How should I respond to email inquiries?

Q & A by C.J. HaydenQ. I’m recently seeing an increase in email inquiries about my services. That’s good news, but most of these don’t seem to turn into clients. What’s the most effective way to follow up on email queries?

A. In my experience, a significant number of email inquiries are from window shoppers, tire kickers, and looky-loos. What I’ve found is that those that turn into business are the queries from people who tell me they were referred by someone I know, heard me speak, read my book/an article, subscribed to my newsletter, etc. The ones that usually go nowhere are from folks who found my site while surfing and had never heard of me before. So since that’s the pattern I’ve seen, that helps me determine how much effort to use in pursuing an inquiry.

With someone who tells me he or she already knows something about me and my work, I give them a personal, detailed reply and invite a phone conversation. With someone who found me surfing or who discloses nothing about how he or she found me, I have some boilerplate replies set up in my email, so I can just hit reply, insert the appropriate generic text and send.

As far as follow-up goes, people in the first category usually tell me something about themselves, sign their full name, and include a website URL or a phone number. If I don’t hear back from them, I’ll send a second email in a week or so. If there’s no response to that either, I will explore what I know about them to see if they appear interesting as a client, and if so, I’ll call them. If I can’t find a phone number, I might reach out to them on Facebook or LinkedIn. If I still get no response, I’ll try again in about a month, by email, phone, or both.

People in the second category will often tell me nothing about themselves at all, and either don’t sign their email or give me only a first name. In this case, when they don’t reply to my first email, I might check to see if they are already customers or subscribers. If so, I will add them to a generic autoresponder that says “You inquired about coaching a while back…” But if the initial inquiry was completely uninformative, I don’t even do this much. My experience has been that a query like “How much do you charge?” with no other info included is rarely worth more than 30 seconds of my time.

One thing I don’t do with either category is give free advice by email. That can lead to a lengthy chain of queries and replies that may ultimately result in nothing more than taking up my time. I reserve free advice (and in limited quantities) for serious prospects who are willing to have a phone conversation.

So don’t be discouraged if many of your email inquiries seem to go nowhere. But do put the personalized effort they deserve into following up with people who have taken the time to write you a sincere, informative query.

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Reader Comments

Great article, and very timely for me. I just had a prospective client inquire about me and my services today. The person inquired by e-mail, and left her number and a brief message about what she is planning to do with her business, and how I might help her as a coach.
I reasoned that since she reached out by e-mail, I would respond in the same way, and invite a phone conversation. Your post backs my reasoning, so that’s how I’ll proceed!
Thanks so much!

Thanks, James, I’m glad you found it helpful. Some people suggest that if you have a phone number, you should just call it at once and forget about emailing. But I find that each prospect has their own communication style. Some prefer email and avoid the phone, and others vice versa. While I do agree that you SHOULD move quickly to a phone conversation with a serious prospect, I have also found that people who made their initial inquiry by email usually reply quickly to an email where a phone call can result in voice mail tag, And, people who made their initial inquiry by phone are best responded to by phone, as that’s likely to be their preferred method of communication.