Writing persuasive emails is an important skill, no matter your role or industry. If you’re trying to land sales via email, the perks are obvious; you’ll have a better chance at closing deals and/or getting your prospects further along in the sales pipeline. But this can also be useful for your career, giving you a chance to make requests of your employer, assert your opinion in group conversations, and even come across as more likeable.
In any of these situations, your email will have a goal, whether it’s getting your recipient to take a specific action or change their mind on a given topic. That goal depends on the other person’s response or reaction, so your job is to make your email as persuasive as possible to ensure that goal is met.
Using a combination of tactics, you can increase your persuasiveness, both in terms of the content in your messages and in how you frame and present those messages.
Table of Contents
- How to Write More Persuasive Emails
- 1. Understand the different points of persuasion.
- 2. Use active words to motivate action.
- 3. Get to know your audience.
- 4. Be concise.
- 5. Make your email scannable.
- 6. Explain the benefits.
- 7. Explain your credentials.
- 8. Use social proof.
- 9. Get your foot in the door.
- 10. Ask for a favor.
- 11. Include some flattery.
- 12. Sympathize with a problem.
- 13. Make things more personal.
- 14. Justify your reasoning.
- 15. Address the other side.
- 16. Present scarcity.
- 17. Present urgency.
- 18. Be assertive.
- 19. Be persistent.
- 20. Remind your recipient of their choice.
- 21. Review your past emails.
- Experimenting to Write Persuasive Emails
How to Write More Persuasive Emails
These are some of the best strategies to make your emails more persuasive:
1. Understand the different points of persuasion.
First, understand that there isn’t a single persuasive point in your message; instead, depending on your goal, there are likely several. For example, if you’re sending a marketing email, your first goal will be getting your recipients to open the message, and for that, you’ll need a compelling subject line (see our post on the best sales email subject lines as well as the one covering sales email best practices for help here!). If you’re trying to change someone’s mind on a given point, you’ll need them to read the email, and for that, you’ll need to arrange the body copy in a way that incentivizes a thorough read. If you’re trying to get someone to take action, you’ll need them to do something possibly long after they initially read the message, and that requires staying power. If you neglect these points of persuasion, or focus on the wrong one, your goal will be much harder to achieve.
2. Use active words to motivate action.
Active words are words, typically verbs, that command someone to do something, or otherwise motivate an action, rather than merely describing the situation. As a simple example, “complete the report” is much more active than “the report needs to be completed.” If you’re speaking to someone of a higher authority than you and you want to be less aggressive, you can keep those action words while softening the message, like with “please complete the report at your convenience.” This is much more persuasive than a matter-of-fact statement while still remaining polite and considerate.
3. Get to know your audience.
Several email problems only arise because you’ve written an email to the wrong audience, or with no audience considerations in mind. You wouldn’t write a message to your CEO the same way you’d write it to a new intern, and for several reasons. First, different positions (relative to yours) may require a different level of formality. Second, unfamiliar audiences require additional tact, and compensation for your uncertainty about their disposition. Third, different people will have different vocabulary levels—especially when it comes to your area of expertise—so you may have to adjust your language accordingly. In combination with these considerations, you may use different appeals to persuade different audiences; for example, one group of people might respond to an emotional appeal (like “You won’t want to miss out on this”) while others will respond to a more logical appeal (like “This will help you get that promotion you’ve been after”).
4. Be concise.
Every email you write should be as concise as possible, condensing as much meaning as possible into the smallest number of words. This will help you (and your recipients) become more productive, and it will also make your email more likely to be read, top to bottom. Remaining concise also forces you to think through your word choices carefully, rather than merely spouting words off the top of your head, allowing you to make smarter decisions with your phrasing overall. Being concise is one of our top email best practices — be sure to check out the rest!
5. Make your email scannable.
Making your email scannable increases the likelihood that it’s going to be read fully, and makes it easier for people to return to your email for a high-level overview. It may also help you structure your arguments more formally, so they’re easier to digest. The easiest step to take here is to write shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs, with a space between paragraphs or lines so they’re easier on the eyes. It’s also extremely helpful to utilize numbered lists and bulleted lists, and bold headings so things are easier to read.
6. Explain the benefits.
Whatever action you’re trying to get your recipient to take, they’re more likely to be persuaded if you pitch the benefits of the action. For example, let’s say you’re asking your boss for an assistant to help you out with some basic responsibilities. Rather than trying to convince them that you deserve it for being a good worker, list the benefits, like higher focus on more important tasks, greater team productivity, and higher morale on your part. The benefits are often even more persuasive if arranged in a bulleted format, to show them in line with each other.
7. Explain your credentials.
This is usually more effective when you’re speaking to an audience who is unfamiliar with your work (i.e., you won’t want to use it when emailing a boss), but make sure you mention your credentials. For example, if you’re trying to get new customers to sign up for your webinar, spend some time talking about why you’re the best person to teach this given topic. For example, you might mention the years you’ve spent in the industry, or how you’ve been able to improve your team’s productivity.
Sometimes, those credentials aren’t enough to persuade your audience that you are who you say you are, or that you’re worth listening to. If you need to take an extra step to convince them, consider adding a layer of social proof; here the idea is to get other people to verify your worthiness, in one way or another. For example, you might include a reference to a testimonial someone else has left for your business, or the number of people who have signed up for the webinar in the past. People are much easier to persuade if they see other people doing the same thing.
9. Get your foot in the door.
The foot-in-the-door technique is a well-known social tactic for getting someone to take a specific desired action, and it works especially well in the context of email. The basic idea is to get someone to comply with a small request, or agree to a scaled-down version of your argument; this way, you’ll create a small bond, and a precedent that could be followed for a future request. For example, you might ask your email subscribers to respond to a short, one-minute survey about their content preferences. Then, a week or two later, you could follow up with a request for them to complete a much longer, more involved survey.
