It is time to re-think e-mail. I understand its benefits–the ability to leave a communications trail, carefully construct your words, and make it possible for your clients to respond at their leisure, to name a few. The problem with e-mail is that inboxes fill quickly and sifting through the electronic haystack is a trial that leads to errors and lost messages. Your clients might feel the same way.
On the other hand, for some people, e-mail is their primary form of communication. I have two clients with whom I converse almost exclusively by e-mail. It's only after they hire me that I fly over and meet them in person.
Remember, e-mail is just one of numerous forms of communication. Here are some tips for using it:
1. Speak as your client speaks. How you want to communicate is irrelevant when building relationships. Some clients like to have a dialogue via e-mail while others prefer to converse in person or by phone. Discover how your clients want to deal with you and communicate in their desired format.
2. Use relevant subject lines in e-mails. This is a key issue for people you write to frequently. You may share dozens of e-mails in a given month. When it comes time to find a specific e-mail, putting a meaningful subject line at the top now will help identify it later.
3. Write complete sentences! The use of the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and other hand-held devices makes it tempting to write in shorthand. This would seem acceptable if your clients were also reading messages on their hand-held device, but when they are reading those messages on the computer, you come across as unprofessional. Take the extra time to craft a sentence. It will elevate your professional image.
4. Style matters. I believe that e-mails should be sent in html or rich text, two options under your "Format" tab if you use Microsoft's Outlook program. This enables you to create bullet points that are always more readable than plain-text lists. Additionally, it provides you the opportunity to use colors and enables you to put links in your e-signature.
5. Send attachments when possible. Do not send proposals and important communications exclusively in the body of your e-mail. If you want people to find the item you sent, an attachment helps. I send attachments because I can store them in an e-folder and quickly retrieve them when my clients ask me for the information a second time, after they've been unable to locate my original e-mail.
6. Use e-mail as a supplemental tool. Format your e-mail system to include an e-signature that provides your e-mail address and phone numbers. In addition, follow up your voice mails with an e-mail note. That helps ensure clients and prospects have your contact info.
I heard recently that more than 90% of all text messages are read but supposedly fewer than 20% of all e-mails get the same treatment. I can't verify the research behind what is becoming an oft-quoted statistic, but those numbers feel right to me. I suspect that during the infancy of e-mail, probably 90% of all e-mail messages were read. It's pretty clear to me that e-mail communication has changed and will continue to evolve.
Your ability to get your message across will be enhanced when you master the art of 21st century e-mail communication.
Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sales of building materials. His next book, "The Sales Secret," will soon be available. To order it, go to www.buildingleaders.com, 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.