5 Steps to Writing a Follow-up Email People Will Actually Answer

You’ve been waiting on an answer from a colleague for days. You’ve popped back into his inbox with a few general follow-up messages—but still, all you’ve heard in return is crickets.

Your first inclination might be to brush that person off as an undependable, unresponsive flake. And, in some cases, you might be right.

But, if your check-in emails are complete messes, it could likely be you that needs to shoulder at least a little bit of the blame.

That’s right—crafting an effective email involves a lot more than simply firing off pesky reminders day after day. If you truly want to make an impression (not to mention receive a response), you need to implement these five key tips.

1. Consider Timing

If there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s this: Nobody ever shares your same sense of urgency. That question or issue you’re eagerly awaiting a response on might be time-pressing for you. But, to your recipient, it’s just a minor task that she can push to the back burner.

Needless to say, timing is crucial when attempting to follow up. If your problem is so urgent that you feel the need to circle back a mere hour after sending your first message, then you’re probably better off skipping email altogether and picking up the phone.

Similarly, you need to be conscientious about your recipient’s schedule. Is he swamped under work or—even worse—on vacation? In those instances, your follow-ups aren’t going to be effective, regardless of how flawlessly crafted.

2. Use a Detailed Subject

We all tend to rely on overly generic subject lines. However, when you’re checking in on something, make it your goal to use as specific of subject as possible.

That means skipping those fallback standards like “Checking in” and opting for something that clearly illustrates the purpose of your message, such as “Feedback needed on quarterly sales report.”

You can also use your subject line to instill a greater sense of urgency in your recipient by incorporating a deadline right in the subject—such as “Feedback needed on quarterly sales report by tomorrow.”

In fact, a 2014 Hubspot survey found that emails that use “tomorrow” in the subject line are opened 10% more than those without.

3. Reiterate What You Need

Think about the last time you drafted a quick follow-up message that said something like, “Hey Jason, just checking in on this!”

Chances are, you’re nodding along right now. We’re all guilty of firing off brief, nearly empty messages—as if the sole act of popping back into that person’s inbox will inspire him to finally take action.

However, with each email you send, you need to remember to reiterate your purpose. What exactly do you need from this person?

So, skip the fluffy, short messages and instead make it almost painfully clear what you need that person to complete. The more obvious, the better.

4. Provide Additional Context

In a similar vein, you also need to ensure that your follow-up email contains enough context for that person to take action—without having to scroll through a seemingly endless thread to get the information he or she needs.

This doesn’t need to be anything overly complex or exhaustive—as a matter of fact, you want to keep things somewhat concise. But ensure that you’re offering enough information for your recipient to get a brief reminder of what’s going on.

For example, your message could look something like, “Hey Jason, I’m still waiting on your feedback on this quarterly sales report. We need to have this completed by Friday, and I’d especially like your input on the stats included on page four. Thanks!”

It’s short, sweet, and to the point, but still offers more than enough information for Jason to feel in the loop—making him that much more likely to actually take action.

5. Offer an Out

No matter how much elbow grease you put into crafting the perfect message, there are some people you’ll just never hear back from. It’s frustrating—but it happens.

It’s for this reason that you need to offer an out by explaining your next steps to the recipient. What will you do if you don’t receive a response by a certain date?

Sticking with our sales report example and that obnoxiously unresponsive Jason, you could end your email by saying, “If I don’t receive any notes from you by 3 PM on Thursday, I’ll move forward with the report as is.”

Yes, this might seem a little direct, particularly if you’re used to sending overly polite, “I know you’re super busy, but…” messages out of fear of rocking the boat. But, if you’re really aiming to get a response, you’re going to need to be a little firmer.

We all have to follow up on things. And, there’s no denying that being completely ignored is obnoxious and disheartening.

As easy as it is to shift the blame to that unreliable recipient, don’t forget to turn the spotlight on yourself and the quality of your follow-up email. Make sure you use these five key tips, and you’re sure to increase your chances of getting a reply.

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Photo of person on phone courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.

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About Alyse Kalish

Alyse Kalish
As an Associate Editor for The SalesJobInfo, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.

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