Guide to Successful Email Requests for Approval
Asking for approval by email to proceed with, produce or purchase something for work may seem simple, but there's an art to it. There's asking for approval, and then there's convincing the person on the other end to grant their permission. It's that persuasive skill that matters when it counts most. From writing requests via email, to submitting them through the field of a ticket template, the principles of what drives their success are the same.
Whether you're asking a superior, your team, different department, vendor, or an internal or external customer for approval, persuasion via email or ticket usually involves these five elements:
- Writing skill
- Organized thought
- Research and reporting
- Cost-saving strategy
- Soft sales techniques
The more expensive, innovative, political or complex your request is, the more likely you're going to need to do some persuading to get the green light. This guide will delve into specific ways to use persuasive techniques in writing approval requests by email or ticket, and provide best practices tips and templates to grease the wheels when making that big ask.
Why Learn to Write Request for Approval Emails Well?
Any request for approval is essentially a proposal, whether it is for hiring a new employee, booking travel, establishing a new policy, or a software/hardware purchase. When requests are sent by email (or by ticket from with a ticket management system such as Zendesk), they may seem less official or important than a Word document or printed document… yet the decisions made can carry serious consequences or create amazing opportunities.
Imagine you work as a Server Administrator for your company's most important client. Day after day you and your team deal with antiquated tech and patchwork fixes on top of bandaids. Finally, the server is breaking so often that it's undeniable -- a change must be made.
You are now faced with notifying the client (who hates spending money) that they're going to have to invest in one of two things -- an interim solution that won't solve the larger problem and will only put off the inevitable server failure, or investing in an expensive new server they should have bought years ago. How do you word your notes in the ticket to convey the importance of making the right choice and convince them to finally cough up the dough for the new server?
Myndbend recommends these books for refining your proposal writing skills:
- Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
- Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
Here's another example revealing the importance of writing informal proposals effectively.
You work as a marketing coordinator for a non profit that helps at-risk youth. As always, funding is tenuous, and your boss tells you at lunch that leadership has been brainstorming ways to create products that could be sold to help bring in more money. Realizing you have a great opportunity, you tell him about an idea you had recently -- teach the teens how to build tree houses, which could then be sold to raise money for the organization. It would give the kids work skills to help them with future employment (therefore aligning with the organization's primary mission) while providing an additional channel of income.
Your boss seems genuinely interested, and asks you to write up the details in an email and send it to him so that he can show the other VPs. What's the best way to pitch your idea? What should you include that will persuade not only him but others who may read your email to take your idea seriously?
Five Elements of Writing Email Requests
These five elements are essential to apply for those submitting requests via email (or as tickets through a process management system such as Zendesk):
Writing skill - You may have have something as important as the cure for cancer in mind, but if your proposal is difficult to understand, lacking enthusiasm or skimpy on descriptive detail, your message could be lost.
Clear, effective business writing will convey clear thought and effective approach to the readers of your proposal. Harvard Business Review’s Bryan Gardner offers expert guidance in his book The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Here are a few of his tips:
- Be clear on your message before you begin writing. What do you want your readers to walk away with?
- Be direct and succinct. It's common for people who are writing for business to feel the need to be formal, and with formal often comes flowery words. Streamline your word choices, using short phrase rather than long ones to keep writing concise.
Gardner's example: “There’s no need to say “general consensus of opinion,” for instance, when “consensus” will do.”
He also recommends avoiding industry buzz words such as “actionable”, “impactful”, “incentivize” and “core competency”.
- Write and rewrite several drafts. Read your drafts aloud, putting yourself in the reader’s shoes.
When writing longer emails, use basic information design principles (headers, summaries, charts, images and bullet points to break up longer tracts of text).
Organized thought - Keep it simple, and get to the point quickly. Save fancy introductions for college papers and novels. Use headers to break long emails into sections, and bullet points to nail down densely-packed details.
Laying out your argument methodically, and defending it well, will strengthen your credibility.
Research and reporting - Any recommendation must be substantiated to be taken seriously.
