There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love email and the rest of us. Obviously, I'm not someone who personally lives for a good email. But to be successful, you've got to communicate and collaborate with others, and as much as many of us would probably prefer to build business relationships with people over coffee or some happy-hour beers, that's just not realistic -- so we're stuck with email.
The problem with that is, you really never seem to connect with that one guy who loves email when you need him. Most people can be unresponsive at times. They get busy with other work, or your message gets buried and forgotten, and you don't hear back. It's unavoidable -- but it doesn't have to be the end of your communication.
For those times you really need a response, here are seven email tricks to encourage your contact to reply:
1. Stop thinking of email as just another item on your to-do list.
If you're not crazy about sending emails, you might approach it with an attitude that's more focused on getting it out of the way than doing it really well -- and that's a problem. You're communicating for a reason, not just checking tasks off your to-do list. Always think about what you're trying to accomplish with emails, and don't just hit "Send" to mark it off the list.
2. Dump the templates.
Technology has allowed us to become very efficient and boost productivity, but in the process, we've lost some of those personal touches that really make the difference. Get rid of your one-size-fits-all email template, and look for ways to personalize your messages. People can tell when you're sending a canned email anyway, and you don't want to leave that kind of impression on them.
3. Focus on the subject line.
Imagine a subject line being similar to the headline of an article: The article doesn't matter if no one in your audience was attracted enough to click. So put that same energy you use to write catchy headlines into writing solid subject lines.
For an extra boost, I've even added something like "Quick Favor" to a subject line. And because it's intriguing and most people want to help, I've noticed this trick works about 90 percent of the time.
4. Strike "Just following up" from your vocabulary.
No one likes to feel they're in trouble, and using phrases like "Just checking in about this from last week" or "It's me following up again" can make people feel like they dropped the ball. Instead, be genuine and express concern; I've found phrases like "I hope everything is OK" set a better tone and elicit a response more often.
5. Write the kind of personality-filled email you'd like to receive.
I don't know what it is about email that makes people feel like they have to be formal and buttoned-up, but I do know that no one has ever been excited to read and reply to an email that's really dry and boring. Drop the act, and show off some personality instead.
I once sent an email to someone I know is a big Red Sox fan after they beat the Cardinals and said, "Hey, as a consolation prize for that beating the Sox gave us yesterday, can you approve this for me?" He got back to me right away with a fun reply and the approval I asked for.
So put yourself in their shoes, consider what you know about them, and fill in the gaps with your own personality. You may make a joke and hear crickets, but nearly every time, it will pay off, people will loosen up, and your connection will be stronger.
6. Add major credibility points to your email signature.
If people believe your company has actual influence, then they'll be more apt to communicate with you. Take advantage of your email signature space to show them you have that influence.
I started including the Inc. 500 logo in my signatures after we earned a spot at No. 239, and it helped add credibility to my messages.
7. Take advantage of meaningful moments to send personal emails, too.
Know some people terrible at responding to work-related emails? Send them compliments and congratulations when they accomplish something special, or use the holidays as an opportunity to reconnect. Write a personal note to congratulate someone on welcoming a new baby to the family, for example, or to wish someone a happy new year.
If you can build a relationship that involves more than just sending follow-up emails or asking for signatures on a contract, then you'll probably be in a better place to get responses on those emails when you really need them.
And if none of those hacks helps:
After a certain point, you have nothing left to lose. If you've tried everything and still can't get a response, then it's time to get creative with a Hail Mary. Below is an example of a successful Hail Mary of my own:
I haven't heard from you after quite a few emails, so I thought I might as well share my bucket list for the end of the year with you. It's clear to me that No. 3 is impossible, and I know No. 4 will be a challenge, but I think I can get Nos. 1 and 2:
1. Break up a fight between giraffes
2. Play a game of "NBA Jam" with Oprah
3. Watch "The Notebook" without crying
4. Connect with Rick
Can you help me out and get me a quick response so I can knock out No. 4 and set up "NBA Jam" for the Oprah visit?"
After 15 emails with no response, he replied within five minutes with his approval.
Don't let your message get lost or forgotten. Instead, use these tried-and-true hacks, and you'll never miss out on another opportunity just because no one replied.