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How to fill your appointment book with just one email

In any industry, capturing consumer attention is difficult, but getting people to commit to meeting you in person is even more difficult – but guess what? There are ways to make it happen, just keep reading…

When face-to-face is best

Sometimes, you just need a meeting. Maybe your product or service doesn’t drive online purchases well. Maybe you close more business face-to-face. Not uncommon. The process outlined here involves crafting an email, targeting a group of people you want to meet with, and compelling them to set the appointment with you. To be clear, we are not talking about cold calling or blasting a message out to prospects (read strangers). That would actually be illegal. Spam. But past customers and prospects you have met with and want to sit down with to talk about your respective business needs are fair game.

There are three primary components to this exercise: the list, the email, and the process. I have helped many small business owners execute on this concept. Most have successfully filled at least two days worth of meetings with a single email to a specific list. It is much more about the people on that list and your ability to write a compelling email than it is about technology or the tools you use to manage the schedule. Here are the basic steps to making it work.

1. Make a list

You need to decide what group you want to approach. This process works best when you target a specific group of people, grouped by something they have in common. The strongest response comes from a list grouped by geography, maybe they are in the same part of town, neighborhood or state depending on how broad your reach goes.

You can group them by industry, by who has purchased the same product or service from you in the past, and other key demographics too. But to start, just go with geography and expand on the idea once you have it down pat. Keep in mind that you can do this more than once, so don’t get caught up with trying to get everyone in your first list. Decide up front to have multiple lists and to send a different email to each list over time. This makes the list building much faster when you are not playing a numbers game, trying to send to as many people as possible. You will do better with a specific list than with a catch-all large one.

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This is the easiest part of the whole process, but it is probably the most important. Take a moment to think about it while you are doing it. Do not focus on the number of people you reach out to, but on the quality of those leads and the likelihood of their responding to you.

2. Write a compelling, targeted email

You want to start with a greeting that includes the person’s first name if at all possible. This will have a measurable impact on the response. If you are using a mass email system, most offer a mail merge type of tool that allows you to personalize with the person’s first name.

First, begin the message with a statement that establishes your interest in a meeting and specifies the date in question and why that is the best day for you. Example: I have a couple of meetings near your office in Lewisville next Thursday. My day is filling up but since I’ll be close, I wanted to try and get you on my schedule.

Tip: use conversational copy.
Write it as if it were to one person. Quick tip for making this easier – picture one of the clients on your list sitting across from you as you type and speak out loud to them as you type what you say. This helps you to write in what is called “conversational copy” which just means that you write the way you speak instead of writing like a brochure. It’s more personable, takes the tone you take when you’re being yourself and will make the email feel more like a one-to-one than a mass email. It matters.

Tip: fight the urge to expand on what you want to meet about.
These are people that know you already (no spam, right?) so it should be obvious that you want to discuss business. It does make sense to provide one line about the subject, if you are going to talk to everyone on the list about the same thing, or maybe just give three short bullet points, but the primary objective of this email is to get the meeting, not sell your products or services. Focus on the relationship, not the content of the meeting (or the sell). You want a response, even if they are not available that day. If you muddy the waters with talk of what you are going to tell them, then why do they need to meet with you? It’s subtle but it will have an impact on the number of responses you get.

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Tip: only give them one decision to make, one action to take.
If you give people more than one thing to think about in your email, they are less likely to take action on the one thing you want them to focus on. The reality is that most people do not read a long email. They skim. Stick to one point and do not give them more than one decision to make. In this case, that decision is whether to set an appointment with you while you’re in the area. This email is not about the sale. If you could close them in an email, you would not be trying to set up a meeting, you would send a sales email. Focus solely on getting the meeting and you immediately improve your chances of getting the response you want.

Tip: make it easy to respond.
In the email, you want to include a link that says “click here to see my current availability for Thursday” or “click here to set an appointment with me on Thursday.” The “click here” is very important. More people tend to click when it says those two words. This should be the only link in the body of your email. Remember, we are reducing the number of choices in order to increase decision and action – and you need to keep the email very short so that this link is definitely visible when they look at the email, whether they actually open it or just preview it.

The link should appear above the scroll, which is the same as “above the fold” in a print piece. Most people do not scroll to read your emails. They are too busy. So if your email is longer and requires a scroll to read the whole thing, then put in two links, one near the top and one at the bottom.

Tip: use a text link, not a graphic or button.
If you want a graphic (meaning a picture or button to push) then you can use it, but make sure there is a text link available as well because approximately 35% of people have their images turned off by default, so they will not immediately see the link if it is a graphic. In general, more people will click the text link because of this.

Tip: getting them to click or reply.
You want to make it as easy as possible for the people on your list to say yes and to take real action, in this case the action of setting a meeting with you. For this piece of the process, you basically have three choices.

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Tip: fight the urge to offer flexibility.
This is key. Do not add a line saying “if you are not unavailable on Thursday I will come see you at your convenience.” I understand why you want to, but try to hold back. Those that want to meet but can’t do it on Thursday will click reply and ask for the meeting another time. By not offering, you are confirming the statement you made about your plans to be in the area and at the same time, you are maintaining control of your own availability, the way a very busy person does. If you tell them you are available anytime, at their beck and call, then you are unintentionally sending the message that you are not very busy and that it is easy to get a meeting with you. If they can get you anytime, why do they need to set the meeting now?

Remember that the people you are sending this to are as busy as you are. They will put it off for other activities that win the daily battle of priorities if they know they can get you anytime. Everyone does. It’s not that they don’t want to meet with you, it’s that they know they can do it later. So they will. You want them to do it now. So don’t offer later. Just know that you will make yourself available should they ask.