Including descriptive details, estimates of cost, reports documenting problem patterns, and at least a brief Return on Investment (ROI) analysis is key, but don't underestimate the importance of stories. Examples or case studies showing how your suggestion will solve specific problems, and tales of how your solution has worked well for others, will go along way to winning decision makers over.
Cost-saving strategy - The more money you can save without sacrificing quality, the more interest you'll receive in your idea. Research how other companies have implemented similar ideas, and how much money they saved.
Also do what you can to find the money and resources you need to make your project happen, rather than asking a supervisor to find a way. Perhaps by prioritizing purchases, leveraging resources, negotiating down other costs, or selling used equipment.
Don't even bother submitting a proposal until you've done a cost comparison, shopped around for terms / price / feature differences and estimated up front, long term and unexpected costs.
Soft sales techniques - The 5 most persuasive words in the English language, listed in an excellent article by Kevan Leigh, 189 Powerful Words That Convert: Write Copy That Gets Your Customer’s Attention Every Time, are:
Empathize with your boss over challenges he expresses. Offer support in the light of obstacles. Personalize your pitch with an anecdote drawn from your own experience.
Be prepared for the different answers that may come in response. (See the call out box on “Countering Objections” and the step Set Two Goals in the section below.)
The Best Request in Steps
The following list of steps will help you to remember the five elements mentioned in this article’s introduction, and to put a shiny finish on that casual proposal.
- Ask yourself, “Is asking permission the way to make this happen? - Evaluate your request before getting started. Is this something you could just start doing? What would likely happen if you did? Is this one of those situations where asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for forgiveness? What is your motivation for requesting approval?
- Consider your audience - You won't be able to anticipate who all may read your request, so keep your wording professional and respectful. Write to reach the highest level executives who could be included in the discussion, including a few background details for those who may not be familiar with you or your related work.
- Keep the circle small. Try to involve the minimum number of people necessary to get approval. The more chefs in the kitchen, the more difficult it is to finalize the recipe.
- Craft your subject line with care - Make sure your purpose, and it's priority, is clear. For example: “Request for approval of new hire by today 2 pm”
Establish rapport - Know enough about your decision
maker to speak their language and appeal to their passions. Be familiar with
their goals, then show them how your solution will help them achieve them.
Keep in mind that they're likely more focused on survival and short term
fixes than long term vision.
Appeal to their sense of competition, or leverage peer pressure, by suggesting your idea can give your department the upper hand, or suggesting an intradepartmental challenge.
If you have a choice as to whom you pitch your idea, look for the early adopter who is well-networked and resourceful.
Consider ways that your idea can make the approver look good. Give them credit for any of their comments or suggestions that led to your proposal. Remind them that you can time the cost savings to show up in reports just in time for budget review. Make life easier for a stressed-out tech support rep by giving them all the info they need to sell the idea to their team lead the first time around.
Convey your enthusiasm - Granted, it's much easier
to show someone the passion you feel for an idea face-to-face. This makes
expressing enthusiasm in your email or ticket all the more important.
Use an example to demonstrate how much you believe in your recommendation (e.g. “I couldn't sleep last night I was so psyched about this idea”) and use inspiring words to create a vision of success (e.g. “I truly feel that we'll look back on this simple change to our message as a landmark turning point for our conversion rates.”)
Outshine the competition - Remember that your idea
is probably going up against other contenders for the same budget line, so
show why yours deserves to be approved first.
Emphasize how your solution supports key objectives and initiatives, simplifies processes, can reduce labor, and/or relieves burdened resources.
Then add the softer benefits -- higher staff retention rates and a boost to morale, increased productivity through learning opportunities, or the stability and preparedness that cross-training or intradepartmental teams can offer, for example.
Plan your timing - You may have the best idea in
the world, but if you want to hire someone new in Accounting during the last
week of the fiscal year, you're in trouble. Try to time your request when
your reader isn't distracted or focused on a particular challenge.
There's also the actual time to take into consideration. Find out the best time to catch your supervisor’s ear, such as 7:30 a.m. or Wednesday afternoons.
Place matters too -- you may wish to time the receipt of your request with when your supervisors or clients have just arrived at work, or returned from lunch, and are in their offices checking email. Being in their own “territory” and alone may minimize the possibility that they feel challenged or threatened by your initiative, or caught in an awkward moment with other people in their office.
