I see calendar links in cold emails all the time, whether they’re being sent to me or they are in tear-downs I do for clients and readers.
They usually look like this:
I know, you think you’re making life easier for the person you’re emailing.
“But Zak, all the sales books say to use this! The data support using calendar links."
Including a link to your calendar (with an app like Calendly) to schedule a call intuitively seems easier for somebody to schedule with you than playing scheduling tag. And it is easier in cases where both parties already know each other, or when they have strong rapport, or when you are emailing somebody whose job it is to respond to inquiries from sales reps.
It’s not the same when you’re emailing a Very Busy Person. It’s certainly not the same when you’re emailing a Very Busy Person to make an ask of them and when you have no previous rapport with them.
It’s better to give the Very Busy Person a menu of options they can choose from and immediately reply to.
To understand why this is the case, let’s break down the psychology of user attention.
There’s a concept in product design called friction. The more friction an app or product has to get a user to take a necessary step, the worse it is and the lower the user engagement.
A classic example of friction is in signup pages for apps. We can illustrate with two apps.
App #1 requests has a user signup page that asks users to enter their first names, last names, and email addresses.
Then, the next page tells users to check their email for a confirmation link and to click that link.
After clicking the link in the email, users return to the app and are logged in.
App #2 requests that users sign in with their Facebook or Google accounts.
Then, users agree to the permissions with Facebook or Google in a popup in the app.
After that, users are returned immediately to the app.
Which app has more friction? Which app has more users not finishing the signup process?
App #1. There are nine steps involved here, each contributing to the friction. Every step is a chance to get distracted.
1. Enter first name.
2. Enter last name.
3. Enter email address.
4. Exit app.
5. Open mail app.
7. Open new email.
8. Click link.
9. Wait for app to open and refresh.
In the process of going to check your email, refreshing your inbox, and trying to find the link for the app signup, there are any number of exit-options for you, the user. A text rolls in from a family friend, you remember you need to buy lunch, you see another more urgent email in your inbox, or you just get distracted when somebody bumps into you on the metro. Now your attention has been diverted and unless the app ranks high enough in your mental urgency, you’re going to forget about it.
App #2, on the other hand, has only 3 steps.
1. Click “Login with Facebook"
2. Agree to share permissions.
3. Wait for app to refresh.
This is the genius of Facebook and how it gained so much market share so quickly.
Friction with Calendar Links
Let’s apply this concept of friction to requesting a phone call or a meeting with a Very Busy Person via email. You want this meeting and the reality is that you’ll clear your schedule to talk to them if you can.
You have two options. Email #1 includes a Calendly link where you ask the Very Busy Person to find a time and schedule with you. Email #2 includes 3 options you send along in the body of the email.
Which has more friction?
Email #1 with the Calendly link.
Break down the steps involved here.
1. Click the link.
2. View the available dates and times.
3. Exit the web browser to open your calendar app and check those dates and times against your own calendar.
4. Go back to the web browser.
5. Select the right date and time.
6. Enter your info.
7. Click save.
Seven steps. At each of those steps, there’s an opportunity for the VBP to get distracted (especially on mobile).
This assumes you’re emailing somebody and they see your email on a mobile device. It also assumes you don’t know the person, you have no rapport with them, and that they aren’t actively looking for responding to sales emails. It also assumes that the alternative can be better.
If you’re blasting out emails with, “do you have 15 minutes to chat next week?” a calendar link might perform better. Obscure, imprecise asks for “next week” take more energy to query and respond to than opening up the calendar link.
But there are still better options for sending mobile-first, easy to reply to emails.
Menu of Options
My preferred format is a menu of options. This appears in the email and places positive limitations on the other person’s query when they decide they want to talk to you. They just have to ask themselves, “am I free those times?” in order to reply.
Here’s what it might look like:
If this piques your interest, I’d like to set up a time to speak about how I can help. Are you available next Tuesday after 1 or Monday before noon? Alternatively, I can make any time on Thursday work.
The reader can easily reply, “Tuesday at 2,” and answer this email. The steps required to answer this would be:
1. Open calendar app and check those 3 times.
2. Open email app and reply.
Then reply confirming the time and then send them a calendar invite.
If you’re sending an email to somebody who is Very Busy, who doesn’t owe you anything, and who is overwhelmed with asks to get on the phone all the time, it’s better to work on getting a reply first and then ask to get on the phone.
Instead of ending your email with an ask to get on the phone, end it with a clear and easy-to-reply-to question.
Here’s an example from one of my clients:
After they reply, you can then decide whether it makes sense to ask them to get on the phone.
Inline Calendar Links
If you work in sales (especially SaaS) and are emailing people used to getting emails about setting up vendor calls, a calendar link might run into fewer problems than if you’re emailing outside this sector. Still, you want to make it as hard as possible for somebody to leave your email and get distracted. Consider using inline calendars like those offered by Mixmax.
Compared to What?
Again, it's important to compare this to the other options you have available and what the rest of the message looks like. Give the person reason to reply. If you're just asking for a call or complimenting them, expect them to ignore your email.
I like to imagine that every email I send gets to somebody when they are running between meetings or are sitting in an Uber. This is my Reagan Test. This means that it:
- Should be optimized for mobile (i.e., doesn't assume they can just click to another browser tab).
- Should have minimal friction.
- Should be easy to know what I want.
- Should be easy to reply to with one hand.
So there are a few things you absolutely should not do.
This is one reason why I hate seeing, "Do you have time next week to chat?"
I mean, sure I have time at some point next week, but give me a window! Make it easy for me to say yes or no.
Compared to that, clicking over to a calendar is an improvement, yes. But making it easier to reply to the message when I have Gmail open in my hand and I'm dragging luggage behind me in my other hand is still an improvement further.
Put yourself in the shoes of the busiest version of the person you're emailing to. You'll get better reply rates.