3. The process

You will want to manage the meeting requests using an online form. This works great with an online survey system – any of them. Don’t get caught up in it being a survey – it’s just an online form with questions and answers. You can easily turn that into a scheduling tool. If you do not already have access to one, most offer a free trial so it might be a good time to kick the tires by trying this process out. You can also build an appointment form on your own website if you have programming skills.

There is a third party tool called TimeTrade.com that is designed to manage this part, if you are looking for an ongoing solution and can afford a service, they have an annual service that is $49 for an individual account and more for larger team. You can also just post a simple form on your website if you have the programming skills to do so. This isn’t so much about what tools you use as it is about the approach.

Tip: how to manage the meeting requests.
What we are really talking about is creating a way for your clients to make a reservation.

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The link in your email should take the client to an online form (built with a survey tool or on your website). Do not refer to it as a survey or form. As far as you are concerned this is a scheduling tool.  If you have the budget to use a third party product like TimeTrade.com then you will not have this same control over the message – but it’s still a good solution and simple to use.

Your reservation form should only ask three questions, in this format
1. First name, last name
2. Please provide a phone number or email (for appointment confirmation)
3. Please check the most convenient appointment from the times remaining
With this third question provide a list of times and show some of the, as already taken

Example
10:00am
11:00am – no longer available
12:00pm
1:00pm -no longer available
2:00pm
3;00pm
4:00pm – no longer available

It’s worthy of pointing out that this article is not about lying to your customers. Please do arrange actual appointments for the times that you mark as “no longer available”, even if it’s an appointment with yourself at Starbucks to regroup and grab lunch. The important piece is that you show your clients that others are taking your time and see it as valuable and compel them to secure their own time with you.

I’m not a psychologist, but there is probably a name for this…
I do not know why this works, but I know that it does. I remember the first time I saw these principles action. I was once at an art fair, standing in the booth of a friend of mine who is an artist. I had just selected one of her paintings for purchase and she put a sticky note on it that said SOLD. I watched as no less than five people who had shown no interest at all moments before, suddenly felt that they had to have that painting. That one. My friend was offered ridiculous sums of money to let them buy it instead of me. Next, they turned to me and offered more than I had just agreed to pay. I learned a lot standing there. My friend learned something too. Now at every show, she brings a few recently sold works to display with her others and keeps some similar pieces hidden away to pull out for that moment when someone reacts to the sold sign. Smart.

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Some logistics to manage:
When people fill out the form, most survey tools will spit out a thank you message that you can write. Make sure you add to that note saying that you will follow up with a confirmation and that you look forward to meeting with them.

If you’ve done it correctly, there will probably be some overlap.
Some people will choose the same time. It’s not prefect but try to look at this moment is an opportunity. Unless you are using a system like TimeTrade.com, your form is not going to be dynamic, meaning it does not change what appointments are available as people select a time. But you can work around this. Watch as the requests come in and send emails or call people to confirm that you have a meeting set and confirm their location or another.

When it comes up, send an email or call the person to say something like, “I’m so sorry, but another client took the time you requested just a few seconds before you did,” and then offer an alternative time. Now that they have requested a reservation, it’s fine to suggest another day. At this point, it is okay to let them see you making yourself available once they tell you they care. They have asked you for the meeting now. It worked.

This manageable complication also speaks to the practice of NOT sending to your entire list. You don’t want to have way too much response. Start small and if you don’t get enough responses to fill your day, expand the list.

What If you don’t want to use a form?
You can pull this off without a form by simply listing your available times in the email
And letting them reply, but then the list showing times already taken doesn’t seem to work as well. It works but not as well as having them click to set the appointment. Clicking to another page seems to send the message that they are competing for your time or you wouldn’t have needed the reservation tool.

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How often can you do this?
It’s not a good idea to repeat the exact same process with the same list but if you are segmenting your list properly you probably will not need to. You can circle back again a few months later and say “I’ll be in your area again” or just reach out and say “this worked out so well last time, I’m trying it again.” It’s up to you to message with your own professional tone and personality.

Leverage your human-ness, please

I talk about this in every workshop I do. It’s worthy of a mention in this scenario as well. When you add a screen interaction, like an email, to your communication process, the responsibility is yours to make sure you come off like a person, a real live human being. Please try to make sure they know that it really is you sending the email by writing in a tone that matches your regular “voice” when you are working with people and not machines or printed materials. I usually advise small businesses to take the same tone you would if you were in a one-on-one with someone that you know well. It should still be professional, since you are working. But it should be personable too. More human. More you.

People will make an appointment with a person that they know and like or want to know better. They do not make appointments with computers or with survey forms or emails. Those are the tools you are using and while it may seem too obvious to point out, far too many people send out robotic, brochure-copy emails that use terms like “full-scale enterprise-wide solution integration”. Please don’t. Even if you know what that pithy phrase means, do you use it in real conversations with people you know well? Find a way for your own voice to come through the screen and they are more likely to click on the link you provided and use the technology you deployed to manage a scheduling issue so that you could spend more real time face-to-face with other people, building relationships.

Because we all know that strong relationships are the real path to more business.

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Written By

Niehoff speaks and writes about marketing strategy and best practices for small business and nonprofits. She is the Director of Education & Development for Constant Contact, and serves as Vice Chair of Marketing Communciations for the Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Scott McFadden

    February 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Julie, you always share good ideas. This is a great way to segment an active email open list without doing the follow-up calls. In B2B sales we often call company decision makers who have opened and clicked on a link or forwarded an email newsletter. Your idea can create a sense of urgency for the prospect to request a contact. For an initial phone call I would set up phone call appointments in fifteen minute increments which is a subtle way to show your prospect that you are busy and that you won't take up a significant portion of their time. Both parties can gauge interest and set up a follow-up appoinment.

    The follow-up could be at the same Starbucks you blocked off for your 1:45 phone appointment with a venti regular.

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