If you’ve spent an afternoon (or 20) trawling through the muddy depths of a corporate inbox, you may be surprised to learn the original purpose of email was to build relationships, specifically within academia. Professors used early email to connect with colleagues, share data and collaborate more effectively.
We’ve come a long way since those halcyon days. The average office worker in a white-collar job gets 121 work emails per day. That translates to about 116.4 billion business emails sent per day globally. And since many people only check email after returning from a series of meetings, prioritizing the ones from names they recognize, the odds of selling an enterprise via email may seem remote at best.
But not impossible. The trick is to be strategic about how you reach out to new contacts. Here are a few things to think about as you craft your messages.
Research your recipient
“Before you even talk to any potential customer or partner, read and watch everything about them to know their wants and personality,” said HustleCon founder Sam Parr in a recent post. That means LinkedIn, Google search, YouTube and beyond. It sounds obvious, yet many people don’t do it, simply because effective research is time consuming. Beyond helping you customize your selling strategy, due diligence enables you to include a personal feel to the message (“I’m also a Cardinals fan!”). It humanizes you and shows your contact you’re not just ticking off a box. Better yet, acknowledge your research—again, lightly and with some humor.
Find a sherpa
Every company has former executives, who left either for more money or retired. We call these “Emissaries,” but other popular terms in the business world are “sherpas” or “rabbis.” Find these people. They’ll teach you the context around the dots and dashes of a standard org chart, as well as the right tone to take and information to include in your initial outreach. More importantly, they’ll know that Matt in procurement wants to talk about golf before the deal gets discussed, or that Ben in marketing—and not his new SVP—is the real decision-maker when it comes to ad tech purchases. That kind of knowledge sharpens your messaging and conveys to the reader your investment not just in making a sale, but starting a relationship.
Respect the dichotomy of email length
Long emails tend to get short responses, largely because the recipient probably didn’t read the entire thing. Short emails often get longer responses, in part because the reader is seeking more information.
Relationship-building email efforts should typically be short, direct and contextual. The point is to begin the process of building out what you want from the relationship. Think: I am ____, I want to talk more about _____, and ______ is this great thing I know about you and your background.
Don’t forget the call to action
Too often emails meander and essentially ask the recipient to do 15 different things. Those emails get ignored or deleted. Keep your email CTAs direct and obvious. “I’d love a 30-minute meeting with you” or “I’d love to buy you a coffee/beer at the end of this week” are direct calls to action. The recipient now knows the expected outcome and can take a definitive next step in building the relationship from his end.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.