The Art of Writing a Graceful Business Email

Writing Tips

Hop in the WABAC machine with me for a moment (whoa, who ordered the obscure Rocky and Bullwinkle Show reference?). As much as we’d all like to travel back in time to February 2020 so we could go to our favorite restaurant one more time, I want to go back further. 

Let’s go back to a time when people actually answered the phone.

In those days, cold calling sales prospects was THE way to connect. The advertising giants of the 1960’s had their account managers “beating the bushes” and “drumming up leads” with the goal of getting prospects in a room where the Don Draper’s of the world could pitch them.  

And while you’ll still hear some salespeople making the case for cold calling as the “secret” to sales success, there’s no question that most sales processes in most industries happen digitally these days. Cold calling, in particular, seems to be dead—or at least on life support. 

Who answers unscheduled calls from unknown (or even known? Sorry, Papa!) numbers these days, right? 

Of course, there’s a place for phone calls. I always hop on a call or Zoom meeting with prospects to talk about the details of ghostwriting projects and my collaborative writing process. Often negotiations happen over the phone and most deals still close during a live conversation.

But if you want to get a prospect in a (virtual) room where you can pitch them a product or service offering, you’ve got to master the art of writing a graceful business email (or DM). That means, I’m sorry to say, we’re ALL writers these days. So, let’s discuss some (less obvious) writing tactics for each stage of the email sales process.

The Cold Email

The basic approach to cold emailing has certainly evolved since salespeople first started using email for this purpose. As a small business owner or start-up, you’re not likely to get a prospect to engage with an impersonal, mass-sales-oriented, one-size-fits-all email.

Of course, as with everything having to do with content, what works depends on your industry and your business. Speaking for myself and my business, direct selling to a cold audience has never worked for me. Selling high priced offers during the first pitch? Yes. But selling via email to a cold audience? No.

Selling to a cold audience could be a good strategy for lower priced offerings, however. Still, if I were to try this strategy, I’d run social media ads before I’d send cold emails.

With all of this in mind, cold emails should:

  • Provide value for your prospect
  • Educate the prospect about who you work with and what you do
  • Show that you understand their business and the challenges they face

Imagine you were inviting someone new to a dinner party. You would put yourself in their shoes and consider what they might want to hear. Do the same with your cold email audience. Extend the invitation and see what happens.

Following Up

The place to let your personality really shine is in the follow up. Once someone expresses interest in one of your products or services, it’s game on.

When someone expresses interest in working with me as a ghostwriter, for instance, I respond quickly (i.e., within 24 hours) with a request for a scheduled phone call or virtual meeting. But even in this first email, I’m thinking about how to differentiate myself from my competitors. 

I want to make sure my personality shines through from the first contact. I pay close attention to the written cues I’m getting and I riff on that. I try to make a joke or say something memorable in every interaction I have with prospects because I want to be top of mind whenever they circle back to their book project, no matter what stage they’re in.

After the initial phone call, I follow-up (again, within 24 hours) with a proposal detailing whatever I shared with them over the phone. If I don’t hear anything after one week, I send another follow up letting them know I’m happy to answer any questions they may have. If they ask me to follow up at a later time, I make a note to do so.   

Here are some tactics I use in my follow up emails:

  • Mirroring: Pay attention to the “words between the lines” and look for anything you can use to build a connection with the prospect. Also, mirror back what’s interesting about their work. People rarely know what others find interesting about them and their work.
  • Extend the Conversation: If you can stay engaged with a prospect, you’re moving in the right direction. While some salespeople recommend creating a sense of urgency or scarcity, prospects will pick up on engineered tricks. So think in terms of genuine ways to extend the conversation. For example, share a free tool or something that adds value.

The Close

As I said above, closing deals doesn’t often happen via email. But if you’ve nurtured a prospect well, it’s possible she will email you and say “let’s go.”

After a certain number of follow ups, it might make sense to suggest a start date or try to schedule some time to talk again. This is a delicate move because you don’t want to come off as too pushy. But if you’ve been leading with the value you can provide and you feel certain your prospect sees the value, there’s absolutely no harm in asking for the sale. 

Because so much of our communications are written these days, it pays to create a system for writing graceful business emails. Are there templates you can create for yourself? Can you make a list of common scenarios and strategize? 

You’ll still need to personalize your business emails, but having some language and scripts ready to customize will save you time. Take some time to reflect on what the art of writing a graceful business email means for you and your business.

Not sure what type of writer you are? Take my quiz to find out. Figuring out how to make those graceful emails flow is all about knowing yourself better. Check it out!

Photo credit: Breakingpic