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Good morning SOTGC readers. The title of this post is an actual typo I sent to one of the Directors in my company when we were talking about arrival times for his visit to my territory. To give a little background, we are both runners and at the previous National Sales Meeting he and the Strategic Accounts Team organized a 6:00 AM team building/run that anyone in the salesforce could attend. So I was merely making a joke and referencing that I’d be down for a run if he came in early…and what I learned is that the “n” and “b” are way too close together on the iphone for my huge thumbs to properly navigate. Luckily he and I are friends and he decided to let me send a panicked “I MEAN RUN, NOT RUB” email back to him, instead of sending it to HR for “interpretation”.
I logged onto businessemailetiquette.com for a great article on the “basics” of email etiquette. I remember when the small company I worked for went on a hiring spree and within a space of six months there were probably about 60 new employees. Along with this came an HR department (instead of just one person with the title of VP of Legal/Compliance/HR) and along with that came some fun little blunders that went across the company which led to bi-weekly “email etiquette” emails and reminders.
The funny thing was, from my perspective at least, the more reminders that were sent the worse the email etiquette got. They’d send out “reminders” that there was a difference between the “reply” and “reply all” buttons and WHEN to use “reply all” and when (most of the time) to simply hit “reply”. I think one of these even got a “reply all” saying “sounds good, I’ll make a note of that”…looking back and remembering who sent that email, I’m pretty sure they hit “reply all” on purpose and are probably still giggling about that.
Below are the key Business Email Etiquette issues this article addresses. While I am going to inject several funny examples of blunders, this is actually a pretty serious topic that can land you in a heap of trouble if not adhered to, or can make a potentially good first impression, go south.
- Professional Behavior on the Job: Sending non-business related e-mails, jokes, forwards or chain letters on company time to friends or coworkers reflects on your lack of professionalism. Never assume that these activities are not being monitored. While on company time do not assume you have any privacy when using company resources and equipment. (I agree with this, the lovely “auto fill” component on Outlook can type in names that you do NOT want these jokes to go to…and before you even think the “send” button is hit and an uncomfortable “was this meant for someone else?” email will usually be what lets you know you have sent the joke to the WRONG person…not that I’ve ever done this before…)
- SUBJECT: Field: The SUBJECT field is the window into your e-mail and can many times determine even if your e-mail will be opened. If this is an initial contact with a customer based on their request through your site or otherwise, be sure to have a short SUBJECT: that indicates clearly what the topic of the email is. (Strongly agree with this as well. If you are trying to get a meeting with a potential client, or trying to get someone in your company to respond to something as quickly as possible, letting them know what the subject matter is and putting a time sensitive stamp on it can determine IF you get that meeting with the potential client, or if your email is responded to in the allotted time that you need it to be. I’ve been known to email potential clients once every couple months or so trying to set meetings.)
- Level of Formality: Try to avoid the prevailing assumption that e-mail by its very nature allows you to be informal in your business e-mail. Only time and relationship building efforts can guide when you can formalize your business relationships and therefore your e-mail’s tone. (A good example of this is probably remembering that people will forward emails because it’s faster than re-writing the information you shared.)
- Addressing: I would suggest initially that you assume the highest level of courtesy: Hello, Mr. Anderson, Dear Ms. Jones, Dr. Osborne, etc. Until your new contact states, “call me Andy” or “you can call me Diane”. Most business people do not mind being called by their first name, however, in a global economy that can be perceived as taking premature liberties in the relationship if used too soon.
- TO:, From:, BCc, Cc fields can make or break you:…In the TO: field make sure you have your contact’s name formally typed. John B. Doe. In the FROM: field make sure you have your full name formally typed. BCc: use this field when e-mailing a group of contacts who do not personally know each other. Listing an arm’s length list of e-mail addresses in the Cc or TO fields of contacts who do not know each other or who have never met is conducive to publishing their e-mail address to strangers. CC: Use this field when there are a handful of associates involved in a discussion that requires all be on the same page. (I like to assume that every email someone sends me has a potential BCC on it. Often times I will send a BCC if I want the person I’m BCCing to be in the loop of the progress on something [IE my boss], but if I simply CC’d him the recipient would wonder “who is that and why are they copied?”. )
- Reply to All: Use this button with discretion! You need to carefully think about whether “all” really need to be aware of your reply to conduct business.
- Formatting: Refrain from using any formatting in your day-to-day business e-mail communications. Unless you would type something in bold crimson letters on business letterhead, don’t do it when e-mailing for commercial gain.
- Attachments: How do you think your relationship with a potential new customer/contact is enhanced when you send them that 10M Power Point presentation they didn’t request and you fill up their inbox causing subsequent business correspondence to bounce as undeliverable? Never assume your potential customers have the software you do to open any file you may arbitrarily send. Never send large attachments without warning, on weekends or after business hours when the recipient may not be there to keep their inbox clear.
- Using Previous E-mail for New Correspondence: If you want to give the perception of lazy, find a previous e-mail from the party you want to communicate with, hit reply and start typing about something completely irrelevant to the old e-mail’s subject. Always start a new e-mail and add your contacts to your address book so you can add them to a new e-mail with one click. (To play Devil’s Advocate here, I agree that if there is NOTHING in common with the subsequent email then yes, starting a new email is good. However, I try to limit how many emails I have to one person, so I will continue a chain for as long as I can so that if/when I need to reference a comment or question from a prior conversation, I have it in one spot instead of hunting for precious minutes to find it)
- Common Courtesy: Hello, Hi, Good Day, Thank You, Sincerely, Best Regards. All those intros and sign offs that are a staple of professional business communications should also be used in your business e-mail communications. Always have a salutation and sign off that includes your name with every e-mail. Type in full sentences with proper sentence structure. Not all caps; not all small case. Proper capitalization and punctuation are a must! You are an educated professional and need to communicate as such.
- Signature files: Keep your signature files to no more than 5-6 lines to avoid being viewed as egocentric.
- Respond Promptly: You should do your best to respond to your business communications as quickly as possible. This is a customer service issue that should not be underestimated. By not responding promptly you appear unorganized, uncaring or worse yet, risk being outperformed by your competitors who understand the importance of appearing efficient and on the ball.
One last thing I will say on a personal note is that it’s always good to know the difference between “to/too”, “its/it’s”, “your/you’re”, “their/there/they’re”. These are small details, however no matter how educated you are, if these are sent incorrectly they can come across to the recipient as lazy or uneducated.