10 ways to supercharge email

This is an homage to the good old email – still my preferred way to conduct business. I show you my top 10 tricks and add ons that boost my inbox, thus significantly improving my productivity.

Is email still relevant?

Short answer: yes – probably more than ever before. Even, or especially in times of WhatsApp and Slack.

Since the 1980s email is an vital part of conducting business. For the first time in history messages could be transmitted almost immediately from one place on earth to another. According to the email statistic report from radicati.com, a market research firm, the “number of emails sent and received per day total over 205 billion.”

That is 205.000.000.000 emails. A day. Every day. And this number is rising.

So how come that a technology that is around for almost 40 years is still so widely used, while others such as the walkman and cassette tapes, the portable CD player, analog TV, VHS, Floppy disk, CD, DVD, Gameboy went extinct and got replaced by better version?

The underlying technology on which email is working hasn’t changed, but smart extensions kept it up to date and relevant.

If used correctly, email is still one of the most powerful business tools in my suit. By taking on other essential parts of my business as well, it expanded its original work scope and is as versatile as never before.

Bringing email in the 21st century

Prerequisite: As many others I use a Gmail account to manage all my emails (around 5 active accounts). I use Google Apps as a business solution, but a regular gmail account will do the trick as well. I prefer Gmail over Apple Mail, Outlet or any other solution, simply because I can virtually access it from any computer in the world. The second reason is: regardless from where I log in, I can rest assured that all my extensions are loaded as well and play nicely together – a feature that is not ensured when you work on a local configured email client on your computer or mac.

Boost 1: Snoozing emails

Okay, lets start slowly. You love the snooze function on your alarm? So why not use it for your mail?

Whenever I agree with a customer to revert back to him at a certain point in the future I simply snooze the email. At the said day this email will show up back on top of my pile of emails, as if I would have received it just now. It’s the perfect reminder to ensure perfectly timed communication with my partners.

Chose when you want to be reminded of your email

I use Streak, a Gmail extension to take over this task for me. As you will see, I will refer to this app for a couple more times. Its my tool of choice to boost my gmail experience. There are other solutions out there, that provide similar services, I just found Streak to be my perfect solution (for now)*.

Boost 2: Scheduling emails

Just as important as snoozing emails is it to send emails whenever you want. And when I say “whenever” I don’t mean having to log in at 3am to send your email. It seems like such a must-have function that it is surprising that Gmail does not come equipped with it by default. But don’t despair, Streak helps out yet again.

Similar to snoozing. Simply chose the time and Streak takes care of the rest.

When do I use it? More often than you think. Sometimes it is weird to answer immediately to a customer request. So you can prepare your answer, schedule the mail and forget about it.

Another scenario:

Let’s say you have to send a mail to Lara from HR to confirm the participants from your team for the yearly sales training. You have to do so until next Monday. You have a pretty good idea who has to go, but you want to make sure. In that case I would prepare the email, schedule it and then ask internally to confirm the participants. If something changes I can edit my email without having to send a correction email to Lara. And if, for some reason, I don’t have time to update my mail, I at least make sure to send an answer to Lara based on my best knowledge.

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Boost 3: Sort emails into different categories

I get quite some mail per day (Remember 205 billion? I get my fair share). On top of that I receive mail from several different email addresses to just one inbox. If I wouldn’t use categories, I would lose track of what I received when, from whom and why pretty quickly.

Thankfully, Gmail provides this functionality by default. You can set up individual filters in three different steps.

1. Go to your Gmail settings

 

2. Chose Filters and Blocked Addresses

 

3. Create a new filter

You can filter for many different things such as from address, to address, content in email, content in subject and many more.

Once you created a filter Gmail will automatically match every incoming email according to the defined filter criteria.

Boost 5: Further categorisation with boxes

Google filtering is a great starting point to get a basic order into your inbox. However, Streak’s functionality to transform your Gmail account into a CRM or really a database of any kind, lifts the filter idea to the next level.

Have a look at my Sales Pipeline implemented directly in my Gmail account. Like this I have all information about prospects, current and former customers at hand at all time.

Basic Customer Relationship Management directly in Gmail

Once a certain mail is packed into a box all future emails within this communication will be associated to this box. So if you work with a Product Manger, a Tech Executive and your Customer all communication will be bundled in that box and can be accessed by all members of the conversation. A wonderful tool to see understand the customer journey. Also, all documents ever exchanged are automatically accessible – no need for vague searches. The complete customer history needly sorted. Killer feature.

