face meeting, you mention that your company has an option for customers to receive overnight delivery at an additional cost to their normal service. However, you notice that the customer frowns and shakes his head as indicating he is not interested in such a service. You may instantly change direction and move on to other options. The instant feedback you received from the customer kept the conversation on track. However, in an email, if you were writing to the customer about this overnight service, the customer cannot give you an indication of his lack of interest. In your email, you continue on about this service, perhaps for several paragraphs because there is no opportunity for immediate feedback. This problem causes many email messages to get off track and then continue on a negative tangent.

4. Getting the Customer to Respond:
Getting people to respond to your emails in a timely fashion can be a major problem. Often you find yourself “stuck” because the customer or prospect has not responded to your last email. You do not want to push to hard and continue sending emails without a response. You do not know the reason for the lack of response. The sales process comes to a halt as you try patiently to wait for the prospect to respond. You anxiously wait for the prospect to say something, anything.

5. Presenting a Professional Image:
In person, to assure the customer of your professionalism is simple since the client can actually see you and your surroundings. Projecting a professional image on the telephone is more complex, but with proper training is also achievable. Presenting a professional image via email also requires skill and practice. One ill-conceived email message can destroy your company image and cost you sales.

The Email Solutions
Following these guidelines will help you consistently manage your email correspondence with prospects and customers.

Consistent Response Time – Maintain a consistent response time with prospects and customers. If you are in a position to respond immediately to your emails, then of course you should do so. However, many people cannot do this. You need to figure out an average response time and stick to this time when communicating with customers. If your customer becomes accustomed to hearing back from you in a matter of minutes, then do whatever is necessary to maintain that. If your customer usually hears from you the next day, then maintain this. Try not to alter the usual timing of your response. This will prevent unnecessary and incorrect assumptions as to the motive behind changes in response time. Also, if you are in the middle of an email conversation, where you are going back and forth with immediate responses, inform the recipient when you have to leave. If you are responding immediately, then have to leave your computer, inform the other party that you will be unable to respond or have your email system auto-respond informing the customer that you have stepped out of the office.

One Step at A Time – It is very easy in an email to cover several topics or points in a single message. While this may appear to save time, it will often cause confusion. Try to limit emails to one or two main topics. If you must include many ideas in one message, bullet point or number each topic, leaving space for the recipient to respond to each individually. Do not run the whole thing together in one massive message.

Pause and Ask for Responses – In conjunction with the above tip, you also want to leave the room and wait for a response to different points. When constructing your email, think of what you would do if you were the recipient. If there are times when you would look for some type of verbal or non-verbal response from the customer, then stop in your email and ask for a response. In other words, you may want to take one large email and break it down into smaller ones. Allow as much opportunity for the customer or prospect to respond.

Build Value – Always include some value building statements or facts to your email. If just answering a question, add some value building statements to the answer.

Continue Selling – Even if your correspondence is with current customers, always continue to SELL your product. Continue to uncover problems and help your customer see that the product they bought is the best. Always continue to sell the product even after the sale.

Conclude with an EASY Question – To help motivate people to respond to your emails, end each with a question that will not require much effort to answer. When answering a customer’s question, after you have done so, you might conclude with asking the customer if the answer is sufficient. As an example:

“Jenny, I hope I was able to answer your questions to your satisfaction. I can supply some additional information on this subject, if you wish. Was the answer sufficient or would you like more material?”

Also, if you know that the answer to your question requires significant effort or a major decision on the part of the customer, and then asks for an interim contact.

“Susan, I realise that this will take you and your mangers some time to decide, so should I get back to you next Tuesday or would you rather I wait until Friday?”

This will prompt Susan to respond even if it is to say, don’t call me until the following week.

Write, Do Not Talk – Construct emails as if you are writing, not speaking. Keep in mind that the person cannot hear or see you and your emotion cannot come through. Stop and re-read (in addition to spell checking) your message before sending it and do so with an objective view. If there is any point that can be misconstrued, then change it and make it clear. Do not assume that the customer will “know what you mean.” Also, there is no place for “sarcasm” in email. Avoid little jokes and otherwise humorous remarks and statements that you think the customer will understand. Leave out the “emotion-cons” and little symbols as well.

Business is no place for little smiley faces!

Happy Email Writing!


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 22 August, 2008

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