Not so many years ago, most real estate professionals couldn't imagine conducting business without a telephone or a fax machine. Today, the paradigm of business communication is e-mail. In the modern real estate market, unless you're willing to communicate by using e-mail, you may lose a significant number of clients or potential clients.
Almost everyone who uses e-mail believes that he or she has mastered it. After all, how difficult is it to compose and send an e-mail message? However, composing, sending, receiving, and reading e-mail represents just a small portion of the potential of e-mail. E-mail, when mastered for strategic advantage, is much more than a simple utility — it's a powerful form of communication.
This article helps you discover the sophisticated nuances of e-mail and describes how you can take advantage of these nuances for continued business success.
Know your client's e-mail habits
First, the effectiveness of your e-mail correspondence depends on more than just how well you write. Your e-mail recipients are driven not only by what you do before sending the message but also by how they process its information. If you can better understand how your client uses e-mail, you can customize your electronic communications strategy accordingly.
For example, if your clients check their e-mail inboxes more frequently than their voice mail inboxes, they expect to receive late-breaking and time-sensitive news from you by e-mail. Also, because your client may receive more than 100 e-mail messages a day, it's important to use a succinct, attention-grabbing title in the Subject line, such as "Tuesday 4 p.m.: Oak Trail house on the market again."
Discuss with your clients their e-mail-habits and preferences at the beginning of your business relationship — preferably when you exchange e-mail addresses. Also, get in the habit of exchanging e-mail addresses with all new contacts and potential clients or referrals.
Know what your client's e-mail program can — and can't — do
E-mail software comes in a variety of formats. Some people use e-mail programs that view Web pages written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which is a programmable language that allows the viewing of Web pages. However, some e-mail programs do not allow the user to view HTML. What appeared readable on your screen might therefore be hard-to-read text in a mass of code on your client's screen. Therefore, it is important that you understand what your clients' e-mail programs allow or can access. What's the best way to do this? Ask your client.
Follow some basic principles
Despite the idiosyncrasies of various e-mail programs, a number of common principles of e-mail communications apply. Writing an e-mail message is not like composing a letter, sending a fax, or placing a phone call. Effective e-mail communications involve certain conventions that are unique to the medium.
For example, keep the best interests of your e-mail recipient in mind when preparing your message. In other words, make things easy for the recipient.
Here are some guidelines to create effective e-mail messages:
- Create useful Subject lines This helps recipient sort and locate messages in the future. Important messages could contain the word URGENT in the Subject line to attract the recipient's attention.
- Avoid using too many capital, or uppercase, letters This can be construed as a form of shouting.
- Remember that sarcasm and humor do not translate well in e-mail Sarcasm, irony, and humor are often lost or misinterpreted in the faceless medium of e-mail. To ensure that you convey the intended meaning, use emoticons such as :) (the smiley face) to convey humor or joy; but use emoticons sparingly.
- Use a spelling checker and reread your message before sending it Most e-mail preferences can be set so that the message goes into an outbox when the Send button is pressed, which provides you with another opportunity to change your message before sending it or cancel it.
- Use professional judgment when mentioning or referencing other people E-mail messages are easily and frequently forwarded. So use caution when using the Reply to All feature, because numerous people might be on the Cc list, including someone for whom the e-mail information might not be appropriate.
- Limit your line length from 65 to 70 characters Otherwise, some e-mail programs might not properly wrap the lines. If a line in a message contains more than 76 characters, you might see = (the equal sign) at the end of each line.
- Use an automatic signature at the bottom of your message Some e-mail programs do not include the From line with your address at the top of the message.
- Use the mailto: prefix in an e-mail address Do this especially if you want the recipient to be able to click the address and go to a pre-addressed e-mail response form. There is no space after the colon (for example, mailto:Joan@sample.com).
- Acronyms can be helpful, but don't overdo them Some frequently used acronyms are BTW (by the way), FYI (for your information), and IMHO (in my humble opinion). These can appear to be jargon, and the translations may be unknown to some people.
- Do not send unsolicited attachments Large files could tie up the recipient's mail while they are being downloaded. Do not send large files without first getting permission. Many people are cautious about opening files because the files might contain a computer virus.
- Avoid including an entire prior message in your response Retain just enough of that message to put your response in context.
- Use the http:// prefix in a Web site's URL This increases the chances that your recipient will be able to click the full URL address to go to the Web page properly.
- When in doubt, send messages in plain text Most e-mail programs can read plain text. If you add special formatting such as Web links, special characters (bullets, ampersands), different fonts, and color, you run the risk that the recipient won't be able to fully appreciate your message because the recipient's e-mail program might not be able to display special formatting. When in doubt, send your message in plain (ASCII) text.
If you don't know what type of e-mail program your correspondent has, play it safe!
About the authors Saul D. Klein, John W. Reilly, and Mike Barnett are the principals of InternetCrusade. InternetCrusade operates the e-PRO Certification Course, an educational program sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and specifically designed to help real estate professionals use technology effectively. Klein, Reilly, and Barnett are also the authors of the Real Estate Technology Guide.