- Be prepared to take on the project - There's always the possibility that your superior will surprise you with a yes -- and then expect you to take care of seeing your idea through.
Start with pain points - Summarize the specific
problem (from the decision-makers’ perspective) and why your request is the
solution. Use powerful, visual adjectives and mental pictures to drive home
the concern, and make your solution sound like the next best thing since
sliced bread. This strategy uses
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP),
and it works like a charm.
A real-life example from a Training Manager requesting approval from her supervisor to proceed with a new training program and related equipment purchase:
“Janice from Accounting came to me in a panic because the local copy center said it would be unable to process their usual mailing due to equipment failure.
I learned that each month for the past five years, the Accounting Department has spent around $1,000 in outsourcing mail merge, paper cutting, letter printing, envelope stuffing and label printing services to a nearby copy center (not to mention manually processing thousands of letters for bulk mailings).
When asked why these tasks weren't handled in house, the HR Director explained that staff members are not familiar with capabilities within Excel and Word to automate some of these tasks, and technologies for automating the rest. In addition, they only have one undependable, antiquated printer.
I estimate that if they had spent $500 in training in technology 5 years ago, they could have saved $59,600 in outsourcing costs alone.
I propose that I conduct a series of required trainings for Accounting staff covering these automating technologies, specific to mailings and other batch processes, and invest in two new commercial printers that can print envelopes, an automatic paper cutter, and automatic letter folder to simplify redundant tasks.
This small investment of $1,000 could easily save the company $1,000 per month (more than $11,000 per year).
Providing this training program will also increase Word and Excel competency in Accounting staff, boosting morale as well as productivity and efficiency. They expressed genuine enthusiasm to learn these skills and be able to handle mailings in-house.”
Do your due diligence - Justify the cost with a couple bullet points of ROI and SWOT that focus on relieving the burden, not ambiguous future gains.Showing that you've thought through the different angles and documented the pros and cons will ensure you're taken seriously.
- Give it staying power - Show how your request is important to improving efficiency, saving money, bringing in revenue over time, completing mission critical tasks faster, furthers the mission, and/or streamlines core processes.
Do the thinking for them - Walk readers through
the decision and the vision for the outcome.
“Mark, if you would please read through this new concept for Velvet Touch Fabric Christmas Trees, talk it over with Jim in Product Development and let me know your combined feedback by Thursday afternoon, I can get started setting up the focus group on Monday.
This will allow us to work in the Kick-Off Meeting before the July Fourth weekend, and have an MVP by end of September. If all goes according to plan, we should be able to accomplish the launch by November 10, just in time to take advantage of Black Friday sales opportunities.”
Think like a marketer - Marketing basics, found
in every properly-executed television commercial, include:
- Create a need (show people why they need another counter top appliance to cook chicken)
- Add a sense of urgency (define a window of opportunity, or emphasize the importance of acting fast; e.g. Limited seating… tickets are going fast… book your tickets now!)
Include a subtle call to action (always ask for
the thing at the close of your pitch, for example “Call now. Operators
are standing by.”)
How do these principles translate to a request for a new commercial color copier? Here's another real-world example:
“Hi Jim… The HR department makes over a thousand copies a day (see attached copier logs) using one 5-year old machine. They spend almost $1500 a week in toner, paper, and repairs, not to mention ongoing calls into IT for troubleshooting (I've responded to six requests this week). There is a constant line to use the machine, keeping staff from working on more important tasks and creating fire hazards.
I have found a deal on multifunction color copiers (see attached PDF) that ends tomorrow. Buying this kind of copier now would save 30% on a mid-range product with a nice list of essential features that will meet the needs of the HR department for the next five years. Although it is considerably more expensive than a black-and-white copier (both in initial cost and supplies), it will bring cost savings of at least $10,000 per year by allowing HR and other departments such as Marketing and Training to print color materials in-house.
If we act now, the color copier will pay for itself in six months or less. See the HR Director’s approval email below. Please let me know by lunch if I have your go ahead.”
