Email is an essential part of the way we conduct business. However, a lot of people don’t know how to start and end a professional business message to get the best results.
We’ve already talked about email sign-off best and worst practices; now let’s talk about beginnings.
The first thing a recipient sees is your email greeting. The right beginning means that you leave a good impression. And a bad one could mean your sales email goes straight to the trash bin.
Before you start composing your message, make sure you tick off the following checklist.
Your relationships with the recipient will dictate the style (formal or informal) of your email. You have to admit, saying “Hey” to an unknown person in a business letter might look familiar and unprofessional. In contrast, if you are contacting a friend working in a target organization, you can go for more casual communication style with him.
If you are writing to a person you don’t know yet, mention a common acquaintance (if you have one), and you are not a stranger anymore.
We write business emails for a million of different reasons: making a request, asking for information, offering help, giving information, complaining, apologizing, etc. But the goal each time is to evoke and hold the recipient’s attention, prove authenticity, and make the reader feel appreciated. The need to reach these goals makes the greeting even more critical.
If you don't know anyone in the company you are writing to, it is crucial to find the name and title of the person you will be talking with. People are more likely to respond when addressed directly and by name. No one likes receiving the so-called “To whom it may concern” emails. Moreover, the reader might think, "OK, this doesn't concern me. I don't want to continue reading."
Now, let's define the style of your email and proceed to examples.
You might want to use a greeting with, “dear” if you are writing something formal. For example:
“Dear Mr. Johnson”
“Dear Ms. Doherty”
Keep in mind that “dear plus surname” might sound overly formal and little old-fashioned for some people. However, it's not the worst greeting in the world. It is the way better than “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Read further to find out why these two are a no-no if you want to make a positive impression on a reader.
You can also start with “Hi” plus Mr/Ms plus surname. For example:
“Hi Ms. Brown”
Doesn’t it sound friendly, yet professional and not too formal?
Note: avoid using “Miss” or “Mrs” to address a woman, as it doesn't matter if she is married or not. Instead, use “Ms plus surname.” “Ms” is pronounced as “Mizz” and can be used for all women.
If you have a name but are unsure of the person's gender, use a gender-neutral greeting. For example:
“Hello Cameron Walsh”
Again, it's better than beginning with “Dear Sir or Madam.”
Many informal emails start with “hello” or “hi” plus the person's name.
You might also want to follow the greeting with something like:
“I hope you are well.”
“How are you?”
(In business emails, these are polite phrases, and they don't generally need an answer.)
“Congratulations on [recent accomplishment]”
“I hope you enjoyed your [weekend/vacation/some event]”
“It was a pleasure to see you at [event]”
For an even more informal email, you can start with just the word “hi.” You can also just write the person's name. It works best with people you know already. Avoid using an exclamation point after the name. It just gets annoying.
Pay attention to the fact, that nowadays many companies prefer a casual, informal style in everything, even when it comes to professional business emails. That is why it is important to research the company you are going to contact.
OK, if it's clear what to do if you want to address one person, let's take a look at other situations.
If your email is intended for a group of people, think about your relationship to them. In case you know them well and have established a good relationship, you can use something informal such as “Hi everybody,” “Hello team.” For more formal email, you can use greetings such as “Dear colleagues” or “Dear QA Department.”
If you are writing to a small group of people (about five recipients), you can use “hi” or “dear” plus their first names. For instance:
“Dear Jack, Rosa and Mike”
When you are contacting a group of people but only expect actions from some of them, use the power of CC option (carbon copy).
Your email greeting will look like this:
“Hi Tim, Robert, and Jeff, CC'ing Samantha, Alice, Tina, and Markus for visibility, no action required.”
Personalization is everything if you are sending a standard cold email and want to keep the recipient’s attention. So be sure to research to find at least the reader’s name. Or you can go even further and show your recipient that you did your research by mentioning some common interests. For example:
“Alice, your Facebook mentions you like New York Knicks, so do I.”
If you know that your recipient lives in Germany, you can start with “Hallo Herr Koh” and other German greetings.
Need to follow up after a meeting or conference? For sure, you must not only start with a greeting but also include a “thank you.”
When you are following up on a sales email, it is acceptable to omit a greeting. Why? Isn't it rude? Well, you’ve already said “hello” and introduced yourself in a previous email. Now you don’t need to waste your opening line on this. Try to demonstrate your value right in the first line of your message. For example:
“Hanna, calibration and profiling of your camera made easy.”
When having a long professional conversation by email, you don't need to start each email with “hi,” “hello,” or “dear Ms. XYZ.” You can drop the salutation at all, especially if you are sending messages back and forth multiple times in a day. However, it depends a lot on the level of the discussion and the kind of person you are writing to.
You might think that humor isn’t acceptable when it comes to business emails, but sometimes it can be one of the best ways to catch the recipient’s attention and make them want to respond. You can try using emojis and gifs, but be sure to add some supporting text as some people disable images. Or you can say something funny. Below are examples of greeting sentences in an email.
“Just what you want: another email!”
“It’s me again.”
For a very informal email, you might not need a greeting at all. This is also true if you are sending several emails to the same person in a short time. You don't necessarily need to write a greeting every time.
What is the best salutation for business email? For starters, you need to identify your target audience and then consider the style of your greeting. However, sometimes we are so focused on using only the right words to sound professional that we completely forget we are humans, and it can't be all work and no play all the time, because it’s just dull. In some cases, it is acceptable to add some humor and personality to your email even if you are dealing with business correspondence.