Manage all relevant customer info such as deal size & details, customer contact information and the complete customer history in one screen.

I use Streak boxes to keep my sales pipeline up to date, screen candidates and track different projects. The possibilities are almost countless.

Boost 6: Reduced SPAM and better social filtering

Nobody likes unsolicited ads and SPAM. Luckily, the Google SPAM filter has improved and is now a crucial core function of Gmail. With 1 billion active Gmail users word wide, Google has the data and the infrastructure to accurately identify and filter SPAM messages. While unsolicited mails rendered a huge inconvenience in the early years of the 21st century, nowadays only roughly 0,1% of received emails are considered SPAM. With more people using Gmail and more mails being send every day, correct differentiation between regular and spammy mails will improve further.

Boost 7: Automate recurring emails with snippets and lists

You remember boxes? Great. Here is another feature that makes my daily life so much easier. As soon as I identified a recurring task and know how to deal with it, I try to automise it.

Imagine the following: I am searching for a new project manager for my team. I identified 20 candidates that I want to get to know better and invite for a personal interview. Sure, I could write 20 different emails. Twenty emails is a manage number. But what if you need to write essentially the same email 200, or 2000 times?

Streak offers the possibility to build snippets that allow you to reuse certain emails as templates. But wait there is more. With the Mail Merge function you can add individual placeholders to tailor your email, write individual mails and send them to all 20 candidates at the same time.

All you have to do is to create a very basic CSV with email, name and any other individual information you want to use in your email.

Step number two is to select the Mail Merge option in the compose email screen and upload the created CSV:

Finally you can either write a new email or use the snippet function of Streak to reuse a template. In this case, I use {{field_Name}} to greet every recipient individually with their first name, thus creating a much more tailored experience for the candidate. All the parameters you pass to your CSV are available.

Once you hit the Send button 20 individual emails are send. Repeat and save time. Gosh, I love automation.

Boost 8: Track when emails have been opened

If you are not sold until now that email is indeed one the most powerful tools out there, you are a tough cookie. But I have more. What is the number one feature that made WhatsApp so successful? Correct, those two little blue ticks that indicate when the recipient has opened and read your message.

If only that would be possible for emails as well. You could know when your boss or your prospect has opened and read your message. A game change. Luckily for you (and me) this is possible. Streak as well as as other tools such as Mailtracker and Hubspot, offer exactly this feature.

Geek mode on
How does it work? In a nutshell, a one pixel image is added to the email (invisible at the end of the mail). When the user at the other end opens the email, the email client tries to load all the content of the email - including the small image. The second this image is requested the server where the image is hosted, registers the request and marks the mail as read.
Geek mode off

There are some limitations to this technology:

  • email has to be send from a client that has the tool installed
  • some email apps do not request the image
  • you can only see that the email has been opened but not by whom (a problem if there are multiple recipients)

But it is the best possible solution out there for now and works nicely. You learn when, how often and where your email has been read.

Boost 9: Learn more about the person on the other end

Obviously there are many more add ons that you can attach to your Gmail account. I try to limit the amount of apps to keep loading times low. However, one other tool I use daily is rapportive. This extensive shows you everything you need to know about your contact without ever leaving the app itself. It automatically collects information from different APIs such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype and Google+.

Whenever you receive an email that is used on any of those networks, rapportive will load this info right into your Gmail account.


I also use rapportive with a little hack to get almost everyones email address. More about that another time in another post.

Boost 10: Hook it up with your Google calendar

Hooking up your email with your calendar just feels natural. Give me email and a calendar and I run a business for you. These are essentially the two tools I use the most: being able to communicate and manage my day are vital for my daily work. Gmail and Google calendar play nicely together. Sending invites to business partners translate directly form email to calendar without the need to open the latter one. If you hook up tools like calendly to your calendar scheduling meetings with many people becomes child play. I use it to arrange interviews with candidates that pick their slot based on my availability. No need to send 2-3 mails just to agree on a date that works for both of us.

* I have no affiliation to Streak, Mailtracker, Hubspot, Calendly or any other mentioned software whatsoever. This is just my humble personal opinion.