In sales and operations planning, communication is critical. Email is one of our main tools. But because we send a lot of them, it’s easy for people to tune us out.
Here are five ways to increase your chances of getting that quick reply.
1. Keep Emails Above the Scroll
In the newspaper industry, that top half of the front page is called “above the fold”. That’s precious real estate.
Notice how the top stories that start there hardly ever end there? Newspapers ask the reader to follow the stories deep inside the paper.
The reason for that is obvious. People are lazy and have limited time. They’ll typically only scan that top half (which is the only part you see when it’s displayed in a newsstand, by the way).
Seldom will they take the time to flip the paper in their rush. Thus newspapers have to present as many important stories there.
Well, in our online lives in front of small laptops, that space is called “above the scroll”.
Keep your emails short enough such that it can be read without having to scroll down. Scrolling is not as hard as flipping a paper. But it’s still more likely that someone skips a long email and reply to another that’s shorter.
(Oh, and have you tried reading a lengthy email in your BlackBerry or iPhone?)
2. Use Subheads to Help Scanning
Sometimes there’s no way to avoid a longer email. If you must, then make sure to include subheads. These are nothing more than headings or titles within your email.
You can bold or underline them so they stand out from the rest of the text.
This helps people scan to get a quick overview of your email. It also gives them a method to jump into the sections relevant to them.
3. Keep Paragraphs Short
Ideally paragraphs should be 2-3 sentences. I understand that this is likely not going to make your grade school English teacher happy. But it works.
It’s scary to see a big block of text without any breaks for air. People would rather not start reading it at all. But with 2-3 sentences, you get me to read the first paragraph and then hopefully the rest of the email.
Check out CNN online and see how long their paragraphs are.
(And let’s face it, do you really think through formal writing rules when you write your 10 sentence paragraphs?)
4. Use Bullets and Lists
As readers, we’re in love with lists:
- Top 50 Business Schools
- Fortune 500
- Top 10 Plays of the Day
- It’s clean and removes a lot of the words required when trying to make them into a paragraph.
- It’s easy to communicate process steps — very helpful in a supply chain context.
- If they’re a list of actions, you can use it as a checklist or to-do list.
- It makes replying easy. You simply answer each item one by one.
5. State a Call to Action Early
I often get long emails that go through some background, rationale and many pieces of random information. But I get to the end and still have no idea what they want me to do.
Frankly, I’d rather you tell me up front what action you want me to take. And then take me through the supporting information. This way, I only need to read through the rest of the email if required.
If you got this far, then I guess my points above worked. Like anything, we get better with repetition.
Let us know what other techniques have worked for you via the comments section below.
And as always, we’d appreciate it if you shared this post with someone that you think may find it helpful.
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