How NOT to write an “I’ll get back to you” email

Many organizations today require their sales teams to respond within some arbitrary amount of time to RFPs. Instead of asking a simple question on the RFP or on the phone, the sales person is taught to say, “And, I’ll have that for you within 24 hours” (or whatever). Then, because the sales person is slammed (a good thing), she throws together a proposal, adds the words personalized just for you, and gets “points” for responding in a timely manner.

The question is, who is she getting the points from? Not from the customer! (It’s a bad thing for the customer!) She gets “points” from the company that set up the shop criteria that states “all customers must receive an response within 24 hours or you get dinged.”

It’s true that some clients absolutely need your response that quickly. But rather than slapping everyone into the same boat, the smart company realizes that asking the simple question to the client, May I ask when your deadline is for this proposal? Or, May I ask you if it would be helpful if I have this completed for you by tomorrow at this time, or will next week work for you? Or (on an RFP: Proposal deadline:, the sales team gets to prioritize need, not feel so slammed, and can actually personalize each proposal with more than dates and rates.

One company had the right idea but just forgot to help their sales team apply the idea in a winning manner. In this organization, you could take longer to submit the full proposal but you had to get back to the customer within 4 hours telling them when they could expect it. But without proper training, here is how the first email looked:

(6 hours, plus a night, after original email!)
Good morning Springer,
Thank you for thinking of our property for this program! I am currently reviewing your request and will get back to you later today regarding our availability. I look forward to working with you.
Warm regards,

and the follow-up 5 hours after that:
Good afternoon Springer,
Thank you for your interest in our hotel for your 2014 program. Unfortunately, we are not able to confirm groups more than 2 years out and we are unable to offer a proposal for these dates. Please keep us in mind for any other programs you have which may be considering this area.
Thank you.

What went wrong? Everything! This is exactly how not to write an “I’ll get back to you” email.

How could this have been improved?
1. Open and quickly review the proposal before writing back. The sales person could have saved herself an email if she had done that.
2. Pretend you’re a human being. Try being a bit more positive. More kind.
3. Don’t try to upsell when you’ve just told them you won’t do anything for them.
4. Solution-sell.
5. Eliminate the word “unfortunately” and tell them what you can do instead.
6. Offer to follow-up (if you want the customer’s business).

Does your company give you an exact amount of time when you must get back to your customer? What happens if you don’t respond within the allotted time (and you’re caught)?

Meeting planners, do you really care if you receive the proposal back within 24 hours? Would you prefer to be asked for your need time?

Share your thoughts.

3 replies
  1. Ken Burgin
    Ken Burgin says:

    Good points as always Sue.

    Re #5, apparently at the Apple Stores they are trained to NOT say ‘unfortunately’ but instead ‘as it happens’ eg ‘as it happens, we don’t have the Super Widget 2D, but it will be in stock by tomorrow…’ etc etc

    Ken

    Reply
  2. speakersue
    speakersue says:

    Thanks so much, Ken. And how smart is that of Apple (of course!). The word, unfortunately, is such a bummer! As soon as we hear it, we know we’re not going to be happy. Instead of making it easier for the recipient of the bad news, it sets them up for it.
    Appreciate your taking the time to comment!

    Reply

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