In most cases, you’ll want to close deals either in person or on the telephone. It’s more personal and more likely to work. And you’ll know, right away, whether you’ve got the business. Even so, it’s sometimes more convenient to ask for the business via email. Here’s a simple seven-step process for writing an email that can actually close:

  • Step No. 1. Define the problem, need, or goal. In one to two sentences, show the prospect that you understand the business situation on the basis of your original research and previous conversations with the prospect. Example: "You have shared with us that excess inventory at your Sheboygan plant is reducing the profitability of wholesale operations. However, our research indicates that the plant in question shares many characteristics of your competitors’ most successful operations."
  • Step No. 2: Define the desired outcome. In one to three sentences, explain what will be different when that problem is solved, that need is fulfilled, or that goal is achieved. Focus on the customer and the advantages the customer will gain from implementing your as-yet-undescribed solution. Example: “Based upon our best understanding of industry norms, improving inventory control at Sheybogan will decrease the cost of goods in the range of 20 to 25 percent, adding a yearly increase in net profit of roughly $25 million.”
  • Step No. 3: Define the solution. In two to three sentences, provide a BRIEF overview of the solution you're proposing, tying the solution back the customer's problems, needs, or goals (as defined in Step No. 1) AND to the desired outcome (as defined in Step No. 2). Avoid jargon and biz-blab. Instead, use words that a nontechnical decision maker can understand. Example: “We can customize our control software to allow you to more quickly use your existing inventory, thereby saving $10 million per year in floor-space rental.”
  • Step No. 4: Position for the close. In one to two sentences, provide a key factor that differentiates you as a vendor and that makes you the right company for the prospect to choose. Example: “Our inventory control solution was recognized in the annual report of Acme Corp. as being responsible for their increased profitability, and we’re certain that we can do the same for your firm. We look forward to working with you."
  • Step No. 5: Ask for the next step. In one final sentence, describe the next step that will make the opportunity real (i.e., the close). Example: “Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or simply send a return email, and we’ll put the customization work on our schedule.”
  • Step No. 6: Compose your subject line. Given what you wrote in Step No. 2, write a crisp summary of the desired outcome. Example: “Profitability Increase at the Sheybogan Plant”
  • Step No. 7: Structure the email.  Put the subject line from Step No. 6 in the subject line of the email (duh!). Everything else goes into the body of the email, in the exact order (Steps No. 1 through No. 5) in which you wrote them. Don’t forget to sign your name at the bottom.

Just as important as what you DO put in the email is what you DON’T. Here’s what you MUST leave out:

  • Your corporate history, motto, values, etc.
  • Technical details about the solution.
  • The price (!!!!)

The reason is simple. If you’re going to CLOSE via email, you must have already worked out all of that with the prospect ahead of time. An email that CLOSES must build upon an existing relationship, where there’s already been a fundamental meeting of the minds. 

Key concept: If you’re still talking technical details and price, you’re not ready to close. 

NOTE: The above is adapted from a conversation I had with the amazing Tom Sant, author of Persuasive Business Proposals (Amacom, 2003), tempered by my own extensive experience of closing business using email. (One guess how I closed the deal on this writing gig...)