How to Increase Your Email Response Rate
The Art of Asking, Clarifying, and Simplifying
Is it just me or do you find yourself constantly clearing your inbox, only to have it fill right back up again?
Email is a central part of our work but the tricky part is knowing which messages to prioritize and which ones are junk. Our info-laden brains are therefore tasked with trimming, culling, and expunging our inbox regularly in order to give the important messages their due space.
To do this, we typically check email frequently – over 50% are actually read on mobile devices – and if the subject, first glance, or skim-through of a message don’t quickly grab us as something that need attention, mostly likely, those messages end up in the trash or archive.
The key here is to approach email through a new lens, being respectful of people’s time and keeping things, clear, concise, and actionable in order to improve your response rate. Below, we’ve listed a few strategies to help you do this:
Start with the ‘ask’.
This can be tricky without sounding pushy or overzealous, but it’s important to put your request or ‘ask’ at the top of your email – typically within the first two sentences if you can. The goal here is to get the attention of your reader and make sure they understand exactly what is being asked of them in the message.
If they find your ask appealing – you’ve now got them hooked. If not, well, that’s a different problem.
Example: Here’s how you might try and schedule a meeting with a study sponsor at an upcoming conference:
“Hi Jim – this is Tim Williams, the site director at the Real Clinical Research. We are the second largest research site in the Kansas City area and I wanted to schedule a quick 10 minute chat with you at the upcoming Clinical Research Conference. …”
Jim might not know who Real Clinical Research is but this intro has hopefully accomplished three things:
- Jim now knows what this email is about
- He knows who Real Clinical Research is in a broad sense
- He might be curious what the second largest research site has to offer or would like to discuss
All of the above help in getting us to our purpose, having Jim read the full email.
It’s all about credibility.
In the sentences/paragraphs after your ask, you should be seeking to answer the question everyone asks internally when they read an email: “Why should I care?”
By telling the reader why you are different and why they should pay attention to you and your request, you can command their attention and show them how a conversation with you can be valuable and advantageous to them.
Credibility can be established in a few different ways, the easiest of which would be the value you can provide to your reader. If, however, you are emailing someone for the first time, having a commanding title in your signature line always helps. If, like most people, you aren’t the CEO of a company and are trying to get one of your colleagues to execute something that you’ve requested, leveraging someone else’s title (so long as the statement is true, of course) is a great way tactic. For instance:
Example: Hi Jill – I’m checking on the status of the project I sent over last week. I just spoke to the CEO and he wants this wrapped up within the next few days.
Authority is, however, only one way to get what you are looking for. Utilizing data or even being a keen observer of your reader’s accomplishments/activities, etc. can be a great way to build credibility. By paying homage to the work someone has done previously and engaging a bit of their ego, many times a reader will be more apt to respond when they know they have a fan!
Make the next steps clear and be solution oriented.
Often we’ll receive emails about exchanging information but no clarity is provided on how this should be done. Would you like to meet in person? Set up a phone call? Correspond over email?
By putting the onus on the reader to interpret your request and follow up is a high bar and will typically only get a response in an authority driven situation. If you are cold emailing someone or requesting something from a peer, that is a sure fire way to not get what you’re looking for.
Instead, be very clear on what the next step is – this makes it much easier for your reader to say yes!
For example, if you are reaching out to a study sponsor to discuss a new program, don’t just send them a message saying:
Example: We would love to work with you and learn about the new program you have starting.
Instead, be specific:
Example: We are the highest performing research site in the Phoenix, AZ area and would love to establish a working relationship with you. I’d like to have a short 15 minute call to ask you a few questions and tell you a bit about us. My schedule is wide open this week, do you have time this Thursday or Friday?
Additionally, if you are coming to someone with a question – make sure to propose a solution. Rather than putting the pressure on him/her to respond with what they’d like to do, suggest something and then they can either confirm or deny your suggestion (a very easy way to get a response) and have a jumping off point to suggest an alternative.
Writing, “What do you think about this?” is typically an ineffective way to get a reply. Let’s say you are wanting to attend an upcoming Research Conference, you could say:
Example: Hi Jill – I heard there were discussions about booking rooms for the Research Conference. Would it be possible for me to attend?
Example: Hi Jill – I’ve been considering ways to improve my skill set and it looks like there are some speakers at the upcoming Research Conference that could be very helpful. I’ve estimated the cost of me attending at $1,500 which includes the ticket, hotel, and airfare. I would love to put together a presentation on what I learn and share it with the team. Do you think the company could sponsor me to attend?
While the first message is short, it is lazy and would require a few back-and-forths, the second, which slightly longer, is more compelling, complete, and prompts a single decision.
Make it easy to read.
Emails should be about getting results, not reading paragraph after paragraph.
Using bullet points, numbers, lists, and making important parts of your text bold/highlighted draws the readers eyes to what is important and allows him/her to quickly scan your message for the important content. This includes giving your reader a deadline for responding or taking action.
For example, if you are sending meeting minutes after a conference call, don’t just lump everything into long paragraphs where action items might get lost in the mix, use a format like the following:
Hi Mark – it was great connecting with you earlier. I’m eager to move this project forward and I’ve included the meeting minutes below, along with our action items:
Action Items for Mark:
- Choose stock image (Due: Tues 8/15)
- Create copy for advertisement (Due: Thurs 8/17)
- Compile creatives for IRB approval (Due: Fri 8/22)
Remember that getting this done many times depends on making it easy for your reader to quickly digest and respond to your request and important points.
We hope that some of these tips are useful in getting you more responses to your email requests. But remember: these are only a few suggestions! Subject lines, editing your messages, and making sure they are readable on all devices are also extremely important and should not be forgotten.
While it can also seem like a lot of work for a single email, front-loading all of this information and taking time on a single message will not only cut down on discussions and back-and-forth replies to emails that are more vague, but they will also increase responsiveness and get you the results/responses you are looking for faster.
So take your time in composing your emails and, in the end, they will pay off with more results, faster deliverables and, hopefully, less replies which means you’ll get less messages cluttering your inbox!
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