Until very recently, timing of follow-up emails was not much more than a guess.  Sure there are many opinions, lots of thoughts and quite a few blogs suggesting best practices, but it’s all too general.  We’re not talking about mass-follow-up to lists of people, we’re talking about the problem we all experience daily: How and when should I follow up with THIS specific person?

The reality is that there isn’t a rule that will work across the board in every industry, or even for multiple individuals in a specific industry.

Considering a well-timed email can do wonders let’s look at a couple best practices for email follow-up.

Timing

The most common question we hear is “how long should I wait before following up with someone?”  The answer?  It depends.  There are a lot of factors that need to be considered that are beyond your control.  The good news is that by Tracking Opens, similar to using Read Receipts for Outlook and Gmail, you can get valuable insight into some of those outside factors.

Knowing when someone has opened your email allows you to start your “follow-up timer” more accurately.  Follow-up time should really be based on elapsed time since the first email was opened rather than the elapsed time since it was sent.  People lead busy complicated lives so just because you sent the email on Monday doesn’t mean it was read on Monday.  If your email didn’t ask for a lot of information or anything that would require preparation time on the recipients end, consider following up the day after the open if there is no response.

Paying attention to opens also allows you to see whether recipients opened your email multiple times; so if they opened that email again the next day you should be a little patient, you’re still on their mind so there probably isn't a need to remind them just yet.

Opens from a mobile device in the evening will often result in an open from a desktop in the morning.  We all love our mobile devices, but a large percentage of people still tend to save replying for their desktop.

Content

When it comes time to send your follow-up email make sure you’re following the tips to improve your open rates.  For follow-ups, the content of the email becomes very important to prompt the action you’re hoping for.  The content should also take into account your original email as well as what action was taken on your original email (if any).  More on this below.

Short is generally better.  If they didn't read your original email, or they weren't interested, redrafting a long email with the same information isn't the best way to spend your time.  Reply to your original message and add a quick note as a follow-up.  This way they can read your short message and if they're interested they can read your original mail below.

Give them an out.  Believe it not, maybe they actually weren't interested in what you had to say in your original email.  Knowing someone isn't interested is better than not knowing because it lets you use your time to follow up with people who ARE actually interested.  Getting the "No" also opens up possibilities for further discussion because at least you have a reply.  It's always better than not knowing.

Use data to your advantage.  If they opened your email multiple times, or clicked your links, then you know you did something right in your original message.  They were likely to busy to reply, genuinely uninterested, or your call to action wasn't clear enough.  If you managed to get engagement with your previous email than many time a quick note with a clear call to action is the best form of follow-up.

Don't Stress

With all the communication you're trying to manage on a day-to-day basis there's no reason to stress over the guesswork surrounding individual follow-up.  By leveraging the data you have available you can make follow-up easier on you as well the recipient.  Try the tips above and let us know what you think.