8 Tips to Getting Your Email Read

I receive a large number of requests for referrals to investors, co-founders, feedback, etc. I also send out a lot of requests for help, advice, etc. I try to respond to all of them and I try to be as helpful as possible, but sometimes I can’t. So I filter.

Here’s a couple tips to help you get past a gut check filter and a receive a quick response.

To be clear, I’m not an investor, guru, or influencer or any sort. This is just a list of what I’ve found works for me when I send out emails and also what manages to provoke a response when I’m on the receiving end.

  1. Keep it short
  2. Who are you?
  3. What do you want?
  4. What you think is irrelevant
  5. Everyone likes numbers
  6. Easy on the attachments
  7. Include all relevant information
  8. Follow up

Tip #1 – Keep it short

Everyone is busy, so while you don’t want to be brusque, being brief helps. If your email is more than a couple paragraphs long it immediately gets shunted to my “deal with this later” folder.

Short paragraphs also help. More than than two-three sentences in a paragraph and I’ll just read the first and last.

Furthermore, in most cases you’re trying to start a dialog or get a meeting, so just write enough to make me curious enough to ask more. You don’t need to sell me on the whole idea, just sell me on talking further.

Tip #2 – Who are you?

This should be immediately clear in the first sentence.

When I say ‘Who are you?’ I don’t mean your autobiography. I just want to know who referred you or in what context I might know you. ‘Cause let’s face it….even if we connected on LinkedIn at an event yesterday, I’m an airhead and I’ve probably forgotten.

In order of contextual preference, here are some examples:

  • “Mark Zuckerberg introduced us yesterday on his private island.”
  • “I’m a fellow graduate of Carnegie Mellon.”
  • “I’ve been stalking you for three months now, I’m camped out in your backyard, and I made a hair doll of you.”

Please note that I didn’t even include a name in those examples. That’s because it’s in the “From” of your email. Don’t be redundant.

Tip #3 – What do you want?

A lot of people will have differing opinions on this. I personally prefer that someone states immediately at the top of the email after giving context what they’re asking of me.

  • “I’m writing to request an introduction / referral.”
  • “Could you provide your feedback?”
  • “I’m seeking investment.”

I know a lot of people put this at the bottom, that’s fine too. But if you don’t write what you want, then you likely won’t get any response whatsoever.

Tip #4 – What you think is irrelevant

Everyone thinks their startup will get funded in only a matter of months. Everyone thinks the “response has been tremendous.” Everyone thinks their “special sauce” is…well…special.

It could even be true, but everyone says the same thing. So skip it.

Mentioning anything along the lines of, “I have a unique idea and we’re going to be funded within the next couple months,” translates to “I do not have funding and this is my first time doing this.”

Stick to what you know…such as numbers.

Tip #5 – Everyone likes numbers

Real numbers like conversion rates, the valuation of your last round, the number of customers you have, etc are all AWESOME!

Firstly, if I’m skimming, numbers pop out of a big chunk of text. Dollar signs and currency abbreviations ($1b USD) work as well.

Secondly, I’m going to assume you’re not making them up but you have hard data. This means I’m going to take you very seriously.

Don’t take this as a tacit endorsement of lying with fake numbers to get attention. Get real numbers and not vanity metrics. The ability of a CEO (or anyone) to provide information that matters to their business model (as opposed to meaningless data) is a huge indicator to me of someone I should talk to or pass on with a good referral.

Tip #6 – Easy on the attachments

I personally don’t like any attachments unless I know the person. Otherwise I’m afraid of opening anything and it’ll probably go into my spam folder.

On the other hand, if you’re going to ask for feedback on a one page executive summary or slide show then definitely send it. It’s just a waste of two emails if I say yes and then have to request the document in question.

Sending multiple attachments scares me. Stick with one at most.

Tip #7 – Include all relevant information

This is the flip side of keeping it brief. You definitely want to keep it brief, but don’t leave out anything critical.

Just as an example, I generally get one to three emails per week asking me if I can help hook someone up with a co-founder. These emails almost invariably leave out any useful information such as:

  • The name of the project
  • The industry (for some reason everyone thinks ‘web startup’ is a sufficient description)
  • The URL

If including any relevant information would make the email too long, I’d suggest including a URL to the information or just add an attachment in the worst case scenario. Best is if you include enough info to whet my appetite and then include all the information in the second email.

Tip #8 – Follow up

…and of course, follow up. This is a no brainer but we all forget. I hit myself over the head with this and I still forget. (Possibly because I keep hitting myself over the head… possibly because I keep hitting myself over the head.)

If you can’t send a complete response, send a short one saying you’ll respond in more detail later. If I respond, say thank you.

Even if I’m a jerk (very likely) or offer you idiotic advice (almost certain) say thank you. What’s the worst that can happen by being polite? I’ll be inclined to respond next time. Maybe with some better advice. Maybe I’ll just think you’re more of a gentleman and try to more of a gentleman to you.

Aside from basic manners, the point is to keep your name in front of me. After I’ve seen in three or four times, I’m more likely to recognize it and prioritize a response.

This is not to say you should send meaningless banter for no reason, but it is to say that sending an email is a marketing exercise. You’re trying to win mind share.

If you’re got more tips…please send ’em my way. I could surely use ’em.

So…what should I post next? Tweet to tell me what to write:

Show me how to test product market fit!

or

How can I do lean startup in my friggin' huge company?

Discussion (5 comments)

  1. Cody says:
    22.02.2011.

    I frequently send emails to “skimmers”, and the trick I’ve used successfully is: After I finish writing the email, I go back and bold the 2 or 3 most important words or phrases. Where if all they read were these few things, we’d all be on the same page.

    My business partner and I get pretty verbose over email since we only meet face-to-face once a month or so. This makes sure he sees the things I need done more than anything. The rest is just record-keeping.

    1. Tristan says:
      22.02.2011.

      That’s a great trick if you already know the person. I’m not sure if it’ll work if you don’t know someone. When I get emails like that from someone I don’t know I feel like it’s just marketing.

  2. Martin says:
    22.02.2011.

    Excellent write up – definitely useful reading. While this would work for e.g. intros to investors, I found that in particular cold mail for sales should much rather raise interest than contain all relevant information.

    I’ve had success sharing information such as whitepapers, or mentioning a success story with a competitor. In my experience, all “sales” emails I have sent have shown low response rates, while all mail that triggers curiosity and shares information has led to good response. Interesting: People tend to remember your emails and get back to you weeks or even months later when you’d never expect it.

    1. Tristan says:
      22.02.2011.

      Yes, you’re definitely right. This is not written from the perspective of sales. I should have noted that although some of the same things may apply if it’s a long term, relationship based sales as opposed to an impulse buy.

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    22.02.2012.

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