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Craft Compelling Emails to Executives

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe how to structure impactful emails to executives.
  • Explain why it’s important to make email subject lines actionable.
  • Explain email etiquette best practices.

Yesterday, Raquel met with her customer, Niko, CIO of ABC Company, to discuss some challenges they’ve had with end-user experience after an implementation of her company’s software. After escalating the situation to her executive management, she needs to follow up with Niko and his team. She knows responding in the wrong way can make the situation worse. Responding the right way gives her the chance to show she’s on top of it and working on the issue, potentially earning a lifelong customer. It’s time for Raquel to craft a good email.

Send Me an Email

Email is the standard for business communications, offering flexibility, speed, and efficiency. Most executives prefer to communicate via email, especially when the information needs to get there quickly or when alignment among several executives is key. 

You email leaders for a number of professional reasons, including status updates, service disruptions, billing/invoicing, or escalations. With that in mind, it’s important to bring your A-game when writing to executives.

There are situations where an email isn’t best. In these cases always consider a phone call or an email with a follow-up phone call. 

The Elements of a Great Email

Before you get started writing your email, take a step back and look at the basic structure of an effective email.

  • Subject lineYour subject line should clearly illustrate the topic of your email—in a compelling way. Make the subject line actionable and include timelines, if applicable.
  • Introduction: The email introduction is the first thing your recipient encounters before they dive into your message, so keep your introduction short and sincere.
  • BodyMake sure your message is personalized to the specific type of leader you’re emailing. Add some flavor by keeping things interesting. Ensure the body of your email is clear and concise.
  • Call to action: Make sure your email includes an actionable item, otherwise, the email may just linger in the executive’s inbox.

The Power of the Email Subject Line

Think about how many emails you get in a single day. Now consider what gets you to open an email. A compelling, well-written subject line helps, right? Executives are busy people. And, like you, they scan an email subject line before deciding whether or not to open it. When communicating with the C-suite, it’s important to craft a subject line that influences them to open your email.

Essentially, a subject line is your big idea, condensed into a one-line message that intrigues the receiver enough to open your email. Make sure you're leading with one that is strong, clear, and actionable. The formula is simple: 

One Word + One Statement = A Clear and Actionable Subject Line

With that formula in mind, here are some examples of subject lines that are not actionable along with revised versions that are actionable. 

Email Type
Unactionable Subject Line
Actionable Subject Line


Next steps for the project

Sign-off needed for Project Mango by EOD Friday


Project update

Project Mango on track but needs additional resources ASAP

Follow-up/Next steps

Following up

Requesting next steps for sales kickoff 11/10 in Atlanta


Project delay

Escalation required to protect 10/31 release date

Meeting request

Meeting request

Request time on your calendar before 11/5 re: Project Mango

What all actionable subject lines have in common is that they clearly highlight the action needed and include any required timelines. Once you create a strong subject line, use the body of your email as the opportunity to flesh out your story. Keep reading to learn more about that.

Introduction and Body

Your subject line has their attention. Now, get executives to keep reading your email by crafting a strong intro and body.


Starting an email with a long rambling intro will lose an executive's attention, so brevity is key. A short, sincere intro adds a personal touch and then leaves room for you to get down to business in the email body. 


Executives often don’t read through an entire email message. Make sure the bottom line, the purpose of the email, and the required action are included in the beginning of your message. If possible, keep the body of your email short enough so the executive won’t have to scroll. When more explanation or detail is required, use bullet points to make it easier for them to respond to each point. Always include a clear point of view or proposed solution in your email. 

Take a look at an email Raquel put together for CIO Niko using the tips and tricks outlined in this unit. 


Subject: Clear and actionable

Escalation executed—follow-up will occur by Monday 11/5


Introduction: Short and sincere

Hi Niko and Team,

Thank you for your time yesterday outlining your challenges with me. I have further escalated this situation to my executive management and deeply apologize for your experience.


Body: Bottom line upfront

By Monday, I’ll have a developer assigned. From there we’ll work with Stan to connect with you on a plan forward.


BodyConcise and clear

What you shared is not the type of feedback we like to hear nor a standard experience for our customers. Your assigned developer and I will work with your team to figure out what solution will more directly align with your needs. We understand the critical role the software is intended to play in driving ABC Company’s growth for the next 10 years.

I will follow up with next steps.

The subject line Raquel wrote is actionable and the entire message is clear, concise, and to the point. Your ultimate goal is to communicate your message with clarity so you can connect with, inspire, and influence your audience. 

But Raquel is not quite ready to press send—there are a few other things she must consider first.

Before You Send

Once you craft an effective email to your executive customer, there are a few more things to do before you send it—things that ensure your email gets noticed for all the right reasons.

  • Proofread: Review your email carefully to find and correct typographical errors and mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling. Don't rely on spell check.
  • Font: Use 10- or 12-point type and an easy-to-read font such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman.
  • Tone: Read your message out loud before pressing send. If it sounds harsh to you, it will probably sound harsh to the reader. For example, replace a word like “failure" with a word like “degradation.”
  • Desktop vs mobile: The email format on a phone shows the subject line and only the first couple of sentences, so make sure they’re compelling.


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