How effective are your emails? Do they usually get an answer? Do recipients say they've opened and remembered them? Most important, do they inspire people to seriously consider your pitch, check out your product, or do whatever else you want them to do?

If the answer is no, don't feel bad. Most people these days, especially in the business world, hate their email inboxes with a passion. They're constantly looking for ways to get through emails faster, which means ignoring as many of the messages they get as possible. In a world where everyone feels swamped by email, how do you make yours stand out? How do you get a recipient to want to read to the end? Or open your message in the first place?

It isn't easy, but it can be done, according to Sean Gordon, CEO of sales software company Intelliverse. Here are some inside tips for writing the most effective emails you can:

1. Pick your recipient wisely.

Your chances of success go way down if you send your email to someone for whom it's irrelevant. So make certain to target your message to the person within an organization who is likeliest to find it useful. It's worth doing a little research to make sure you have the right person, but if you can't find out, use the recipient's title as a guide.

2. Put lots of thought into your subject line.

In fact, you should probably put at least as much thought into your subject line as you do into the email itself. For one very obvious reason: If the subject line doesn't inspire recipients to click on it, they will never read your carefully crafted message.

If you've previously spoken with recipients, or they've expressed interest in you or your company, make sure to say so. Also, make the topic of your email and its benefit to them very clear.

Now here's the hard part: You must do this in 50 characters or less. "A recent study by MailChimp found that subject lines stretching beyond 50 characters are very rarely opened," Gordon warns. "While it is important for your subject line to be descriptive, it should still be relatively short."

Finally, if you're sending an email to a large number of recipients, consider A/B testing alternative subject lines. An email service such as MailChimp can test the subject lines on 20 percent of your list and then use the winner for the remaining 80 percent--a move that's been shown to increase email open rates.

3. Focus on them, not you.

You're trying to sell recipients your product, get them interested in working with you, or inspire them to learn more about your company. You don't want to take up too much of their time, so it might seem natural to get right to the point and explain the benefits of your product or what makes you unique.

That's the wrong move, Gordon says. Instead, put the focus on the email's readers, perhaps by describing a business problem you know they are facing. "Your email should revolve around the real business needs that can be solved for the company you are targeting," he says.

4. End with a call to action.

Don't leave recipients with a vague sense that they might like to know more but haven't been given specific instructions. Instead, Gordon says, make sure to end with a call to action. "Why did you send this email? What is your expected outcome?" he asks.

If you are looking to schedule a meeting, tell recipients how much time you will need, such as, "I can demonstrate our value in a 15 minute call." And then propose some times for that call. "If you are expecting a response, give a set deadline," Gordon adds.

5. Only ask recipients to take the next step.

Your call to action should ask recipients to visit a website or schedule a phone conversation or perhaps agree to receive further information. It should not ask them to actually buy your product or service or commit to any kind of deal. "Email is useful to generate interest, coordinate meetings, and deliver proposals." Gordon explains. "However, it is not the best channel for showing a qualified prospect how your product or service will improve their business."

6. Gather all the performance data you can.

How effective was a particular email? How many times was it forwarded? Did recipients read it on mobile devices or desktops? How often did they click through to your website?

Email trackers (such as Intelliverse) can answer all these questions and more. Depending on how you're using email, email tracking may well be worthwhile. Either way, use email software, responses, and follow-up conversations with recipients to learn as much as you can about what did and didn't work. You can use that knowledge to write an even more effective email next time.

Published on: May 21, 2015
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