Give Your Emails a Friend Check

Yesterday I wrote about the “busy sidewalk test” as the easiest way to check out your outreach emails for brevity and simplicity.

But even when walking down a busy sidewalk, it can be hard to notice if the words you’ve written contain some accidental tones or nuance. After all, they’re your words! You’re familiar with them; you have the context in which they were written.  Your audience doesn’t.

So now it’s time to phone a friend. Or, er, email a friend.

  • “But my friend isn’t part of my target market!”
  • “But I don’t have any personal friends who have the problem I’m trying to solve!”
  • “The only people I know who know about this industry are other people in my company!”

Doesn’t matter. This is a very simple favor to ask.

Simply email or text a friend and say “I’m about to send you an email. When you read it, pretend it’s not from me but from someone you don’t know.”

Then send your email to your friend.

Then ask your friend these questions:

  • Were you unclear on what the email was asking you to do?
  • Did it sound sketchy or spammy in any way?
  • Did it sound like the email was maybe trying to sell you something?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you have some rewriting to do.

(Note: writing effective outreach emails is hard, and for many folks, it can feel like “it’s taken me hours to write this email, how much longer is customer development going to take? maybe I should just give this up and crank out some code.”  Don’t give up!  It does take a while to get your email style working effectively for you. But once you do have a good email, it’s a template that you can adapt and reuse for years.)


The Busy Sidewalk Test

One of the toughest challenges in customer development is diagnosing why no target customers want to talk to you.  Is it a sign that no one cares about solving this problem? Does it mean that you’re targeting the wrong type of customer?

Or is it something easier to fix? I’ve often been surprised by how small tweaks to length, word choice, or format can impact how likely people are to respond to you.

The easiest thing to test – fast, and doesn’t require anyone else’s help – is the busy sidewalk test.

  1. Send a copy of your interview outreach email to yourself.
  2. Grab your phone and head outside and start walking (preferably down a street with traffic whizzing nearby and other people walking past).
  3. Open your interview outreach email and glance at the text that appears onscreen without you needing to scroll. Does that snippet of text grab your curiosity? If no, your email opening is too boring.
  4. Scroll down one thumb-swipe. Are you at the end of your message? If no, your email is too long.
  5. You’ve scanned your entire email as you’re walking. Do you think ‘I’ll deal with this when I get back to my desk (away from outdoor distractions)?’ If yes, your email is too complicated.

When I wrote Lean Customer Development, around 40% of emails were viewed on mobile first. Now, in 2015, it’s over 50%.

Not every person is triaging emails on their phones, but many are.  Even if you catch someone sitting at their desk in front of a nice giant crystal-clear monitor, it’s almost a certainty that other people, tasks, noises, or worries are distracting them.

An email that isn’t short, crisp, and clear will get buried under the weight of good intentions in an unread inbox.  Your email needs to pass the busy sidewalk test. Even if that person desperately needs to solve the problem that you’re working on.