Communication is a peculiar beast to me. It is at both times simple and mind-meltingly confusing. I’m still wrapping my head around it. However, what I have discovered is there are those who ‘get it’. Artists get it. They understand the importance of style and substance and that you can’t have one without the other. All style and no substance, and you’re a snake-oil salesman. All substance and no style, and you’re Ben Stein. Email is no different, like all communication there are rules. There are ‘tricks of the trade’. Here are mine.
Talk to the Person As a Person
A picture from the Berkeley Lab website that I altered slightly for demonstrative purposes.
You’re not a hive minded collective and neither is the person you’re emailing. There is no ‘we’, there’s you and I. You might not know this person’s name, but I’ll get to that in a minute. You should talk to that person as a person, not as a part of a collective or a cog in the machine. You have a great idea, you want a partnership, and you think that the channels of communication should be open. Your company is a thing, it’s not a person: it has no mind of its own and it has no face. There is only you and a bunch of other ‘yous’.
Know Who You Are Talking To and Care
Ever have a waiter recognize you at your favorite diner? It feels good, doesn’t it? Why does it feel good? Because it means that you matter to them. Life, for the most part, is uncaring and utilitarian. All that matters is what you do, not who you are. Finding someone who is interested in you, and not just what you can do for them, is rare. When contacting someone for the first time, learn what you can about them. If their name is on their company’s website, blog, or social media account then you have no excuse not to know it. Learn about their company and what you want to discuss. If it’s an app, learn about what makes the app unique, its success, and who has talked about it. When you approach someone, show that you’ve done your research.
No Passive Voice
This is English Writing 101, but it deserves mention. It can shoot you in the foot if not considered. In Western English, the passive voice is considered weak and untrustworthy. It has no place in your email.
Don’t Pitch a Sale, Have a Conversation
Used car salesmen, the modern snake oil sellers. (If you are a used car salesman, I apologize.)
We’ve been conditioned by telemarketers to have a visceral repulsion toward the traditional sales pitch. By emulating that style you’re handicapping your efforts. Have a conversation instead. Conversations have introductions, they have segues, and they have conclusions. Don’t jump straight to the pitch, but don’t spend an eternity getting to the point. Few like a sales pitch, but no one likes a rambler.
Give and Take
This has been an underlying theme throughout this entire article. Business relationships, like all relationships, are about give and take. The person you’re emailing already knows what you want. Don’t contact them because you have something to gain from them. Contact them because they have something to gain from you. Contact them because you legitimately believe that you can help them. If you construct your email around this mindset, you won’t come across as a money grubbing salesman looking to make a buck.
What I’ve given you are fundamental aspects of proper communication that should be used in email just as they’re used in daily conversation. That’s not all I’ve got, but I hate writing long articles as much as I hate reading them. I can’t guarantee that this advice will get your email read or responded to. However, I can guarantee that the more you incorporate my advice, the less you’ll have in common with Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. If you have advice of your own, tell me in the comments. If you think that I’m a moron who has got it all wrong, tell me in the comments. If I’m making a fool of myself, I’m the first person who wants to know.