Santa Barbara: “I thought the meeting went well,” started Michelle midway through our coaching session. “He told me the best way to follow up was through email.  But I emailed him last week and haven’t heard anything back.  I don’t get it.  Why did he just ignore my message?”

Because it’s easy.   Ignoring an email takes less than a second and doesn’t even require a click to delete.  Most people just let their undesired email sit aimlessly in their inbox. New emails then get piled on top making the others even easier to forget about.   Michelle’s issue was probably deeper than proper email protocol but let’s suppose that it was that simple.  Let’s assume Michelle’s lack of response was due to a boring or valueless email.   

Whether you are emailing someone for the first time, a prospect with whom you have had a meeting, or a referral from a client - it’s easy to get lazy with emails.  If you get ignored or deleted, the issue is not your recipient – it’s you (for the most part). 

The following are a few email tips to move from ‘delete’ to ‘reply’ (or at least ‘flagged’ for later).

1.     Write a Real Subject Line

Your email creation should start here. After all, this is what your prospect sees first.  Nowadays, we are inundated with emails from people trying to sell us anything and everything.  Nothing spells SPAM like a subject line with trigger words such as, “free”, “trial”, “limited”, “download”, or “save.”  Make sure you avoid these trigger words at all times with cold prospects.  If this is your first time reaching out to someone – be genuine in your subject line.  You might say, “Can you talk this Friday?”  If you were referred from someone, leverage that person’s name in your subject line, “Referred by Stephen Boswell” or “Friend of Matt Oechsli.”  If you are following up on a prospect, like Michelle, create a subject line that depicts a high level of professionalism like “Follow Up and Recap to Our Meeting on 9/20.” The moment I read a subject line like that, I know it’s legit and not an offer for a timeshare in the Bahamas.   Your subject line counts, so don’t knee-jerk this.  

2.     Show-Off That You Listened or Researched.   If your email is a follow up message, reference something your prospect specifically mentioned during your face-to-face meeting.  You might say, “I know you mentioned how important updating your Estate Plan was to you…”  This tells the receiver that you customized the message and really listened (a rare quality nowadays). If you are emailing someone cold, your first step should be searching for them on the major social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter).  If you notice something you can reference, use it!  This will undoubtedly grab their attention.  However, be careful here.  Your objective is to come across natural, like you did your homework, but not like you spent all day researching them online.  The bottom-line, you show a sincere interest in your prospect and your message will be better received.  

3.     Show Some Personality. Yes, you can come across as human. Incorporate areas of commonality or tasteful humor into your email.  Humor makes people feel at ease and it makes you a real person.  If you are following up on a prospect through email, it’s okay to reference a joke, sports team, major news events, etc.  If you are emailing someone cold, you probably want to refrain from selective humor until you have built some credibility.

4.     Link to Credibility.  If your email is a cold message, show you are a real person by connecting them to your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Blog in your message.  In your email signature include social media icons or at a minimum make your name a hyperlink to one of the aforementioned.  So many cold emails nowadays appear to be sent by automated bots.  Show them you are a real person!

5.     Brevity is Key.  Your email should be concise.  People skim emails and look for the main highlights. Bullets are a great way to demonstrate your key points.   Also, are you getting to your main point quickly enough?  If you only have a few seconds to catch your reader, get to the most important points promptly.

6.     Generate Action. Lastly, let your prospect know that you will be following up if you do not get a response – then actually follow up when you say you will. Subtly hold them accountable for a response. This can be as simple as, “If I don’t hear back from you by Friday, I will try to give you a call.”  You can also give them a “hook” in your message.  The idea is to withhold some important information that you can relay to them next time you meet.  For example, “After some further analysis, there are a few things we want to bring to your attention during our next meeting.”  Simple, but effective.

There are a lot of ways to improve your email response rate, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about being genuine and taking your time.  If we aren’t careful, we have a tendency to rush through things.  When we rush, the attention to detail diminishes and so does our quality and response rate.  Before you hit “send” today think about some of the tips we suggested, make some adjustments, and watch your response rates climb.

Stephen Boswell and Kevin Nichols are thought-leaders and coaches with The Oechsli Institute, a firm that specializes in research and training for the financial services industry.  @StephenBoswell  @KevinANichols  www.oechsli.com