Ah, emails. They come and go every day by the dozens, even the hundreds. For many professionals, keeping up with incoming and outgoing messages is one of the hardest parts of the job. Invariably, any email that can be easily ignored or deleted will be. And most people, in their zeal to knock another one out of the inbox, make this decision after reading just a few words or the opening sentence.
When sending business outreach emails, you start out seriously disadvantaged, especially when they’re unsolicited. Whether you’re following up with a prospect or buyer, cold contacting for new leads, trying to reconnect with a former client, extending a special offer, marketing a product or service, pursuing a needed response from someone unresponsive, saying hello to stay fresh in someone’s mind, or whatever the case may be, your salutation and starting sentence usually determine whether the recipient reads any further.
Yet so many people squander their email efforts with really lousy openings like the ones below. If you see any of your own professional correspondence openings reflected below, it’s time to make some changes to what you’re writing.
1. “To Whom It may Concern”
This, “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” and other impersonal greetings are a great way to get your email promptly deleted. It’s suggestive of spam and immediately signals to recipients that you don’t know them—and therefore that they don’t know you. That doesn’t help get the rest of the message read. It also makes it seem like you’re too lazy to find out a name or that you’re mass mailing indiscriminately.
2. “My Name Is…”
Again, you’re announcing loud and clear that this is unsolicited contact from a stranger. Of all the things your recipients care about—and hitting on one is essential to getting read—your name is not one of them. If they want to know who you are, they’ll check your signature after they’ve read the rest.
3. Getting Your Contact’s Name Wrong
If you’d like your recipients to read your emails, have the courtesy to address them by their right name, spelled correctly. And don’t call a woman “Mr.” or a doctor “Ms.” Does the person consistently go by a nickname in their bios and social media profiles?
4. Starting with a Complicated or Confusing Sentence
Remember, people are trying to get through their emails efficiently. If they have to pause, re-read, and think too much about what you’re attempting to communicate right off the bat, they won’t bother. People want to know what you want right away, and they don’t want extra work to figure it out.
5. Starting with Irrelevance
This is along the same lines as the above. If you start off with no clear purpose, your recipients quickly lose interest. To help avoid this problem, make sure you know what your purpose is before you start typing. It’s always best to begin by making it obvious to your contacts what value you’re offering them.
6. Starting with Background Information
This easily has the same negative effects as the two preceding entries. If you’re rambling on and your readers are left wondering why, they’ll lose interest and patience. Busy people want to know right away what’s in it for them if they invest the time to read your email.
7. “I work for…”
This opening has a lot in common with “My name is.” It instantly tells recipients that they don’t know you. But what makes it worse is that it announces, “I just want to sell you something!” It’s usually appropriate to say what organization you represent, but not as the first words out of your fingers.
8. “Congratulations on…”
This one comes across as spammy (think, “You may already be a winner!”) or as a form letter. While there may be a genuine trigger prompting relevant contact from you, don’t start with these words. You’ll have more luck immediately referencing the event to show that you have personal knowledge and something relevant to say.
Unless the entire purpose of your email is to offer an apology for something your recipient is upset about, don’t open by saying you’re sorry. Don’t apologize for bothering them, don’t apologize for taking so long to respond, don’t apologize in advance if they aren’t interested in what you’re writing about…
10 “Did You Know…?”
This isn’t a high school essay, so don’t begin by citing some fact. It’s impersonal and immediately comes off as a cliché sales pitch. Facts can provide strong support if you’re bringing up a pain point or a solution, but as supporting elements, they should come after the meat of what you have to say.
Put the Value Proposition Right Up Front
The main takeaway here is that you have to immediately communicate to your reader what the purpose of your message is and why it’s in their interest—not yours—to read it through. Skip the clichés, the impersonal approaches, and the standard sales tactics. Write as a person, not a form letter; write to a person, not a prospect. It’s no guarantee you’ll succeed at your objective, but you have a much better chance if your email isn’t deleted before it’s even read.