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In today’s ever-increasing virtual business world, more and more prospects are making the initial contact with you by e-mail communication. While this may be a big time-saver when it comes to returning phone calls and sending information packets, it does pose some challenges for turning those prospects into paying clients. The secret is knowing how to use every e-mail correspondence you send effectively to convert them into your best customers and referral sources. There are many reasons why many prospects favor e-mail correspondence these days. First, they don’t have to talk to a live person on the initial query. This makes them more relaxed and eager to find out information about you and your company. Also, they can request the information they need at any time of day, not just during your business hours. This is especially appealing to those prospects in different time zones and countries. Finally, when prospects receive your reply via e-mail, they get the instant attention they desire without the interruptions that come with phone calls. Unfortunately, despite all these advantages to the prospects, you, as the business professional need some special skills to effectively work with this kind of communication. The good news is that with proper “e-tiquette,” you can easily turn e-mail correspondences into one of your most profitable client sources. THE RULES OF E-TIQUETTE The most recent findings show that the average businessperson sends and receives a total of about 90 e-mail messages a day. While these e-business correspondences are done at an incredible pace, you need to remember that the same rules of traditional correspondence etiquette apply. Your prospects choose to use e-mail because they are busy people who do not wish to have intrusions, who may not have time for idle chitchat, but who still need to know about your products and/or services. To turn these prospects into clients, follow these guidelines for effective e-mail communication. � Reply to your prospects as soon as possible. The very nature of e-mail is instant communication. Your prospects want to know what you can offer them right now. While you may not be able to respond to their inquiries the moment you receive them, you do need to respond in a timely manner. The same day is best — but definitely within 24 hours. When your prospects see that you’re able to respond quickly with the information they need, it plants the seed for future speedy service and makes them more apt to do business with you. � Always reference your prospects’ original message. More than likely, your prospects send multiple message a day to various businesses. To make it easier for them to determine which request you are responding to, be sure to reference the original message in your reply. This can be done in a simple sentence stating, “Thank you for requesting information about (your company/product name).” Or, depending on your e-mail program, it may automatically reference the message you are replying to. (Check with your company’s IT director to find out if yours does.) By making it as simple as possible for your prospects to know what your message is in reference to, you eliminate the possibility of them inadvertently pressing the delete key before reading your message. � Be as brief but as detailed as possible. Your prospects want information, but they don’t want to be bogged down with pages and pages of text. Your replies to them need to be brief yet filled with just enough information to help them make a buying decision. Before sending your reply to your prospects, send it to yourself to see how it looks on the screen. Are there pages and pages of text that will intimidate your prospects? Are the paragraphs overwhelming? Does the formatting look awkward on the screen? Since this correspondence will be the prospects’ first impression of you, be sure you’re not conveying a negative or overbearing impression by bombarding your prospects with too much information. Say what you need to say, and then stop. You can supply additional information in your follow-up. � Always include additional contact information. Even though your prospects are contacting you via e-mail, you still need to give them other options for reaching you for further information. Always include your phone, fax and/or cell phone numbers, as well as mailing information in every correspondence. Most business people prefer to do this in their signature, which can be programmed to be automatically inserted at the end of every e-mail message. To be effective, keep your signature short, use your business slogan and keep that line length to 60 or 70 characters. Your prospects will appreciate knowing they can reach you by other means if necessary. � Be courteous with file attachments. Depending on the information your prospects want, there may be times when you need to send a file attachment. While these are big time-savers for information requests (no need to rekey information; just attach a file and send), you need to send your attachments judiciously. Never send more than two attachments at a time. Attached files take longer for your prospects to receive and download, and they may not appreciate the increased time online. Additionally, some prospects are leery of attached files because of possible viruses. If the information is not long, you might want to consider including it directly in the e-mail message by using a “cut and paste” method. Another option is to have the information posted online at your Web site. This way you can simply direct your prospects to a Web link and have them view exactly what they need. � Use good grammar. If your prospects can’t read or understand your message, there’s a slim chance they’ll become clients. That’s why you need to develop a strong vocabulary and proper grammar skills. You need to know how to construct a sentence to accurately convey your message. Because e-mail communication is not in person and because it is fast and informal, it lacks the common communication cues that come from voice inflection, facial expression and body language. Your choice of words, therefore, becomes an even more critical part of your communicating. Before sending your e-mail to your prospects, read it over to be sure you got your point across. After all, this may be your only chance to communicate with your prospects. You need to be sure your message clearly answers your prospects’ questions and gives them a reason to want to do business with you. BUILD YOUR CLIENT LIST There’s no doubt about it �- e-mail communication is the way of the future. Those business people who have the e-tiquette skills to communicate with prospects effectively will be the ones who reap the most rewards. Most important, always remember that no matter how your prospects contact you, the goal is to turn them into paying clients. Your e-mail correspondence prospects are no different. Instead of defeating your chance of converting these prime prospects by displaying sloppy e-tiquette skills, you need to do everything you can to convince them that your company is ahead of the times and can deliver the necessary products and/or services. By using these e-tiquette tips and some common sense, you’ll turn more prospects into clients and gain more referrals in the process. Dana May Casperson specializes in etiquette consulting for businesses, associations and sports teams. She can be reached at (707) 579-4367.

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