2. It’s exclusive
Not everyone will identify with "Sir" or "Madam." You never want to offend or assume the gender conformity of a business associate or peer. If you do guess a contact’s gender -- and guess wrongly -- you’ll immediately raise red flags and risk your ability to do business with them.
Before you’ve even begun to tell them the reason for your email, you’ve proven you haven’t taken the time to learn who they are. So, why should they take the time to hear what you have to say?
As a rule of thumb, never assume your email recipient identifies with "Sir" or "Madam," even if their name or email address leads you to believe one or the other of these greetings would be appropriate. Take the time to learn who they are, and if you have their name, use it in your greeting.
3. It’s a symptom of a larger problem
There are usually two scenarios in which you use "Dear Sir or Madam" and neither are promising. Either you really don’t know the recipient’s name and you’re going to send them an email anyway or you’re sending bulk email you don’t have the time or resources to personalize.
These situations are symptoms of a larger outreach problem. If you don’t know the name of your email recipient but still feel you must email them, consider modernizing your outreach strategy. Emailing someone you don’t know is called "cold email" and is generally considered a bad thing.
Take time to learn who you’re emailing, connect with them first by following and engaging with them on social media, and enjoy better response rates and richer relationships born from "warm outreach."
If you’re sending bulk email and find yourself without the time or resources to customize your outreach, this is a larger problem. A recent study by Experian shows transactional or triggered emails receive eight times more opens and greater revenue than regular bulk emails.
Bulk email is also more likely to send your emails -- even your non-bulk emails -- to spam. And many businesspeople have found bulk emails have stopped working for them altogether.
Personalized emails are what earn today’s salespeople the open. Learn who you’re emailing, what’s important to them, and why they should listen to what you have to say.
4. It’s like saying, "Hi, I’m a stranger"
"Dear Sir or Madam" is like starting an email with, "Hi, I’m a stranger," or "You don’t know me but …" If you’re a salesperson, you don’t want this to be the tone you set for prospect outreach.
You want to be as familiar and friendly with as possible -- and that requires you to research and get to know them.
If you’re reaching out to a business associate for the first time, your first impression should be that of someone who’s proactive and curious about learning who they are.
And if you’re submitting a cover letter or resume, your first email should be one that sets you apart from the crowd -- something "Dear Sir or Madam" does not do.
'Dear Sir or Madam' in an Email
I've explained why you shouldn't use 'Dear Sir or Madam,' but how do you put that advice into practice when you're composing, say, an email?
If you can't find any information about the person you're emailing, it might be appropriate to use, "To Whom It May Concern." It's formal, respectful, and inclusive.
Before using this greeting, however, ask yourself, "Who is the intended recipient of this message?" If that answer is, "Anyone," use "To Whom It May Concern."
'Dear Sir or Madam' Cover Letter
When addressing someone in a cover letter, it's important to be formal without resorting to "Dear Sir or Madam."
If you conduct your research and still can't find who to address your email to, consider using an alternative like, "Dear Hiring Manager," or "Dear [Team name]." For example, if you're applying for a position on a company's sales team, you might say, "Dear Sales Team."
This ensures your language is broad but also personalizes your greeting slightly.
"Dear Sir or Madam" Alternatives
We’ve talked about why you should leave "Dear Sir or Madam" in the Mad Men era, but you need something to use instead. So, what should it be? Here are a few good alternatives:
- "Hello, [Insert team name]"
- "Hello, [Insert company name]"
- "Dear, Hiring Manager"
- "Dear, [First name]"
- "To Whom it May Concern"
- "Hi there"
- "I hope this email finds you well"
- "Dear [Job title]"
- "Dear Recruiter"
- "Dear Customer Service Team"
- "Dear Search Committee"
- "Good Morning"
Tact, effort, and time are the three magic ingredients required for sending responsible, successful business emails. Make sure you give each piece of correspondence the same attention -- no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.
And make sure you don’t kill all your good work in the greeting with crutch words, a lackluster message, or the wrong sign off.