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email etiquette

Our modes of communication have become increasingly diverse with more emphasis on making connections beyond voice calls with texting, email, and social chat tools now making up a significant chunk of our business interactions.

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With this development, business etiquette practices also need to adapt to the different modes of communication. According to a study by the International Data Corporation (IDC), workers spend 28 percent of their work week emailing – a significant chunk of time, which speaks to the fact that email is a critical way that businesses deal with the world, across customers, partners, and employees. For sales, it has become a critical method for warming up what would otherwise be a cold call, hashing out details of a sales call, and following up.

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Business Email Etiquette lays out several do’s and don’ts for this form of business communication. Here is the breakdown:

Subject Lines Matter

Because most of us receive hundreds of emails per day, it’s important that subject lines be clear and concise, in order to get the recipient’s notice. But beyond that, it’s polite to make sure the email is easily recognized for what it contains, and easy to find later. “Sales Proposal from Company A” is acceptable. A vague “Follow Up” is not. 

Sign Your Name

Every salesperson should make it a goal to provide customers and prospects with easy ways to get ahold of them. There’s nothing more frustrating when trying to get a question answered quickly than not being able to easily find a phone number. Email signatures with full name, title, and contact information should be set to automatically accompany every message that’s sent.

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Always Proofread

One of the quickest ways your professionalism will be judged is by the grammar and spelling used in an email message. A typo may be forgiven, but an email riddled with misspellings, bad grammar, and improper punctuation sends a message that, at best, you don’t pay attention to details, and at worst, that you’re unprofessional. Pay special attention to common mistakes including “they’re/their/there” and “your/you’re.”

Provide Context 

Again, your customers and prospects receive hundreds of emails every day. Don’t assume that your conversation from a week ago will be top of mind when you send a follow-up note. When hitting “reply” on a tickler email especially, make sure you reference what the discussion was about, to put your questions in context. Don’t make your recipient scroll back through an email chain to figure out what’s going on. 

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Respond To Your Emails

Yes, we know you get hundreds of emails per day. But take the time to respond to those that are personal notes to you specifically. It’s simply polite to acknowledge that someone has said something to you. Also, if you can’t get back to someone in the same day, take ownership of that with a simple, “apologies for the late reply.”

Don’t Respond Angrily To Emails

There are times in every salesperson’s professional life when a contact is rude, or reneges on an agreement, or decides to browbeat over something he or she perceives to be mismanaged. Nonetheless, never, ever send an angry email. A good rule of thumb before firing off a rapid response in agitation is to simply file it away in a drafts folder to come back to later with clearer eyes – or just delete it after you’ve worked out frustration by composing it in the first place. Remember: Once an email is sent, it can’t be taken back – and you never, ever want to burn your bridges. 

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Respect Your Correspondent’s Privacy

Before you hit “forward” on a message (to your boss, your coworker, IT, the engineering staff, whoever), stop and think. Is there personal information in that email, or potentially sensitive data? Does the email cover any confidences made just to you? Does an attachment contain proprietary information not for consumption by the outside world? If you can say yes to any of these, or if you’re not sure, don’t hit send. 

Use The Same Language You Would On Letterhead

Over time, email language with a contact will become less formal as the two of you get to know each other. But remember to start out the way you would if sending a formal letter: Use a salutation (Dear Mr. X or Ms. Y is a good template); end with “best regards” or similar, and in the middle avoid overly familiar vernacular, like LOLs, emojis or emoticons, all capital letters (which comes across as shouting), or lots of exclamation points. Also, don’t reference your personal life. “My wife says…” or “our weather is crazy right now!” serve no place in your initial communications. By the same token avoid overly fussy language that may be too formal, such as starting out with “Dear Madam.” Keep it as professional as you would in a printed and snail-mailed letter – but not more so.

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Ask Before Sending Large Attachments

Sending large attachments out of the blue can cause problems for corporate email servers; they can also overwhelm a user’s inbox capacity, causing other emails to bounce. Anything over 500KB can clog the receiver's inbox and cause other important emails to bounce. If you are sending something that’s over 500KB, ask first.

Pick Up The Phone

A good salesperson is responsive and caters to customer and prospect needs. That includes knowing when to use email – and when to switch to a different mode of communication. If you find yourself typing out long, complicated explanations or characterizations of something, remind yourself that it may be quicker—and more polite—to simply pick up the phone and have a conversation. The same is true when handling sensitive subjects where your tone may be misinterpreted. Give your contact enough respect to communicate fully with him or her, even if email seems easier or gets you out of potentially difficult conversations.

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Remember That Your Email Is A Reflection Of You

Above all, remind yourself that email is an extension of who you are as a salesperson: Your tone, professionalism, responsiveness, and general way of approaching business relationships all shine through in an email – which is a format that stays around. If you wouldn’t be comfortable having a certain message archived out there for reference later on, or being held up as an example of how you conduct your sales activities, it’s simple: don’t send it. 


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