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Choosing the Right Medium for the Message

Email is a magnificent communication tool—but not in all circumstances. Many conversations call for different—and better—communication choices.

When Is Email the Right Medium?

Email is the right communication medium for matters of relatively low importance. It’s great for sharing information. It’s awful for important conversations.

If you need to send your client some information, email is the right choice. If you want to send your client something that keeps them informed or shares your company’s point of view, like a white paper or a case study, email is perfect. You give your client what they need, and you don’t require their immediate time or attention for something that can easily wait.

The message matches the medium here; the information may be useful, but it’s not important that they act on the information or that they make a decision now (re-read this sentence, then re-read it again). When a decision is required, you need to move to a different communication tool.

When Is a Phone Call the Right Medium?

The phone is the communication tool when you need to have a conversation. It’s for matters that are more important than you would send through email.

Phone conversations sometimes require an immediate answer over a relatively important matter. Maybe you need your client to confirm some prior decision before you act. Or maybe you need confirm a change. These things can’t wait for email, and your client may need a conversation to explore her options on a relatively important, but not critical, matter. The phone is the right choice.

The phone is also the right choice for scheduling appointments, even though email works sometimes too.

You don’t want to have any important conversation over email. The delay is too long. It’s hard to gauge the tone of the text. And it can give your client the appearance that you are afraid to engage in the tough conversations that need to be had, that you are hiding. If you need to tell your client quickly about something that puts them at risk, you have to pick up the phone.

But the phone is wrong for the most important client conversations.

When Is a Face-to-Face Meeting the Right Medium?

When the conversation you need to have is really important, you need a face-to-face meeting.

When the conversation you need to have is around opening an opportunity, face-to-face is the only acceptable method. You can email the client to ask for an appointment. You can call the client to request their time. But you want to have the conversation around the opportunity in person. You need a real conversation, and you need the visual cues a face-to-face meeting provides.

If the client and the opportunity are important to you—and important to your client—make the appointment and do the work in person.

Too many salespeople believe that email is the right choice for sales tasks for which it is completely inappropriate. They want to share ideas over email, instead of in person. Afraid to ask for commitments, they fish around with soft emails that they hope will cause the client to respond to them. Some hide behind email because they don’t want to engage with the client when things go south—even though the relationship and the client are better served by a face-to-face visit.

Let your method of communicating with the client match the importance of the message. If it’s important to you or your client, choose face-to-face first.

Questions

What is the right communication method for low importance, low value, and low urgency communications?

What is the right choice for communication with for more important conversations that need a decision or a relatively low importance decision?

What is the right choice for the most important conversations you need to have with your clients?

If you want to create or move an opportunity, what is likely the right choice? Why is email the wrong choice?

What do your clients believe about you when you email them conversations that should be had in person?


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Comments

comments

  • Stephen Lahey

    Great advice, Ian. I’d add that, at least in my business (executive search), sending a friendly follow-up email confirming whatever action steps / results were discussed over the phone or in-person helps add clarity and avoid frustrating misunderstandings. 

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      That’s a super use for email! Perfect!

  • johncousineau

    Anthony: as ever, useful points. Stephen’s point about using email as a medium via which to verify results of a conversation also useful. What I would add is that the right medium to choose is often dependent on what medium a buyer’s most attuned to and comfortable with. Just booked an appointment, for instance, via twitter DM.

    I’d also add that, armed with your guidelines, experimentation matters. Surprising, recently, how many exec buyers have welcomed our uses of on-line video conferencing in scheduled ‘phone’ conversations. Face-to-face may not be what it used to be.

    Trust this adds some value. – John 

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      I agree, John. It does depend on the audience. I book appoints through Twitter DM all of the time. However, if I had to have a serious conversation, and the outcomes was critical, I would choose face-to-face long before I would go to online conferencing tools. I believe presence is going to be more and more of a differentiator in the future, as we rely on these tools.

      A

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