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Today’s post follows on from last week’s – on the subject of how to get your email opened and responded to.
Email subject lines are equivalent to headlines in a newspaper. They have to catch the reader’s attention by being relevant. But when you write to a senior manager – whose attention should you try to capture?
Appeal to the ‘gatekeepers’ (also known as secretaries)
Top-level managers simply cannot open all the correspondence they receive. That’s why they have secretaries (‘gatekeepers’) who have the knowledge and skill to prioritise incoming information.
If you find that your emails to senior managers are being deferred or ignored, you need to think about how to capture the gatekeepers’ attention with your subject line. One way to do that is to make their job easier. After all, they’re the ones who have to filter through the huge stack of correspondence their bosses receive every day.
Give them respect
Treat gatekeepers with as much respect as you would their bosses. As with anyone else, stop using the ‘Urgent’ or ‘flaming letter’ icons or ALL CAPS in the subject line.
Don’t call them up and try to rush them unless it’s an extremely urgent matter. For example, if you need the manager’s help to deal with a client who is threatening legal action or bad publicity, a phone call may be necessary. Otherwise, use your judgment about when to push.
Don’t put lies (or even exaggerations) into the subject lines to get your emails opened and read. You’ll lose credibility and make things harder for yourself in future.
Help gatekeepers prioritise
There are ways you can help the gatekeeper filter emails and pay attention to yours.
First, indicate in the subject line how information in your email impacts business results. Top managers deal with issues that impact the company’s strategic goals, and their secretaries will know what those issues are. If a secretary has previously been burnt by asking her boss to read something that turned out to be unimportant, she will be extra cautious about this.
Second, also indicate in the subject line a clear action that you need the manager to take and the date you need it by. For example, you may be asking for a decision or permission for a go-ahead.
Here are subject line examples that demonstrate both these things:
--Need decision by 30 March on ABC initiative
--Sales targets not met in 1Q—need to discuss strategies this week
--Need approval on related costs for IT infrastructure problems in Beijing office
Get to know the gatekeeper
If you frequently need to contact a senior manager, it’s probably a good idea to get to know his or her secretary. Take the time to go to the office and introduce yourself. Give the secretary your business card and tell her a little about your department and what you do.
If you think it’s appropriate, from time to time send holiday or birthday greetings to the secretary – to build a relationship by contacting her for more than just urgent requests.
When you’ve got an issue that needs the manager’s urgent attention, call the secretary when you send the email.
Let her know that you’ve just sent an email that deals with something her boss will need to see soon. Say something like, ‘I’ve just sent Mr Smith an email about [issue]. This issue will need his action very soon, so I’d really appreciate it if you could get this to him by [date].’
Stop (or at least reduce) ‘chasing’
Think about it. If you’re chasing someone, that means they’re running away from you. If you get to be known as a constant bother, people will delay reading or completely ignore your emails.
Of course, really urgent action needs to be done immediately—and you’ll probably use the telephone in those cases. When you have more time, though, be patient.
Use your own judgment about when to write a follow-up email if you’ve not heard back from the manager. But respect the gatekeeper’s and manager’s time – and don’t send follow-ups too quickly or too often.
What other suggestions can you share with us? Please write them in the comments. Thanks!