10. Ask for a favor.
The Benjamin Franklin Effect is another way to generate rapport with someone new, though it has limited capacity in the context of email. The idea is to ask someone for a favor—something small that’s hard to reject. The asked party will instantly like you more; the hypothetical psychological effect here is that because they did something to help you, their unconscious mind will justify the action by assuming they must highly value you. In an email thread, you could take advantage of this by asking your coworker to provide you with something small (like a bit of information, or guidance on how to tackle a tough problem), then follow up with a persuasive argument for how you can collaborate more effectively in the future.
11. Include some flattery.
It’s hard to resist flattery, even when you’re suspicious of how it’s being used. Obviously, you’ll have to be subtle here; going on a long diatribe about how brilliant your boss is then asking for a raise immediately is going to raise some red flags. Instead, try to frame your request with a hint of flattery, such as asking your coworker, “I really liked how you organized the last meeting’s notes. Would you mind helping me again?” It’s hard to deny a request from someone who admires you.
12. Sympathize with a problem.
Nothing gets two people on the same side faster than having a common enemy, or a common cause to align with. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. For example, if you’re emailing someone from a different department for a favor, but you know they’ve been overloaded lately, you can start by saying something like, “I heard things are crazy in HR right now. You must be stressed! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Also, when you have a minute…” The expression of sympathy at the beginning will lower their defenses, help them see you as being on the same side, and ultimately motivate them to take action.
13. Make things more personal.
Email isn’t the most personal communication medium, so it’s sometimes hard to imagine your thread-mates as sympathetic human beings. This is especially true if you’re getting a cold email from a salesperson you never met, or a marketer. If you feel like the sender is cold, robotic, or otherwise distant, you won’t be inclined to take action. You can combat this by opting for a more personal connection. That could mean writing in a more casual tone of voice, talking about yourself (briefly), or making a concession (like admitting your own uncertainty).
14. Justify your reasoning.
In one famous study, when a participant asked to cut in line for a copy machine, 60 percent of people allowed the participant to cut. But when phrasing the question with a simple justification, such as “may I cut in front of you? I have to make some copies,” that number jumped to 93 percent. It’s strange, but we’re always more likely to do someone a favor or take action on something if there’s some kind of justification for it. For example, instead of asking your boss, “may I take off early for the day?,” follow that question up with, “I need to run an important errand/pick up my kid/restore my sanity.”
15. Address the other side.
There’s always another side to the argument, or a reason for not acting that’s competing with your desired reason to take action. For example, your email recipients may be reluctant to buy a new product from your business because it’s fairly expensive. You can resolve some of these concerns simply by acknowledging them; for example, you can state that the product is expensive, but this is justified because it will ultimately pay for itself. Anticipating these barriers and negating them is a powerful persuasive technique.
16. Present scarcity.
Everything looks more attractive when there are fewer instances of it available, so presenting some kind of scarcity factor can be beneficial. For example, if you’re sending a marketing email advertising some kind of sale, express that there are only 500 of this particular item available. If you’re requesting that your employees attend a seminar where they’ll learn a new skill, state that this is the only opportunity they’re going to have.
17. Present urgency.
People love to procrastinate, so if they have any reason to delay an action, they’re probably going to take it. Accordingly, your emails will become much more persuasive if you convey a sense of urgency. For example, you might suggest that a sale is for a limited time only (even if it isn’t), or you might insist that a report be completed by a certain time.
18. Be assertive.
Assertiveness can be difficult for some people, but it’s a necessary quality of persuasive writing. Instead of giving your recipient multiple potential outs, or trying to ambiguously hint at your request, be direct with it. For example, instead of writing something like, “I was wondering if we could go over this some time?” say “Let’s meet about this. Are you available tomorrow at 10?” You can also eliminate weakening words and phrases, like “I’m sorry but,” or “I think,” and try to phrase things as statements, rather than questions.
19. Be persistent.
This tip is especially important for salespeople and marketers. People are often wary to respond to the first message they get from a new contact, but the more messages they receive (assuming they’re spaced adequately apart), the more familiar with you they’ll become, and the more likely they’ll be to comply with your requests. Be persistent.
20. Remind your recipient of their choice.
One study of 22,000 people found that reminding people they have a choice—such as “ultimately, the decision is up to you”—can double your chances of a positive response. It’s admittedly kind of a dumb trick, but if it works, it works. Make sure to include it in your most important persuasive emails.
21. Review your past emails.
You may think you know how you sound, or that you understand your email habits inside and out, but most people are surprised to learn just how many bad email habits they use on a daily basis. Using a tool like EmailAnalytics, you can connect your account and glean deeper insights about how you send and receive emails, then use those insights to not only write emails more persuasively—but write them more productively as well.
Experimenting to Write Persuasive Emails
Part of your success depends on how you practice these techniques. On one level, the more you practice your persuasiveness, the better you’re going to get; like any skill, it’s going to improve over time. On another level, your efforts to experiment will help you develop; thanks to near-immediate feedback, you’ll be able to tell which of your techniques are working and which ones aren’t. Make sure you switch things up, and play with your style of communication to learn more about your audience (and how best to achieve your goals).
If you’re interested in improving how you email overall, from writing emails more efficiently to staying apprised of your top senders and recipients, sign up for a free trial of EmailAnalytics today! With EmailAnalytics, you’ll gain insights into how you (and your team members) use Gmail, so you can manage email more productively and spend more time doing the work that matters.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.