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New Technology, Old Techniques: Using letter-writing principles in emails

When was the last time you sent a handwritten business letter via snail mail? We’re guessing it hasn’t been recently. Over the last 10 to 15 years, one of the biggest changes in communication has been how obsolete the letter has become. After all, technology has gifted us with email, texting, Facebook, LinkedIn and many other ways to communicate with our clients. It is the world in which we live.

Now, we would never be so bold as to suggest that snail mail is something to resurrect. Virtually all our communication is done electronically today. But the same techniques that made letter-writing so effective in the past can work just as well in your electronic communications, particularly email. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself, and your clients will appreciate the surprisingly personal touches in your email correspondence. Here are some tips to get you started:

Set the stage–Nobody will arrest you if you start off emails with an “I hope all is well” or another friendly greeting. This isn’t necessary if you are just responding to a question, but when reaching out to start up a conversation, it sends a nice message and creates a positive tone. We find it surprising how rarely that happens.

Be gracious–Showing appreciation for your client’s time in your correspondence is always appreciated. Too many people just don’t take the time in their emails to say thank you, as in: “Thanks for the quick response…” or “I appreciated the time you afforded me yesterday;” or Thank you for agreeing to meet. I look forward to…” You don’t need to go overboard with this, just add a bit of warmth to your email and it will be noticed.

Follow up promptly–Every client meeting deserves a timely follow-up letter, and this is a great opportunity to distinguish yourself. If you are sending a proposal next week, drop a note today thanking them for the meeting and assuring them you will get them the proposal as promised. Just don’t forget to be personal and gracious in doing so..

Confirm the details–Similarly, every scheduled client visit deserves a confirmation message. In your email, restate your understanding of the time, location and agenda. Encourage the client to invite other people as appropriate. Let them know if you are bringing anyone and why. You could also remind them of something you mentioned when you set up the meeting: “I know you want to focus on ________ and you did indicate that you would also like to explore ___________. I look forward to that discussion.” The client will see how detail-oriented you are–always a plus when you are trying to win the business.

Remember postscripts–The P.S. can also be useful at times: “Enjoy your vacation,” or “I made the flight” or “How about those Los Angeles Kings?” or “I shot an 86 last week.” You get the gist. It is a nice way to add a personal touch to a business memo. Just make sure that what you say is appropriate and it’s probably not something you do when there is a long distribution list. And of course, use your good judgment in deciding when this is appropriate.

Email just to check in–Never underestimate the power of a surprise email, particularly when pursuing business. The surprise email is a crisp, focused message that reminds the client you are out there and looking forward to doing business with them. It could also be an email with an article or white paper that may be of interest to them. Or even a quick note that references something personal—the game, the vacation, the play, the fishing trip.

Email is a marvelous tool. And sometimes a brief response is all that is needed. But other times a human touch is appreciated, and in many ways shows that it’s not only about business.

Although letter writing is becoming a lost art in business, the techniques that made it work clearly still have merit in today’s e-communication methods. Try making your emails a bit more engaging with these time-tested techniques. Your clients will remember (and thank) you for it.

Have one of the above examples ever helped you win over a client? Leave a comment below and share your story!