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How to Get Face Time With the C-Suite

This sales exec swears by the handwritten note.
The power of a handwritten note in business communication
illustration by Todd Detwiler

“I think some of my customers find it slightly ironic that the sales guy for a company that builds mobile apps sends handwritten letters via snail mail,”
says Matthew Corleo, a sales exec with Elyxor, a software maker based in Topsfield, Massachusetts.

“It isn’t something that they expect, and I am always sure to send something that’s valuable to them.”

In this case, that something is an article by strategy consultant Dorie Clark, who happens to be a former teacher of Corleo’s.

“I got my start in politics, so this is a very common method of legislators working with constituents,” he adds. “I adopted that to my sales approach.”

The bigger picture idea, notes Clark in the Harvard Business Review, is to figure out how everyone else is trying to crack the C-Suite — and to do the opposite. In an era where everyone is amassing recipients for e-mail blasts, a handwritten note is a breath of fresh air and a way to distinguish yourself from all the rest.

More importantly, it works — at least for Corleo, who’s cracked the C-Suite several times with his notes but found e-mail follow-ups to be ineffective.

Three keys to the effective handwritten note:

1. Know the recipient. These notes are not cold calls. Typically Corleo has already met the person socially or at a business function, and has his business card.

2. Remember the conversation. This is especially important in choosing which article to include with the note. Remember, you want the article to further the rapport that was established in person. Choosing the wrong article could have the opposite effect.

3. Keep it short. “A lot of the time it’s a very simple note,” notes Corleo. “It’s one or two sentences: ‘Hey, I saw this, it reminded me of the conversation we had.’”



The handwritten note is also effective as a highly personalized thank you, writes author and speaker Scott Berkun.

“I bought a t-shirt online awhile ago from Sean McCabe, an artist who works in hand-drawn forms....Yesterday I received a charming little package in the mail with a handwritten note.

"Inside was a print of the design of the shirt I’d purchased. The whole experience was filled with thoughtful touches.”

The two results, for McCabe: (1) An already happy customer goes from pleased to elated; (2) He gets free advertising, in the form of a shout-out on Berkun’s blog, which leads in turn to a shout-out in Build.

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