How I Email: Scott Gerber, CEO of The Community Company

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Scott Gerber is CEO of The Community Company, which manages community-driven programs for Forbes, Men’s Health and others. Scott, along with his co-founder of The Community Company, have written a new book, “Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships that Matter.” We spoke with him about the email habits of superconnectors. 

Walk us through your daily email routine.

I am fast, furious, and a delegator. My CRO makes the joke that I type faster with my thumbs on a phone than on a desktop with my hands. I get about 200 emails on a slow day to upwards of 500, 600.

It just depends on what the heck’s going on in a given day. Fortunately we built a company with a lot of really wonderful systems and great people, so delegation becomes crucial. I’m the kind of guy that as it comes in, I’m kicking it out.

I save the thoughtful responses for later. I’ll kick those out towards the end of the day over a cup of coffee. There’s always going to be a certain number of emails that require a bit more nuance, a bit more discussion. Often before I just send a quick email, my initial thought is: is email even the right channel? Or is it time to take it offline, or use a different toolset or something more personalized?

I am very into Inbox Zero too. I’m snoozing certain emails for later, but I will not end the day with a single email in my inbox any day of the week.

What email lessons have stuck with you from early in your career?

Back when I was in college, it would take me quite a while to think of an email in my head and what to say or respond. Back then it was more outbound. It was more me trying to make a name for myself. So these had to be very carefully worded, thoughtful pieces, versus today, where my email is a lot more inbound. I just remember how much time it took.

I started thinking through ways to get people to have an immediate reaction. Most of the time, I’d never hear back from them.

I’d certainly never read email marketing and productivity hacks. It’s not my game. I’m much more of a thoughtful communicator. I’m not looking for conversion rates. I’m really just about: how do I facilitate meaningful communication to have a mutual gain? So that’s always been sort of the thesis of everything I’ve ever done.

As the co-author of “Superconnector,” can you shed some light on the habits of a superconnector? How are these people communicating that regular folks aren’t?

First, let’s talk through how they write back. A lot of times, the first thing they’re going to do is spark communication. If somebody is emailing you a specific series of questions or things they want to do, superconnectors won’t necessarily write back and try to be accommodating in every which way, they’ll actually try to figure out how the person thought it through. They gather the proper context to make the right recommendation or take the right action.

They’ll respond back with something like, “Well, why?” Or, “What makes you think this is going to work?” They’ll take the conversation out of email pitch or assumptions mode into a real dialogue, which may eventually go offline.

Asking the right questions in short, rapid-fire succession is one way that I’ve seen very successful connectors get to the point very quickly and determine what real action plans look like.

A second way superconnectors communicate is actually by not using words at all. I think email, like everything else, has become inhuman. A lot of superconnectors find ways to bring back humanity to the inhuman. This goes for all social media, and email marketing too. That’s really the core thesis of what these guys and women do so much better than the vast majority of people on communications platforms.

Let’s say they’re connecting two people. The standard thing is you ask if they want to meet first, you connect them, and you write this whole response to both of them explaining who they are and why they should meet and yadda, yadda, yadda, right?

All that effort is for ultimately what still is an inhuman way of doing an introduction. In the real world, you would never do that kind of introduction, right? You would want to make it human.

A lot of really great connectors will actually create a video. They’ll literally shoot a 30-second video where you can see their face, where they are, the context of the words they’re using, the actual expressions, mannerisms, the fact that they mean what they say and not just put words on an email, the fact that they took time, and they can show they took time out of their day to make this introduction because it’s that important. Jayson Gaignard is the master of this. At the end of the day, the video probably took less time than an actual email would!

Superconnectors are just really good at using certain scripts. Not scripts that are long-winded and massive. They group communications into buckets – some for saying no politely, others that pass stuff off to their team.

The point is to actually write these things out so you have a baseline start, and you’re not wasting your time by writing entirely new responses over and over again.

Virtual assistants or executive assistants are another key component. A lot of connectors have very smart inbox management systems with their assistants. The assistants actually go through emails prior to the superconnector to take things off their plate. Building systems with really good admin staff is another way superconnectors stay on top of their inbox.

Are there any tools you swear by?

It’s one thing to discuss the systems, but we don’t talk enough about understanding the person you’re sending the message to. Using a really smart CRM platform where you are constantly putting little notes about what you’re learning about people can be super helpful. It could be something like a Salesforce, or for me, it could be as easy as the Contacts app on my iPhone.

At the end of the day, when I learn things about people, that’s my treasure chest. If I’m emailing someone I haven’t talked to in three months, I look at my Contacts app and I might have a note in there that they’d just had a new baby. When I follow up, I say something like, “Hey John, how’s the sleep going? Lol. How’s the baby? I can’t wait to meet him/her.”

It instantly takes you back into the relationship versus it being a message. The content is much more important than the platform or the tool. People see through the nonsense. It really puts a ding on your reputation when people think they’re part of a game or strategy.