According to F. John Reh in his article How to Persuade Your Boss to Support Your Ideas, “the following thoughts are top-most in your boss's mind when you approach her with your latest idea:
- We already have too many projects chasing too few resources. We cannot add any more work or the team will rebel.
- My priority is to cut costs and your idea is going to cost money and there is no guarantee that we will save money in the long term.
- Get in line. You are the third person this week to propose a major new initiative.
- Your idea sounds great, but it does not fit in the strategy. If I cannot tie it to us meeting our strategic objectives this year, I cannot sell it.
- I have three emergencies and my boss is after me for some problem I do not even know we have. Don't bother me.
While those may be the unspoken thoughts of your boss, they are representative of the very real challenges and headaches of most managers. It is often a thankless job.”
- Beat rejection to the punch - Anticipate and counter their objections. For example, demonstrate that your idea aligns well with current departmental initiatives, organizational missions, etc.
- Set two goals - Be prepared for two outcomes - the ideal result, and the acceptable compromise. If the answer to the big idea is no, ask for the next best thing, a trial run, low-risk experiment, or focus group discussion to test out your concept.
- Get another pair of eyes on it - Ask someone who is familiar with your situation and writing proposals, and who may be able to lend insight and strategy as well as editorial direction, to review important requests before you send them.
Use proper etiquette - When sending any email to
more than one person, the addressees should be listed from highest rank to
lowest. Be sure to address the primary addressee by name, and include phrases
like “please consider” “in my opinion” and “thank you for your time”.
Always avoid the use of all caps (which comes across as yelling, except in headers), all lowercase, jargon, emoticons and exclamation points.
Limit the number of attachments to one or two.
- Follow up - Give the approvers 48 hours to get back to you (or whatever deadline you requested), then follow up with a quick email or, better yet, on the phone or, best yet, in person.
- Make the actual approval easier - Improve efficiency even more by automating the approvals process with secure enterprise-level Zendesk change management apps like Myndbend Process Manager.
The End Result
After you put in all this thought and effort, what if the answer is no?
Evaluate the response -- If you get an intense response, whether it's for or against your request, it means you're being taken seriously. Lukewarm responses mean it's time to reevaluate the idea behind your request, the way it's written, and/or your audience.
Respond rather than react - Tell yourself it's just not the right time yet or the wrong match of request and approver, and start looking for or creating the next opportunity. You may need to shift your approach based on something like a change of manager within your organization as well.
Use follow up questions to keep the dialogue going - For example, “What part of the proposal gave you pause?” or “Would you have a clearer idea about the budget closer to the end of the fiscal year?” or “What can I do to help you convey the importance to your superiors?”
Learn from others’ experiences -- This case study by Inc. Magazine's Build Network staff shares an inspiring story of persistence, creative opportunity making, and strategic planning -- all of which will give you your best chance of eventually getting to “yes”.
If you apply these tips, your email to get approval from a manager or superior should be a success! Some other great strategies and ideas to look into for approval requests:
How to Talk to Your Boss: 5 Tips for Getting That Purchase Approved by Alyssa Sittig
8 Must-Read Books That Will Improve Your Business Writing Skills by Kaleigh Moore
Five Core NLP Techniques for Self-Improvement by David J. Wingfield
18 Closing Phrases To Seal a Sales Deal in 2017 by Emma Brudner
8 Ways to Persuade Your Boss to Say Yes by Alison Green
A Zendesk official partner for more than seven years, Myndbend Multimedia develops help desk apps and provides customer engagement consulting services. Our flagship application, Myndbend Process Manager, is an enterprise class solution that automates ticket creation, offers templates for easy HR onboarding, allows subticket / child ticket creation, and includes Two Factor Authentication for secure approvals. Myndbend Process Manager functions as everything from a change management app for new hires, to controlling IT releases. It's one of the top performing Zendesk apps in the Marketplace.
Ellen Berry is Content Director for Myndbend. Her background is in website development, graphic design, career development, project management, entrepreneurship, technical writing, and journalism. She has worked for small start-ups, Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, in fields including biomedical research and development, IT, finance, telecommunications, publishing and digital media. Her articles are frequently published on high profile websites such as USAToday, ScientificAmerican, TechRepublic and MonsterWorking.