Six Steps to Standing Out in Busy People’s Inbox

March 23, 2016

Regardless of your role and rank within an organization, garnering the attention of busy people can be extremely challenging, especially via email.  Here are six steps to increasing the likelihood that an email recipient will not only open your email, but read your entire message and respond.


Start with a simple subject line.  A strong, simple subject line that instills curiosity or provides value has a higher probability of being read than an overwhelmingly long subject.  For example, a sales rep trying to gain a prospect’s attention will have better success using a subject line such as, ‘New Tool Enables Manufacturers to Increase Productivity by 8%,’ vs. ‘Your Availability to Discuss the Implementation of a New Tool that May Result in an 8% increase in Productivity.”  The latter contains a commitment which may delay the recipient’s response and information better left for the body of the message.  The former subject line is simple and piques the recipient’s interest.

Open with relevance.  To demonstrate why it is important for the email recipient to connect with you, start with the value proposition.  For example, if you are working on marketing and communications materials for your organization and need a testimonial from a very busy buyer, consider why she may be motivated to give you one.  Stating, “We are really excited about the success your organization has achieved by using <product or service name> and would like to feature your feedback in an industry-specific report we publish,” is a value proposition.  It gives the recipient an opportunity to establish herself as an industry leader by sharing her perspective.  Few people will decline that offer.

Specify the task.  Be very specific about what you are requesting.  Whether you need a quote, introduction, meeting, etc. state it in one, succinct sentence. 

Cite a common connection.  Dale Carnegie’s 4th Human Relations principle is to, ‘Become genuinely interested in other people.’  Identifying and mentioning a common connection shows your sincere interest and helps establish relationships.  Perhaps you recently attended the same conference as the email recipient, or share a mutual friendship, membership and/or interest.  Whatever it is, mention it to increase the probability of response.

Mind your tone.  If you have not yet developed a relationship with the email recipient, it can be very difficult to discern the ideal tone of voice to use.  Stick to the safe side of electronic communication—avoid all extremes including emojis, multiple exclamation points and definitely profanity.  Use pleasant, upbeat language in a succinct and clear format to make it easier for the recipient to digest vs. delete your email.

Give thanks.  Dale Carnegie’s 2nd Human Relations principle is, ‘Give honest, sincere appreciation.’  Expressing empathy and appreciation is a surefire way to influence another person.  In your closing, humbly stating, “I realize you are extremely busy and would appreciate a moment of your time when you have a chance,” shows that you are an understanding and grateful person.  Who wouldn’t respond to someone like that?


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