Positively Editorial

How to Word Business Emails to Get Replies

Far too frequently, I’ve had colleagues complain that “Soandso never replies to emails” or “They never get back to me with what I need.”  True, some people are really bad about replying, but you can significantly up your chances of getting what you need by wording your emails to them so that replying feels easy-peasy.

Let’s say a new vendor, Plasticor, has entered the plastics market and you want to contact them about their pricing. If their pricing is good enough, you might want to use it to make your Sporks. How do you write that email?

First, you’ll need a contact. Have they sent out any press releases? There’s usually a marketing contact at the bottom. This is the best person to address your email to because it’s who they want you to talk to first. Failing a press release, they probably have a website. Does the website have a “contact us” page? Use that. If it’s got a form to fill out, use that; if it list specific contacts for product inquiries or marketing, that’s even better.

Now that you’ve got your contact, let’s write that email! Opening is simple. Use “Dear” and their first name unless industry or cultural conventions dictate otherwise.

Dear Flora,

Next, introduce yourself. This shouldn’t take more than a sentence or two. State your name, your position, and your company. If your company is one they might not have heard of, add a sentence giving a brief description of what the company does. If this email is going to someone within your own company but whom you haven’t interacted with before (maybe you need details for a proposal), leave the company off but give them some context they can recognize, like your department or office location.

My name is Lisa, and I’m the Materials Coordinator for Eating Implements, Inc. We manufacture and distribute a wide range of eating implements, including our patented Spork.

The very next thing you should write is why you’re talking to them. If you used two or more sentences in your introduction, give this its own paragraph. If you only used one sentence, put it right after your introduction. In this example, you’re writing to get information about pricing.

I’m looking for pricing information for Plasticor’s plastic materials.

Did the press release or contact page specifically say that this person is who you should write to about pricing? If yes, you can safely assume you have the right person. Tell them exactly what you want them to do. Half the reason people put off replying to emails is because they’re not 100% sure what kind of reply is expected and they don’t want to guess wrong.

Could you send me a spreadsheet or other document listing wholesale costs?

If they are not definitely who you should be writing to for pricing information, then what you want them to do is direct you to the correct person (who could very well be them, but you don’t know so don’t assume) and have that person send you a spreadsheet.

Can you tell me who I should contact for a spreadsheet or other document listing wholesale costs?

All that’s left is to close your email. If you asked for something, use “Thank you.” If you were telling them something but didn’t need anything yourself (perhaps alerting them to a misprice), use “Best” or “Sincerely.” In your signature, use your full name and as much contact information as you have on your business card. If they want your number or mailing address, it’s much handier for them to have that info right there than to have to waste a back-and-forth asking you for it.

Thank you,

Lisa Cooper
Materials Coordinator
Eating Implements, Inc
555-555-6789 ext. 44
123 Sesame St
New York, NY 90210

Don’t be tempted to add anything else! Yes, your email is short, but that’s good. No one likes to read multi-paragraph emails at work, and long emails look like they need long responses. Who wants to write a long response? No one.

Once you’ve established contact, you can write more informally, but you should still keep your emails short. Since you don’t need to introduce yourself, what you’re asking for should be the very first sentence. An explanation, however perfunctory, should follow. It doesn’t matter if the explanation is as simple as “I need it for X,” include an explanation. It will boost your response rate.

Hi Fauna,

What colors are available for Plastizine (12345)? I’m putting together a proposal and need the list.


[Your Signature]

Short, sweet, and almost guaranteed to get a reply. And just in case they don’t remember exactly who you are, your signature has all your contact info.

Tip: If anything you’re asking about has a number associated with it – a SKU, a UPC, a product number, anything – include that number. You have just made it a hundred times easier for the person you’re writing to to look up the information in their database and ensured they’ll get the right product. When you make things easy, you boost your response rates.

Important Note

Try to only ask for one thing at a time, maaaaybe two if you have to. If you ask for more than that, your reader will be inclined to put off answering because of the shear amount of work you (appear to) have presented them with.

But what if you really, really need more than one thing right now? Don’t worry, there’s a cheat! If you can make all of the things you need look the same, you can turn them into one thing by grouping them together.  For example, do you need multiple prices checked? Make that your one thing that you need, and present the prices in a list below.

Hi Merriweather,

Could you check the following material prices for me? They’re from the latest spreadsheet but don’t match the brochure and I want to make sure I’ve got the right numbers.

12345 Plastizine
23456 Plasticade
34567 I Can’t Believe It’s Plastic
45678 Plastonium


[Your Signature]

Yes, you can extend this cheat to the logical conclusion and make the one thing you want be them answering all your questions, and it will usually still work! It helps if you add bullet points to the questions or otherwise differently format them so they don’t look like more paragraphs and thus more work.

Hi Aurora,

Can you answer the following questions about Plastonium (45678) for me? We’re considering using it as the main option for our new, kid-friendly Spork line.

  • What kind of pricing is available if we order in quantities above a million kilograms of Plastonium at a time?
  • Can we custom-order a specific color? If so, what’s the process?
  • How long does it take Plastonium to biodegrade in a landfill?


[Your Signature]

That’s really all there is to it. Be direct and make replying to your email as easy as possible and most people will get back to you quickly. You’re the easy email, the one they answer while they’re putting off a reply to someone else’s 14-paragraph monstrosity, and it didn’t even take you very long to write. Good job!

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