We Generate 215 Billion Emails Yearly. What If We Sent None?

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Leslie Ye
Leslie Ye





What if email didn’t exist?

It sounds crazy, right? We send and receive more than 215 billion emails a year, and that number’s projected to hit 257 billion by 2020.

More email means more noise. That’s why we’re always sharing tips on how to write high-quality emails, and why HubSpot’s Marketing Blog recently unsubscribed 250,000 unengaged readers from our email list. If we all sent fewer, better emails, we’d probably all see a rise in engagement and have less of a complex about email.

But it’s not easy to make that shift -- especially since there are 2.7 billion current email users who’d have to buy into changing their behavior. So until we have an email revolution, the easiest way to declutter our lives might be to get rid of email altogether.

Thierry Breton, CEO and chairman of information technology services company Atos Origin, agrees. In a 2011 press release, Breton announced the firm would be a zero-email company by 2014 -- replacing all email-based internal communications with “new collaboration and social media tools.”

Breton told the BBC he launched the policy to improve his workers’ lives, and drew inspiration from younger employees who had never used email before Atos, instead relying on instant messaging tools and social networks to communicate.

“I started an in-depth study with our consulting practice to see how many internal emails the 80,000 employees of Atos were receiving,” Breton said. “We realized they found 15% of the messages useful, and the rest was lost time.”

As part of the rollout, Atos even acquired social networking company blueKiwi to both use its services to help employees get to zero email and add a new line of business to its offerings.

Five years later, the Harvard Business Review reports that while Atos still isn’t quite at zero-email status, they have made significant progress.

“The company has reduced overall email by 60 percent, going from an average of 100 email messages per week per employee to less than 40,” David Burkus writes. “Atos’s operating margin increased from 6.5% to 7.5% in 2013, earnings per share rose by more than 50%, and administrative costs declined from 13% to 10%. Obviously, not all of these improvements were the result of banning email, but the correlation is certainly strong.”

Burkus also reports that a growing body of research shows email can actually be bad for us. He cites a 2012 Association for Computing Machinery study that found that people multitasked less, focused better, and were less stressed (measured by wearable heart rate monitors) when they were cut off from email for five days.

And while most companies probably won’t eliminate email from their workflows any time soon, many are moving toward reducing overall email load by banning any sort of email (external or internal) for smaller windows of time. Fulfillment company PBD Worldwide has declared Fridays email-free since 2006, and design agency Reliable PSD designates one day a week where employees can only email for the first and last hour of the day, Fast Company reports. Executive vice president of operations at U.S. Cellular Jay Ellison told NPR he's also implemented email-free Fridays.

It’s hard to imagine the sales profession -- or frankly any profession -- without email. But as email has become more ubiquitous and its toll on our productivity and stress levels grows, it doesn’t require a huge leap to expect that more and more businesses are going to invest in better ways to communicate.

If that happens, it pretty much guarantees a shakeup for salespeople. Maybe salespeople will need to rellocate the time they previously devoted to email and call prospecting (phones and voicemails may be on their way out, too) to creating full-funnel content that compels buyers to reach out to reps. Perhaps we’ll see a heavier reliance on referral sales and word-of-mouth.

It’s also possible that if more and more businesses follow Atos’ lead and scrap internal email, it’ll be easier for salespeople to stand out in buyers’ inboxes. But whatever happens, you can be sure that the landscape of sales will look very different if email were to ever fall by the wayside.

What do you think of these companies’ decisions to partially or completely eliminate email? Do you think email will ever be replaced by another medium of communication? What do you think will happen to sales if it does? Let us know in the comments below.

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